The feelings of being a fish out of water have never been so appealing to me. Now, this may have to do with the fact that the atmosphere out of the water is strikingly similar to being in the water, and that throughout my first 20 years I have been acclimated to both the subsurface and episurface, but this fish is ready to fly around for the next four months.
In retrospect, I believe that a brief explanation is necessary to clarify this trout-based introduction.
After a week of orientation into this beautiful country in Cairns, and a few days of orientation to my new home and school in the Gold Coast, I found it hard to break away from all of the *new and shiny* experiences to take some time and read this week’s Slimbach chapter. However, as I read it, I found that it contained everything that I did not know I needed. The sentence that stood out the most to me in the pages was a quote by Clyde Kluckhohn, ‘It would hardly be fish who discovered the existence of water’ (Slimbach). I could not help but turn to my direct roommate and share this sentence with her, to show her exactly why I was so excited to stay in for the night and read an assigned text.
Adjusting to the culture in Australia has been much easier than expected. There are the surface-level differences, ranging from running and walking on the wrong side of the crosswalk before realizing what is proper, to dodging vehicles after realizing I chose the wrong way to look before crossing the road. There are also deeper differences, residing in the more relaxed state that everyone here seems to have, or the cultural traditions of the indigenous Aussies within the rainforests in the tropics.
The program my studies are organized through set us up with a week-long orientation, including snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, white-water rafting, rainforest and wildlife tours, and generic informational sessions. Regardless of what was going on, there was always something to do for every hour of the day. It was almost as if there was no time to get used to Australia, to notice the miniscule differences that add together to form this ‘culture shock,’ or to reflect upon the overarching newness of liminality. It was not until I arrived at the Gold Coast that I would actually feel the depth of the differences between Australian and American cultures. A few friends from Quinnipiac and I were reflecting on these differences on our first bus ride to campus. We found ourselves realizing that our lives had just slowed down drastically, as compared to the hustle and bustle we put ourselves through at home. We yearned to know the exact schedule of our orientation week ahead, and the activities we would be doing, yet had to come to terms with the fact that there was no set schedule, list of directions, or compulsory (required) events, and that we could do everything on our own time, when we felt fit. As I interact with more Australians, I realize that this laid back nature on campus is not restricted to my new Uni.
This is a difference that I am deeming ‘small but mighty,’ as it appears miniscule but has great amounts of power to it. Although I may be a fish out of water, I feel as though I am taking breaths of fresh air as I venture through a culture that had adapted a sense of relaxation that I so desperately hope to embody.
One of the biggest challenges that I have faced thus far since my separation has been working with the double edged sword of communitas. Because my education program is 150 American students deep, there is no shortage of others that are seemingly going through the same journey in liminality as myself. I found myself, however, struggling in my ability to reach out and connect with my fellow liminites that I hoped to become friends with. Although I have made a few new friends outside of the people that I knew prior to this trip, I have found it much easier to connect with other students at my university from different countries. Bond University is predominantly an exchange university, so I have taken it upon myself to become friends with as many people as possible at school. One example of the strength of communitas is actually from two nights ago on campus. I was headed back to the bus stop after a campus-led trivia night, when I ran into a girl who was rather frantic. She looked like she was going to ask me for directions, so I introduced myself to her, and dropped in the fact that I am a new student and had no idea where any of the buildings were. We got to chatting about homesickness, going to Uni far from home, and the ins and outs of our first few days. She mentioned to me how nervous she was, and that she had been crying, since she had never been so far from home (England) before, especially not for the length of her degree. We empathized together, and I told her that she was not alone (and that most likely, 79% of campus is feeling the way that she is). This interaction between two fresh liminites in similar situations was symbiotic in its benefits. Not only did we both make a new friend, but also we found comfort in the knowledge of each other’s situations.
I have noticed that being open with those around me has helped me form a network of international friends. Whether it was the quiet frustrations I expressed while job hunting in the library that got me talking to my new friend Harry, who moved to Australia one month ago and is also struggling with the job search, or expressing my genuine confusion about room locations that landed me a spot on a volleyball team with my new Australian friend Yaneke, I think being who I am and open about what I am feeling will attract me to whatever friendships I am destined to build here. If anything, my experiences so far have solidified my theory that showing your challenges or vulnerable sides make those around you feel less uncomfortable in the challenges that they are facing as well, and that can act as a seed to the beginning of the growth of genuine friendship.
This is a picture of myself in the middle of a rainforest in Port Douglas, Qld. I am standing in an example of a traditional shelter as built by the indigenous people of Australia. Our guide had us walk around a smoking fire for two full circles, explaining that in order to be allowed into his family’s home, our bad spirits must be ‘smoked out.’ His invitation for us to enter his home, the rainforest, is of great honor. Later on along the path, he offered to paint our faces according to tradition. The black dots on my face resemble rain drops, the white dots resemble the river, and the red and brown resembled two other essentials. Being able to interact in such an honored tradition allowed for a deeper appreciation of the years of culture that underlay these brief moments. This picture exemplifies one of the most meaningful moments of my time here so far, in addition to the beauty I have experienced in my time here thus far.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Print.