Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Spring break in Hawaii

I'm going to let you in on a secret. Are you ready? As soon as I found out that I'd been accepted to WWU and I'd be spending 6 months in the US, I knew that I had to go to Hawaii while I was there. And I did!
After hours and hours of study and stress we finally made it through finals which means it's spring break! The two greatest words in the English language for an American college student. About two weeks into my exchange in Bellingham, Valentina, Jessica and I booked tickets to head to Hawaii during spring break. We put the offer out there to some of the other exchange students but the guys decided they would rather go to Cancun. We weren't really that surprised. Anyway, the day after our last final saw Valentina, Jessica and I hopping on a plane and heading for Hawaii. We were spending a week on Oahu. It would've been nice to visit the other Islands but we decided we wanted to get a good look at where we were and relax a bit while we did it. We arrived at Honolulu airport at about 11pm but as we walked off the plane we were all commenting on how warm it was! As wonderful as Bellingham and the Pacific NorthWest is (and it is wonderful), it's not exactly warm so we were all glad to have the chance to lie around in the sun wearing nothing but shorts, singlets and bikinis (as a side note - even if you are going somewhere cold and wintery, take a pair of bathers and at least one pair of shorts or a summer dress. You never know when you might find yourself somewhere tropical). After we'd grabbed our bag (yes, just one. Baggage was extra so we'd made the tough decision to just take one suitcase between the three of us) and caught a taxi to our hotel - Waikiki Gateway Hotel - which was a couple of blocks from Waikiki beach. If you're ever heading to Hawaii I'd definitely recommend it. It was a nice hotel, the staff were friendly and helpful and there was an info desk available to help you book tours and recommend places to visit. In addition it was fairly close to the beach and the main shopping area of Waikiki.

Anyway, over the course of the week we spent our mornings waking up late, eating yoghurt for breakfast and lounging on the beach. During the afternoons we spent some time exploring. We visited Hanauma bay and went snorkelling which was beautiful! Unfortunately this was one of the few days it rained so we didn't stay for long but it was nice none the less. You can hire all the gear out from there and spend as long as you like in the water. We also hiked through a rain forest to a water fall and got covered in mud which was a lot a fun, did a tour around the island and saw some of the sights (where I think we were the youngest there by about 15 years), indulged in some shopping (almost a little too much when it came to going home - maybe one bag wasn't such a good idea??), hung out with some locals who invited us to join them on a night out in downtown (Senor Frogs anyone?), ate at a wonderful Japanese restaurant, visited Pearl Harbour, hired a car and spent a day driving to the other side of the island and back and spent a lot of time soaking up some much needed vitamin D from all the places mentioned above!

Hanauma bay where we went snorkelling

On our tour around the Island

Playing in the surf

Outside The Cheesecake Factory where we had dinner one night

Hiring a car and driving around the Island meant we got to stop for coconuts!

After the last 10 weeks, in particular dead week and then exam week it was nice to be able to kick back and relax. Hawaii was definitely a good place to do that and it pretty easy to navigate by foot or car. Oahu (particularly Waikiki was packed with Australians. I'd love to go back someday, especially to see some of the other Islands. For now though, it's back to class!

Love Danielle xx

A week in the life of a college student...

The last two weeks have been pretty quiet. We've all been busy studying our hearts out to get our last assignments in and to study for finals - they call it dead week for a reason!
I've still been hanging out with my friends and taking naps in between class like usual but we haven't been going out as much and we haven't organised anything in terms of going away because there just isn't time (also, spring break starts next week and we're heading to Hawaii! But that's another post). So in this blog I thought I'd just share some photos with you. I've decided to keep it local and all the pics you'll see are from Bellingham or surrounds - just to give you a better idea of where I'm living. I'm sure I could spend this whole blog talking about how much homework and study I have to do right now but that's not nearly as exciting. So, here's a look at B'ham!

The view from my apartment balcony. I live in Birnam Wood which is student housing but it's like a little apartment. You have a kitchen, bathroom and living area. I share with 3 other girls - 2 people per room.

One of the uni halls where classes are held

Fairhaven Village - it's very quirky and cute. We spend a fair bit of time here.  It helps to know what time the last bus is - you'll save yourself a bit of a walk.
Playing in the snow - it was -15 degrees Celsius! 

The bay. My suite mate Kelly took me down here not long after I'd arrived in Bellingham.

More snow - I got really excited about it and took quite a few pics!

One of the uni halls

Jess, Valentina and I bowling with the other international students and their buddies. Check out our super awesome shoes!

Bellingham Bay on a clear day. This is taken from near the dining hall on campus.

The library. There's a room called The Harry Potter room because it looks a bit like Hogwarts. Unfortunately it's a quiet study room so I didn't get a photo of it. I preferred to study on the sky bridge.

Part of campus - another side of the library.

Clayton beach - we did a roomie trip and spent the day at the beach, exploring. It was glorious!

Walking down to clayton beach reminds me of New Zealand.

Around town
Our first dinner all together - On Rice at Fairhaven

Around campus - I found a mammoth outside one of the uni halls

Where I lived for six months
My apartment - these little signs come in super handy when you're still trying to remember what apartment is yours.

My desk when I first moved in - I decorated it more as the semester went on.
I hope you enjoyed your tour of Bellingham. Look out for my next posts which I promise will have some more info in there - that is if I get through the next two weeks. Finals week is just around the corner. I'm off,  come back and visit soon y'all hear!

Love Danielle xx

Seattle...and a side note!

First off, here's the side note:
Ok, so if you're reading this blog and you're like "hey, what's up with these dates? She posted this in February 2013" well basically I stopped blogging and wrote everything down in a travel diary instead. I found it was easier to do time-wise as opposed to trying to find time to sit down and write a full post in one go (this post for example has actually been sitting as a draft since about April 2012). So I'm now going back through and putting all those events onto here. If you have any questions feel free to message me (on here is fine however, if you're an ECU student reading this wanting more info, contact the international office. They'll either be able to help you or will give you my details so I can answer questions regarding my exchange!).
Anyway, I just wanted to explain that before I continued.

So. Here's Seattle.

It figures since we live so close that we should spend a weekend here and there exploring Seattle and that's what we decided to do on the third of March. There was myself, two other exchange students - one from the Netherlands (Jessica) and one from Italy (Valentina) and our American friend who happened to be a local and became our tour guide (thanks Chris!).

We left early wanting to make the most of our day away. Chris came to pick us up from Birnam Wood so we piled into his car and drove south. Chris has great taste in music. He also likes to listen to it LOUD so that coupled with Starbucks kept us awake on our journey. We weren't sure where to park when we got into the city but we eventually found a parking garage that was close to downtown Seattle and wouldn't cause us to spend our life savings on parking. From there we walked just about everywhere. We decided to head to the Space Needle first. I was pretty excited about this since it's pretty well known. We wandered down there, stopping for a hot drink along the way at Forza Coffee (which was delicious by the way - white chocolate mocha..mmmm). When we eventually got to the Space Needle we purchased tickets and had a look around. They had these little kiosks everywhere that told you facts about Space Needle itself and about certain places around Seattle. It was really interesting and it was like doing a tour of the city without actually going anywhere. After spending a bit of time wandering around we then ventured outside onto the viewing platform. It was unbelievably cold and windy up there but the view was fantastic! We didn't stay too much longer, just took some photos and Chris pointed out where he lived across the Puget Sound. We headed out through the gift shop and continued back to Pike Place Market. For those that aren't familiar with Pike Place Market it's basically just indoor market. There's shops and restaurants/cafes that are a little more permanent but there's also just benches/sections that people hire. It's pretty cool. There's a fish market there where the guys actually throw the fish back and forth to each other and across the road is where the first Starbucks opened. We didn't go in because the line was huge and we'd already had a coffee fix but it was nice to see anyway. From there we headed around the back and down towards the pier which was bustling with people. We had lunch at Red Robin (they do really amazing burgers and if you're gluten intolerant and often miss out on eating things like that, they do them wrapped in lettuce instead of in bread!). After digesting for a while we wandered back and visited the gum wall. Imagine peoples chewed up gum stuck to a wall. Yeah, that's exactly what it was. We all added our piece (which was gross but oddly exciting) and took some photos. It was an experience and that's what this trip is all about! After that we had a brief wander back through downtown and then headed back to Bellingham to spend the rest of the weekend up to our eyeballs in homework.

Overall it was one of the quieter weekends but it was fun nonetheless and it was good to have a break. I enjoyed seeing more of the city. It's got character. Chris mentioned that there's an underground tour available so maybe next time we'll look at doing that. Apparently Seattle used to be a lot steeper than it already is and so they moved all this dirt down the hill to try and flatten it out a bit and in the process created these underground basement/tunnel things. Sounds pretty exciting if you ask me!

Have a good week all.

Love Danielle xx

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Children's Literature Conference

Laura McGee Kvasnosky and I
The following weekend on the 25th of February was the Western Washington University's Children's Literature Conference. In all honesty I was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing and what it would be like. I'd volunteered to help out during the day so I had to be there an hour before the conference actually began. When I got there, everyone was in a frenzy trying to make sure everything was in place for the onslaught of people that were about to pour through the doors. I was looking forward to meeting the authors who were going to be at this years conference; Gary Schmidt, Patrick Carmen and Laura McGee Kvasnosky. As it was I ended up helping Gary with his book signings in the morning and directing conference goers to Laura's signing table in the afternoon. The conference itself was great! Gary, Patrick and Laura all gave wonderful speeches - the stories they had to tell were humorous, sad, witty and all-over amazing! Gary told of how he was once invited to be a guest speaker at a book club. Instead of ending up at a school like he was expecting, he found himself out at a maximum security prison for juveniles talking with a small group of boys (aged 9-17) who had been reading his book 'Wednesday Wars'. Over the coming weeks he continued to go out there and meet with these boys who society had all but given up on and he was amazed at what these boys had to say about his book and that they could relate to it so well.
Gary Schmidt and I
Towards the end of the day as things were wrapping up I had the chance to purchase some books and get them signed by all the authors. For a book nerd like I am it was pretty special. The conference was started by one of the lecturers at WWU who runs a children's literature class (which I took while I was there) and basically just gets a few authors together each year to discuss children's books, what inspired them to write, the topics they cover - things like that.

It's definitely something I won't forget in a hurry and I'm so glad I had the opportunity to attend something like this. I would love to come back for next years 10 year anniversary conference.

Danielle xx

San Francisco

The last few weeks of Winter quarter were insane - assignments due, study for finals, computer breaking down, planning/packing for spring break, visiting Seattle - but I would do it again in a heartbeat (ok, maybe not the computer thing...that wasn't fun)! Anyway, I've been meaning to do a blog for a while about my time here so here's the start of my updates!

Frank the tank almost stuck in a tree in the redwoods
Exploring the redwood forest

The crazy started over President's day weekend when 7 of us did a road trip to San Francisco. We started our trip on Friday afternoon (slightly later than planned as we had minor dramas with car hire...namely the car hire place had booked us a car for 5 people and we needed one for 7) but after this was sorted we were on our way! Things were going relatively smoothly until we hit traffic in Seattle. Since it was Friday night, peak hour traffic AND a public holiday it took about 2 hours just to pass through Seattle. After that though things were fine. We continued on...and on...and on....using music to keep us awake, talking, laughing, making frequent stops and taking short naps. The plan was to stop in Crescent City for the night since the drive was so long but since we were so delayed with leaving we didn't arrive there until about 5am. We checked in at our hotel and slept for a few hours (hey, something is better than nothing!!)  and then proceeded to briefly explore Crescent City and have breakfast at Denny's where it was raining and cold and gray. After refuelling (both ourselves and the car) we drove down through the redwoods which were pretty spectacular! We stopped a few times along the way to explore - climbed some trees, climbed inside some trees, witnessed Jonny pretend to be Harry Potter running from deatheaters and stack it in the forest and overall just stretch our legs. We had some fab views of the ocean and passed through some very quaint towns. In the redwoods there's a tree that you can drive through. It's a tourist trap (i.e. they charge you a bomb to drive through a tree and back out onto the road again) but we decided to do it. Most of our reasoning was "if we don't do it now we'll regret it" and "who knows when we'll be back here?!" so we paid and continued down the track to this tree. We started to drive through however the guy at the gate had failed to warn us that the gap is kinda narrow and we were in a tank. There were a few very tense minutes as we thought we were either going to get A) stuck or B) lose our side mirrors. Lucky for us (and the car!) we made it through thanks to Jaclyn's superb driving skills! As a result of our adventure, our rental car was christened Frank the tank. Anyway, after a few more hours driving through the forest we eventually made it to San Francisco at about midnight. So worth it! Unfortunately we were staying downtown in a rather, er, interesting part of the city but it was fun none the less (as a side note, I recommend staying out at Fisherman's Wharf as opposed to Downtown). Over the next three days we explored San Francisco. We went to Fisherman's Wharf which was really nice and had lots of restaurants and shops around the place (ghirardelli chocolate...mmm), rode the trolley, hired bikes and rode across the Golden Gate Bridge (which I highly recommend), wandered around Downtown and went to Alcatraz, which was a great experience and very informative. And then we drove home, desperately trying to get back before classes started at 10am on Tuesday morning as one of us had an exam that same morning. It was a close call but we got back just in time for the exam and at the perfect time for the rest of us to sleep.

Danielle xx

Sunday, 8 January 2012

I survived my first week in the United States!

First off, I want to say that this blog post will be a bit of a mish-mash of what i've been up to this past week and things that I've learnt. Because i'm doing this blog post for two entirely different reasons (to keep everyone updated with my travels AND to inform others of what it's like to be on exchange), sometimes it's a little bit difficult to get the two ideas to come together. Anyway, I hope this manages to do both (sorry if it doesn't!).

So, some of the things I've done this week...
I've been downtown, been to Fairhaven, gone to dinner a couple of times (for the record, if you're ever in Bellingham, I recommend On Rice..yumm!), been grocery shopping a few times, finally invested in a jacket (in future I recommend that this is the first thing you do, not something you leave for a week), survived my first experience at the "mall" (3 girls, 5 hours..a lot of shopping!!!), played broom ice-hockey and lived to tell the tale and I've finally managed to sort out my classes which I'm looking forward to. 

I've learnt a lot this week too. 
One the biggest things has been adjusting to life in America; the food (so many ready meals and huuuuuge portions at restaurants), the people and driving on the opposite side of the road. I think the biggest thing to adjust to though has been learning to live in an apartment. It's been a lot of fun actually but it's a lot different to living at home - getting used to living with "strangers", adjusting to having to share a bedroom and a relatively small bathroom - so far though there's been no dramas or issues which is good! 
As of this morning I've also learnt to do my laundry early as the laundry room gets really busy as the day goes on. 10 washers and dryers seems a lot when the room is empty..not so much when there's a queue and you have to wait 40 minutes for a load to go through.
Finally, I've been trying to get my head around the education system here. Back home everything is pretty much laid out (at least for my degree it is); "in first year you take these units, in second year you are meant to take these units". Here though your first 2 years are generally spent taking mandatory classes such as English, Science, Maths (unless you're in something like the music program which is different again). In order to graduate you have to complete those classes sometime over your 4 years but everything else you get a choice in and it's pretty much first come, first served when it comes to registering - which can make enrolment a little bit more difficult. A lot of people have found it strange but interesting that my degree is so structured, and a few have said that it seems to make more sense to do it they way we do. 

As an additional note, Americans love Australians! I've got so many email addresses from strangers who said that if i'm ever down in California, Seattle or San Diego I can flick them an email and they will give me suggestions of places to stay, where to eat, things to do. Everyone also wants to know about Kangaroos, they're particularly interested in the fact that our national animal is a pest and that we kill and eat it..the next question is always "so have you tried Kangaroo?", to which I have to say no, I haven't.

Anyway, i'm going to wrap up. I have a lot of work to do for tomorrow (yeah, that's another thing about school here. So. Much. Homework. For one class here I get probably double (at least) of the stuff I have to do for a class back home..and it all counts towards your final grade!).
Also, many people (family and friends alike), have encouraged me to "try one new thing a day" while i'm here, so if there's something you would specifically like me to do or try then let me know over the next 6 months. I've already had a few requests for photos with different things (such as a giant pretzel) so i'm happy to start a list.

Thanks for reading, enjoy your week!
Love Danielle xx

Friday, 30 December 2011

Small beginnings

Hi all!

So, I'm not entirely sure how I go about this blog thing but please bear with me while I try to work it out! This is my first blog post so I'll start by giving an explanation behind why I have this blog in the first place.

For a while now I've wanted to go on exchange but it's alway been one of those things that I never thought could or would actually happen. Back in January, 2011 I started talking to a lady at work. I can't even remember what the conversation was originally about but we somehow came around to talking about going on exchange. From there I decided to go home and start doing some research. I've looked at going on exchange before but this time I really thought that it might be possible and so I printed out all the forms and information that I could find, I looked at many different universities all around the world, I thought about what I wanted from this exchange and I looked at the school catalogues to work out if they would suit the classes that I had to take. In the end I decided that America was the way to go as they could better match my degree than in other countries. From there I had to decide on a school. This part was hard, so many to choose from! I eventually narrowed it down to 5 schools, Western Washington University being one of them, and with a lot of research, questions and discussions I eventually decided.

I don't know if any of you who are reading this have ever looked into going on exchange but I'll tell you that it takes a lot of time and preparation. I started doing this in January and my application wasn't due into ECU until July. After I'd made up my mind that I wanted to do this and had settled on WWU I had to collect everything together for my application. This included writing a personal statement, getting an official transcript from the office, finding units/courses that would match the classes that I was expected to take back home, I also had to include a second choice school which meant more research. And after all this I had to have a meeting with my course coordinator and get her to sign off my application. Definitely not something that I would recommend doing at the last minute!

After being accepted into the program by ECU I then had to apply to WWU which was a similar application. Finally, in November (or maybe late October..I forget now...and in my defence i'm still jet lagged!) I found out that I had been accepted!! What followed was sorting my visa, booking flights, applying for accommodation, countless emails to "buddies" and room mates, getting vaccinations, sending in proof of vaccinations and telling my employers that I unfortunately would be leaving them in a couple of months. But after all that here I am ready to explore America (admittedly I missed my connecting flight from LA to Seattle and arrived later than anticipated in Bellingham (more on that later))!

Anyway,  the point of this blog is share my adventures and experiences with my friends, family and other students who are considering going on exchange. I'll keep you updated on what Bellingham is like, what being on exchange is like, the things I do and see and my what my time in the US is like.

I hope you enjoy reading this (I can't promise it will be amazing but it will be honest) and my goal is to try something new everyday which will hopeful make for some interesting posts (thanks to those who suggested it!!)...I think flying for 32 hours and stopping in 4 different airports counts as something new for today!

I think it's time to find some food, haven't eaten in a considerable amount of time...whoops!!

Love Danielle xx