The enigma that is the PhD

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A PhD has always been in the cards for me.  I idolised it in college, denied it after my masters, and chased it after a few years in the workforce. It was something that, on some level, I think I always knew I wanted to take on. I think originally I sought the challenge. I wanted to see if I could really achieve that “highest” level of education, but beyond that, the more I learned in high school, college and graduate school, the more I wanted to learn MORE. I never wanted to leave this amazing “safe space” of exploration. Within the university walls, intellectual curiosity wasn’t just encouraged, it was expected.

So here I am, chasing that dream of having two simple letters placed before my name. I’d be the 4th Dr. Woessner in my family, and the only one earning that title on foreign soil. Every day I’m thankful to be going through this process (ok, well, maybe every other day or so…we all have our “off” moments) and though I remain just as driven to achieve that final outcome, I think somewhere in the last two years while I kept the “what do I want,” I’ve changed my “why.”

I always thought a PhD was that big thesis you write at the end. So my why was always, to prove that I can finish a thesis. For my non-academia centred friends, the thesis is that giant book of a document you construct to illustrate to the “world” (not really the world, the only people who likely every read your thesis are your supervisors, external reviewers, and maybe an extremely overly supportive parent) what you wanted to learn, what you actually learned, and why it mattered. For the longest time I thought this document was the PhD. Writing it, after all, marks the “finish line”… so it makes sense that you define the process by the product right?

Wrong.

While most people know the end product of the PhD, the actual process of GETTING it is shrouded in mystery. It’s like a secret society. A process best described by the following quote: “From the outside looking in, you can never understand it, from the inside looking out, you can never explain it.”

The PhD is not just a document. It’s a cult.  It’s a life. It’s a world all in its own. The further down the “rabbit hole” you go, the harder it is to poke your head back out and breathe. The only people who truly understand the extremes are the ones living through it beside you. There’s this instant state of camaraderie with any of fellow candidates. There’s an unspoken agreement to avoid “how far along are you” and “how’s your writing,” but then, even WE can’t help but to ask the questions now and then. Because we know. We get it….and let’s be honest, we are kind of curious about your progress so that we can adequately gauge our own.

But even though we innately “get” the journey we are cumulatively on, each individual is still walking their own walk. You can have research teams, groups and programs, and you can even be in the same college or university, but at the end of the day, you are the only one going through your journey. Because of this, it can be a very lonely road…if you let it.

This is the other side of the PhD, that no one really wants to talk about. The part where you spend long hours questioning every aspect of your project and all the decisions that you made, whilst simultaneously running through the countdown clock in your head. 4 years until I don’t have a scholarship, 3 years…2….1….

I guess what I’m trying to say is, the PhD is far more than the finish line. I know from the outside looking in, “when will you finish” is the only question some of my friends and family know to ask, but from the inside looking out, sometimes that’s the last thing we want to here….partly because there’s no easy answer to that. We are in a race against time are really our only hope for when we finish is that WE finish before our scholarship finishes.

I’m in the middle of my venture. I’m past the new and shiny phase of the project, but not quite to the complete disillusioned state. I still love my project. I still love the world and life I’ve created here, but it’s hard. My days, to a certain extent, will be on replay for the next 14 months or so as collecting data for my clinical trial is slow going. I’m doing other things, of course. Like almost every PhD student I know, I too am teaching, writing, and finding any  unique ways to improve my resume. I’ve also taken on a role at the university where I am helping to develop course content for several masters and undergraduate classes, and blending them into online videos and content. It has been such a steep learning curve, but something I’m sure will really help me when I am out job hunting one day.

It’s not all tough going….during your PhD you have some of the greatest “job” flexibility of your life– depending on the project you’ve set up. Mine, for instance, is an ongoing clinical trial. I am constantly enrolling new heart failure patients, and each patient undergoes about 9 testing visits over the course of 8 weeks, whilst also consuming the correct colour and dose of beetroot juice (my intervention of choice). This means that, for all intents and purposes, my project is always running, making it very hard to ever just “take a holiday.” Sure, I can work from home, and maybe take off early now and then, but if I want my project to ever be finished, I (and any holidays I want to take) am my own biggest obstacle.

Maybe for some people getting a PhD really could just be about conducting a study and writing a paper, but I think by taking that approach you would miss an incredible opportunities for self growth. Every day I learn something new about my project, my field of study, and most importantly about myself. So sometimes I think it’s good to sit back and be thankful for where I am. My what hasn’t changed. I am still doing a PhD. But my why is no longer just to face the intellectual challenge of completing a thesis. My why is because I want to challenge myself. I want to challenge my way of thinking, my determination, and the person I want to become.

This PhD isn’t about developing a project. It’s about developing myself.

What a life.

What an opportunity.

What a privilege.

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It was never JUST about Australia

All the challenges and obstacles I once envisioned with regards to this international adventure were originally based around me finding a way to settle into this brave new world. I naively imagined that my accomplishments and self-satisfaction would peak when I finally hit that moment of feeling “at home” in Australia…but the funny thing is, I’ve recently come to realise that  this move was never really about adapting to a new country. It wasn’t about Australia,or some grand adventure to travel to the farthest ends of the earth (no, Mom. The intention was never to be so far away from home)…In this past year I’ve truly come to realise that the most significantly meaningful part of this experience has been learning how to define, embrace, improve and accept myself in a place where emotionally and geographically I have no one BUT myself to fall back on.

Throughout life I can pinpoint certain moments, days and events that have had a significant impact on my life course. Each one has in some way shaped me either professionally and personally. There was the time I got my acceptance letter into college,my first puppy, my first “big girl” job, my first time living alone, my first loss of a loved one etc etc. Up until now these moments have been just that–a moment. A singular point in time that had an impact. This past year, however, is completely different because it has been 365 days of these moments. Never before have I been able to look back at an entire year and so clearly see a dramatic difference between my current life perspective and my old one. I’ve grown. I’ve changed. In some really big ways, but also in a thousand little ones.
I’m the same person I’ve always been, but more confident. I’m self assured but self-reflective. I’m imperfect in a hundred ways but I’m embracing the flaws, highlighting the strengths, and working towards more. I find myself embracing the unexpected more readily. The adventurous spirit that used to be buried deep under a layer of social self-consciousness now shines brighter than ever before. My critical rational self is slowly learning to express thoughts and emotions more readily. I still pride my loyalty and friendships above all else, but I’m learning where and who to invest my time and energy in. I’m taking care of others but not at my own expense.
There are challenges. Oh my are there challenges. Instagram and Facebook tell a story of adventure, but the pictures only tell one side. I’m not trying to misrepresent my time here. Overall it really is so much better than I ever could have imagined, but time is flying and when you only have minutes to spare to share a story, you want to share the happy one. You want to post the photo of the fun. You post it for the loved ones back home to see you are doing ok (because really, even in the chaos, things are OK), but you also post it for yourself. Sometimes a quick photo with a thoughtful caption can be the reminder you need that the day to day is fairly frivolous, but within this frivolity is life. And taking a moment to smile at the big picture, or even the small picture, can be just what you need to keep chugging along.
I never thought this move would be easy. I knew it wouldn’t be. I used to pride myself on being independent, but I now realise how superficial and materialistic my definition of independence was. I lived far away from my family–INDEPENDENT (they had moved and I stayed within 30miles of where I’d always lived). I lived on my own–INDEPENDENT (I was too unorganised to find a roommate and so I became more hermit like). I went to movies by myself –INDEPENDENT(ok, I think this is still a good thing to do now and then, but really? that shouldn’t count as independence). I still pride myself on independence, but in a different way. I’m thinking for myself without being constrained by what other people may think. I’m not bound to any past history here because no one has known me for longer than a year. When you move, the nicknames, stories and character analysis is limited to the last 12 months, which frees you up to refine and redefine any aspect that you like. It’s freeing. It’s automatic independence from the expectations people had of you before as well as the expectations you had for yourself. I think my thoughts and share my opinions free of the labels that I let define me when I first arrived– American, english speaker, foreigner, athlete, PhD, homeschooler, etc. I’m independent of the both the societal and individual constraints I once let consume me. I’m not perfect, and I definitely still have my moments, but overall I truly think I’m becoming the best version of myself.
Australia was never just about kangaroos and koalas. It was never just going to be a study abroad experience. I think I always knew this trip would be life changing….I just never expected it to be so ME changing.
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Magnetic Island, Queensland Australia (photo credit-frombat)

The Power of Words

There are so many individual events to catch up on my blog (for instance my sister’s entire visit), but I feel it’s time for a post that’s not simply a recap on my every day world. So here goes nothing…or something.

I have recently been pondering the power of words. They can carry so much weight and yet they flow off the tongue with such ease that their strength is often forgotten. Words can seamlessly bring people together, clear the murky waters of misunderstandings, and create a connection in people with the most diverse backgrounds imaginable. They are amazing. These simple words that I’m typing right now are conveying thoughts and emotions that would otherwise remain trapped in my head. Spoken language is incredible.

Since being in Australia I’ve had countless moments where I am simply in awe of language.  Words can vary so dramatically language to language, country to country and even just person to person. A word spoken by one person can be entirely flipped in pronunciation, emphasis and even meaning when spoken by someone else. It amazes me how how someone from France or Italy can take even the most bland English words and turn them into something poetic, almost lyrical. There’s a flare to the words that I just don’t seem to have with my own language. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’ve worn mine out. I have spoken the same words (probably repeating the same few thousand fairly regularly) for 25ish years. Maybe that’s why a new language is so exhilarating–new words to describe the same experiences. But it goes beyond that even, because oftentimes through another language we discover new ways to describe things we never had a word for.

I’m not quite there yet with my second language. I’m still simply trying to learn words to describe my every day habits (yes, I’m finally past the “teach me the dirty words” stage of learning French—though, I am very fluent in several such phrases). My friends that have mastered at least two languages, however, get to reap the benefits of a nearly infinite volcabularly. They can just switch back and forth, French to English, to find the absolute BEST pieces of each to describe life. They call it Franglish and fight against it, but I call it impressive and dare I say, superpower-ish. Fight it all you want, but I would LOVE to have an entirely new volcabularly at my disposal. I have always loved words, and consistently try to challenge myself to use those “SAT” words I studied so much in high school, but that’s me just having some fun. Oh how I wish I paid more attention in my French classes.

But, I digress. The point is that language is incredibly powerful and can literally make or break connections. For instance, if my international friends here had never bothered to learn English, there’s just no way we’d be able to communicate effectively enough to forge a deep meaningful friendship. I mean, don’t get me wrong, our communication isn’t perfect. Even now, we have many nights where we spend hours playing charades with each other, only it’s not a game, it’s reading a recipe, and it’s not just gestures, it’s playing with words and the emPHAsis until we have the ah-ha moment of comprehension. But really, these moments just offer some comedic relief to relationships already built on so much more. I won’t say all of human interaction and meaningful connections hinges on spoken word, but I will say the ability to speak and share thoughts and emotions can create a truly powerful connection between individuals.

As with most things in life however, this power presents itself as a double-edge sword. Along with the ability to connect, build and bond comes the ability to tear down, separate and destroy. It is so easy to think a thought, say a word, and be forever free of it. But words aren’t words by just being spoken. They gain meaning, power and strength by being heard. And the perspective and context in which they are heard can dramatically influence their power. Words spoken in haste do not always disappear so hastily from the listener’s ears .Words can leave someone quickly in anger, but stay with another, resurfacing and replaying for years to come. An earnest jest could tug at the deepest insecurities of a friend. You truly never know the lasting effect your words could have on someone, so all you can do is assume the best.

Assume everyone has the best memory. Assume your words will forever be stamped in the story of their lives. Assume your words are so influential and powerful that they could literally change the world. Because you know what, for better or for worse…They can.

Choose carefully

 

 

Selfies with Kangaroos

This weekend it happened. I finally had my “oh my gosh, I am really in Australia” moment. It may have taken a week and a half for it to hit, but boy was it worth the wait.

This past weekend I traveled to Healesville Sanctuary (one of three zoos in the state of Victoria). I was thankful to have the opportunity to tag along on my Advisor’s (Jason) family trip out there (lucky for me they’ve adopted me into the family fold!) as this zoo is in no way easily accessible to me with only public transport and a bike at my disposal.

As we wound through the country roads, we got out first (or maybe just my first) real look at the Australian landscape, and I must say, I was surprised. We were in no way near the desert outback, but we were out an hour and a half from the CBD (central business district) of Melbourne. I expect to see dry, flat land with a lot of open fields, but where we were was lush and green (well as green as I’ve seen Australia anyway) and there were hills. There were HUGE hills. Hills big enough to cause some ear popping as we wound our way through them.

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(not the best picture from the car, but you get the idea)

As we drew closer to the sanctuary the landscaping only improved as we hit wine country. The vineyards were breathtaking, and we must have passed dozens of them. I made a mental note to find a wine tour that traveled out that way at some point.

Since it was a family outing, we all did our best to find kid friendly shows and activities and keep the little ones entertained as best we could, and luckily much of their interests coincided with mine. My long list of must-sees boiled down to Koalas and Kangaroos. And all expectations of the sightings were surpassed.

The zoo was beautiful. It reminded me of the Asheville Zoo in North Carolina back home in that the animals were, for the most part, in larger pens where they had some room to roam around. Beyond even the animal enclosures though, the walk around the zoo was scenic on its own.

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(walking through the zoo)

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(still within the zoo–incredible)

They had sculptures throughout (and some were interactive water sprayers) and the trees concealed any signs or sounds of human life outside of the sanctuary.

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When we made it to the kangaroos, I could hardly contain my excitement. They were in an enclosed pen that you could walk through. The animals had safe spots behind ropes if they wanted, and for the most part that’s what they wanted, but there was one little roo who was just curious enough to come say hello and I got some awesome shots of him(her?).

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It was a HOT day (95F so about 32C), so going in I assumed  that most of the animals would be hiding out in the shade, and while some were, a lot were out and about. It seemed like we kept hitting each pen at the opportune moment (feeding time). Even the Koalas (famous for their 22 hours of sleep per day) were roaming around when the keepers brought fresh food out. I managed to grab a few decent shots of those fuzzy old men as well.

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The whole trip was a grand adventure and a great kickoff to life down under. I don’t feel “at home” here yet (and maybe I never will, but 2 weeks isn’t enough time to know, give me a break!), but at least I can finally say two things for certain.

One- I am DEFINITELY in Australia.

Two- I got a selfie with a kangaroo!

Cheers!

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New home, new Uni, same old American girl

This week I moved into a townhouse with an American roommate I found before heading over. The story of our connection is semi-long so let’s just say we had mutual connections at UNC Chapel Hill (where we both attended – though not at the same time). It feels great to finally unpack all of my suitcases and feel like I have a bit of a “home” here. This is my new bedroom:
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It’s a fairly average size from what I’ve seen of the homes here and it has ample storage space for my modest amount of personal items. It is in a quieter part of town, but incredibly convenient to a shopping center (one of the LARGEST shopping centers around—and certainly bigger than any American equivalent I’ve seen.

My first night Ashley showed me the way to the shops in order to procure the groceries I needed to make my first mealin Oz. My jaw dropped when I saw the fresh market at this shopping center. It was HUGE.

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So how the shopping centers work here (or at least my experience of THIS one) is that they have EVERYTHING in them. They have clothing, banks, speciality shops (like at malls), produce markets, chain grocery stores, meat markets and pastry shops! It’s setup like a mall, so everything is indoors, but the pure size of this one is incredible. Back to the fresh market though. It is so vast that I literally didn’t know where to start. They had every fruit imaginable (and plenty unimaginable), and whatever they had, they had 10 varieties of. I’ve never seen so many plums in my LIFE.

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And all the fruit looked delicious
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Ashley circled the market like a pro, scouting prices, freshness and quality…meanwhile I fumbled around looking for recognizable fruits and veggies (bananas, grapes and lettuce), before ending up at the plum section. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten a plum before, but I couldn’t leave the market without at least trying one of the varieties (it was delicious….no, I don’t remember which one I got).

Following the fresh market, we ventured over to Woolworths (the chain grocery store here) to get more of the everyday foods. I thought I was somewhat prepared walking in as I’ve shopped and cooked for myself for years now, but when you go to the deli counter and see every price in AUD$ and every weight in kilos and grams, you realize you are about to really show off your American-ness. Thankfully everyone around was incredibly nice and helpful.

Whilst wandering the store I did see some delicious imported beer….sadly it’s now quite out of my price range

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The BEST thing I purchased by far and above were these little pieces of heaven
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They live up to their hype in every way imaginable. YUM.

Ok, enough on food. I also visited the Uni (University) Monday for the first time. When you first walk up to it, it doesn’t seem all that special. Honestly it’s a bit dull with its old brick exterior, but as you wind through the paths you come across benches and trees and sculptures that make you feel like the place has some character. Beyond that, the building I will be working out of is the newest on campus and is stunning.

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(ISEAL-Institue of Sport, Exercise and Active Living)

I also started setting up my teaching contract. My advisor arranged for me to teach tutorials to Masters students at the Uni. Well, he set me up to teach “Tuts” (pronounces toots). It really is true that Aussies abbreviate everything. It honestly feels a bit like they let loose a bunch of teenage girls and had them shorten every word and then said “Yep. That’s perfect. Let’s all talk like that.” I don’t mind it at all, in fact I kind of love it, but until you know the lingo, it truly feels like everyone around you is speaking a different language.

I also had my welcome to Australia moment. Throughout the day I kept hearing semi-disturbing whispers after I mentioned my new town Maribyrnong. I overheard “river….body,” from one person, and a bit later after the same conversation with another person I caught the words “pieces…floating.” Needless to say as soon as I made it home, I looked up what the fuss was about. Evidently police here identified a body that was found in bits and pieces in the river near my town. OY. Ironically (I don’t know if it’s good or bad ironic, or if it’s even ironic at all) the death was not animal related. So much for the animals being so scary (STILL NO SCARY ANIMAL SIGHTINGS).

I met about 50 people I don’t remember and maybe 3 I do (not bad odds for me, honestly). I tripped UP the stairs in a grand, embarrassingly loud fashion twice (only one of which someone saw), and I got lost trying to find my way back to the room my advisor wanted me to meet him. All in all I’d say I got the full first day experience. Today was slightly less eventful, but I’ll save more stories for next time.

Cheers, Mates!

Living in the Sun Globe

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(View of Melbourne from the Train Station)

I think the weirdest part of my first few days living in Australia has been how NOT weird it has been. Don’t’ get me wrong, this is different, it’s a challenge, and I am definitely NOT in Kansas (the US) anymore…but it still isn’t quite the extreme I expected.

I guess it goes back to Americans’ expectations of what Australia is. We think outback, snakes, spiders, crocodiles—ok,ok, so we mostly only think of everything that can kill you, but isn’t that what Australia IS? Well, no.

So far Australia seems like some weird cross between England, Miami and California. It reminds me of England because they speak English, but not really (more on that later). Miami comes to mind due to the landscape and plants (built for hot weather!), and the cool wind even in the bright sun reminds me of my trips to California. The truth is, it still doesn’t FEEL like Australia, or at least the Australia I thought I was jumping into. I haven’t seen a spider, snake or shark, well, unless you count this big guy.

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(Giant shark slide the kids were loving)

So to all my American friends–Australia (at least in the cities) isn’t as scary as we all picture it to be. I haven’t even checked my shoes for spiders, though I do still look for snakes EVERYWHERE, but that could be due to my past run of bad luck with poisonous critters.

Now for what you REALLY want to hear about…all the weird things I’ve seen thus far! Let’s see, the new words I’ve learned thus far are:

Tasty cheese—seems to be some sort of cheap cheddar like cheese that I believe can pass for “American cheese”…I opted for swiss cheese that day as it looked questionable.

“Give way” signs—these are in place of “yield” signs….Made me smile

Sunnies– I overheard someone say to a friend “I really like your sunnies” and quickly figured out that they were referring to sunglasses. I like this abbreviation and will be adopting that one immediately.

Fairy Floss– Cotton candy’s cuter name…I love it. It reminds me of in france where it is referred to as something that translates to “Papa’s beard.” Personally, I prefer fairy floss….

I’m sure there are many more words I’ve forgotten, but those are the ones that have stood out to me.

Today was my first day out and about in the CBD (central business district of Melbourne) as we went to a Festival at Saint Kilda Beach. Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the festival and though the morning was overcast (and a bit chilly with the wind blowing off the bay), the sun came out early afternoon and I saw the city in its natural light. It was beautiful. It is much like any other city with it’s large skyscrapers, graffiti marked alleys, and lots of trees. Melbourne has the added benefit of a river cutting through it and a bay up against it. To call it scenic is an understatement.

On the way to the city there are plenty of smaller suburbs (some of which are picturesque and some one would deem “sketchy” to travel through at night). There are also plenty of open patches of land with the wildlife look I expected from Australia. Flat lands with small rolling hills, dried grass next to plants that have seen way too much sun and are too little rain and very small trees. I loved that part of the train trip because it made me feel like I was truly down under.

No matter where I’ve been these last three days, one thing has stood out to me above all else and that is just how BIG the sky is. I feel like the only pictures I have been taking here are while utilizing the panorama setting on my camera because the normal photo simply can’t do the sky justice.

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(Saint Kilda Beach)

I truly feel like I am in a sun globe. I look up at the sky and think that surely this is exactly what someone in a snow globe would be seeing if their snow globe had sun. The sky truly feels like an immersive Imax experience and I simply cannot get enough of it. And the sunsets…oh my those sunsets…

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(Sunset from Jason and Sandee’s House in Caroline Springs)

Tomorrow will be a busy day as I finally get to see my University (I need to get used to calling it the Uni), and I will move into my new townhome, closer to school and closer to the CBD). It has been such a blessing to have this pitstop with my Adviser and his family, as being around friends made the transition much easier…still, I am very excited to finally unpack all of my suitcases (as I’ve been living out of them not wanting to unleash the chaos until I am in my own room).

Wish me luck as I continue this venture, friends. I am sure I will have trying times ahead, but so far I am adjusting well to my new life living in the sun globe.

Down under via the Titanic

The craziest part of the whole adventure thus far, is how much the reality of it all has not sunk in. I spent all of Tuesday traveling, but it wasn’t until I boarded the titanic of planes that I really understood I was on a one way flight to a far away land. But let’s not start there. I’ll start at the beginning.

The first leg of my journey was a simple but stress inducing one. Over the past few months I have had countless conversations with Qantas (the Australian airline) about all the rules regarding luggage. For instance, your bags should all be under 50lbs, if it was over, there was a fee but still no single bag could be over 75lbs. Your two free checked bags could not have perimeters exceeding 104 inches, but you also could not have a single bag over 64 inches. After spending hours packing and repacking and weighing and reweighing (thanks Dad!), I came to the conclusion that weight-wise I should be fine, but width/height/length wise I was screwed. So when I showed up at the airport Tuesday morning I was just waiting for the airline attendant to whip out her measuring tape and give me one last roadblock prior to departure. By some miracle, she overlooked measurements on my stuffed to the gills bags and confirmed all three were under the weight limit. To most this may seem a small victory, but for me it was the best news I’d had in weeks.

After a tearful goodbye with my Mom I meandered around the airport for a while and had an uneventful first leg of my journey over to LAX. Don’t get me wrong, the flight was long, the seats were small, and I was tired(didn’t sleep well the night before), but when you know a 15 hour MONSTER of a flight is coming up, 4 hours really just doesn’t phase you.

I arrived in LAX around 2:30 local time, leaving me with just over 8 long hours before my nighttime departure to Melbourne. I took the advice of my future roommate and Nana and purchased a day pass to the Admirals club. For anyone with a long layover, I HIGHLY recommend this. It was $50 and worth every penny. I spent my afternoon lounging in big comfy chairs streaming Netflix (for one last time) and sipping on free wine (yes friends, free wine). I had dinner there around 6pm local, and by that point my day clock was already all screwed up. For me, 6pm local was already 8pm in my last timezone, but I was hungry so I went with it. I got a shower (yes, they offer showers) there before deciding around 9pm it was time to find my next flight.

The signs were all a bit confusing and it took me about 10 minutes to realize that the terminal I had claimed as my nesting grounds was only for domestic flights and I needed to get over to the international terminal. I located the corresponding shuttle and hopped aboard. Can I just say, oh dear sweet heavenly accents, you overwhelm me in the best way possible. All around me, “mate,” “lad,” and “chap” were being tossed about and I just soaked it all in. A nice fellow from Sydney struck up a conversation with me and upon hearing this was my first flight down under confirmed (as everyone else has consistently) that I will love it. “But wait til you see this plane,” he finished. Smiling, I gave a small uneasy laugh and said “oh you mean the thing called the Airbus.” Just then we turned a corner and a HUGE plane appeared. I gawked, pointed, and mumbled something about “that’s outrageous” before he quickly corrected me explaining that those were the smaller vessels. Sure enough, one more turn down a more secluded terminal and planes that can only be described as titanics of the air appeared before me. I tried to get a picture of these Airbus machines, but the pictures truly don’t do them justice. They were double-decker planes that sat 10 people across and somewhere between 3-500 people total.

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Side note here, when I first landed at LAX, I must admit I was underwhelmed by the terminal. I was expecting tons of restaurants, boutiques, salons, etc, and what I saw was a couple hundred yards of gates, fast food, a few bars and the admirals club. When I popped off the shuttle at the international terminal, however, I got my awestruck moment. This terminal was HUGE (well, how could it not be when it has 3 titanics parked there). I don’t regret spending my time at the admirals club, but if I have a shorter layover next time, I will definitely spend my time at the international airport.

As I waited for the massive boarding process to reach my row, I began to feel the weight of this adventure. I felt so small. Up until now I had felt invincible, independent and self-assured, but suddenly I had this overwhelming sense of smallness. I don’t know how better to describe it than that. My world felt so small.

I think my jaw was slowing me down as I boarded– it was permanently stuck to the floor as I walked through Titanic. I found my seat (I preselected an aisle seat so I’d have control of my ups and downs throughout the flight, and I’m very thankful I did), and settled in. It was now 11pm local time (feeling like 1am to my sleepy self). I had been pre-warned that dinner would be served a couple hours in (on aussie time to help with the adjustment), so I forced myself to watch a movie until mealtime. Needless to say, nothing sounded too good at (what felt like) 3 in the morning, but I choked some food down after the cheery attendants noted that breakfast was a good 10 hours away. I glanced at my wrist-watch (still set to LA time) and realized that the small hand would have to go all the way around PLUS a little before I reached my final destination. I don’t know why, but that visual struck me most when thinking about just how long this flight was.

The flight wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t fantastic either. The seats are just big enough that you don’t feel on top of you seat buddy, but just small enough that they are most definitely in your space bubble. Luckily the titanic was a very smooth cloud cruiser. In fact, if it weren’t for a little turbulence and the fact that there were 400 people around you in tiny chairs, you could almost forget you were on a plane. I stood up and moved around a few times during the flight, but there’s only so much you can move in the tiny aisles and by the end of the flight I noticed my ankles had entirely disappeared (I will be investing in compression stockings for my next go at this forever flight).

Qantas served a yummy hot breakfast with about an hour to go in the flight and you could feel the buzz in Titanic as we neared our final port. I was not near a window, so I couldn’t get a feel for the landscape as we came down, but when we stepped off the plane, the warm air was a welcome greeting. There’s something very eerie about stepping off a plane and NOT being able to “turn your phone off airplane mode.” I had no means of communication and didn’t know a single soul around me. I stumbled around the airport a bit before falling into a line that felt a bit like how I would imagine cattle feel whilst being herded to slaughter. In this case slaughter was customs. It took about as long as you’d imagine it would take to herd 500people through 6 lines of inquiries. All my worries were for naught as they didn’t check my medications, my doctors’ notes nor my prescriptions. All that energy wasted! Oh well, I wasn’t going to insist on further inspection so I located my suitcases (all 147 pounds of them) and went in search of my former boss turned advisor.

We found each other and he thankfully took control of my plethora of baggage. We reached the car and I had my first “I’m in Australia” moment when I waited by the passenger side of the car and he asked if I was planning on driving. Oh right. I was standing by the steering wheel.

The rest of the day was good but exhausting. I saw some shops and what malls here look like. I was also able to get a new aussie number so my phone can be used again outside of only on wifi. I had a glass of wine post-dinner and enjoyed a beautiful aussie sunset. The only downside was that I am not on a coastline and thus don’t have a completely unobstructed sunset view (nitpick here…). It still felt like I was in some summertime snow globe. I could do a 360 and see clear beautiful skies all around me.

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I am in Australia. Wow. I am here and this is real. I have to keep repeating it or I won’t believe it. Maybe it’s because it really doesn’t LOOK like “the outback,” or maybe it’s because I haven’t seen all the “things that can kill you,” but for some reason it doesn’t feel real. I know I’m not in the USA anymore, but it’s almost like I can’t process where I actually am. I can’t process that where I am now is 10000 miles away from “home.” Either way, here I am….in the land of Oz. Maybe someday soon I’ll believe it.