Hello from Down Under!

June 17, 2015

First blog post from Australia! This certainly has been an interesting beginning to a trip. I’ve had some trips (research and otherwise) where the flights have been awful for one reason or another, but never quite such a pain as what I have experienced for this trip. To begin with, my flights actually were pretty smooth. I had plenty of time between flights and didn’t have any delays, which is unusual. I guess that should have been foreshadowing. I flew on a Dreamliner from Los Angeles to Melbourne, and that was a pretty nice plane. Each seat actually had plenty of leg space (for someone my stature, anyway). Each seat also had an individual touchscreen monitor to play games or watch movies (with a pretty large movie collection). I think the thing that impressed me most were the windows. They didn’t have shades to pull down when you wanted to darken your area, but rather were electronic. You could dial them up or down for clarity and they would shade more or less. It was pretty cool, but given that I flew at night, I couldn’t actually tell the full effect.

 

When I got to Melbourne, that’s when things started going awry. I waited at the baggage carousel to grab my bags and escort them through customs, but they never showed. I had flights from Memphis to Houston to LA to Melbourne, so I guess it didn’t surprise me that they didn’t show. There was plenty of opportunity to get lost, despite plenty of layover time. I went through customs without my bags, which made it pretty smooth, and then got in line for my fourth flight of the day from Melbourne to Newcastle. I learned that for that flight, you’re allowed two carry-ons provided that they are less than 7kg. My 18kg camera bag was going to have to be checked. At the best of times, I’m nervous about anyone touching my camera bag, and this was right after an airline lost two of my bags. But I had no choice. I’m glad they didn’t weigh my laptop bag as it was well over the 7kg limit (full of books, mostly).

I got to Newcastle and was picked up by a friend who I met in Ecuador (I know, small world). She dropped me off at a hostel where I almost immediately passed out from jet lag. The next couple days were a blur of frustration and stress. For two days, the airline had no idea where my luggage was. It wasn’t until the 17th that I got word that it was sighted in LA and should be delivered here on the 18th. In the intervening time, I had been working on setting up a bank account here as well as trying to find a place to live. Securing a room/apartment/house is not easy from 8000 miles away. I ended up finding a small room for $120AUD per week, which is well under budget for me. It’s not much, but I’m not going to be there for a good chunk of the summer (winter), and it’s basically just a place to crash. I’m not going to be complaining, particularly because it’s only a 10 minute walk from where I’ll be working on campus.

 

My impressions of United Airlines aren’t great, but the reception I’ve received from Australians here has been wonderful. There must be something in the water that makes them all cheery, jocular, and smiling all the time. It’s quite wonderful (and I must say, I love the Australian accent). I met the lab that I’ll be working with over the last couple days, and despite them either, not knowing that I was coming or just finding out within a couple days of my arrival, they have been quite welcoming and curious about my research. They seem like a pretty interesting group of people, and I definitely look forward to learning more about their interests and research. It seems like I’m the odd duck in that I’m doing color evolution research. The rest of the lab seems to be working on some aspect of chytrid in the Green and Golden Bell Frog. It’s interesting, even now, seeing the differences between the Australian and US education systems (i.e., a 2-3 Masters in the US is equivalent to a 1 year Honors thesis in Oz; and PhDs are only 3 years in Oz whereas they’re 5-6 years on average in the US). The differences largely seem to be due to coursework and teaching requirements in the US.

 

Things are slowly starting to settle down, which I very much welcome. For a while, I was very worried that my luggage wouldn’t arrive in a timely manner, which would basically mean my completely revamping my experiment since all of my equipment was in my luggage. But things seem to be working out, and now I think I’ll be able to get into making models, and hopefully get into the field in a week and a half or so. We’ll see!

 

Aside from that, I need to plan a trip to Canberra for an orientation for this fellowship, and I think I am going to stop in Sydney to visit a future collaborator as well as stop at the Taronga Zoo to see the Corroboree Frog breeding facility there. I’m still working out the details and a little nervous about driving on the other side of the road in a major city, but I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

 

That’s all for now!

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