Thursday, February 12, 2015

Meet the Funders

So apparently not ALL Brisbanites are early risers. Last night I got home around 11:30pm from hanging out with some of the part-time students in my program over (a delicious Turkish) dinner in the West End. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly! That's one word with which I would describe here: FRIENDLY!

But let's rewind a bit. My morning started with meeting my funders. My education here is fully funded by the International Water Centre (IWC), and I went into CBD to their office to meet these people responsible for helping me with this program. I sat down nervously in their conference room and waited with a fellow scholar from Malaysia named Denise. We waited and talked together about housing and our pre-departure freak outs. Ah, and! she's around my age!

Quick note; I was concerned that I would be the oldest person in my masters program here...but that is not the case at all! If anything, I'm on the younger end. I rather like being surrounded by older people, so yay!

About five IWC employees came over to greet us - a rainbow of nationalities (Aussie, American, British, French, Japanese). They sat down and started talking almost immediately about which areas are more fun to live in and how to not get screwed by slumlords (yes, even Brisbane has those). It took me a few minutes to register that these five people were, in fact, my funders. So casual and kind were these people, cracking jokes with us and talking about poo, I almost felt compelled to ask them if they really were the people who just threw a lot of money at me (I was expecting more official legalities here).

And that is something I'm learning about this place: everyone, no matter the occasion, is laid back. Just got an email saying, "Yeah alright you're good to go"? You might have just won a scholarship. Did someone say to you "Sure see you next week"? You might have just landed an apartment (more on that in a bit). The casual setting is something that I am not used to at all - us Americans like to have things in writing and official with stamps and lawyers and everything, right? But I've been told to get used to this, as I feel my neurotic controlling tendencies creep up my back.

The funders chatted with us about housing and about the layout of the program. The format of our masters is pretty different than most masters; it's more like a series of intensive workshops throughout the semester while we work on our piece de resistance. There may not be a consistent schedule because of the material and the experts who are teaching us are coming in from all different places all over. In fact, the only consistent thing about the program will be our classroom, which is a single room for about 50 of us (23 full time students) stationed somewhere in the UQ campus.

The funder folks were enthusiastic about my interests in researching WASH, and encouraged me to keep in contact with other universities for my final research project. They also told us they were 100% there to serve and help us throughout the program. We were offered coffee shop talks whenever, connections to organizations for networking, and a lot of support. A lot of support. LOTS. Think phone numbers coupled with the phrase, "If you need anything. Really." At this moment, I'm really glad I signed onto this program.

Afterwards, I went house hunting some more. Again with the casual aspect of the culture here, I texted someone to confirm I wanted to rent their (very nice) place, and his response was "k, c u next week then". I stared blankly at the text message for a while. Did I get the place? Doesn't he need to finalize words officially with me? No stamp? Again?? Those I've met agree that yes, I have the place. But I'm used to something a bit more. I'm not that casual.

Similarly, I'm not worried...but people here allude that I might be often. Whenever I thank someone for anything, the response is, "no worries." It always halts me, and I do a quick internal check if I seem worried. Am I worried? I know, some Americans use this term as well...but I always feel a bit lost. Should I reply with, "Don't worry, I'm not"? I think it goes back to the casual culture here, but I still want them to know that I'm not worried. But I am worried that they think I'm worried.

In other realizations, people here seem to genuinely want to help. I handed my dying cellphone to some cashier at a corner store near the restaurant for charging while I went to dinner. Right after I released my clutch, I reflected that in most places in the US that would have been coined a "really stupid move". I mean, it could be gone by the time I return. Here, though? I don't think that the guy was fathoming doing something like that at all. So while he charged my phone I conversed with fellow students about America's confusing gun policies and racism. And when I came back it, he handed my phone back like it was the Grail or something.

Before meeting up for dinner, I sat on the riverbank and enjoyed the sunset over the tree-lined waterway. It was really peaceful; everything here is calm and relaxed. I breathed and realized I didn't really feel the anxiety with which I came here. I think I'll be just fine. Except with this whole sun's really intense.

Final note: I either have a big spider bite, or a heat/sun rash on my arm currently. It's about two quarters long and one quarter wide, and it is a red welt that itches and burns a bit. Any medical readers out there? I do know that my skin needs more sunblock than I've been using because other parts of my arms are getting mildly rashy. All good and fun!

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