Australia Post 4

I’m sure this sounds totally stereotypical and cliché, but I can’t believe how long I’ve been here already. It’s been a while since I’ve had time to write, but I realized when August hit that I’d already been here a month (that second rent bill was a pretty firm reminder). Now the two months mark is just a couple days away.

 

I’m not just marveling at “time flying” or anything like that, I’m startled because this feels so different than my last trip abroad. Last summer I spent only 5 weeks abroad in Italy, and as much as I loved my experience there, by the time a month had passed I was very ready to go home. I knew I would miss the beautiful ancient city centers and Tuscan landscape (I started missing the crepes and gelato before I even got on the plane to leave), but I was tired of living abroad the way I was in Italy. I was sharing a room in a bed and breakfast with two other girls most of the time I was there, and when I was traveling I was stuck hauling everything I’d brought with me – which was far too much. As the month wore on, all the little things started to get to me, the heat and humidity and lack of air conditioning in my accommodation (and in most buildings), the half mile hike to the nearest place I could do laundry, and just the general stress that I associated with living in extremely temporary circumstances – for example, we had almost no storage furniture, so we were all living out of our suitcases and one small wardrobe.

 

Now, I’m complaining a lot about Italy, but I want to point out that everything there was intended only for a month, and it served me fine for that long. And there were a lot of nice things that I’m skipping over because they’re not part of the point I’m trying to make here. Going back to Australia, I was surprised when I realized I’d hit the one month mark because I didn’t feel remotely like I had after spending a month in Italy. Where Italy left me stressed and travel weary after a month, here in Australia I actually feel at home, and I think it has everything to do with the differences in how I’m living here and for how long. My accommodation is much more comfortable here. I have my own room in an apartment, my clothes are all stored in a closet, and the laundry is just downstairs. I have space in my room to make it my own, and I did so with a few small purchases from Ikea. There is a sense of permanence to what I’ve created in my room, even though I’ll only be here for one semester, and also because I’ll be here for an entire semester. And on top of that, I’ve built relationships here, and a routine that works for me. I’ve learned the public transit system and become familiar with the main city as well as the suburbs I live in and go to school in. I’m anchored in Australia by the people I’ve met here and the places I’ve become familiar with. In Italy, I never really got out of the OU bubble. It’s just too hard to escape it in Arezzo. The people I became close to were all returning to OU as well, so the only attachment I felt to Italy because of them was the memories we’d made. So, while I loved going there, I was never really more anchored than a tourist, and it’s hard to enjoy living as a tourist forever – at least, it is when you make the mistakes I did (see previous posts on overpacking and such).

 

I guess what I’m discovering is that living in a place like you’ll be there for a month is an entirely different and to me, less fun experience than living in a place like you’ll be there for a semester. A semester is long enough to justify building some roots and getting a few comforting touches for yourself, and it’s long enough to really begin to feel invested in where you are. I’m a lot more attached to my place in Australia now than I ever was to Italy, and it’s largely because I came here with the attitude that I would be here for a good long while, and because there was no OU bubble to hide in. I guess my take away here is that my mentality and the arrangements I make for myself have a big impact on how I feel as time goes on while I travel, and I’ll need to remember that the next time I decide to go abroad.

Aussie Food Review

So since food is like 80% of what I think about anyway, I figured I’d try writing a post on food here in Australia, so here goes.

Random Australian Food Item No. 1: Vegemite
There’s a very interesting obsession with vegemite here that I would liken to an American southerner’s obsession with calf fries: whether you’ve actually had them or not, you know exactly how weird they are, but you feel a strange connection to them anyway, maybe because of a shared regional origin or something. Australian attitudes toward vegemite are similar. So first off, what is the stuff? Vegemite. Sounds like it’s made of vegetables, and maybe mites. Or maybe it’s what Popeye the Sailor would eat, mighty vegetables? Spinach? Nope. It’s yeast. And frankly, it’s plain weird. Even Australians will tell you to use extreme caution when eating this stuff, and I mean every single one of the dozen or so Aussies who has asked me if I’ve tried vegemite has said this. It’s made to be eaten as a spread on a piece of bread or toast, but no one ever does it right the first time. They pile it on like peanut butter and Nutella, and then they throw up. You’re supposed to put the thinnest layer you possibly can on a piece of bread, then scrape half of that off. And that still might be too much. And to help hide even more of the salty, meaty, beer-like taste (it is made of yeast after all) you’re supposed to put a thick layer of butter on that bread first (this also makes it easier to remove more vegemite when you inevitably use too much). Honestly, as little as you’re supposed to use at a time I don’t understand how people actually go through an entire jar in a lifetime. But it’s supposed to be a big source of vitamins, all the jars say “vitamin B” on the front, so I can see the interest in training little kids to like it.
     Rating: Try it once, because it’s so very Australian you really can’t say you came and didn’t try it. But if you care at all about your taste buds definitely use caution.

 

(pic stolen from the internet)

 

Random Australian Food Item No. 2: Tim Tams
I always heard about Tim Tams on the internet and never understood why some people were so obsessed with them – the attitude here is similar to that directed at Twinkies in the US. Now I’m starting to. They’re literally everywhere, in all kinds of flavors. I think I can sort of compare them to Oreos, in the variety of flavors that exist and in the fact that they’re both made of chocolate cookie-cracker-things with some kind of creamy, sugary filling. In the case of TimTams, they’re both filled with and dipped in (usually) chocolate. And they’re amazing. They’re at every social event that has snacks, and they’re always the first thing to go. Also like Oreos, the packages never have enough of them. Ever. The residence hall I’m in often supplies a single package of them at social events, and while we have a pretty small hall and an even smaller turnout at social events, those Tim Tams never make it around the room a second time. If you don’t get one on the first pass they’re gone.
     Rating: Yes. Try them. Love them. Don’t keep them in the house if you don’t plan to eat an entire package in two days or less. (so yeah, Australian Oreos)

The deliciousness captured
Typical store display, they’ll dedicate half an aisle to these things

Random Australian Food Item No. 3: Kangaroo Meat
You had to know that one was coming. Not reviewing kangaroo meat would be like going to Oklahoma and never having beef. I tried kangaroo meat at a food truck in the Queen Victoria Night Market in Melbourne. The truck offered crocodile burgers on squid ink buns, emu sausages with grilled veg on top, and kangaroo burgers on beet root buns. Upon questioning the saleswoman, I learned that yes, it was real squid ink, and no, it added no flavor to the bun, it just dyed it black and made it look both cool and slightly disturbing (ever looked at an ink-black burger bun? It’s unsettling). It was the same for the beet root, so I ordered my kangaroo burger, figuring I’d come back to try the croc and squid another time (hopefully next week). The ‘Roo meat, as the cook called it, was similar to beef in texture, although I imagine most ground red meat is similar in texture. The flavor was nothing particularly strange either, it just tasted like meat, maybe similar to beef, but again that could have had to do with it being ground. However, it was very well cooked. That burger was downright delicious, and unlike most well cooked beef, it really wanted to crumble apart in chunks. I was warned not to try to cook it myself first or I would never want to try it again, and I can see why now. The ‘Roo patty I tried was amazing, better than most beef burgers I’ve had, but I could tell by the texture that it would be easy to mess up if you didn’t know what you were doing. The way it crumbled, it was almost verging on gritty, and I suspect a poor or even mediocre kangaroo patty would be pretty dry and gristly. Luckily, I got a really, really well cooked burger, so hopefully my luck holds for future kangaroo meat trials.
Rating: Definitely try it, but be smart about where you go. Queen Vic Night Market seems to be a good place.

‘Roo Burger and Emu Sausage in all their delicious glory

Bonus Australian Food Item: Emu Sausage
Bonus because I didn’t really eat the whole thing. My friend ordered it at the same place I got my ‘roo burger, so I only had a bite and don’t feel justified in giving a full review. My one bite tasted pretty typical of sausage to me, I honestly couldn’t tell much of a difference, except that the skin they used to hold the sausage together was so thin and so similar in texture to the meat of the sausage that I almost couldn’t tell it was there. But again, superbly cooked sausage. Maybe I’m just reviewing this food truck more than I am the kinds of meat, but so be it.
     Emu Sausage Rating: Worth trying, I would buy myself one to get a proper try, given another chance.
     Queen Vic Market Strange Meats Food Truck Rating: A+, definitely go there for all your weird meat cravings.

Australia – Thoughts on Travel

Well, I’ve been here for three weeks minus a few hours. I’ve probably done as more traveling in that time than I’ll get to for another month now that classes have started. Monash University has an amazing exchange/international student support team, and they set up some awesome trips for us. I’ve been into Melbourne’s city center several times now, and I’ve ridden an elevator to the 88th floor of the tallest building there and taken pictures of the city at night. It was more like flying low in an airplane than sitting in a building.

I’ve visited the largest shopping mall in Australia (just a 20 minute bus ride from my apartment on campus). I’ve fed kangaroos, wallabies, emus, cassowaries, and even geese and some kind of pheasant-esque bird by hand. I’ve watched penguins come out of the ocean to nest for the night and I’ve taken selfies with a koala.

I’ve also been chewed out by a customs officer, gotten thoroughly lost navigating the bus system at least three different times (twice in the first week), and lost my keys and wallet at least a dozen times each in the first few days of jetlag-induced haze (luckily always in my bag or my room). I’ve hiked through mildly sketchy neighborhoods alone trying to find the post office, and I’ve found myself carrying heavy grocery bags back to my apartment on foot after getting off the last bus at the wrong stop (just in case it sounded like I was having too much fun petting marsupials).

I’ve had some wild experiences here (in many senses of the word) in just the first few weeks, but I’m afraid things are going to slow down now that classes have started. The fantastic orientation trips to sanctuaries and penguin islands are over, and school work is starting to pile up. I started off my semester by reading about half of what was assigned because I wasn’t ready to quit going out with friends and watching movies late into the night. I’m honestly a bit anxious about whether I’ll be able to make myself do school work when there are so many awesome opportunities to go do other things coming up all the time. So far, I’ve been doing the bare minimum in my classes so I can keep doing other “Australia” things, as I keep calling them. There is so much I want to see, it’s really difficult to keep in mind that schoolwork is something I’m required to do in order to stay here…

When I’m not wrestling with unwanted homework, I’m finding that traveling in Australia is like traveling in the US in some ways that are unfortunate for the American student abroad. Mainly in that there is minimal public transport between major cities, and getting around the country as a whole is a massive pain without a car (especially since Australia is about as big as the US mainland). I’m discovering that I can take (fairly expensive) bus tours around Victoria (the state/territory I’m in), but if I want to go anywhere else I basically have to fly there and then either use public transit or pay for more bus tours. I suppose my hopes for easy transportation across the country were just set a bit too high after visiting Italy and its fantastic train system. I think I made another miscalculation in how much time I left for myself to travel after term. In Italy, I was disappointed that I didn’t give myself a few more days to see a few more cities, so I planned my Australia trip to leave a couple extra weeks after the term ends to travel. I should have left an extra month or two. There is just too much to see. The Gold Coast alone can take a month if you really want to enjoy the experience, and I hoped to spend some time in Tasmania and New Zealand too, not to mention the smaller trips around Victoria that I hoped to make. I’m beginning to realize that there will never be enough time to see everything in any country I visit – heck, I live in the US, and I’ve seen almost none of the major landmarks there. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to try. At this point I think I’ll be dragging my suitcases into the airport to go home with my nose stuck in a travel guide for some part of Australia I didn’t get around to visiting in time. But still, we’ll see what I get around to, and worst case scenario I’ll just have to find a way to come back here. It’s only halfway around the world, right?

Australia – First Thoughts

I’ve been “down under” for just over three days now, and I’ve spent what seems like every minute of that time racing from one thing to the next – shopping, orientation, campus resident events, trips with other exchange students – the list goes on. But what keeps striking me on my second journey abroad is the same thing that bothered me during my previous foreign venture: the very idea of being abroad, in another country, on another continent, in entirely new territory, seems completely surreal.
In Italy we stayed in ancient city centers, where the buildings were often more than ten times older than America, and yet the idea that I’d flown over a thousand miles across an ocean and landed in a foreign land seemed far too huge a concept to really process. I find myself facing the same thoughts here. I’m not just on a new continent, I’m on the complete opposite side of the world, in the southern and eastern hemispheres, where everything from the land and waters to the stars is entirely new to me. It’s not like you fly slowly in from the outer atmosphere so that you can see yourself slowly approaching the “Australia shape” you see on Google maps, zooming in slowly until you can see the dot that will be your new home city, and then further in to see your campus and apartment. Instead, you fly in the dark over the ocean for hours and hours, until you finally pass out from exhaustion. And when you wake up, maybe you’re still over water, but more than likely you’re over land. Then, you continue over landscape you can’t quite see in the dark until the plane lands. You eventually walk out of the airport into this new land, but the differences are relatively subtle.
The gas stations are different, but not too different. Odd companies like United and Woolworths appear, but so do BPs, so you could just be in another part of the United States. An increased concentration of Asian restaurants and shops can also be accounted for by assuming a densely populated coastal area of the US. The cars drive on the left side of the road here, and to compensate for this the driver’s side of the car is on the right, but unless you’re paying attention it’s easy to overlook this difference. Buildings are a bit different too. It takes a bit longer to figure out the difference, but advertising is apparently done differently in Australia. External walls often sport more ads, web addresses, sale posters, and other additions than they do on average in the US, but again not so much that it couldn’t just be an unfamiliar American city.
To me, more than the things I’ve listed so far, the flora and fauna remind me that I’m not in the US. The birds here are much larger on average, and more boldly colored. Lorikeets, which I’ve only ever seen in the big netted enclosure at the OKC zoo, fly around campus freely. Big, round, black birds with long, skinny necks pick through the grass on the commons. Massive ravens caw loudly from the trees along the sidewalks. And a variety of birds – magpies, water birds that look like thin, long necked ducks, and others – have bold, black and white coloring that stands out strongly to me compared to the browns of most US birds. And the plants and trees, while more subtle, still indicate that things are not what I grew up with.
Deeper exploration of the area shows a few more differences – odd brands in stores, and staples of American cuisine, such as “normal” bacon and Kraft Mac n Cheese are nowhere to be found, and in their place are things like Tim Tams and Vegemite. But still, it’s hard for processed beer leftovers to really translate the magnitude of my presence in this place. It’s slowly beginning to make sense to me, as I make trips into Melbourne, interact with locals, and talk to the friends I’ve made here in the last few days. The more differences I find, the harder it is for my brain to try to brush them off as minor differences. My time in Italy was enough to accept where I was, but not enough to really appreciate it. Hopefully my semester here will be enough to fully realize exactly where I am, and how far I’ve come. But if nothing else, my few travels abroad have highlighted to me just how huge and diverse the US is, that I can travel thousands of miles to foreign lands and still find ways to half think I’m still in the US.

Getting Ready for Australia

As I prepare to go abroad in July, I continue to be surprised by how much I have to do, how hard it actually is to go abroad, how fast my departure date is approaching… going abroad is just one huge exciting mess. And a ton of (usually really minor) stuff always goes wrong.

How much I have to do:

Course equation requests. Language placement tests. Choose Australian insurance. Order a Visa. Order plug adapters. Buy a plane ticket. Sort out housing in Monash. The list goes on and on (and on and on…). I’m surprised people ever actually make it abroad, I keep getting hung up on this eternally long “to do” list (and I actually really like “to do” lists). It feels like I will spend the next year trying to check all of these boxes just so I can go abroad, and this is just what is required of me by OU and Monash. It doesn’t even include all the things I have to purchase/do to function in Australia once I get there (see: plug adaptors, unlocking bank card/credit card for international use, figuring out cell phone service…). But I’ve done this before (with slightly less red tape thanks to it being an OU program) and I made it then, and other people have made it abroad before. I know it all gets sorted out and eventually I get on the plane and arrive, and that’s what it’s all about. I just hope I don’t lose my head before then!

Things that go wrong:

For example: last time I went abroad I way overpacked with all the wrong clothes. And I had more information about where I was going than I do this time. I also had various little issues with hotels and taxis and communication… the list always goes on and on.

I’m trying to minimize the number of those mistakes for this trip, but I’m realizing (thankfully before I leave this time) that stuff is just going to happen. Maybe this time I won’t haul 30 lbs of clothes I won’t wear across an ocean, but something else will go wrong. Maybe I won’t have warm enough stuff for cold nights, or dry enough clothes for the rainy season. Maybe my taxi ride from the airport to my hotel won’t cost 90 euros this time, but it’ll take me hours to find it. Or it will take me to the wrong place first.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic or predict everything that will go wrong, my point is just that things are always going to happen. No one can prepare for every contingency, but, at least for “Type A” people like me, it’s really hard not to try. And that was how I wound up hauling 30 unnecessary lbs of unbearably hot dress clothes and uncomfortable shoes around the Italian train system for a week of my last study abroad (in addition to the other 30 lbs of junk with varying degrees of usefulness in my suitcase). I swore not to do that again, but because I’m a faithful believer in Murphy’s Law, I know I’ll just make another mistake instead. And that’s fine. If I can lug a 60 lb suitcase up and down multiple flights of stairs and down cobblestone streets and still have a good time in Italy, then I can handle whatever goes wrong with Australia and still have a good time. Big perk I’m seeing to semester long study abroad: guaranteed “home base” to store most stuff at so I can take light bags on weekend trips (see: no more hauling 60 lb suitcase).

How fast my departure date is approaching:

Too fast. Not fast enough. It seems forever away, then I turn around and it’s May, and I leave two months from Saturday when I swear it was four months away a minute ago. It seems forever away through a mound of paperwork and purchases and phone calls to make, but then I clear another hurdle and it looks a lot closer. It’s one crazy psychological roller coaster that’s going to come to a screeching halt when my plane finally touches down in Melbourne. Then a whole new roller coaster starts.

OU Cousins Thoughts

My OU Cousin this semester is Patricia, a freshman international student from Kenya. When we met for lunch back in February, President Trump’s first travel ban had just been put into place – and quickly put on hold. So, as most conversations back in February went, we tried to talk about other things, but eventually the topic got around to politics and to Trump’s latest executive order. Patricia told me about her friends on the international floor in Adams who were concerned about trying to go home over the summer. That part of the story I’d heard before, people afraid to go home to see their families because they might be banned from returning to school. As if going to college out of your home country isn’t scary enough, now these students were faced with the possibility of having to choose between seeing their families and wasting thousands of dollars on starting an education that would likely have to be completed elsewhere, with the risk of losing any credit they had completed. But Patricia also said that many of those students understood where the ban came from, even if they didn’t agree with it. Those countries listed on the ban are home to groups that openly and actively try to cause harm to the US and its citizens. It makes perfect sense to try to keep those groups out of our borders, but we need to consider how we do that. Blocking everyone from those countries from entering the US might reduce the risk of terror attacks in our borders – if we assume that no one already in our borders is planning an attack – but it won’t solve the root problems. It won’t address the fear and hatred that come from a lack of understanding of each other. It only encourages them. It makes the US look even more opposed to anyone from those nations, and it prevents the interactions that would promote understanding and empathy between our nations. I’m all for preventing terrorism, but I don’t think cutting off all travel between our countries is the solution. I think we need to look for a more long term solution, one focused on promoting understanding and comradery between our nations instead of encouraging the fear and hatred that these terror groups feed on.

Fulbright Musings

I keep coming to these info sessions hoping for a stroke of genius on what I will ask to research on my own Fulbright application, and I keep coming back empty handed. Every time I go I hear about all these awesome research projects – video diaries about the effects of a polluted river on the lives of women, research on the lasting effects of the first school in Israel that mixed Jewish and Arab students together, and research on identity and urbanization in Chinese cities. As a chemistry major, I’m expected to choose either research or a graduate program for my Fulbright application (the English teaching route is not very open to me). However, I have struggled to find a research topic in my field that would actually require me to be in another country to manage my research (chemistry, unlike social sciences, works the same way pretty much everywhere), and this, along with the need for some kind of community-interaction element, makes choosing a research topic extremely difficult. This leaves me to look at research in biology, possibly to advance my future in zoological veterinary medicine, but again I have yet to figure out a thesis that doesn’t sound like I want to just go work for National Geographic. I have yet to hear from a Fulbright recipient that did research in physical or life sciences, and even on the Fulbright website, the list of people who completed research in zoology or ecology is remarkably short. The more research I do the more I feel that my only option is a graduate program, but I would much rather do original research. I suppose I have another year(ish) to figure this out, but the closer I get to application time, the more I worry about this.

STEM Abroad

I attended the STEM Abroad session at Global Engagement Day both this year and last year, and what I keep learning is that STEM majors basically have to forge our own way abroad. There’s just no way around it yet.
OU is trying, that’s for sure. O-Chem in Italy, Engineering programs in Arezzo, and now a Pre-Med program is being tried out in Arezzo (apparently all STEM majors want to go to Italy?) but the fact remains, we’re just really limited on our options. I heard horror stories about getting 12 hours credit for a full year of courses abroad, and frankly that sounded fairly lucky to me. STEMs just don’t have the elective freedom other majors have that allows them to go abroad and take all the courses that just come back as “transfer electives” without putting them off their graduation plan. Our major checksheets are too specific, our requirements are tuned to the university we’re at – even transferring within the US can be a pain.
STEMs have to fight to get transfer credit from study abroad, and often lose course equation requests because a course happens to be half of each of two OU courses, or a combination of multiple courses. Sometimes it’s hard just to find a university that offers a comparable degree plan in a language we speak that isn’t in England. And even when we manage all of that — or ignore it — we often end up drowning in courses once we’re abroad, sometimes to the point where we miss the great opportunities studying abroad is supposed to offer (see: all my regrets from O-Chem in Italy).
But none of that means we shouldn’t study abroad, or that we should just write off study abroad as a gap year/semester (although sometimes that can be the better option). Studying abroad offers its own set of advantages that, to me, make it worth risking my 4 year graduation plan on. I got the travel bug on my short summer study abroad, and I really want more. The independence, confidence, and adaptability I gained abroad just couldn’t have come from taking courses here in the US. There’s something different about being so far away in such a different place that really drives one to grow and change and open his or her eyes.
I really hope OU continues to try to create more opportunities to help STEM majors study abroad without wrecking our 4 year plans, but I don’t think anyone should pass up the opportunity in the mean time if they can avoid it. Studying abroad is its own credential on any resume, it’s worth taking an extra semester or year in college (in my opinion) where money allows, and it’s an experience I will never forget or regret.

Global Engagement Day – Panel

I really enjoyed serving on the “Preparing for Your Adventure” panel this year, it really let me reminisce on my time abroad last summer, and at the same time it let me get some good advice for my next trip from the other panel members and even from the students there to listen.
The topic that just seemed to keep coming up was packing – how to pack, what to pack, and how much was too much. (Hint from personal experience: if you can’t carry the suitcase up and down two flights of stairs to take a pedestrian overpass over a highway, it’s too much). And packing really seems like the thing that can make or break your trip. Going out of the country for weeks or months at a time, it seems catastrophic to get there and realize you left one thing at home that you needed – but it definitely isn’t. Other countries have stores too, and short of prescription glasses and medicines, you can find almost anything you actually need wherever you are. (If you can’t find it, odds are pretty good that you can survive without it). The greater danger is over packing – as I learned the hard way. Having too much stuff just becomes an issue when you’re traveling. You’re likely moving from place to place pretty regularly – especially if you’re on a shorter study abroad, a few weeks to a month or so. The more stuff you have, the harder it is to move. You have to lug really heavy stuff around, and you might even have to take more expensive travel options (Ryan Air and Easy Jet don’t allow full sized suitcases). My rule now is to lay out what I need, cut it in half, and then think really really really hard about whether I still need that stuff, and try to cut it in half again. (The second part doesn’t always happen, but it’s a good goal to aim for, and it usually gets me down to a reasonable amount of stuff).
But the biggest thing to remember is that YOU’RE ABROAD. Over or under packed, you’re in a new country, probably on a new continent and maybe even in a new hemisphere of the world. You’re seeing and doing things you may never experience again in person. Over or under packing or forgetting something can be annoying, but ultimately it won’t take away from your overall experience. So once you’re on the plane, just take what comes. Make it work, and go with the flow – you learn that one fast abroad. Enjoy your trip, and don’t stress about your suitcase. You’re not abroad to show off your packing skills.

Reflections from OU Cousins

Last night I got to go out one last time with my OU cousin. We went to Buffalo Wild Wings, shared some wings and amazing fries and talked about the year. Nok complained about how huge the US is, and how she had to choose between going to California and visiting the Northeast instead. She settled on touring New York City and Washington DC before returning to Thailand, but she wasn’t happy about it, and I was reminded of just how huge the US is. I’ve lived here for twenty years, but I’ve visited less than half of the states, seen almost none of the east coast, and have never been outside of the lower 48 with the exception of my trip to Italy last summer. Travel is such a different concept in the US than in other parts of the world. Where it takes us hours in a plane to cross the country, the same time can be used to cross several sovereign borders in Europe and parts of Asia, including the area that Nok is from. And in Europe’s case travel across all those borders is faster and cheaper than traveling from LA to Orlando is in the US. For a region that had to work across multiple governments, borders, sets of laws, and vastly different peoples, Europe still manages to encourage more mixing and interaction across its borders than the US seems to across its states. Life in Oregon is very different than life in Oklahoma, and because of that we focus on different issues and take different stands. That’s great, there’s nothing wrong with having different concerns, but when we forget how to relate to each other’s concerns we begin to create problems. In Europe, most people want to speak several languages, they wanted to be able to interact with different people. When I visited Italy, I hardly got to use what little Italian I knew because everyone there wanted to practice their English on me. In the US we can barely remember that members of other political parties are logical human beings too, especially those from different states. We’re such a huge group of people spread over so much land, we tend to forget about the other parts of the country and focus on our own county, state, region. We forget that those squares on the map represent other groups of people as different and as human as the people in our own little square, and that’s really a sad thing.