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Australian for 'Welcome'

The movie didn't do justice to its absolute grandeur. Of course that evening was not to host any gladiator-esque competitions-like the ones that initially garnered the dome its fame. Those days, according to the locals, are long gone and Tina Turner's old haunt is now used strictly for special entertainment occasions, such as the grand welcoming to Australia received by a few hundred green Americans.

This was quite possibly the greatest bash imaginable- a party in the Thunder Dome. Mel Gibson flipping shrimp on the barbi, Steve Erwin demonstrating croc wrestling techniques and Heath Ledger tending bar, as Nicole Kidman and Elle McPherson schmoozed with the wonderstruck exchange students. All this supported by the melodic tunes of Russell Crowe's band. We rocked the night away as part of the greatest bash I have ever been apart of, even if there were no boxing kangaroos. Though the East Campus quad freshman orientation party is a raucous time, Duke will never provide such a welcoming spectacle as we new students at James Cook University received that wintry eve in Queensland, Australia.

After only a few short weeks in Australia, I have learned that Foster's is not Australian for beer but that "sepo"- short for septic tank (draw your own conclusions)-is Australian for American student. Worst of all unfulfilled expectations must be my proximity to the beach. While it may be only five kilometers to the waters edge from my campus, as advertised in all university brochures, they fail to mention the mountain standing in that shortest course, at quickest it is a fifteen minute car ride to an afternoon of sunning my pasty white epidermis. Weep not for me, even though Foster's is not as prevalent as anticipated and the beach further than expected, the sunny days and friendly people of tropical North Queensland more than make up for these disappointments.

And even though the aforementioned welcoming party occurred only in my wandering imagination-wallabeyes (smaller version of kangaroos) were the only sign of life at my dormitory when I first arrived-nor have other expectations come to pass, I nevertheless have found Australia every bit as fun as I imagined, but in different ways.

Commencing life anew is truly awkward. I accomplished the task two years ago by entering college. This time I attacked the challenge as a stranger in a strange land, which claims boxed wine as its finest contribution to the innovative 20th century. I embarked on a fresh academic semester as my friends returned to the familiar security provided by the Gothic Wonderland. Reliving my freshman experience was not so difficult this time. As a seasoned veteran of introduction campaigns, I knew how to approach people and not come on as overbearing or too shy. A proper introduction is a delicate recipe and a rather important concoction when living in a new place.

Even with what I believed to be an effective mixture of different personality traits, I found myself doubting whether I made the right decision to study in Townsville, Australia, far from the stability provided by my friends at Duke. I quickly realized however that such thoughts were pointless. I had committed myself to the southern hemisphere for a semester and there was no going back. I'd make the most of this opportunity.

After a few nights on the town, I found myself encircled by plenty of quality mates (friends), mostly bloaks (men). Now, a month into my study abroad, I am as acclimated to life at James Cook University as possible. Even with my newly formed comfort, I realize now that I will always be an American while in Australia. I cannot imagine calling this island-at least North Queensland-my permanent home. It's simply too weird for me.

The native mammals are either marsupials or lay eggs, the latter reproductive system displayed by the ever-amusing platypus. Lights turn on by flipping switches downward. The moon waxes and wanes up and down, rather than the conventional side to side. Bottles are called stubbies, while cans are referred to as tinnies. Their inferior versions of sea manatees are dugongs. My friends are my "mates" and each one has at least one nickname, most have numerous referring to various embarrassing episodes. The local lager is named "XXXX" not because of its overly lewd content, rather North Queenslanders cannot spell "beer." Australians seize every opportunity to shorten every word they utter a few examples of this habit are: "tutorial" to "tute"; "football" to "footie"; "afternoon" to "aivy" and the list goes on. Some of these do not require shortening, since the abbreviations often contain just as many syllables as their originals. Only confusion results from this attempted convenience. "Hi" is too difficult a greeting for the men to master. They utilize "oi" instead. Finally I cannot decide what is worse, but Aussies love them both: marmite and vegemite.

So here I am, one month gone, four left, ready to live like an Australian, though I know I will never be one (which is either good or bad, depending what hemisphere you're from). I feel acclimated knowing this is an experience of a lifetime few ever partake in and at the end of the year, the comfort of the familiar awaits.

With many adventures ahead of m, and a U.S. governmental discount of roughly fifty percent off any goods or services (most call it an exchange rate, I prefer to look at it in this more favorable light), I'm forming memories of a lifetime in a weird culture based around beer, rugby and extensive relaxation. While some expectations will never foment, other surprises await my discovery. I look forward to my return to Duke, where many fresh faces await, but for now I'll mingle with some of the finest descendants of criminals on earth and learn a trick or two.

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