Exploring Australian environment, culture, and cuisine

*This is the fifth guest blog post for the Longhorn Abroad series. Journalism senior Sylvia Butanda studied in Brisbane, Australia.

It’s never easy to describe a beautiful adventure that created friendships, tested limits and captured my heart. It’s funny how a country could end up being a second home but also surprises you with an entirely new experience on a daily basis.

The convenience of not having a language barrier and running into friendly people all the time allowed me let down my guard and embrace my surroundings with a sense of confidence. However, just like any foreign country, the differences continued to pop up as the trip progressed. As environmental journalists reporting on the state of unique environments native to the land down under, we traveled a lot to get to our excursions and had interesting experiences and interactions along the way.

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Photo courtesy of Sylvia Butanda

The first destination was Lady Elliot Island, located at the southern region of the Great Barrier Reef. A remote destination where we snorkeled every day, learned about the importance of preserving coral reefs and marine wildlife, and had an ocean view all around us. Lamington National Park was therapeutic. All you would hear is the wide range of forest sounds and could learn to appreciate how something as simple as the birds and the trees are sacred living things.

Australia has a long history with Aboriginal culture. There are more than 500 tribes, each with their own language and “Dreaming” stories, which are oral tales of the earth and life. It became an apparent theme throughout our excursions that everything in nature is connected and, should the cycles of life be heavily disturbed, can affect the gift of existence.

Our final destination was Carnarvon Gorge, a remote location in the outback where kangaroos and wallabies roamed free and where the hikes were physically exhausting and mentally challenging but so thrilling and priceless. This is where we tried kangaroo meat for the first time, which tasted like very lean venison. I had a “When in Rome” mentality and was excited to try something that was authentic and different. Although, I did find it bizarre considering the close interaction I’ve had with kangaroos earlier in the trip.

When you ask someone to name Australian cuisine, the top answer is kangaroo, which I can only assume is slightly accurate. Meat pies are also a thing and are delicious and are possibly more common than Starbucks locations. There is an abundance of Asian cuisine and countless sushi bars. As someone who enjoys food, eating was clearly my favorite activity.

Photo courtesy of Sylvia Butanda

Photo courtesy of Sylvia Butanda

Every time I was asked where I was from, it was an immediate reflex to say Texas instead of America, which prompted some to ask why we didn’t have the “accent.” The overuse of the word “y’all” confused a lot of Aussies because of how odd it sounded. Also, attempting to do an Aussie accent in public is not recommended. Just a heads up.

The more we got to know how Aussie people were, the more I loved them. They are friendly, hospitable and have a great sense of humor about things. They are also incredibly adamant for abbreviating words and using quirky terminology. With the exception of several people we bumped into in Sydney, which is equivalent to the rudeness and bustling nature of New York City, the people are genuine.

There’s an unexpected ache you feel when you get on the plane home and leave such a special place behind. Australia was the ideal study abroad trip where you come back with an entirely new perspective, a greater appreciation for things and the itch to travel somewhere new where you can experience that sense of wonder all over again.

Story and photos by Sylvia Butanda

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