Columns, Opinion

GANS: Fish Down Under gets a sunburn

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I’m sitting in my brand new apartment in Sydney, Australia, eating half a box of Tim Tams as I try to push past my writer’s block. My thoughts are, to say the least, a little scattered. The beginning of a study abroad semester feels like freshman year all over again ­— full of the feeling of anxiety-filled happiness, when everything is new and inspiring with a touch of terrifying foreign energy.

I have spent my entire college life working for The Daily Free Press, minus the first two weeks of college when I wrote and re-wrote my staff application. So it only seemed natural that when I temporarily moved more than 10,000 miles away from the FreeP’s Beacon Street office, I should keep writing for the newspaper I consider home.

But I never anticipated writer’s block. Then again, my assignments at the FreeP have never required that I include myself in my story.

So this may be a challenge. But I’m ready if you are. I figure if you’ve made it 164 words in, you’re ready to leap into this with me.

Let’s start with a little history.

Once upon a time, in a second-grade classroom in Voorhees, New Jersey, a boy named Zachary wrote a story about a scientist named Felicia who turned into a fish. Zachary moved away a year later, but Real Life Felicia’s friends loved the story and began calling her Fish. Fourteen years later, Real Life Felicia’s friends still use the name.

Cue the mental connection to the name of this column.

Flipping back to the present day and losing the third-person speech: Welcome to Fish Down Under, a week-by-week column about my semester abroad in Sydney, Australia. I’m Felicia (or Fish, if you’re feeling bold), and I’m a junior at Boston University, majoring in journalism and minoring in political science. I used to spend every hour of my weekday nights at the FreeP, where I wrote, edited and fact-checked until taking a power nap sometime before my 9 a.m. classes. During the fall 2015 semester, I took time off from school to do a full-time co-op program at The Boston Globe, where I worked at the City Desk.

If you didn’t get the gist: when I’m in Boston, my life revolves around journalism.

On one hand, I feel very lucky that I’ve found a career I also consider a hobby. That being said, when I decided to travel abroad, I knew I would have to let a piece of my journalism life go, at least temporarily. If I wanted to truly immerse myself in Australian culture, I had to get my head away from the morning news, off my dozens of emails and out of my Twitter feed. I had to detach.

It’s only been a few weeks, but I’m already making some progress. I only check Twitter a few times a day now, and I’ve only canceled plans here to watch a presidential debate once. Baby steps, right?

Before we get any further, you probably want to know what exactly I’ll be doing here when I’m not petting koalas or eating Vegemite. Spoiler alert: the latter is not my idea of fun. The BU Sydney Internship Program is based in the Chippendale neighborhood of Sydney, Australia. For the first half of the program, we take two classes. For the second half, we complete an internship and take one class. You’ll read a little bit about it all.

The first few weeks, aside from taking classes — yes, I really do have schoolwork here — have mainly been an adjustment period. Here are just a few things that have surprised me:

  1. The sun here is not a joke.

Take it from me, your resident pale person with a lobster-colored back. When Aussies tell you to wear sunscreen, they’re not talking about a one-time spritz of SPF 30. If you’re in the Australian sun, you better be lathering on that SPF 50, reapplying it every two hours and praying the sun won’t get you. Even — in fact, especially — on overcast days.

  1. Where is my iced coffee?

Other than journalism, coffee is probably the No. 1 item that my life revolves around. Picture the coffee-dependence of Lorelai Gilmore when she’s in a terrible fight with Rory and Luke simultaneously. That’s me all the time. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that Australian “iced coffee” is a dessert drink. With ice cream in it. And when it comes to plain espresso drinks here, barely anything comes iced — yes, even in a place where it’s nearly always summer. Who knew studying abroad would change my coffee addiction?

  1. Australia is huge.

You’ll be surprised to know how few people actually study the map of Australia before coming here. Australia is approximately the size of the continental United States, but that doesn’t stop every traveling college student from thinking they’ll see everything (including me). Scheduling and budgeting travel has been a much more difficult endeavor than I planned. And it has forced me to realize that I just can’t see everything. But don’t worry — you’ll read plenty about my travel adventures later.

Well, friends, this is where I’ll leave you for now. I have a graded wine tasting to get to, and I can’t be late. I’ll pretend I can’t feel your eyes rolling from the other side of the equator.

Going forward, I don’t know exactly what this semester will bring yet. A four-day camping trip in the Outback? Sure. Several terrible attempts at transcribing interviews with Australian accents? Probably. Another painful sunburn that will keep me tied to my bed for two days? Hopefully not.

One of my favorite parts of journalism is that when you start reporting on a story, you rarely know how it will end.

This story is no different.

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