“Love conquers all things; let us too surrender to love.” -Virgil

I have to admit it. It’s been eating me up inside not saying it aloud. I’m in love. It’s all I think about; it crosses my mind every minute of every day. I’m talking about Australia, of course. I am absolutely loving it here. Brisbane is simply amazing. I have never felt safer in a city. Last night, coming home from dancing at 2am, we were worried that we got on the wrong bus. It all seemed fine until we turned left onto a road that we usually turn right on, and then crossed the river. Minor freak out, though I told myself that it’s all part of the adventure and worst case we’d just have to get off and get on another bus. In the midst of this freak out, one Ozzie boy sitting across the aisle said basically, you’re screwed mate, this bus goes down to the West End not up into Ashgrove. So, we said, oh well. We’re Americans, first night in the city, you know how it is, we’ll figure it out. Thinking back, I probably would not have revealed so much about myself if I were talking to a stranger on a bus in Boston or New York. So, this boy gets off in the West End (obviously to continue partying) and the Ozzie boys sitting behind us say, don’t listen to that guy, he has no idea what he’s talking about. This bus stops in West Ashgrove, in fact we’re almost there. They then explain to us how to get back to the Woolworth’s near our house (I wasn’t naive enough to tell strangers exactly where I was living). They press the stop button so we don’t miss our stop and wish us a good night.

It was a simple thing, but it meant so much. Reassurance, guidance, genuine concern for our well being. How many Americans do you know who would do the same thing in that situation? At home, it’s stranger danger, keep your head down and your nose clean, if you need help you could maybe ask a cop or a store clerk, but not some rando on the bus. Here, it’s mateship. It’s taking care of each other. We’re all in the same boat (or at least the same bus). It was a beautiful introduction to that facet of Ozzie culture, and it’s an experience that’s making me fall absolutely head over heels. Love conquers all: language barriers, fear and worry, culture shock. If we surrender to that love, if we allow ourselves to love wholeheartedly and indiscriminately, if we look out for and take care of each other, we might like what we find out about each other and about humanity.

Australia!

I’m here! It hasn’t  quite hit me yet, even though I’ve been here for 4 days. We’re staying at the Moreton Bay Research and Study Station. I love the environment out here. It’s a tiny town on a small island. We’re on the bay side, and it’s just beautiful. We’ve spent part of the past couple of days collecting and observing marine species. I’m completely eating it up. I love find out about all the different critters, and it’s so cool to see our textbook come to life in a tidal pool. I have seen so much wildlife. Koalas, sea cucumbers, a shark, lorakeets… It’s awesome. I am really loving hanging out with the other students, for the most part everyone is really chill.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. The flight from LA to Brisbane is probably the longest sustained period of discomfort I’ve ever experienced. Even a Boilermaker or a black belt test only lasts a couple of hours. Sitting in a plane seat might not sound like a test of endurance on that scale, but trust me, it is. We were told to sleep on the plane, and I tried, but I could only manage an hour or so at a time. I watched plenty of stuff on the mini tv screen, including The Avengers. Still an awesome freaking movie, btw. The food here is ok, but really not great. It doesn’t taste too bad but it doesn’t settle well. There was another group of students here, young girls from Japan. I’m just going to be blunt here, they were really annoying. They talked incessantly, loudly, and in high pitched voices in a language I don’t understand. I don’t grudge them for speaking their native language, I do grudge them for being loud and constantly in the way. But, they left today so we have the place to ourselves tonight and tomorrow.

Overall the experience has been really good. Every Australian I’ve meet, even the customs officials, has been polite, helpful and funny. I was a little worried about making friends and fitting in, introvert that I am, but that has really not been a problem. Tomorrow we meet our host families, and I’m so excited for that. I really can’t wait to settle in, unpack my suitcase and start a routine. I’ve had a great time on Moreton Bay, but I’m ready for the next thing. Stay tuned!

The Colorado Shooting

It’s been a really weird day for me. I’m not entirely sure why this news story has affected me so much. I think it’s because I played the “what-if” game. I thought about how I was in a movie theater just a few weeks ago. I imagine I felt much the same way that the movie-goers last night felt. I was bouncing up and down with excitement, couldn’t stop smiling. And before me played out an amazing story, a story of love, of justice, of doing everything you can with what you have to make the world a better place. And then I imagined “what if” some lunatic came into the theater with a gun. And there I was, sitting with my best friends or my baby sister, powerless against this terrible force. How would I react? What would I do? Would I panic? Would I push Allie under the seat and shield her? What would I say to the two girls who have known me since elementary school, the two who know me better than I know myself, if I thought those were our last moments together? Would I survive? Would they? Could our local police respond fast enough to save lives? And my heart just aches for the families who were affected. Something so innocent, so awesome as a kick-ass superhero movie, destroyed by a lunatic with a gun. I wonder why, and I resign myself to the fact that there is no answer. There is nothing logical or rational about what happened. That scares me more than I can say. No reason, no motivation, could ever be given that would make sense. Innocent people, children, babies, young people with so much potential, killed and wounded. My prayers, my thoughts and healing energy are sent to Aurora. May God be with us. May we come together to prevent this senseless violence from taking anymore innocent lives.

Yours,

Vanessa  

So I haven’t written in a while…

Like a loooonnng while. I’ve been well. Finals were stressful and I’m glad they’re over. I’m pretty unhappy with my final grade for calculus, but I never have to do that again and I suppose that’s what’s important. Universal Studios was amazing. I had an absolute blast; I’ll probably write an entire post about it soon. I’m liking my job at the MMRL. It gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment. It’s nice to work and work and work on something, and when it (finally) happens, to be praised for my efforts. My mentor is amazing, really chill and easy going. (Maybe too easy going, he got in trouble for letting me go early too often. Whoops.) We work well together, and it feels like we’ve picked right back up where we left off last summer. My coworkers are great. Everyone has a really good sense of humor and doesn’t take themselves too seriously. No one seems “too cool for school”.

So, that’s pretty much my life at the moment. I get up, go to work, do an experiment or two, get lunch, measure and analyze data or read papers then head home. I work out, eat, then watch tv or play video games or read until it’s time to go to sleep and do it all over again. I guess it goes back to that terribly boring post about schedules earlier. I’ll try to get back in the habit of posting regularly (as that was the entire purpose of starting this blog before I go abroad). For now, cleaning my room and bed.

Yours,

Vanessa

In the Homestretch

I am so close to done, it’s almost a little scary. Just an exam tomorrow and and exam Tuesday, and I pack up and leave HWS for 8 months. It’s pretty much the definition of bittersweet. On the one hand, I am super stoked to be done with school for a bit. I can’t wait to spend more than 3 days at home, snuggle with my dog and cat, hang out and play tennis and watch movies with my little sister and my best friend. I’ll be able to sleep in my own bed, take showers without flip flops, and I won’t have to worry about how much of my meal plan I’m using. I’m really excited to fly to Florida with my two best friends for an awesome adventure. I’m stoked to start my internship at the MMRL, a place that I’m already pretty comfortable at and have a foundation to build on. And, of course, I can’t wait to leave on the biggest adventure of my life at the end of August, when I head to Australia for 3 and a half months.

And yet… I’m going to miss this place. HWS has become my home. I’m going to miss all of the friends I’ve grown close to this year. Lots of us are scattering across the globe. Some are graduating, and I may never see them again. The little ensemble cast of characters in my sit com of a life is getting a complete shake up. I won’t be living with my current housemates. I won’t be able to sneak down to the living room at 4 am when I can’t sleep to find Sam and Lyn snoring over their laptops. Midnight runs to Timmy Ho’s will be temporarily suspended. Laughing over webwork and chem problem sets will be put on hold. Staying up late watching Bollywood movies will be shelved for a later date. You get the idea.

I guess it comes down to change. Change is scary sometimes, but change is good. Moving from one thing to another is a necessary part of life. And I’ll keep growing, and I’ll keep changing, and I’ll keep working to be the best student, intern, friend, daughter, sister that I can be.

Yours,

Vanessa

Another Week Bites the Dust…

And another one’s gone and another one’s gone… Two weeks left until I’m done with school! And at the time of writing, 20 days 15 hours and 26 minutes left until I leave for Florida! (Countdown clock is here!) I’m going to Universal Studios in Orlando for a fun-filled five days with my two best friends. We’ve been planning this trip for, no joke, 2 years. And it’s finally happening! I’m so excited.

I love amusement parks so much. I think it’s partially because lots of my family’s bonding time has been at amusement parks. You can learn a lot about a person by their amusement park style. My mom is awesome at taking control, coordinating everyone and shepherding the group from place to place to make sure we don’t miss a thing. My dad will stand in line with us, cracking jokes to pass the time. My brother sort of takes after my mom, wanting to fit everything in and be where we need to be when we need to be there (although he is much more insistent, whereas Mom does her best to make everyone happy). My sister goes with the flow, and is so friendly she’ll often get on the ride with all of her newest best friends. I’m also fairly easy going, though much more shy. I’m the one that’s likely to say, “Did you notice that cool Easter Egg the geniuses at Universal/ the Imagineers put into the queue?” And then point out how the newspaper article on the wall about Doc Oc had P. Parker as the byline or something.

Of course, my absolute favorite thing about amusement parks has got to be the roller coasters. I’ve literally lost count of how many times I’ve ridden the Ride of Steel at Darien Lake. To me, nothing beats the rush of flying through the air at 60 miles an hour with nothing but my wits and a lap-bar. And like any junkie, this adrenaline junkie always wants more. I will gladly wait 2 hours in line to ride the newest, biggest, fastest machine in town. The big hills, the big loops, I’ll go upside down, have my feet hang out, standing up, laying down, whatever they can think of, I’ll ride it. I even like the old-school wooden coasters, although riding them more than a couple of times can really knock you around.

In short, I’m not wishing the semester away, but I’m really looking forward to it being over. I can’t wait to reconnect with my old friends doing something that we all love. 🙂

Yours,

Vanessa

Scheduling life

One thing that I’ve learned about myself since I’ve been in college is that I like schedules much more than I thought I did. During my “rebellious teen” phase in high school, I would complain that the constant ringing of bells had us all trained like Pavlov’s dogs. However, once I got to college, a steady routine became comforting. If I was feeling anxious or lonely I would just remind myself of the next thing on my schedule. It was a reminder that I wasn’t alone, and it kept me out of my room and out of bed. This year with my smart phone, it was even easier to keep a schedule. I had a constant visual reminder of what my day looked like. At first I went a bit overboard, scheduling every moment of everyday. I’ve since found a happy medium. Of course, with finals week approaching, I’ll type up my master schedule (planning in study sessions, work out sessions, relaxing time and meal times) just like I’ve done for every finals week of my college career. At the bottom of the master schedule, I like to put a little piece of cheery clip art that describes what I’m “working toward”. For the end of the fall semester, it’s usually a christmas tree. I’m still trying to decide what it will be this time. I’m thinking either a sun and flip-flops, or the Universal Studios logo. Well, I’m inspired, I’m off to attack my calendar with a pen!

Yours,

Vanessa

Love all

I reconnected with an old love today, and an old pain. It all started at lunch, when I asked a couple of friends if they wanted to play tennis. I really missed the sport, I brought my racquet back to school with me and it was a beautiful day. My friend Michelle took me up on the offer and we played a set against each other. We found courts a little ways off campus (since the campus ones were being used by the varsity teams). She took an early lead, but I caught up until we were tied 4-4. Michelle pulled ahead again and we ended the set 4-6. It was awesome to reconnect with the physicality of the sport. Running around, lining up the shot and smacking the ball over the net, anticipating the return and doing it all over again. The solid thunk of a good shot, the fresh air and sunshine, it’s practically a religious experience. It’s amazing to feel strong and capable and in control. It’s also pretty cool to have a good conversation and enjoy competition with a well-matched opponent. Of course, after tennis is always the old ache. I had a stress fracture in one of the small bones in my foot, which went undiagnosed for quite some time. As a result, I have some arthritis in the joint and it still gets inflamed after lots of running on hard surfaces. I had surgery 7.5 months ago to remove the broken bone. I can tell you, a bad day post-op feels about the same as a good day pre-op and for that it was all worth it.

Yours,

Vanessa

And the #1 awesome thing is….

Anything you want it to be. Awesome!

And that was it. With those seven little words, it was over. 1000awesomethings.com was a 4-year long project, dedicated to identifying some little beautiful thing from life. Things like the smell of brand new tennis balls, big fat asses and your birthday week. It was simple and beautiful and a bright spot in the darkness of the internet. It never failed to make me smile, and I did what I could to introduce others to it. And tonight, I eagerly refreshed the page to find out what number one would be. And my first thought was “Is this a joke?” I was sad and disappointed and a little angry. But I’ve thought it over a bit, and I think it’s an appropriate ending. It’s all about finding the beautiful within the mundane, and the last post is encouraging us to go out and continue doing that. So friends, it’s anything you want it to be.

AWESOME!

Summer Bucket List

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Geneva, sipping a cappuccino with my good friend Tayyab. We’re supposed to be studying for a chemistry exam this evening, but I’m taking a break from transcribing my notes to write this. I’ve been thinking about the future a lot the past couple of days as the semester draws to a close. I want to do so much, but I’m trying to narrow my focus to the next four months. I have a few things I want to do this summer. Here goes:

Summer Bucket List

Ride all the roller coasters at Islands of Adventure

Play lots of tennis

Get back to Bailey’s and train a couple of times a week

Go to lots of Zumba classes

Continue getting back into shape

Run a 5k

Read ten books

Get my name on a scientific paper

Cook some meals

Spend a weekend at my camp and go to Water Safari

 

So, that’s ten things. A good round number. Hopefully I can accomplish them all!

Yours,

Vanessa