We were asked to give a portrait of an ordinary day in the life of a study-abroad student in whichever country we are studying in. It seems, on the surface, to be a simple request; yet the instructions also stated that it should be a day in which we have class. Ah, but herein lies my problem: the majority of my days I do not have class! I only have classes 2 days a week. Yes, that is right folks, I, Chloe McKenzie, have a 5-day weekend…every single weekend. My life here sometimes feels like one long vacation, and while I am not complaining (at all), it is sometimes difficult not to feel like some sort of bummy drop-out, especially after the rigors of a (forgive me) fairly difficult university like UW-Madison. And it would seem that mine is not an unusual situation for the average uni student in Western Australia—I will now include an excerpt from an actual conversation I recently had with my flat mate:
Him: Yeah, well, I would like to study abroad for a semester in the states but I hear that you guys have to go to class like 5 days a week, and have heaps of papers and assignments due all the time. Is that true?
Me: Well…Yeah. That sounds pretty standard???
So, as you can see, things here at Murdoch are decidedly lax compared to Madison. And I sincerely hope that I don’t sound like a tool, but that’s the way it is. And it’s not like I don’t enjoy my classes, because I definitely do, and I find my professors here knowledgeable and engaging. It’s just, they’re a bit more lenient about such trivialities like “doing the readings” or “due dates” or “showing up to discussion section”. Cultural differences, man.
Anyway. I have decided to circumvent this problem by doing 2 ditlos (that’s “day in the life of”s for those of you who may not be quite as up-to-date on your slang terms as me, I apologize, that’s just how we kids talk nowadays). One for a normal Tuesday, when I actually have class, and one for an equally normal Wednesday, when I don’t.
8:45am- Awaken from slumber; attempt to make self presentable for human contact.
9:20am- Start walking towards class. Campus is a short, 10 minute walk from my flat where I live in the “student village”—it is essentially student housing, but the buildings are owned by a separate company rather than Murdoch University. I, mercifully, have my own room.
9:30am- My first class is Ancient Greek Ideas, taught by a sardonic, chubby ex-pat from Vermont. I always enjoy this class, not only because the subject matter is very interesting, but because the professor likes to digress into highly entertaining diatribes concerning what he terms the “talking heads” on television, which I take to mean the politicians. Side note: Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, seems to be something of a running joke here on campus. I have yet to meet anyone who says they like him, although I do, admittedly, mainly socialize with other young adults who are attending uni.
10:30am- Discussion section for Ancient Greek Ideas, which is actually led by the professor for the class—plus side of attending a smaller university! On this particular Tuesday, we had an in-class exam during section…it was 5 questions, open-note and –book, and the answers were things we had specifically discussed during lecture.
12pm-12:30pm- I have a short break, which I normally use up standing in line to get coffee—there are a few very good coffee shops on campus. The flat white, which Starbucks apparently just discovered a few months ago, already has a long-standing history here in Australia, and I have to say, the general coffee game here is real strong. I love it. Any espresso I have had has been ah-mazing. My only qualm is the lack of any familiar form of “iced coffee”. The concept of simply taking one of the drinks they already do…chai latte, mocha, flat white—and simply making it, you know, cold—just does not exist here. I made the mistake of ordering an “iced chai latte” my first week here and I received a blank stare and an “Um…we don’t do that here.” Oh. Okay then. They do have what they call “iced coffee”—what it really is is milk, ice-cream, and the tiniest bit of coffee flavouring—delicious? Sure. Caffeinated? Probably not. 7382995 calories? Most definitely.
12:30pm- Philosophy lecture—taught by a hyperactive, eccentric woman from Prague, sporting a stark white bob with violet tips. I love this class as well—the professor jumps all around, following no coherent pattern of thought that I can see, seemingly expressing grand epiphanies as they occur to her—but I sort of like the frenetic vibe she gives off. At least it is apparent she is excited by her subject. On the first day of class, when asked if she was religious, she proclaimed the metric system to be her one true god…after a moment of contemplation, she added, “well…and vodka.”
1:30-2:30pm- I have an hour break, during which time I sometimes get lunch from one of the places to eat on campus, and then do some of my assigned readings which make up the bulk of my homework here. Normally I get either a veggie burger and a diet coke, or a wrap and an iced tea. Sometimes I just wait until I get home to eat—the food places here are very good, but they cost as much as an average takeaway restaurant. My wallet hates me.
2:30pm- Discussion section for Philosophy. Every week, a different student presents the topic/ leads discussion on the topic for the week. I presented on my topic back in week 4; it is now week 7, and I have yet to receive any type of feedback. No one seems to care much about grades here, and most students don’t even know what their GPA is. I am told it is not important. Sometimes, when people say these things, it sounds like a beautiful dream, and other times it’s like they’re just speaking gibberish: “More to life than one’s GPA? Blasphemy!” Unclear on whether or not I should work on being a bit more relaxed about it myself.
4pm- Classes are over for the day. I walk back to my flat, drop off my backpack, chat with my German flat mate for a bit, then grab my reusable shopping bags and head to the bus stop. I bought these canvass bags to go grocery shopping, not only because it’s good for the planet, but because it is supremely difficult carrying a load of breakable plastic bags on the bus.
5pm- The bus ride to Kardinya shopping centre is only about 5 minutes long, and there they have a K-mart and Cole’s, the grocery store. After I am done with my shopping, I pick up some donuts from the bakery before I head home, due to a complete lack of self-control.
6:30pm- Put away my groceries/ eat my dinner of donuts and Pringles, await impending obesity.
7pm- Watch the news with some of my flat mates in the living room. To me, it’s so interesting getting the news in a different country—the drug scandals of famous Cricket players and the outrage over what Tony Abbott said about the Aboriginal people’s “life choice” to live in the traditional way—it’s a bit like I’m listening in on someone else’s problems, and yet, it does not afford me a sense of disconnection; our problems are too similar, the issues hit too close to home for me to remain aloof while watching Australian news.
8:30pm- Go do some more readings for class/journal/waste time on the internet.
10pm- Shower/ get ready for bed/ read David Sedaris
11pm- Go to sleep listening to Milky Chance’s album (aka my new obsession, I know, I’m late to the party) on Spotify, which, incidentally, now gives me all my ads in an Australian accent.
And that’s my Tuesday! Now on to Wednesday…
9am- Wake up, laze around in bed, watch YouTube, stalk people on Facebook, the norm.
11am- Get dressed/ ready myself, contemplate what to do with my life now that classes are over for the week.
12pm- Eat breakfast—I got a package of chocolate croissants and a bag of pears from the grocery store yesterday, and I’m feeling really good about this decision. After breakfast, I wash my dishes and check my e-mail, then I decide to head into Freo, the little town near where I live.
1pm- Catch bus into Freo (aka Fremantle)—walk around, look at all the little shops…Fremantle actually has a vibe that is similar to Madison’s State Street, but more…relaxed, I’d say. There’s an old man playing some sort of electric flute sitting on the side of the street. Many places advertise little crystals that purportedly enhance memory or make you calm or clear your chakras (I may or may not have bought one). Bakeries advertise gluten- and dairy-free delights. One of the more wonderful things I’ve noticed about Fremantle (and Perth, for that matter) are the whimsical food combinations—in Freo, one can enjoy a delightful lunch of pasta and sushi (?) and then walk a few steps down the street to indulge in a dessert of gelato and waffles. Seriously, what is better than gelato and waffles?
3pm- I come across a clothing store called “Cheap”. Seems like the place for me. I head to the $5 rack, and leave with a glorious, yin-yang skirt, because why not, you know?
5pm- I stop at Hungry Jacks, which is just Burger King using an assumed name, and get some fries. I revel in ordering them, feeling vindicated that here, at least, they are not called “chips”. I also order a wonderful drink called a frozen coke, for AU$1. I eat my meal feeling oddly patriotic.
6pm- I go to wait at the bus stop
7pm- I arrive back at my flat, and my flat mates Matt, Anthony, Z and I decide to have a movie night—replete with ice cream, hot cocoa, and popcorn. Judge us. After a quick drive to the shops to stock up on treats (luckily Matt has a car), we settle in to watch “My Sister’s Keeper” followed by “The Terminal” with Tom Hanks. Yes, I know, I lead a wild and crazy life. I def need to slow my roll. It’s okay to be jealous.
12am- Shower and go to bed.
Anddd that was my Wednesday, in a nutshell. Of course, not every day is some wild and crazy adventure, but that is okay with me. The little, day-to-day things are a part of studying abroad, too. And ultimately, I did not come here for a vacation; I came here to attempt to build another life in a different country, to prove to myself that I could do it. And the boring, the mundane, the everydayness that is sometimes an unavoidable fact of life, reminds me that that is exactly what I am doing.
Here are some pictures of Freo and food: