February 21st, 2019

This week was O-Week which is the week before classes, packed with events put on by the Uni Village and Griffith Uni. On Monday, we collected our free O-Week bags with coupons and other free stuff and went on a campus tour with Griffith Mates (tour guides) in the morning. We went to the O-Week festival on campus which was a big set up of tents including Uni Fitness, clubs to join, bars giving out entry coupons, and music. I joined the Griffith Outdoor Adventure club and the Griffith Boardriders club. Later on in the day there was a huge pool party with a DJ at the village and a free dinner. Every event this week has been so well organized. There are also free busses pretty much every night of O-Week that bring students to clubs in Surfers Paradise.

Tuesday I went to the gym and went back to campus to walk around, and in the evening there was a basketball competition where the winners won a case of red bull and a free event ticket. There was a roller disco on the top of a car park where they gave out free GYG (Mexican food) and Dippin’ Dots. Village Olympics was Wednesday, the village brought in a DJ and a company with various blow up structures and the village blocks split into groups to compete against each other. My team got the most points over the course of the day so we won free entry to the beach party at the Uni Bar on Friday. Alcohol seems to be a big part of Australian culture especially for University students, because there is a bar on campus and even the tour guides mentioned drinking events and back home that’s something that would be frowned upon to mention on a campus tour.

Thursday there was supposed to be a village beach trip to Burleigh Heads with busses but it was cancelled and beaches were closed because there is a cyclone coming… I actually had to look up what a cyclone was when people started talking about it. The village is hiring in contractors to cut down trees and branches around the village in preparation for it and there are severe weather warnings all over facebook pages to stay indoors and limit outdoor activities. Cyclone news gets around here like snow storm news gets around at home.

I’ve been able to try some Australian favorites for food in the past couple weeks. Tim tams are a must have if you like chocolate and some of the Australians in the village taught me what a “Tim Tam Slam” is, where you bite off the ends of it, suck hot chocolate through it and let it melt in your mouth. They also say the meat pies here are good and they weren’t kidding. I bought mini frozen meat pies and could have eaten all of them in one sitting. They put seasoning called chicken salt on their fries which makes the fries taste way better and serve them with aioli sauce instead of ketchup. I’m a big sauce person and they make you pay extra everywhere if you want more than just the aioli. The food is pretty different and the grocery stores have less of a selection of certain items than we do back home. Also, every store you go to has self checkout and many take card only. They actually prefer that you use self checkout and some places only have one or two actual cashiers and one attendant which saves a lot of money in the long run.

February 15th, 2019

On Monday we decided to check out another close by beach called Mermaid Beach and spent the evening at the pool. The beach was nice because it was much less crowded than Surfers Paradise. The village is really filling up with residents at this point so the pool here is filled with them during the day. Some of the nights we try to spend at the pool getting to know other people that live here. I already consider myself to be close to the friends I’ve made here so far, and it feels like I’ve known them for years when it’s barely been two weeks. Friendships are different when you’re all together somewhere new because of your sense of adventure and love for exploring as much as possible during the short time here. Many of us have worked really hard to save up money to be able to come on this trip and have been looking forward to it for a long time.

Tuesday we decided to go to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. The tickets were pretty cheap and we could get there by taking the tram to Broadbeach South and hopping on a bus for a half hour. Students get rates halved on the tram by applying for concession status, so every time I ride the tram one way (any distance) I only pay between $0.66-$1.30 AUD which is even better because the conversion rate is in our favor. There was kangaroo feeding up close and personal, crocodiles, emus, koalas, birds, turtles, wombats, Tasmanian devils, and more. Personal favorites were the kangaroos and the emus. Emus are only found in Australia, and I loved that their head is so tiny in proportion to their body, they don’t tweet, they grunt, and they don’t fly… they walk and run. Koalas were a little smaller than I thought they were and they actually aren’t as cute and innocent as they look. Wild koalas will bite and scratch humans but the one that people were holding for photos at the sanctuary was used to people.

Wednesday we went on the Moreton Bay Marine Park Dolphin Cruise including lunch and snorkel through the company Viator. We took the tram to Surfers Paradise and met outside of a hotel where a bus brought us about an hour away to a marina in Brisbane. The whole day was about 12 hours round trip. We got to see dolphins, dugongs, beautiful fish eating coral, and turtles, and got to snorkel around 15 shipwrecks (Tangalooma Wrecks) for over an hour that were placed there for viewing. Lunch was provided and the staff was awesome, especially when it came to spotting the dolphins and dugongs in the water.

One last thing that should be noted is the Australian cigarette packaging that recently caught my eye. I took a photo of a cigarette pack that a friend pulled out but more can be found on google by searching “Australian cigarette packaging”. They have changed their cigarette packages to have smoking-related images in attempt to try to reduce the smoking population to even lower than it already is. The package I saw said “DON’T LET OTHERS BREATHE YOUR SMOKE” with a photo of a child on it with a mask on over his nose and mouth. They are also hidden from view in attempt to ‘shift the culture’. This is a huge difference from our flashy, pretty packages displayed right behind the cashier in the US and it really makes someone think more about the choices they’re making.

February 8, 2019

I haven’t even been on the Gold Coast a full week and I can’t even put into words how much I love this place. There’s always something to do here and you can get anywhere by tram… the public transportation makes getting around so simple. Temperatures have reached above 80 degrees out every day.

I think back to my life at home where you travel 40 minutes to watch a movie, 30 minutes to go bowling, or choose out of about 5 restaurants to go out to eat. Here, the activities are never ending. The shopping, movies, rides, beaches, night life, and restaurants within a 20 minute tram ride from me are amazing. I could probably go out to eat somewhere new every day and never run out of places to go to. On top of that, I have never once felt unsafe anywhere, even if I go somewhere alone. The scariest part about being outside after dark is the bats and the huge cane toads that rustle all the grasses and are apparently poisonous.

A couple days after my arrival I was still jet lagged and found myself falling asleep really early and wide awake by 4:00am, so I decided to take the tram to surfers paradise and watch a sunrise. I took too long to leave so I only saw part of it but I spent an hour or so walking down the beach in the morning from Main Beach to Surfers Paradise and went to Liv Eat for breakfast. There’s so much new and amazing food here to try that I’ve spent a lot of my money at the grocery stores and going out to eat. I have yet to try Kangaroo but everyone says it’s really good. All of the restaurants here are designed so beautifully and colorfully. I’ve been out shopping for groceries just about every other day on the way home from doing something else because there’s not much room to carry things you need home when you’re using a backpack and a reusable bag.

I’ve met a handful of friends here but by the end of this weekend and beginning of next week this village will fill up with people. I spent the next day going back to Surfers Paradise (It’s literally paradise!) with a group of friends and it was really hot, as always, so we went swimming. The water isn’t completely safe to swim in but everyone swims in it so every morning the lifeguards find the “best” spot and put up flags in a small area to be able to watch everyone while they swim. They announced that there were stingers and the water was packed with people so it seems like people just take the risk because of the heat and seek medical attention if they do happen to get stung. We decided on Hungry Jacks for lunch. Turns out, when Burger King moved to expand its operations into Australia, there were trademark issues so they had to change the name to Hungry Jacks.

Yesterday was a productive day… I booked my tickets for the Circus Paradise Music Festival in March that I had found out about through a friend. So far about half of the friends I’ve made here and some of the RA’s are students from the US or somewhere else that loved it so much their first trimester that they decided to return for a second, third, or even fourth. A lot of them know about the area and the good places to get deals already, like 25 cent Wing Wednesdays at this place in Helensvale.

I also got spur of the moment tattoos with a friend that I just met, got Mexican fast food (burritos) for a late lunch, went to Chocolateria San Churro for dinner (we had dessert for dinner…oops) and ended up adventuring to the beach after that. The beach is beautiful at night here because all of the tall buildings keep it well lit pretty far down the beach.

Today we took the tram to the last stop and hopped on a bus to explore Burleigh Head National Park. The walk was over a mile round trip and the view was absolutely beautiful. Part of the path also lead to another beach.

February 1, 2019

Been here for ~24 hours

When I arrived in Sydney yesterday from my 15 hour plane flight, my name was called over the announcement system to go see the attendant at baggage claim 5. She informed me that my big suitcase didn’t make it on the plane from LA to Sydney and only my small one had made it! She took my email down and I had to wait for my small suitcase and rush to the bus to catch it to get to the domestic airport. My layover wasn’t long enough and I made it with 3 minutes to spare before boarding began.

Upon my arrival yesterday I decided not to purchase the $130 sheet set from the village I’m staying in so I had to learn how to purchase and use a go-card to take the tram (G link) aka train to Kmart and buy sheets, towels, pillows, a fan (there’s no AC in this place) and walk 5 minutes back to the train station then about 10 minutes back to our place. It felt like a long walk in 86 degree heat with my arms full of stuff and a long day after traveling for two days!

Today my roommate and I went and printed out our student IDs, then walked to ALDI to get groceries. Safe to say things are a challenge when you don’t have a car and you don’t have a meal plan! We walked about 20 minutes down the side of a busy highway to get groceries but had to keep purchases to a minimum because we didn’t want to have to Uber back. People don’t really use carts for groceries here unless they pay to use them because they have ended up out in the open where they shouldn’t be and they don’t use plastic bags unless they want to pay $0.15 for them. Most people either use reusable bags or their own type of shopping cart on wheels. I’m currently wearing most of the same clothes I flew in… I’ve pretty much been in them for three days now so my advice to my future self is to always pack at least one full outfit in my carry on. Tonight I’ll attend the mandatory village orientation and I’m hoping that my suitcase with all of my clothes in it will arrive as well.

January 29, 2019

Plane flight #1: Boston —> LA

Hi! My name is Gabrielle Chartier, and I am a third year management and marketing student at UMaine going to study abroad at Griffith University on the Gold Coast of Australia. The person that had the most impact on me making the choice to study abroad was my mom, who went to Italy when she was in college. She said the same thing that everyone else says when they go abroad… it was the opportunity of a lifetime and they wish everyone would be able to experience it. Around the same time that my mom was mentioning it to me, I also had a couple of friends who decided to study abroad and chose to go to Australia, and seeing their pictures sparked my interest.

I am looking forward to this new adventure because it’s a completely fresh start to have a ton of free time to do whatever I choose with. I chose Australia over other places because of what I like to do and because of the friends I’ve had who have gone and loved it. I’m into activities that involve a lot of adrenaline and the many things I had heard about going to Australia included surfing, scuba diving, sky diving, human slingshots, bungee jumping, hiking, many beautiful beaches, and warm weather.

I have many plans for Australia that aren’t set in stone and I’m hoping to make friends who want to explore as soon as I arrive. The semester also starts and ends later than our UMaine semester. My classes run from February 25th to June 10th. Nothing like a three week vacation to figure out the ropes and fit in some traveling before classes begin! I’m also living in the most common place that international students live, called the Griffith University Village (5 bedroom apt style), which is cool because I’m going to be living with students from all over the world.

One of my goals is to create close friendships with people so that I’m able to travel more cost effectively in the future. My main goal for this trip is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The most important lessons I’ve learned this far in life is that you learn the most from the challenges you face. I look forward to traveling solo and traveling with friends around Australia and hopefully New Zealand.

I want to take my first week to explore the area I’ll be living in, buy groceries, get on a normal sleep schedule (15 hours ahead), possibly rent a bike, find the beach, explore campus, get my student ID card, meet new friends, attend the village orientation, and learn how to use the T to go to Brisbane which is about 45 minutes from where I’ll be. Hopefully by my second week I have found friends who want to road trip or do some more hiking or exploring.

I am also excited for O-Week. Orientation week begins February 18th and is an entire week full of activities put on by Griffith University, including campus tours, movies, a roller disco, a pool party, games, a comedy night, international student welcome, and a beach party.