Do you ever feel like you know someone, even though you’ve only just met them? Our students arrived today, and that’s exactly how I felt. Looking at their (bleery-eyed, tired, but excited) faces, I already felt like I’d met most of them. This could be because we spent an hour playing a name game today, and I simply memorized their names and faces, but I did feel like I already knew them; it makes me optimistic for the semester.
Early last week felt like a complete whirlwind of activity; through the end of the week, we simply ran around doing whatever needed doing to make the students feel welcome. Sometimes, this meant sitting and listening to music while we created signs for their doors (very relaxing!) and others times, it meant that we were tearing around, sweaty, frantic, and trying to clean the last cobwebs and rocks out of their cabins. There were definitely trying times this week; it was easy to feel overwhelmed, and it was incredibly easy to be frustrated with how much there was to do. Today, though, when we heard them oohing and aahing over the common room, it felt like it was worth it.
In between our frantic cleaning, we also took a day for ourselves. We have one day off a week, just like our students do. Last week, we had Sunday off, which coincided not only with the Taste of the Tablelands festival, but also with a visit from a former intern, John. We spent the day perusing Atherton, spending the morning tasting delicious local food at Taste of the Tablelands, and then trying to find working internet in the afternoon. We ended up parked at a McDonald’s in Atherton for several hours, which allowed me to finally post to here. We also spent some time exploring the town of Atherton itself.
Taste of the Tablelands was certainly a highlight of being out and about on Sunday. I was fortunate to be the driver (the roads around here are almost certain to make you nauseated), and it was nice for me to learn to drive to Atherton. The festival itself was also a lot of fun. I have never been to a Taste festival before, but it was lovely to walk around tasting new foods, learning what people make here. Dairy is very common here, as is farming. The soil is incredibly rich from volcanic deposits, and so a wide variety of crops grow here. It also produces enough grass to sustain a reasonably large dairy cow population. It was certainly a very enjoyable way to spend the day off, and it was wonderful to spend time with John, who was able to give my fellow interns (Ashley, my best friend from high school, Dan from Boston, and Mookie from Waukesha, both of whom are becoming fast friends) some excellent advice and tips for the year.
The time in Atheron was well spent; it’s definitely nice getting to know the towns, but they are different than I expected. Somehow, I expected towns in Australia to be similar to those in the US, or at least to Ireland. Instead, they have their own flair. Yungaburra, the closest town, is very small and has some very cute B+Bs, a few restaurants, and is home to Lake Tinaroo, which is incredibly beautiful. It’s a man-made lake and is a common boating area for locals. Yungaburra is clearly a small town, but it is very cute. Atherton is larger, and while it’s still a nice town, the signs for the shops seem especially run down. There’s something about signs for me that suggests newness or oldness, and I was simply surprised to see that Atherton looks a bit more run down. Just like everywhere else, however, people were welcoming and kind, and I appreciated talking to them.
Monday and Tuesday were both frantic days of finding, meeting, and herding students. I already love their enthusiasm and their kindness; they have politely endured the centre orientation and braved the centre walk. They have seen a carpet snake, a red-belllied brown snake (very poisonous!), lace monitors, Boris, the local bandicoot (who regularly raids our compost), and Charles, the local brush turkeys. They have handled all of this, and the trek to their bathrooms with aplomb, and I am very impressed with them.
We, as the interns, have also continued our own orientation. We had not yet seen any snakes, so when Ashley and Mookie saw the carpet snake on the trail on Tuesday, it was as much a surprise for them as it was for the students. We are learning in tandem with our students as well; they had their first classes on Wednesday, and we went with them. I’m already very excited about working with Justus, the Socio-econ professor. I’m not sure what sort of work or research I might end up doing, and it might be completely outside the realm of what I’m planning to do long term, but I’m still excited.
The rest of the week continued in a similar pell-mell fashion; we drove the students into different towns on Thursday, both to learn the area, and to engage in their first field exercise for socio-econ. I drove again, which was a lot of fun. On Friday, we began the day with volunteerism; the centre is very invested in giving back to the local communities, which also gives us a chance to learn about what groups are doing, and repair our own land. I worked with a group to make a better stream crossing and prevent trail erosion on the site walk. We also took the students to Atherton again, where I sat and read Bossypants at, you guessed it, McDonald’s.
Saturday was definitely the highlight of the week; Siggy, our professor of ecology, took the students on a local geology tour. This involved a lot of driving, but was incredibly beautiful. I took lots of pictures and enjoyed having some time with the semi-open road (I was following Siggy). We also took the students to a nearby lake to do their swim test, which was very enjoyable. Ashley and I were the boundary point at which the students had to turn back, and while the water was fairly chilly, we made do by singing ridiculous songs and attempting to do synchronized swimming.
The week has wound down well; I have some work to do for Justus, but mostly have the day off. This has amounted to doing laundry and cleaning the dongas, but it’s a very pleasant day, and I’m looking forward to the week ahead!
(FYI: The title of this? That’s true. When the colonists came to Australia, they pointed to a “kangaroo” and asked in English what it was; the Aboriginals, trying to understand, responded with “kangaroo”.)