Wednesday, March 25, 2009

a day in the life

This is an article I wrote for a magazine called "Trinity Today" (it's like PAW, but not weekly). I will post it in lieu of an actual entry. enjoy!

The small travel alarm clock by my bed beeps quietly but insistently, and my eyes are grudgingly pried open by the warm Southern-hemisphere sunshine. I meet a friend in the corridor and we trudge out the door of Dorothy, past the Sharwood room, the dining hall, and the Junior Common Room to join a horde of other bleary-eyed girls standing on the bulpadok, ready (or not) for rowing training. After a 3.5K lap around Princes Park, I’m ready to collapse—but unfortunately, I’ve got a 9am lecture. With a shower and some breakfast, I feel a bit more human and (armed with a thermos full of coffee) ready to take on my full day of classes.

Control Systems 1 is followed quickly by Probability; a dash back to college for lunch and I’m on my way out again for two hours of Mechanics 4, a tutorial for Controls, and rounding it all off with a lecture on Biomaterials. But the day isn’t over; after returning to college, I’ve got to head over to the sports oval for a brief softball practice. Afterwards, I have just enough time to check my email, practice my guitar for a bit, and grab my academic gown before heading off to formal hall. Dinner begins with a lovely rendition of the college grace by the world-class chapel choir, and concludes with notices: tickets for this party and that will be on sale at the back of the hall, college Eucharist tonight in the chapel, the bar in the JCR will be open straight after tutorials, residents of Jeopardy please be prepared for a hot-water outage tomorrow afternoon. As students exit, the hall is filled with the scraping of chairs, the swish of black robes, and a buzz of chatter about topics ranging from the inane to the profound.

After dinner, I’ve got a tutorial for Probability with the three other Trinitarians in the class, specially set up for us by the inestimable Sally Dalton-Brown. Our enthusiastic tutor takes half again the allotted time with his complicated analogies and methods before letting us go. Although I really did intend to study, I find myself sitting on the bul for hours, talking and laughing with friends. Suddenly I realize that it’s almost midnight, and yet again I’ve managed to complete none of my work. Ah well, I’ll do it tomorrow. However, I return to Dorothy to find all the doors open and full of friendly faces, calling out hellos and “how’re you going”s, and I somehow end up talking to people there for another hour or so. It’s only by sheer force of will that I declare bedtime for myself and fall fast asleep, reenergizing for another day.


Although this may sound like a typical day in the life of a college student, it’s far from typical for me. As an American exchange student, life here at Trinity has been vastly different from anything I’ve ever encountered. Formal hall? Mandatory kitchen duties? Deans, rectors, and wardens? Floor tutors readily available to ask for advice? Nightly tutorials in addition to classes? And to top it all off . . . O-Week?!?! For a while, it was surprise after surprise as the floodgates opened to pour down all that was Trinity on top of my unsuspecting, thoroughly American self.

It didn’t take long, however, for Trinity to feel like a second home (albeit a slightly surreal one). It’s kind of like constantly being on the set of a movie: the quaint buildings and lovely roses bring to mind a bit of English countryside, and students walk about in Trinity colors looking as if they had stepped out of the pages of a brochure. The cast of characters is eclectic, entertaining, and admirable—there’s Campbell, the dean who lets us throw rave parties on his front lawn; Connie, the bizarre but loveable lunchlady who is a combination mother and tyrant; Paul, the kindly nightwatchman who lets you into your room when you’ve forgotten your key after a long night out on the town; Emma, the intimidating but extraordinarily knowledgeable tutor who lives in Dorothy with her cat, Leo; Frank, the seventy-year-old head of sports who yells himself hoarse during fitness sessions at 6:45am but never says more than two words to anyone at any other time of day; and so many more. I could fill books about them and the empire they’ve built here.

However, the most striking thing about Trinity is the overwhelming variety of opportunities it offers. Before I came to Australia, I promised myself that I would try new things that I didn’t have time for or never had the chance to do in the States. Although I have little to no experience, I’ve been able to get involved in college sports with ease (shocking all of my friends back home); I go to an extracurricular tutorial on Human Rights each week; I take guitar lessons from my friend David, a third-year music student; I sing with the Candystripes, an all-girls a cappella group; the list goes on and on. I also have gotten involved with several things outside Trinity: I meet weekly with a fellowship group at Uni called Christian Union, and I go to services and bible study at St. Jude’s Unichurch; I’m working in the Uni Mechanical Engineering laboratory on a really interesting project; and I still find time occasionally to go busking on Lygon Street, visit my American friends over at RMIT village, or plan a weekend trip to Sydney or Port Fairy.

These opportunities are not always quantifiable. I think that by far the most valuable thing I will take from Trinity is the friendships I have made here, and the things I’ve learned from simply talking to other students. I now know about the glorious invention that is the TimTam, the vagaries of private school rivalries in Melbourne, and that “Saturday week” means “a week from Saturday.” I’ve learned how to play cricket, how to give a decent haircut, and how to make a really good Milo. But most of all, I’ve learned more about myself and the way I interact with other people than I have in three years of an Ivy-league education. I’m having the time of my life, and I’m very glad I’m having it at Trinity.

Down the steep road to the beach in Anglesea at Christian Union "Base Camp," March 13-15

Tea and coffee in Anglesea

A St. Paddy's Day themed JCR

The "Riviera"-themed party last weekend, "Paraiso"

Rachel and I at Paraiso

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

race around the world . . . or just melbourne

As promised, here are some pictures from the "Race Around the World" (modeled after the show "The Amazing Race"), held on the last morning of O-week. The TCAC split all the freshers that wanted to participate into teams of ten or so, and assigned two seniors to each group as leaders. More senior volunteers were stationed around the city, where we completed different tasks and were then given a clue to lead us to the next task's location, collecting objects and completing mini-tasks along the way. Although the event was primarily for freshers, I feel like the senior leaders had just as much fun as we did-- running around the city obtaining an eclectic collection of strange objects, taking photos of ourselves doing crazy things, and completing the tasks at each of seven stations. Highlights were:

-In Chinatown: finding someone who spoke Mandarin and asking them how to say a list of ten words, many of which were slightly awkward to have to describe to a non-English-speaker...
-Outside the library-- crawling up a long set of steps on hands and knees, only to be asked at the very top how many steps there were (good thing someone counted the first time around, because most groups had to do it twice or even three times!)
-Outside Crown Casino-- do the Fresher dance while wearing each other's clothing. Bonus points for wearing each other's clothes.
-Outside the Town Hall-- Collecting signatures for a petition for higher salaries for bank CEOs.
-On Lygon Street-- eating a plate full of cold spaghetti, baked beans, and a ring of pineapple, as fast as you could with no hands
--In Federation Square--Drawing portraits of strangers and getting as much for them as possible; this ranged from money (tops was about $4) to bits of rubbish to articles of clothing to what I got . . . he actually pulled a phone out of his pocket, took out the sim card, and gave it to me (!).

ITEMS (worth varying amounts of points)
-A rose for each TCAC member (awww)
-A receipt from a bikini wax
-A bag of sand
-A fairy
-A triple pounder from Mackers (=McDonalds). They don't actually sell these because the fat content is too high, so we had to buy three "pounders" and stacked together a total of twelve quarter-pound patties.
-A chip from Crown Casino
-An ATM receipt stamped at exactly 10:54am

PHOTOS (worth varying amounts of points)
-A "moment of passion"--we staged a dramatic death scene
-Group shot on the roof of any building in the CBD (downtown)
-Human pyramid to stop a tram
-Group shot in Young & Jackson's (a classy downtown pub) drinking out of anything but cups, mugs, or glasses. We used ice-cream cones :)
-Flailing around on the ground in the lobby of Crown Casino
-Helping an old lady cross the street
-Riding an animal
-A group member in confession
-Group member wrapped in toilet paper on the steps of Flinders Street Station
-A male group member unhooking a bra one-handed
-Helping a car parallel-park
-Something "barely legal"

There was also a list of Trinity trivia to fill out, including the date of the dean's birthday and a stirring rendition of the College Song.

There were at least a hundred more things to do and get, but that's all I can remember. However, I was our group's official photographer, so I have almost all of the pictures from our trip. Here are a few; enjoy! I'll post more legitimate stuff when I find time to write, perhaps this weekend.

In the lobby of Crown Casino . . . classy

Helping an old lady cross the street . . . unfortunately, she figured out that the item on the list specified "old" and got offended

Wrapping Rob in toilet paper on Flinders St. steps

Something "barely legal"... note the anti-rollerblading sign in the background that says "no grinding." Ha.

Helping a stranger parallel park. They were actually just stopped at a red light, but the TCAC doesn't know that ;)


what happened to the triple pounder after we were done with it

Group photo at the tram stop

Thursday, March 5, 2009


After a few days of recovery, I can finally write about my first week in my new home: Trinity College. As I said in my last post, "college" means something quite different from "university," although in the States we tend to use the terms interchangeably. A college is a tight-knit residential community where you live, take your meals, participate in clubs and sports, and make your closest friends. Each college has a number of administrators, tutors, and other staff, and often a library, a chapel, sports equipment, music practice rooms, and a number of other facilities. Here's a little more about Trinity specifically.

Trinity is the oldest college on the "College Crescent," where the twelve residential colleges sit just north of the University of Melbourne. Each college has its own buildings and grounds, fenced off from the crescent. Of these twelve, most are quite small-- the four worth mentioning are Trinity, Ormond, Newman, and Queens, and from what I gather, you really want to be in either Ormond or Trinity. Ormond is quite beautiful, with large Gothic buildings much like Princeton's, and it is the largest college on the crescent. Of course, all its students are jerks and we hate them. They suck.

In all seriousness, I can't imagine a better place for me than Trinity. At 280 students, it's just the right size to be close without being oppressive. It's very difficult to get in, and all the students are top-quality and a bit more diverse than the rest of Melbourne Uni (including not just Melburnians and people from regional Victoria, but plenty of people from interstate and international). Trinity's buildings, while not as ostentatious as Ormond's, are beautiful and quaint, kind of like a little bit of English countryside. There's a world-class choir here, and although I decided not to sing in it, I enjoy hearing them from time to time :) The college has tennis courts, squash courts, music practice rooms, and art studio, a nice library, several common spaces, a large (Anglican) chapel, lawns, trees, and a nice big quad called the bulpadok (buhl-pah-DOCK), which right now is unfortunately being torn up to put in water retention tanks and drought-resistant turf.

I live in a very small building called Dorothy, which houses only thirteen people and is situated on the very edge of campus (closer to Ormond, our neighbor, than to the rest of Trinity). It's a smallish cottage, and its inhabitants have a reputation for getting very close as they are all first-years and fairly isolated (basically the Forbes of Trinity). My hallmates are definitely my best friends at Trinity thus far; they're all great fun. Also, I am the only exchange student in sight (there are only seven of us in total, scattered across the college). There are twelve freshers (first-years) including myself, one senior (n.b.: "senior" here means upperclassman), and our floor tutor, Emma, who lives in a flat on the first floor with her cat, Leo. Emma, although a lovely woman, is not someone to cross, so you'd better make sure you know the emergency phone numbers and don't make a lot of noise at night.

But before I go into too much detail about daily life at Trinity (I can save that for another post), I'll tell you about . . . O-WEEK.

O-week, or orientation week, is basically a weeklong combination of actual orientation, bonding, hazing, partying, and general mayhem. On Sunday morning, the first-years flooded in with their parents to move in; at noon there was a chapel service, then a picnic on the lawn, and then a formal admissions ceremony in the dining hall. For the purposes of Trinity, I'm considered a first-year (although I'm older than most of the second- and third-years), so I stood awkwardly in my long black academic gown with about a hundred gawky eighteen-year-olds, and signed my name in the Registrar's book when I was called. After the ceremony, most of the parents left. . . then it began.

We started with a "floor meeting" . . . all of the Dorothy kids crowded into Emma's flat to go over essential information on emergency procedures and other mundane aspects of college life. This was also my first interaction with the people with whom I'd be living, so I was a tad apprehensive. From there we went to dinner, and were then broken up into small groups and assigned to a member of the TCAC (Trinity College Activities Committee? anyway, they were a committee of about seven who basically ran the show for O-week, with seven RAs and about thirty "buddies," volunteers from second/third/fourth year who helped out), where we did silly icebreakers and things and tried not to be awkward. It was interesting for me to be both a participant and observer, as I could remember most of the events of my own Frosh Week from Princeton two and a half years ago. We then moved to the JCR (Junior Common Room), a combination common room/bar that's actually close to Dorothy.

In the JCR, the TCAC gave us a history lesson on Trinity in play format, outlining a bit of history as well as alluding to some of the traditions we were joining. However, the "play" lasted only about ten minutes until we were herded through the doors and ran as fast as we could through the long hallway of Lower Clarkes, where scenes of Trinity life played out in the doorways that flashed by on either side-- an awkward tutor/student meeting, a wild dance party, the choir singing in the elevator as we dashed by. The freshers, buddies, and TCAC streamed into the Gourlay Basement, which was decorated with red, white, and green streamers and balloons and thumping to the heavy bass of some serious speakers. It was a great way to start what was essentially a fresher mixer, and we danced the night away and stumbled into bed late that night.

The next morning dawned early as seniors rushed through our corridors and dragged us out of bed at 8am for a grand breakfast on the bulpadok (the bul), complete with tables, chairs, and TCAC waiters in tuxes as the buddies danced on tables to the music blaring from Behan. After breakfast, we donned our bright blue fresher T-shirts and crowded onto trams headed for the city (about a hundred and thirty people on something the size of a normal bus . . . we even crowd-surfed one girl). We were forced to run around the city holding hands in single file, occasionally stopping to do things like beg for change, drop onto our backs and flail around, and do the hokey-pokey in Federation Square. Of course, the whole time we're screaming and cheering like idiots, making sure the entire city knows who we are and where we're from. Exhausted, we piled back onto a single tram to head back to college just in time for lunch. After lunch was an "Academic Orientation," then the whole troop again piled into a tram to the nearest thrift shop (Savers) to obtain costumes for the various theme parties of the week.

The theme of our O-week was "In the Beginning," which served a double purpose-- on one hand, it was a meaningful reflection on the beginning of a major chapter in our lives, but on the other, it was a great way to theme the week's parties; each night was a different creation story/myth. The first night's party was Garden of Eden/Temptation/Casino, complete with leafy jungle decor, poker/blackjack/roulette, and even live snakes to hold and play with. Costumes included skeezy casino dudes, apples, snakes, and pretty much anything involving leaves or playing cards.

The next morning we were rudely awakened at 8am once more, this time to learn the "Fresher Dance," a . . . creative . . . routine to "Push it." After breakfast we headed to Uni for some more orientation goodness (almost a complete waste of time, but a good four hours of my day). Then back to Trinity for a 2.5 hour "College Life" orientation, where Dean Campbell and others covered EVERYTHING on life at Trinity. After dinner was another party, this time themed as "Supernova." We were told to wear "fluoro" (neon colors), and the party was basically glowsticks, UV lights, and lots of fluorescent paint (rave!). The coolest part of this one was that it was held in the Dean's front yard!

The next day was more Uni orientation (DEFINITELY a complete waste of time), followed by a Greek-themed toga party on Behan balcony. After dinner we headed to the Melbourne Pool for a moonlit "Neptune's night" and spent a fantastic couple of hours batting volleyballs around and playing Marco Polo, until we all trooped back to college exhausted.

Thursday included an event called "Mr. Squiggle" (cover each other in as much paint as possible), then an intercollegiate lunch at one of the other colleges on the Crescent. After lunch was back to Uni for a Clubs and Societies expo-- everything from the Medieval Reenactment club to the Physics Students Society to the More Beer! club, with upperclassmen out in force to recruit new members. I'm now on the frisbee email list, a member of MUESC (the Melbourne Uni Engineering Students Club) and a member of MUSEX (MU student exchange), both of which have great parties/events and whose members get discounts at various places. Meanwhile, back at Trinity, all the other seniors who hadn't been part of O-week were arriving. We mingled on the bul before dinner, and then we had our first formal hall (there's a high table, you wear academic gowns-- more on this later), followed by the Ice-Age themed "First Frost Ball." The theme was "a touch of frost," but basically a dressed-up classy party in a big tent on the bul, including a snow machine if you can believe it. This was our first chance to meet the rest of Trinity's students.

Friday was Trinity's own Clubs and Societies Expo, where I signed up for a few community service activities and the Wine Cellar club, which holds wine tutorials every other friday and excursions to Yarra River Valley wineries. After lunch we returned to Uni for even MORE clubs and societies-- I chatted with several of the Christian groups and got myself on their email lists as well. Friday was the hottest day so far since I've been here, probably about 30C (hey, if I have to convert so do you!). The afternoon, however, was the seemingly innocuous "TCAC play and fresher photo" . . . I suppose we should have realized something was wrong when they herded us onto the tennis courts, closed the gates, and surrounded us, shaking the chain-link fence and yelling at us like we were gladiators about to be fed to lions. Although I won't divulge the details of the next few hours, suffice to say that I was officially inducted into Trinity and I came out on the other side very, very messy. After just enough time to clean up, we had informal dinner followed by a music revue in the chapel of both freshers and seniors, of which I was an appreciative audience. The party that night was fairly tame (Yin Yang themed-- wear black and white), which I think we needed after a long and busy week.

Saturday morning was the Race Around the World (i.e. Melbourne), which I have saved for my next entry. because it was amazing and ridiculous and I have lots of great pictures. That night, however, was the "Commencement Dinner," a formal affair which involved a multi-course dinner, various speeches and awards, and general merriment to mark the start of the semester. The event was followed by a crowded and crazy party in the JCR, a great finish to a fantastic O-week.

There you have it-- I believe the most exhausting (and fun) week of my entire life. Please forgive me for writing so much, but as you can tell . . . there was a lot to write about! I'll have to deal with various other important things (like actual classes and Uni/college life) in a later post.

PICTURES (note: a lot of my pics (including lots of me draped in live snakes) were on a disposable camera that the TCAC wisely gave us . . . I'll put those up when I finish the camera)

Supernova night/Fluoro party

after getting covered with paint

First Frost Ball

Dorothy crew looking classy for Yin Yang night (yes, Craig cut up two suits and sewed them together)

some crazy Dorothy guys before Commencement Dinner