Monthly Archives: August 2013

An Education: VMAs

So I’m here to get an education. And living with three girls in their early 20s is definitely providing that. My first lesson has been in popular music culture.

Moon Man

Now back home my listening habits include ABC Local Radio, with the occasional foray into Australia’s youth radio station  – “We. Love. Music.” – Triple J. I like these stations because neither plays the Top 40 pop music I mostly try to avoid. But on Sunday night in an attempt to get to know my new roomies a little better, I joined the girls on the sofas in our communal living room to watch MTV’s VMAs.*  The last time I even thought about music videos was probably when Michael Jackson released Black or White, featuring Home Alone child star Macauley Culkin, back in 1991.  But in the spirit of forming new friendships, I was ready to watch and learn.

The great anticipation in our household was that boy band ‘N SYNC were reforming for the first time since 2002. And 23 year-old roomie was especially excited. “It feels like Christmas morning and I’m about to open my present” because ‘N SYNC were “part of my childhood”. She was literally jumping out of her pink PJs with excitement. Her enthusiasm was infectious. A secret Google search was made by me to remember exactly who ‘N SYNC was yielded this.


Unfortunately I had to look, so you do too.

The VMAs were held in Brooklyn, because New York City is like sooooooo 2012. Prior to the ceremony there was, of course, a red carpet special in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. The MTV VJs** were busy interviewing all sorts of music artists I had never heard of, such as a guy called Robin Thicke, and others I have but try to ignore, such as One Direction. But then along came Miley Cyrus. Her name was on my radar as Billy Ray’s little girl, and the sugar-sweet Disney child star Hannah Montana. Ten minutes into the VMA broadcast I quickly learned that the Hannah Montana persona was over, and Miley wanted the world to know that she was all-grown-up-now. I sat in horror with my roomies as we watched as she “performed”. My 20-something roomies and I were pretty disgusted by her writhing, thrusting and scantily clad attire. (You will have to Google it yourself, because I can’t bring myself to graffiti my blog page with the images!).

But 20-something roomies were even more disturbed that Miley was posing provocatively for the aforementioned artist Robin Thicke, performing on stage with her, because  apparently he was “way, way too old”. I did another secret Google search and kept my mouth closed after discovering that Robin Thicke was practically my age.

Once we dissected the reasons Miley could have for putting on such a display, checked the Twitter-verse and Buzz Feed to see what memes had already sprouted, we returned attention to the VMAs and my education continued. I learned that the statue is called a “Moon Man”. I learned that there is an award for the music video with the “Best Social Message”. Congrats BTW to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for ‘Same Love’. I learned that every camera shot poised for audience reaction focused on Taylor Swift, Will Smith, or 1D.

But most importantly, I learned that an artist I actually knew, and liked, was also hugely popular among my roomies. At last, common ground! Thank you Justin Timberlake. As recipient of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award he gave a 20-minute stellar performance. He is one classy, sexy, and talented artist. You too can enjoy it here.***

*If you’re not down with the lingo, that mean the Music Television channel was broadcasting a ceremony for the best Music Video Awards of the past year.

**Video Jockeys

***If you are 25 or under, skip to 9:22 for ‘N SYNC reunion.



Advice to international students

Delivered to international graduate students on orientation day.

On why we are all here:

“Do you guys all know Susan Boyle? The middle aged singer? You do? Good. You guys are just like her. She had a dream. You have a dream. You all came to America because you have a dream.”

On the highs and lows of university life:

“It’s not going to be sunny every day. It is going to rain. We (the international student centre) are your umbrella. We are the boots to keep you dry. Come and see us when it rains.”

On greetings:

“When Americans walk down the street and say ‘Hi, how’re you doing?’ this actually means, “I am very busy right now and don’t want to stop and talk to you’. They are not expecting you to tell them about your day.”

On invitations

“Sometimes Americans will say to you at the end of a conversation, ‘Hey, let’s do lunch some time’. It is important to remember that they probably don’t mean it. They just mean that having lunch together is a nice idea. It will never happen.”

Discoveries: first 48 hours on campus

It has been a fun two days exploring campus on foot and getting my bearings on this enormous campus.  Less than 48 hours after arriving I achieved ‘local’ status today by giving directions to other ‘new’ students who had lost their way. Here are a few things I have discovered in my wanderings.

Happy discoveries:

  • The weather has been 30+ each day and all the buildings are air-conditioned.
  • I have a strong wifi connection both in my apartment and all over campus.
  • There are actually two bathrooms in my four bedroom apartment so I share with only one other person.
  • Lovely English girl living in adjacent bedroom also loves her earl grey tea and is happy to share.
  • No house maintenance. When something breaks in the apartment you call an RA (Resident Assistant) to fix it.
  • Full time students get free gym membership.
  • Fresh air, open skies, and the smell of freshly mown grass and pine needles in the air when I walk out the door.

Not-so-happy discoveries:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables are hard to find on campus.
  • There is NO supermarket here.
  • I really should have bought a car. Transport is limited and the campus is isolated.
  • Electric coil cooktop in the kitchen.
  • The music preferences of the undergraduates living upstairs.
  • I am yet to locate a campus bar. Yes I know, this should have been first priority.
  • The best way to be understood is to imitate the American accent. I have learned to ask for “wad-derrrrr” instead of ‘wa-ter’.

Very “American” sights 

  • The football team leaving training in various states of dress and undress: helmets, padding, lyrca leggings, shirts, strapping tape etc. dragging behind them.
  • The trainers for the football team going to the practice field on a quad bike topped with two gigantic Gatorade coolers, and about 100 rolls of strapping tape.
  • The girls’ basketball team coming out of practice with bags of ice cello-taped on to various limbs and joints.
  • University emblazoned mechandise on every second student. Go school!
  • The local beaver and squirrel population. They keep scurrying across the sidewalk as I go from the Res Hall to central campus. (Stop laughing Nikki Robbo).
  • The bleachers, the ball park, the track, the basketball stadium, the cafeteria.
  • Freshman orientation groups playing get-to-know-you games.
  • Professors and other academics wearing bow ties to appear scholarly.

Yet to spot

  • Cheerleaders
  • Frat brothers and sorority sisters*
  • A fellow Australian

* They do exist. I know this because the university website refers to them as “students who live in Greek-lettered social club residence halls”!

It is all quite a sight to behold and I am enjoying soaking it all in.



Facts you should know about me.

  1. I am 35 years old.
  2. I have lived in my own apartment for the last 7 years.
  3. I have lived alone for the last 3.5 years.
  4. The last share house I occupied with more than 3 people was in London. In 2003.
  5. The last time I had a “big night” was 18 months ago in a French ski resort. Before that, I can’t even remember. All my friends have children.

This is what I knew when I signed up to live on campus.

  1. I would probably be put in an all girl apartment.
  2. I might be put with other international students.
  3. I would definitely be put with other graduate students.
  4. A graduate student can be as young as 22 or 23.

And the universe has dished out a full complement of these options.

I was slightly petrified when I received welcome emails from two of my three future room mates upon my arrival in the US. The emails, each of which had a lovely upbeat, and enthusiastic tone, included their ages (23 and 24) alongside phrases such ‘Facebook stalking’, ‘frozen margaritas’ and a quote from the film Mean Girls.  Reading them delivered my first real “What the $#%@ have I done?” moment. To add further anxiety, I discovered that all three of my new room mates had lived together last year. They had such a great time they signed up to live together again! I was about to become one ‘intruders’ tossed into the Big Brother house 6 weeks into the series. The one everyone hates because they disturb the previously achieved harmony of the group.

I thought about calling the uni and cancelling my housing assignment. I checked the housing contract and discovered that I was 12 hours past the cancellation date and to back out now would mean a 50% forfeit of my rent for the entire semester. I then thought about ringing and begging for a new room assignment. One with people who are at least old enough to remember the 1980s. But what if that conversation revealed what I suspected? That no one who remembers the 80s chooses to live on campus. Only losers.

Seriously. What. Have. I Done?  Trying not to panic, I slept on it.

The break of day (and I mean literally dawn due to a 4:30am jetlag-induced wake up) brought a new perspective. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A chance to make friends with Gen Y-ers rather than being their teacher. A chance feed off the enthusiasm of young women with their whole lives ahead of them. I wanted to ‘shake my life up’ and ‘meet new people’ and ‘have a change of scenery’. It appears I have received exactly what I asked for. If nothing else, the antics of our household (23, 24, TBC and 35) is sure to make ripe material for blogging.

And on second thought, the frozen margaritas sound kind of fun.

Four girls cartoon image

Well wishes… mostly

One of the lovely parts about the whole “moving away” process has been the well wishes delivered in lovely cards from my friends, family, colleagues and students. They come in a few categories…

Traditional farewells


Location appropriate



Leaving girl



Honest (from my desk buddy at work, and my personal favourite)

Life Sucks

A big shout out to all my lovely people who shared messages of support, good luck, congratulations, and even a little jealousy prior to my departure. You’ve made it hard to leave, but you’ll make it easy to come home.


Throw off the bowlines.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

This passage appeared in my Good Reads account just at the time when I was deciding whether to take leave from my job and home, and move overseas to study full time. I took it as a sign and cast off.