Stephen in Australia

Stephen is a junior majoring in finance and political science. In Australia, he will be studying at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, where he will work on an international community service project in addition to taking courses.

Spring break in New Zealand

NZ196-sm.jpg Australia has truly been a gateway to areas of the globe that were previously too far away to even contemplate visiting. This last week we had another week off from classes, and I was blessed with the opportunity to meet up with my dad in the amazing country of New Zealand.

I took a red-eye out of Perth on Friday night and arrived in Auckland early Saturday morning. My dad and I were able to cover a lot of ground in the eight nights we were there, and one thing was consistent throughout – the jaw dropping and awe-inspiring scenery.

Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand with a population of almost 1.5 million, which is considerable because the total population of New Zealand is only 4 million people. For anyone who has visited Vancouver, British Columbia, Auckland is fairly similar to that city.

NZ%20018.jpgOur first adventure was to hop aboard an America’s Cup sailboat for a two-hour cruise around the harbor. This was a great experience, and we learned the basics of sailing and even helped to pull in the sails and do other various tasks as we marveled at the beauty of our surroundings. The boat seemingly glided over the water as we criss-crossed the harbor. Later that afternoon we ventured up the Sky Tower, which is the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere at just over 1,000 feet tall.

The following day we drove further north to an area called the Bay of Islands. We went on a boat tour of the bay and once again marveled at the sheer beauty of the place. Dolphins even came alongside our boat and spent time interacting with us. I had never seen a dolphin up close before, and they were so fun to watch. Not that you care in the least, but if I could be any animal I would definitely be a dolphin :)

NZ066-sm.jpgThe boat also took us through a large hole in a rock, which is surprisingly called “Hole in the Rock.” People here tend to name things as they are; which can be boring, but it can also be a nice warning when you come to a place such as “Shark Bay.”

NZ%20039.jpgAfter taking a small ferry to an even smaller town for dinner, the next day we drove across the west coast of the North Island. The rolling green hills and the coastline made the drive fly by. Also, one of my friends told me before I left that his mental picture of New Zealand included sheep everywhere. Well, his thoughts on NZ were correct, and there are probably more sheep there than people.

dad%27s%20NZ%20pictures%20080.jpgOur next stop was the magnificent Queenstown in the South Island. As I stepped off the airplane and onto the tarmac, I once again marveled at my surroundings. The snow-covered mountains surrounded us. Queenstown is reminiscent of a fun ski town with about 12,000 people. It is situated on a large lake and is a popular tourist, vacation and extreme sport destination.

We took a day trip to a place called Milford Sound. The drive took roughly five hours, but it’s hard to complain about a long bus-trip when the scenery around every corner left me awestruck.

NZ%20148.jpgWhen we arrived, we boarded a boat to give us a tour of the Sound. The pictures just aren’t able to capture the magnitude of the mountains rising out of the water. I have included a picture where you can see a tiny white speck, which is actually a fairly large tour boat at the base of the mountains. That may help to provide some perspective to the magnitude of Milford Sound. We also got to see seals and more dolphins on the tour.

In Queenstown I partook in its reputation for being an extreme sport destination by going skydiving! A company drove us south of Queenstown to an even smaller town called Glenorchy, where a lot of the filming for the Lord of the Rings trilogy took place and where they are also about to start filming parts of the third segment of the Chronicles of Narnia.

skydive%20008.jpg I had a brief orientation about the procedures, met my tandem partner, got suited up, and before I knew it I was walking toward the airplane leaving my somewhat nervous dad behind. My tandem partner showed me his altimeter watch at 800ft, and I thought we were already quite high. However, we still had over 11,000ft to climb before I would jump out! I was mostly excited and, surprisingly, not too nervous. I tried to take it all in because I knew it would be over shortly. The best part was when we leveled out at 12,000ft and they flung the door open. Looking down I remember saying a quick prayer and realizing that I would actually be jumping out in a matter of seconds. Crazy!

Before I knew it, we were out of the plane. It only felt like I was falling for a second or two, and then it was just really windy as I plummeted toward the earth. We had about 45 seconds of freefall before the parachute opened and everything instantly became so peaceful and serene as we softly floated around for about five minutes before landing safely on the ground, much to the relief of my dad (and probably my mom for that matter, but she didn’t find out I went skydiving until she opened her email and saw the pictures I forwarded her).

The next day we drove to Franz Josef glacier and hiked to the base. Driving to the glacier I told my dad that I thought I’d be under-impressed by the glacier. However, I was wrong and it was well worth the drive and the hike.

The following day we drove another 2 hours to catch the TranzApline train, which is supposed to be one of the top ten most scenic train rides in the world. The train ride was a great experience, but it was also the only time where I was slightly disappointed with the scenery. The weather was really bad and that prevented us from viewing the Southern Alps as we went through them.

NZ%20215.jpgThe train took us to Christchurch, where we spent our last night. The city has roughly 300,000 people and has an English influence. The large Cathedral is the main attraction of the city. The architecture was beautiful and reminded me of one of the countless similar churches in Europe. The botanical gardens were also very nice and so was our last meal – I thought it was appropriate to have lamb the last night in honor of the thousands we passed by over the course of the week.

Well, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed hearing about my New Zealand adventures. I’m back in Perth now ready to hit the books for a rather busy last month of school.

Take care,

Stephen
Psalm 121:1-2

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Greetings again from Down Under

laverton-006-sm.jpg The weather has continued to be fairly suspect lately, and the school work has picked up considerably the last two weeks. Consequently, I don’t have too many exciting things to write about. However, both my parents and SMU are probably glad to know that actual studying does occur as part of “studying” abroad : )

Two weeks ago I went in for a job trial (basically an unpaid two hour training session) at a local restaurant right on the water. Everything went well, and the few tables I waited were very enthusiastic to talk with me once they noticed my American accent. I left with the job and was planning to come in the following Wednesday to work for the majority of the day. I was excited. However, I received a call the next day informing me that they no longer wished to hire me because I wouldn’t be able to stay through the Christmas season. So that’s my story of being hired and fired within 24 hours.

Anyway, last weekend I had an amazingly unique opportunity to travel to the actual outback – meaning a mining company paid to fly five of us directly east of Perth to volunteer in a community of around 250 people. We flew over extremely flat, barren land that was, of course, covered in red dirt. The town is called Laverton, and the volunteer organization on campus has a continued relationship with them. They fly volunteers out there every couple of weeks.

The trip was more informative than anything else. There is a strong Aboriginal presence in the community, and Indigenous people in Australia still face many difficult issues. School attendance, a lack of work, alcoholism and racism against them are a few of the problems faced on a daily basis. There is a long history of cultural difficulties that reach back to the first settlements in Australia. Even as recently as the 1960s the government still practiced assimilation methods, which oftentimes resulted in young Aboriginals being forcibly removed from their family and placed into the home of a white family to be raised.

My time in Laverton really helped to flesh out and see first-hand what has been discussed in my Indigenous Issues class. I left with the realization that there are no easy answers, but that there are good people working hard to fix the problems and support the children. We spent time talking with the school teachers, police chief, hospital staff, and the volunteer ambulance crew. We ran activities for the kids on Saturday morning, and later in the day we played Australian football with the children before playing basketball later that night. Needless to say, we were tired by the end of the day.

laverton-014-sm.jpg Unfortunately, we were only allowed to bring one group camera and so I don’t have pictures with the kids to show you. However, I did sneak my camera in my bag, and I brought it with us as we watched the sunset over the outback.

Well, that’s all for me from now.

Take care and God Bless,

Stephen

PS I also just sent in my overseas ballot and voted!

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Adventures in Bali, Indonesia

Bali-256-sm.jpgHello, again! Last week, we had our first week off from school, so my friends and I took the opportunity to travel to Bali, Indonesia. This trip was a true blessing and an adventure of a lifetime.

The flight took less then four hours, and when we stepped outside the airport, it truly felt like we were on the other side of the world. The first few nights we stayed in Kuta, which is one of the main cities and was also the site of the tragic nightclub bombings back in October 2002. Though I had worried parents back home, I felt very safe while in Bali. The security and policemen were noticeably present, and even our taxis were quickly looked over before pulling into our hotel.

Bali-006-sm.jpgOur first day on the beach was terrific. We rented surfboards for two hours, and some of us even got massages on the beach after eating fresh mangos and coconuts. We also had sore throats by the end of the day from saying “no thank you” to all of the people trying to sell us stuff. They would sell everything from bracelets to, our personal favorite, a complete bow and arrow set. Unfortunately, one friend learned the hard way how close we were to the equator. Pale skin + no sun screen + oil from the massage + intense sun = one painful sunburn!

We loved the Balinese people and their friendliness. We learned how to say the simple “thank you” in Balinese – “suksumo” – and this simple gesture would brighten their faces. The streets would be crowded with mopeds, taxis, and a few bikes. It’s a poor/developing country with 80 percent of their GDP coming from tourism.

Bali-111-sm.jpgWe spent the bulk of our trip in Tanjung Benoa, which is near the Nusa Dua resort area. This became our home base for many adventures. My favorite part of the trip was our trek up a volcano at 3 a.m. to watch the sunrise. It was truly breathtaking (in more ways than one, if you include the two-hour hike up).

Bali-185-sm.jpgWe also greatly enjoyed white-water rafting through the jungle. The gorgeous river flowed through the valley with terraced rice paddies rising high above us in the surrounding hills. We also ducked under bamboo bridges, got showered by waterfalls, and saw the occasional local person bathing in the river.

Bali-PICT00008-sm.jpgOther highlights from the trip include a boat ride and snorkel trip to an island off the coast of Bali, eating fresh seafood on the beach, parasailing, visiting a forest filled with monkeys, and watching a cultural dance while watching the sunset on our last night.

monkey-and-me-sm.jpgNeedless to say, we were rather sad to leave. However, returning to Australia was also not a disappointment in the least.

Lastly, congratulations to the Mustangs on the first of many wins this season.

Take care and God bless,

Stephen
Heb. 10:23-24

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Greetings from Down Under

Australia%20175-sm.jpgI am excited to be able to share with you some of my experiences during my time studying abroad in Perth, Australia. So much has happened in the nearly two months we’ve been here, that I hardly know where to begin.

Let’s see … One of the first highlights of my time abroad was our orientation retreat. We traveled over an hour outside the city to a place called Yanchep. There we stayed in a quaint inn and got inundated with Australian culture. American stereotyping of Australia includes kangaroos, cool accents, surfing, boomerangs and the Crocodile Hunter. On the retreat we got a firsthand taste of a few of these stereotypes. The kangaroos around the property did not disappoint us in their appearance and graceful hopping.

Australia%20043.jpgFurthermore, surfing that first morning was a huge highlight. It was after I had caught my first wave that I pinched myself and thought, “I can’t believe I’m actually in Australia.” Also, on the retreat we learned how to throw a boomerang and how to perform an Aboriginal dance. Most of all, the retreat provided a time for the 11 SMU students and 30 other students from America to bond as a group, and I have been blessed by all the new friendships here.

Australia%20089.jpgCurtin University is located in a suburb outside of Perth, which is a city of about 1.5 million people, and it’s situated alongside the beautiful Swan River. The downtown area is fun to visit, and it takes about 25 minutes to get there by public transportation.

The surrounding coastal towns have also been quite fun to explore. Fremantle is one of my favorite towns. It’s situated right on the Indian Ocean with a large harbor, quaint buildings, great fish and chips, and has a trendy brewery called Little Creatures.

Australia%20106-sm.jpgThe other spot my friends and I also frequent is Cottesloe Beach. The spot is a well-know surfing location for the locals with the waves cresting beautifully off the jetty (unfortunately, I’m not quite good enough to catch the waves here). The beach has a long stretch of white sand, and we try to come here every Friday afternoon. Though dodgy (that’s Australian for “sketchy”) at first, the weather has been fairly nice after our first few weeks of rain – it was a little hard leaving the American summer to come to cooler weather. Also, for all the Heath Ledger fans out there, his ashes were spread on Cottesloe beach.

Australia%20078.jpgOther highlights have included attending a rugby game versus South Africa, and also going to a couple of “footy” games. Australian football is a joy to watch and is best described as a mix between soccer and rugby with American football field goals. We also traveled on a winery tour around the Swan River Valley where we sampled local wines and even visited a chocolate factory.

Classes have been going fairly well. Each individual class only meets once a week, so it has taken a little getting used to not returning back to a class for six days. I’m taking International Relations in the Asia Pacific, Media and Indigenous Issues, Managerial Finance, and Financial Instruments and Markets. My finance classes have been challenging due to the contrasting teaching styles. We do not use financial calculators here, and part of our class is taught by foreign graduate students. Though I enjoy my classes, sometimes I find myself missing my SMU professors.

Well, that’s all for now. I hope I’ve been able to give you a slight glimpse into my adventures and experiences while studying abroad. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have.

Take care and God Bless,
Stephen
Romans 1:20

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