American or Aussie? by Sara Luehring

Sara Luehring is a senior at Ohio University, majoring in special education.  Sara is completing a professional internship at a local school in Western Australia through the Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching (COST). 

I’ve been in Perth, Australia for a little over a month now. Time has flown by, but it also feels like I’ve been here for ages. By now I have gotten to have a wide range of Australian experiences, from teaching in an Australian school to kickin’ it with kangaroos and koalas. I’m here through the Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching (aka COST) program, and get to spend my days enriching (or corrupting?) the minds of my high school students. I also am living with an incredible host family who have shown me what it’s like to live as a true Aussie, as well as a fellow American student, Tim from Chicago.

So…today let’s play a little game. We will call it.. American or Aussie? You get to guess if it’s something that’s typical of American culture, Australian culture, or both! I bet you’ll do great.

1. Driving on the right side

Listen, I know you all think you drive on the right side. But you are so wrong… just kidding, but let’s keep it literal for a minute here. Of course, this is an Aussie thing, and one that I have not yet actually tried (I couldn’t do that to the innocent Perth citizens). Tim, however has been much bolder. Thanks to his generous cooperating teacher, we’ve acquired some hot wheels to cart us around while we are in Australia, so we have been practicing our lefts and rights and I can now add ‘personal GPS’ to my resume.

Let’s just all take a pause to admire that beauty…I call it the yellow taxi, but feel free to share any other kind nicknames you come up with!

Okay moving on…

2. Everything is expensive!

Once again, I know most of you reading are broke college kids and the world seems like a money vacuum. Rest assured, we Americans have it made. As much as I love Australia, my wallet begs to differ. I was warned, and since I am staying in ‘the remotest city in the world’ supposedly, I get it…I do! Also, people earn more money over here so the higher prices are manageable for most. But that doesn’t mean I don’t cringe when I see things like this:

Thank goodness I don’t drink pop! But in all seriousness, I have worked really hard at being a frugal Fran, and try to spend my money on things that are truly worth it. These things may or may not include a visit to a wilderness reserve to play with kangaroos and koalas, boxed wine (goon), fresh things from the local markets, bus fare, and a wine tour. Priorities, people… So thanks for the real-world budgeting lessons, Perth.

3. Pop-tarts for brekky (breakfast)

For those who know me, you understand that I have not had a Pop-tart in at least 5 years as I much prefer a good green smoothie, bowl of oats, or homemade omelette to start  my day. I can’t deny that the s’mores Pop-tarts were always my fav and got oh so ooey gooey after a quick stint in the toaster…but I digress. Yes, my friends, this is totally an American practice. Here in Australia, they go for about $8 a box (see #2…wasn’t kidding!) and are quite the rare treat. One of my students even asked me: “Miss, what’s your favorite American candy? Pop-tarts?” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe, and simply agreed with him that pop-tarts should fall in the candy category, but no they aren’t my fav.

Although there is certainly a fair share of junk and candy here, I am happy to report that most breakfasts consist of things like Weet-bix cereal, or toast with Vegemite.

As for the rest of the food..I have to say there is a wide range just like in America. There are many different Asian-influenced restaurants, as well as places like Macca’s (McDonalds of course), and KFC. I have strayed from my almost-vegan tendencies at times to try some local foods like a meat pie, kangaroo and emu salami, and nougat. I’ve also gotten eat tons of fresh and delicious veggies like roast pumpkin, beetroot, carrots, and tomatoes.

4. Thongs are acceptable in public

 Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about sandals! This is one (slightly embarrassing) example of the myriad of slang terms used here in Australia. Some other lovely phrases and words include: heaps (meaning lots), chuck in the bin (throw it in the trash), hey? (what?), cheers (thanks), jumper (sweater), and good on ya (good for you).

In terms of  thongs actually being acceptable, I would say this one goes for both Americans and Aussies, depending on the circumstances. I was turned away from a bar for not having closed-toed shoes the other evening. My jaw might have initially hit the floor but hey, no worries. I’m sure this is comparable to places in America with stricter and looser guidelines as well!

So this one touches on the differences in slang, as well acceptable dress. I’m of the mindset that neither is better than the other and find myself agreeing with a bit of both. I like to keep a pretty open mind to things that are different here or back home, because it’s important to me to recognize that just because something is different doesn’t make it ‘weird’ or ‘wrong’!

5. People tend to be very laid back and relaxed about everything

Ha…I can’t even pretend like this is a stereotypical American trait, as much as I can wish! Sure, people get stressed or angry over things in Perth, that’s human nature. But even in the car in the mornings I notice people on their way to work waving others in front of them, or cursing the traffic with a shake of the head and a laugh as if they aren’t too concerned about the situation. Let me tell ya, I love this mentality. Plenty of people have asked me, ‘Why Perth? You could have gone to Sydney or Melbourne or somewhere more exciting’ to which I think I’ve found the answer. Although I didn’t personally select Perth over any other Australian location, I feel confident that it was meant to be. I am sure the other places are phenomenal and would love to get over there some day, but for now, I’m relishing my time right here.

So… why Perth? The friendly smiles, open reception from strangers, the helpful tips and suggestions from locals, and the stunning flora and fauna. Yep, I may be very far away from my roots…but it’s starting to feel just like a home away from home.

Until next time…yours ’til the kanga roos,

Sara

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