It has been quite challenging to get around the hilly town of Annerley, the city shopping center of South Bank, and the University of Queensland, with its 50,000 student population, which is towering compared to the 2,000 students back home at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Large is not even a thing you notice until you experience it. I felt hopelessly lost in the city of Brisbane, but that was part of the experience of getting to know a big city. I come from the relatively large city of Boston, with a large population in such a small area, but it is not on such a scale as Brisbane. Brisbane is spread through the expanse of the land, rather than vertically, like Boston with its many high-rises. I walked around the city with my roommate Harry on the first week I arrived back in late August, and was amazed at the grand scale. There was Queen St Mall, with impossibly many floors of shopping space, and a complex bus system with buses coming in and out through the Cultural Centre station. Looking towards the Victoria bridge that spans over the Brisbane River, there is the famous South Bank Ferris Wheel and the Nepal Peace Pagoda left by the Brisbane World Expo.
And the people? In my experience as a student, Australians have been the most positive people I have met. The airplane stewards on my plane coming to Brisbane from Los Angeles were incredibly professional. Although it is as much human decency and professionalism, I believe it is also the Australian accent that is such a unique and defining factor. Australians put inflections in their voice at the end of their sentences, as if asking a question, and throughout their sentences go through various tones in an almost musical kind of sense. I feel that the Australian accent is naturally happy, and it shows in the way Australians are willing to give a helping hand to those that look a little lost, most notably in stores or small events, and even in bars and open-air markets.
Yesterday on a beautiful cloudy morning, I ran the Take a Hike Marathon in West End which is a track that runs around the Brisbane River. I took the wrong route mistakenly while I was on the second of three loops of the first half of the marathon. A male runner behind me came to my aid, seeing that I was in the wrong part of the race. He seemed experienced, probably because he was already a full 30 minutes ahead of me by that point in the race. He explained that I had taken the wrong turn, and kept me calm by clearly explaining what I had to do to get back on the right route. This man did not have to help me, but he did. He could of ran off ahead of me, but he saw that his race time was not an important matter, and was more than willing to help me get back on the right track, to help a novice runner do it right the second, third, and fourth time. His directions eventually led me to make the right turns and run the right route, and I finished my first marathon with the help of a kind Australian samaritan.
Along the way I also met Mill, a female runner who helped me dig into my reserves to run with energy. Though the wall of the “20 mile” eventually hit me, her help was immeasurable to ignoring the physical stress of running the previous 21 kilometers. I believe these new friends of mine knew that I was a novice runner, but they also noticed that I am strong. Mill remarked that I was a natural-born runner, having only trained up to an hour on my long runs. She had run nearly three hours on her long runs in training. Either she thought I was a particularly gutsy American, or a particularly lousy planner. But in the end, I had made friends along the way that really put a pep in my step.
Back to getting hopelessly lost in my first few weeks walking around the city: I was still lost on the Sunday of my marathon, but I realize that it is because I am trying new goals, ideas, and am in a completely new culture. I have never in my life been taken outside of my comfort zone until studying abroad in Australia. The closest experience that nearly matches the nervousness and dread that surrounds being independent is going to college, for me; leaving Boston, where I have grown up for the past 17 years to live for full semesters in another state, New York. It is scary to know that I am growing up so fast and being my own independent self in most of my free time, but I am aided by the new families I have grown into, and the new friends I have made along the way. Studying abroad has helped me stretch my independence even more, and my mind has begun to realize what more can be out there. Like New York, Australia has done that for me, and prepared me for a lifetime of new goals.