Found in the Midst of the Unknown.

8 Jun

If I were to sum up the contents of last week, I’d likely pick the word “fabulous”. I’m having probably the most profound time here, discovering parts of myself I wasn’t aware of at home. I knew immersing myself and getting lost in an alien place was exactly what I needed to find myself. I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to do just that here in Sydney!

            Monday in lab I was tired! It was ridiculous! I was up until 11pm talking to the roomies the night before, and that was enough to put dark circles around my eyes the next day. I feel like a grandma! But yes, Monday was a very slow day. It may have been due to the fact that we were mulling over statistics that had no meaning for me (I didn’t collect the data, therefore I don’t know what the numbers represent per se (she attempted to explain, but most went over my head because the statistical methods and reasoning was beyond my introductory knowledge of the subject, and I can’t visualize how the data was REALLY collected until we start experimenting on new subjects after our surgeries this week)), but the fervor with which I proceeded through last week in the lab wasn’t as strong today. I wasn’t bored at all, but I wasn’t passionate about it. I’m not worried, because no matter how I feel when I do these things, this is all very good insight into what I want to do with the rest of my life. Plus, let’s be honest: statistics isn’t going to steal everyone’s heart (though I do love math).

So in terms of Australian vernacular, Aussies say “cool” as much as Californians say “like”. Like I’m so serious (haha). It sounds more like “ku”, though, due to the Aussie accent. Another popular phrase is “cheers”, which means “thank you” over here, and “no worries”, which means a lot of things, but mainly “you’re welcome” slash “it honestly was no imposition on me” (whether or not it really was isn’t a priority in Aussie communication.. it’s their humility coming through once again, I’ve found!).

A major major major major thing I’ve been mulling over lately is just that: Aussie humility. In the States, one of the biggest elements of society I find the biggest tragedy is the sort of “ef off” mentality we tend to have with strangers. I didn’t realize how much it had affected ME!! until I came here. For instance, in America, I’m used to people stepping on my feet and rolling their eyes at me as if *I* were in *their* way, etc. I’m used to rolling my own eyes in return that they’d be so insensitive and malicious in regards to my feet (haha). But here in Australia? I get a completely different reaction: “oh I’m so sorry!” I was so shocked and humbled. It was so sincere that I couldn’t even begin to hold it against them (nor should I!). It was touching and lovely, and I found my tendency to grit my teeth despicable! Why do I have such little faith in others when it comes to how they will treat me? It’s like I’ve had to harden myself at home, and my defense mechanisms are coming through as a sort of impulse on occasion, at least when it comes to big cities and crowds. Anyway, I shall stop psychoanalysing myself. That’s Freud’s job :P. Alas, it’s both an inspiring and a strange world.

Like every Tuesday, the bulk was spent in class. As if being in class on a nice day wasn’t enough of a headache, being in class on a nice day in AUSTRALIA really took its toll on my ability to take in oxygen and the lights were like sharp knives on my eyes. It was especially tortuous. But let’s back up. Before the painful afternoon, however, I got a 20 dollar coat at this store called S.E.S. Ladies: I strongly recommend this store! It’s very affordable ($2.95-20 is the average price), and I absolutely LOVE this coat! If you’re looking for boots, look elsewhere, but anything else, this store should be first on your list! Be careful what you buy in Australia, though. Some stores will give you a nice discount if you give them some of your contact information. For S.E.S, you can just give them a name and an email address (it can be jank if you‘d like!), but for the equivalent of Redbox over here (called Redroom), you have to give them your credit card information, and you have to put down a 10 dollar deposit. Aaaand yes. *Anyway*, I’m not here to shop, right?

Back to the snoozefest. The good news is that my teacher decided to zip up his pants this week. It certainly made my gag reflex manageable, at least. We learned absolutely nothing worth noting. Silly general education requirements (especially the ones I’ve already satisfied bahaha *irony*).

I’ve been having a lovely week when it comes to bonding with my roommates and starting to reconnect with people in the program. It’s been a slow progress, but somehow, I feel less isolated and awkward than I did last week. This is good news! I will, say, however, that I’ve been watching WAY too much TV while here. I really need to find other things to do with my time after I get home from work. I’m beginning to come up with stellar ideas, including reading some of my mentor’s published scientific papers I stole from my post-doc today (I said I’d give them back haha).

Wednesday was, well. Fantastic! I started out my day by getting up after a SANE amount of sleep (versus 12 hours, I stuck closer to around 9 haha). I think this means I’m climbing out of stage 2 completely now. I’m very excited about this haha.

But wait, there’s more! I headed to work to do (guess WHAT???) rat surgery! It was probably the coolest thing ever. While I’ve performed surgery on a rat before, I’ve never had the chance to fly solo, which I SO did today. It was the coolest thing in the WORLD to me! Haha **claps hands** (and no, it’s not just because I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy like the world’s ending lately :P). Seriously, though. It was such an adventure. I did actually almost kill one of them (poor Bob), but luckily I caught the signs just in time to take him off the table before I scalpeled his head open. I let him rest, and he’s now back in good health, only to be tortured again the next day (aw haha).

I’m finding the fatter of the rats tend to flirt with death more than the healthier weighted rats (300 grams is best, and I’ve been getting 360 gram males! Yikes! 310 grams tends to be my favorite, plus they bleed less haha!). *Anyway*, so then I moved on to Harry, and wow was he a trooper! I got through his entire surgery (lesioned his dorsomedial striatum and parafasicular thalamus areas of the brain), and he’s very much alive and didn’t bite me the entire time (not that he had that option, as he was seeing flowers the entire time ;-DDD). Anywayzzz.. it was thrilling, especially when I got the ears resting on the bars correctly very quickly. Haha. I bet you have no idea what I’m talking about (ahem just nod your head and smile, yesh??). I’m finding it harder to cross this off my list of things to pursue in my future. Yay!

After work, I came home, scarfed down some dinner and then headed off to this Youth Group outing at Hillsong church with some fellow Boilermakers. It was probably the coolest worship I’ve had in a long time. And I’m not even joking. I find it ironic that I felt such a genuine reaction to worship at the same church I was calling sensationalistic just last week. Buttttt, hear me out. There was this guest speaker. That totally wreaked of the God I know that it did nothing but completely touch and inspire me. I was so blown away by the power of his testimony and ragingly passionate heart. I saw nothing in the way that he spoke but the humility of an individual in love with Christ. From sharing some of his darkest and most painful memories of his past, shamelessly and so honestly, with a rhythm reminiscent of the pace in which I speak when I’m ridiculously passionate and inspired, just wow! I was blown away. Best of all? This guy WON Australia’s version of American Idol. Yes. He had the coolest and most profound pipes I’ve heard in a while, and certainly in person. His name was Stan Walker, and he was of Maori (New Zealand natives) descent.

As if my heart wasn’t already on top of the world, after service came free sausages and another band was playing. They called themselves “Chasing Bailey.” There were two gals (sisters, actually) and two guys (one was the brother of the sisters, and the other, the fiancee of one of the sisters). My best friend would have loved them. They were lovely! I sooo wanted to buy their album, but they haven’t made one yet! They reminded me of a mixture between Regina Speckter and Margo and the Nuclear So and Sos.

Thursday was just as fantastic as Wednesday. After class in the morning, I got this delicious sausage roll (they’re very popular over here in Aussieland, and the best thing is… they are reasonably priced! $3.50 out to eat is a DIAMOND over here!) and then headed over to the lab to do more surgeries. I returned to Bob. Bob almost died Wednesday when given 0.47 ml of sedative, but Thursday, it was as if he had built up a tolerance for the drug (ketamine and ilyium mixture) because no matter how much we topped him off, he wouldn’t go back under. Therefore, I had to close him up right after I had already drilled halfway through his scull. Twas unfortunate, but it was still exciting, because I’m totally getting better from a technical standpoint and my surgery skills are improving! I think my favorite part is when I can make it less painful for the rat (poor Bob!), and idk! It was just really exciting when I actually saw I was improving. Improving is very important to me in the lab, because it makes my past failures have meaning.

I also went to the grocery store! It still is a thrill! I spent forever just poking through the aisles and looking for hidden gems. I found these “dim sims” which I’m super psyched about. It looks like it’s something similar to pot stickers that are fried (well that’s what the box makes it look like haha). I also got some sausages with pita bread which I hope to eat for dinner next week. Sausages are very rampant here. All I need to do is pull out some charcoal and I’ll have the whole Aussie Barbie thing going on. Posers unite tomorrow! Or not. I’d rather not be laughed all the way home. haha. Then, I watchedGlee and a movie I stole from someone on the trip. Whoop whoop! A perfect night!

Now Friday. Was more than fantastic. How can I even begin to describe it all? Well, I can’t. Let’s just get that straight right away. But I will try. Man will I try!

So today everything seemed to go right. I got to the lab early. I had the most delicious breakfast and lunch (dim sims are the SHOO SHOO! oh mangorshnesssss!). I performed two surgeries, and still no fatalities. I set up plans for the weekend, and I’m very excited about them. I went to a talk my mentor, Bernard Belleine, was giving, which laid out the big picture of what all of his research has snapshotted. It was the coolest thing ever to see what it is I’m REALLY doing (the why of it all) right in front of me, within a mere 90 minute presentation. Next came the best part. After work, I was planning on spending another boring night by myself in the apartment watching TV, or maybe going to the pool to swim again (oh and laundry). While I did end up doing most of that anyway, it was not the highlight of my night. Basically, I was invited to go out for drinks with my labmates, which I did. It was the first bar I’ve ever been to, and to be in Australia when I went, and with some of the most brilliant neuroscientists! Seriously, I was with some of the most brilliant neuroscientists. It was unimaginably fantastic. Fabulous. Outrageously amazing. Insert all of the enthusiasm I could possibly release over the experience. Sipping on my own lemonade (which a more syrupy sort of Sprite over here, with a lemon, not the American lemonade, which I liked), I was sitting directly to the left of a neuroscience God, pretty much. He is a friend of my mentor, who was two spots to my left (my post doc to my direct left), and he flew in from the UK to hear his speech and to present his own in July. His name is Tony Dickinson, I believe. Anyway, it was fantastic to listen to all of their exciting talk about their research. They literally talk about work even in the bars, which I love. And they even talked about what it’s like balancing family and pursuing a career in research/academia with ambition.

I got to talk to the legend myself about grad school. He recommends staying in the States for grad school. Basically, the US undergraduate psychology degree is more generalized, and therefore less rigorous than undergraduate psychology programs overseas. However, grad school in America is longer due to the fact that you take courses in your specialized field AND work on your thesis work at the same time, which slows down progress. Overseas, it takes about 3 years to complete PhD work, as all classwork and specialization occurred in undergrad, but, as Dickinson said, overseas programs don’t tend to get as big of a picture, sort of overview of psychology. If that makes sense? I do enjoy the culture of Australia, and have seriously considered the prospects of doing grad school here, but I guess I’m changing my mind yet again, due to Dickinson’s advice. I think it’s best to match the pattern being an undergrad in America has set up.

Anyway, I’m very very very very happy I went to the bar (which is so not “me” to say that). I was hesitant at first, but it was probably one of the best bonding experiences that gave me so much more insight about what it’ll be like being a neuroscientist than just being in the lab would.

The weekend was so ridiculously wonderful that I’m very sad it’s already over! I had planned to spend some time with my Aussie friend in Sydney, either going to the Botanical Gardens or just goofing off like we normally do, etc, etc. Instead, I ended up spending the weekend with his family and him in Newcastle! It was a lovely trade off and pretty much the coolest thing ever. His family is so kind and loving and humble and genuinely special on so many levels. I also met some of his friends, and they were really accepting of me as well. I was just so touched by the experience – all of it.

I had some delicious home cooked meals while I was there, including lamb, REAL fish that was SOOO good and tasted the exact opposite of Long John Silvers, and this absolutely delicious potato, pumpkin and sweet potato bowl with the most delicious gravy. I seriously felt like I was having a Thanksgiving feast, but they just called it dinner. Haha! Australia also has this amazing hot chocolate brand. It’s not like the hot chocolate at home at all. Less sugar, more creaminess and it was much better for me! I’m very impressed and happy to have been introduced to it. I believe they call it Milo here (the brand).

I toured a bit of Newcastle on Saturday and after dinner, we all played Balderdash (excellent game) with his family (including younger brother and friend) and two of his friends. It was so much fun! I totally lost, which was most excellent, because I was able to focus more on what was really happening around me. It’s so much fun to really be able to pay attention to the many quirks of those around you. Haha oh, and I learned a lovely new word “dodgy” which comes in many contexts over here, and the fun comes with deciphering the context.

After Balderdash, I spent some time star gazing at some of Australia’s most gorgeous stars! I gotta say, it was nothing like I’ve ever seen before. I believe I saw 8 shooting stars too. And I’m completely not kidding. They are rampant down under! It was SO COOL!

Sunday, I went to “meeting” (which is what they call a church service here). It took place in one of Newcastle high school’s gymnasiums. It was a bit chilly, but it took me back to memories of my childhood church before my family made a move to Indy. It was more on the traditional end – I was surrounded by a very conservative old couple in front of me and a colorful and comical middle aged harmonist behind. And it was so genuine and passionate. The kids of the attendees were scattered across the floor, making arts and crafts as the service went on, behaving very well from an auditory standpoint (though I saw more than one paper airplane hahaha! It was so adorable and awesome).

After the meeting, Kye, Aja (pronouned ah-shaw, NOT the German ah-ya) and Michael went to Newcastle’s Westfield mall. I’m not sure if I mentioned before, but Westfield is a major mall chain (equivalent to the Simon mall empire in America) here in Australia (almost a monopoly, I think!). Yeah, Westfield’s gotta be immorally rich haha! Anyway, I got this AMAZING sandwich (LOVE their bread over here!), with this almost “feta-like” cheese that was called Harvouti (or something like that), lamb and these peppers that were PERFECT with the French dressing it was smothered in. I was especially happy with it, because it totally showed how I’m kicking face here when it comes to usurping comfort zone boundaries.

After lunch, we went back and he had a bit of a nap while I worked on some homework (ahem and Tetris) and then we just talked more philosophy and such (which, really, is quite a treat for me, because I don’t have very many friends with the interest). Eventually, we headed back to Sydney, watched a movie called “Drop Dead Fred” before he headed home (one of his favorite movies growing up, haha which betrayed a lot about his cognitive processes haha!). Wonderful weekend!

On another note, I must mention some of the things I’ve noticed this past week about Australian society. My experience at the Weedon household showed me a lot more about Australian culture than any excursion, etc could ever do. I learned that Australian vernacular is plastic, and it’s all based on context. I learned that the zigzag lines that appear on lanes indicate that a pedestrian crosswalk is approaching (so SLOWDOWNORELSE haha). I noticed the “personal space bubble” between strangers that we experience in America is totally like a fourth of the size here in Sydney (bus stops and railway stations helped me obtain this insight). It could be a big city thing, or it could be an Aussie thing. The confounds are too great to make that distinction, but I found it curious. It doesn’t bother me, but it does make me wonder if this IS a cultural thing, if that reflects the personalities of Australian people as a whole as well. Based on my experiences at the Weedon household, I see it very clearly that a lack of personal space I see in the city can be a manifestation of the curiosity and joy Australians may take in taking the time to get to know new people and interpersonal communication. It’s a closeness that begins between family members, then friends, and it reflects in how comfortable strangers are with each other, even from a physical distance standpoint. No, it’s not a mechanism to lift a neighbor’s wallet off of them. It’s a genuine phenotype of a closeknit community, even amidst a huge city. I love it, personally. It empowers me to defy my comfort zone in a very healthy way!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: