Recent Experiences with Politics

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August 25th, 2014

Adelaide, Australia

 

This past week has been both humbling and eye-opening. A lot has happened, including talks about the U.S. as a global power, and exposure to the local politics and the public’s view of current politicians in Australia.

In my politics class titled Global Transformations, the most recent topic has been states and superpowers in the world. As a result, a lot of the talk has been about the United States and its global influence. It is quite strange to hear people discussing my home country from an outsider’s perspective, since they don’t have the same national pride and personal connection. Oftentimes, both the instructor and the students speak plainly about issues in the U.S. that would be sensitive or uncomfortable to discuss as an American. The difference is especially evident in talks about the possible decline of the U.S. and the rise of other countries such as China, Brazil, Russia, and India. Currently, most people acknowledge the U.S. as the main superpower, whether they support its position or not.

Living in the States, I often thought the influence, power, and respect of the United States was sometimes exaggerated, and that this view of the U.S. was due to bias and wanting to believe that our country is the most powerful, even if it’s not. Thus, I was often skeptical of claims to the extent of our country’s influence. I believed that other countries held considerable weight in world politics, and many Americans overestimate the influence of our country. However, while other countries do have a large impact in international relations, I was surprised by how unanimously my peers, many of whom are international students, acknowledged the current dominance of the United States.

This agreement subsequently opened the floor for the discussion of many significant questions such as the following: Is the United States still the only world superpower? Is the U.S. in decline, and if so, does it matter? What’s your opinion on the foreign policy of the United States? At times, people’s responses made me inwardly cringe as they strongly criticized U.S. foreign policy, both past and present, and its involvement in many world conflicts. While the American public is not completely blind to the issues of the U.S., I believe we often try to downplay the problems to make ourselves feel more comfortable and secure. In contrast, people from other countries seem to see the country’s problems in a more realistic, objective light.

While all this criticism of the United States sometimes made me uncomfortable, it also forced me to re-evaluate my opinion of our country’s power, past actions in world conflicts, and current foreign policy. After seeing so many Australians and international students acknowledge the influence and might of the United States, I am more convinced. Like I originally thought, everyone might not like how strong the U.S. is compared to the rest of the world, but since the power is undeniably there, I believe we have a responsibility to use it wisely.

In the past, I don’t think we have always been responsible with our might, especially regarding our military. After doing more research into both the Iraq War and Afghanistan War, I don’t support some of our actions, such as invading Iraq with no concrete evidence of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, I do support our fight against human rights abuse in the Middle East and other parts of the world, but I also wish that we had better plans for getting our troops out and teaching the local militia how to handle the problem. The hard question for me is how to ensure that we use our military strength to help those in need, and not abuse it to force our way.

Aside from learning about the United States role in global politics, I also have learned a lot about the current state of politics in Australia through talks with locals. The main topic of discussion has been around the Prime Minister Tony Abbott. So far, all of the locals I’ve talked with can’t stand him, and even the teachers make jokes at his expense, expressing their frustration. From what I’ve heard, people are mainly irritated with the recent budget plan. I was also told from some frustrated students that the government is trying to shut down the primary independent news station, since it does not necessarily support current government actions. There was even a protest at my school when Tony Abbott came to speak; below is a picture of some of the gathered students.

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I did not stay, but it got violent enough for the police to come in or horseback, resulting in one student being stepped on. Chants of “education should be free, not just for the bourgeoisie” and banners supporting refugee groups were just a few of the topics of dissent. In short, there is a lot of public unrest over the decisions of Tony Abbott, and I’ll be trying to learn more while I’m here.

 

The best,

Michelle

Trying new foods at the market

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August 15th, 2014

Adelaide, Australia

Part of my weekly routine that I’ve settled into is going to the central market every Saturday. Since the market is closed on Sunday and Monday, there are always tons of deals around 1:00-3:00pm as all the vendors try and sell the last of their produce and merchandise. I try to get all my fruits and veggies for the week at the central market, since I have better control of the amount I buy and the prices are generally lower than the grocery stores.

As a lot of the vendors are local farmers, there are many fruits and veggies offered that are grown right in Australia. I see myself as an adventurous sort of person, so I decided to buy a couple of items that I had not tried before. I tried to bargain for prices, but had no success. This was probably because the market was actually very organized, with set prices per kilogram. However, since I went on a Saturday when vendors were trying to sell the rest of their produce, I was still able to get cheap deals. Apart from my regular groceries, my finds included a passion fruit, a witlof, and a custard apple.

The first thing I tried was the passion fruit. Although it originated in South America, it’s now grown widely in Australia. In the land down under, people commonly top a common dessert called pavlova with passion fruit since the slight tartness pairs well with the sweetness. I have had foods flavored with passion fruit before, but I have never tasted it fresh. A couple days later when my fruit was ripe, I scooped out the pulp with a spoon and ate it plain. I really liked the refreshing taste, sweet and somewhat tart. I have yet to try pavlova though, so maybe I can sample this dessert at some point and top it with passionfruit.

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Another food I tried is a vegetable called a witlof. To me, it tasted quite similar to iceberg lettuce. It was slightly bitter, except for the core which had a sweeter flavor. I also just tried it plain and with some Caesar dressing. However, the leaves are shaped like a little canoe or dish, and I found recipes online that suggested stuffing them with various dips and fillings. If I get more in the future, I will definitely try to stuff the leaves or dress them up somehow.

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Finally, the last special find was a unique fruit called a custard apple. When I was looking at the fruit, I noticed an Indian couple who were also examining them. Since they seemed to know what they were doing, I asked how to eat it and what it tastes like. The man picked out a custard apple for me, telling me that I should wait two to three days before eating it so it could ripen. A few days later, I cut the custard apple in half, and tried to eat the white pulp with a spoon, as suggested by the Indian man at the market. The flesh had a consistency similar to a mango, and was sweet and tangy. Although I liked the flavor, I found it tedious to eat since I had to pick out a lot of seeds. There were also a few blemishes in the fruit that I had to pick out since they were bitterer than the normal pulp. I would definitely eat this fruit again, but I would rather have someone else prepare it who knows when it’s ripe and how to cut it up.

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All in all, I enjoyed the mystery of buying foods that I’ve never tried before. The passion fruit was my favorite, but I believe I would enjoy the witlof and custard apple more if they were prepared and served differently, especially by someone who knows how to handle those foods.

Aside from these fruits and veggies, I have also been trying other classic Australian foods, such as kangaroo and vegemite. I’ll post about them once I try a few more items.

Until the next adventure,

Michelle

Getting into the Grove

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August 5th, 2014

Adelaide, Australia

After being in Australia for about two and a half weeks and finishing my first week of school, I have begun to figure out my daily routine. As I am more or less settled, I have had time to reflect on my experience in Australia thus far.

At the university the learning style is very independent. The lectures are actually recorded, so you can choose to either come to the live session or listen to the recording. There are also videos and readings that you must go through in order to learn the material that the lecturer may not actually cover in class. I have found that frustrating, as I’m used to reading and/or watching material and having the teacher elaborate on it rather than the teacher discussing a completely separate topic. Although this different learning environment may prove challenging, I believe that the difficulty of classes at Mines have improved my time management and study habits, which will help me succeed in my exchange program.

While school has started up and I’ve gotten into the study routine, I’ve also settled into my everyday life in Adelaide. I buy groceries, do my laundry, eat out with my friends, and go on adventures around the city. However, maybe it’s because that I have my daily routine down that I find myself wanting more stimulation.

I suppose I want to feel excited and giddy about the fact that I’m living halfway around the world in the land down under. However, it often seems as though I’ve simply gone somewhere else in the United States, and I lose that surreal feeling of being in a foreign country. I assume the main reason for my lack of expected enthusiasm is that the city is not as different as I was expecting. Most people still speak English, albeit with an accent, and everyday greetings and customs are similar to those of the United States. While there are differences, they are not as obvious, significant, or prevalent as they might be if I were in a country such as Japan or Hungary where cultural norms are very dissimilar to what I am familiar with. Additionally, maybe I’m learning that people are still people, no matter where I go. Although individuals I meet may live and grow up in a unique cultural setting, we are all human and that could explain why I latch onto the similarities that are shared instead of focusing on the differences.

While I feel less “out-of-place” than I originally predicted, I want to ensure that I expand my activities and immerse myself in the culture in order to get as much as possible out of my short stay. With that mindset, I’ve been branching out by visiting parks and trying iconic Australian foods. I’ve gotten to see native species such as kangaroos and emus, and hiked a local mountain. I also have been trying various dishes and foods recommended by locals.P1030059

It’s during these excursions that I feel the most excitement about being in Australia, so I plan to continue these types of adventures as much as possible. Hopefully I can schedule an event or outing for every weekend, because I refuse to miss out on the fun!

Until next time,

Michelle