Perhaps it’s not so bad?

New York is growing on me, surprisingly. I’m still not a huge fan, and I still don’t think I could live here, but I will begrudgingly admit that it’s not awful.

My favourite part of this city is the subway. I love the feeling of being down beneath the surface surrounded by warm-white tiles and still air. The place we’re staying is right next to an elevated line, so I can hear the trains going by at all hours, which I find very comforting. I love the noises of the city, the windows rattling as buses idle in the street outside.

There still aren’t enough trees, though.

Today I met with a current (Australian!) student in the writing program at Columbia, and had a good chat about the program and what it’s like living and studying in New York. The course sounds amazing, honestly. So I’m going to go have a mosey around Brooklyn tomorrow to see if there’s anywhere in this vast place that could feel remotely like a home for a little while. I’m not holding my breath.

The one thing I absolutely have to do before we move on to Boston is to go to Central Park. All the other touristy things can wait until my next visit (…yes, there will probably be a next visit) but I have to see Central Park. I’m hoping Thursday will be as sunny and nice as it was today, because I have the whole day free to wander around and soak in the vibes of the urban oasis.

I also need to get to the post office some time this week and send some stuff home (I may have accidentally bought a few too many books).

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Look! some trees!

Columbia

Today I had my first two meetings at Columbia University, with staff from the creative writing Master of Fine Arts program.

I had a bit of a rough start to the day, as I was feeling a little homesick and missing my dog and the trees and the gardens. But the other Scholars were super supportive, with two of the girls taking me out for coffee in the morning and another coming to bunk with me tonight (hi Gem!).

The day took a definite turn for the better in the writing offices at Columbia. Let me just say: books. Wall to wall books. I was in heaven.

The two people I spoke with were absolutely lovely too, with the Director of Academic Administration going out of his way to recommend coffee spots and book shops and other courses that might be a good fit for me. I’ve got his contact details and have extended an offer of ramen and book shopping should he ever end up in my corner of the world.

Then this evening we had our New York reception at the home of Patrick Loftus-Hills and Konnin Tam, who spoiled us with snacks and drinks and intelligent conversation. Their dog Harlan was the cutest thing, and gave me lots of snuggles throughout the evening.

After a subway ride home, we ate some leftover Indian food and are now settling down to sleep. I’m feeling better about being in New York this evening. It was nice to have everyone together as a group again.

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This building near Patrick and Konnin’s apartment in Tribeca felt very science fiction

Rest Day?

I had been planning to take it easy today, but it ended up being quite busy. After a late breakfast at a small café near our accommodation, four of us took the subway down to Fifth Ave, where we then parted ways.

I wandered down to Grand Central Station and took another train out to Lower Manhattan where I proceeded to get very lost when the store I was looking for was literally right opposite the subway entrance. Grand Central is indeed very grand, and I could see the top of the Empire State Building from the entrance. I was a bit too tired today to go see it up close, but I’m sure I’ll find time before the end of this week.

Back in Midtown I met up with one of the other Scholars and we took a wander through Times Square. It was very busy and very bright, but not quite as spectacular as I had been expecting. We took some selfies and spent some time sitting and people watching, and then took the subway back towards our accommodation on Broadway.

On our way home we stopped in at a little restaurant to eat ramen and drink bubble tea, and had a good giggle over our different taste in movies (my faves make her cringe, and vice versa).

Then it was time to part ways again and climb into bed with my newest bookish purchase (I can’t help myself!)—Good Bye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, a collection of personal essays edited by Sari Botton.

After walking around New York in the daylight I can say that it isn’t quite as awful as I thought when I first saw it last night, but it’s still definitely not my cup of tea. I’m looking forward to my academic meetings this week, but the courses will have to be pretty darn good to tempt me to stay in this city for any length of time.

I can see myself spending a lot of time in Central Park for the remainder of our time here.

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Being a nerd in Times Square

New York, New York

Today we woke up around 4am to travel to the airport for our flight to New York. I got really ill on the plane, but the flight attendants were so lovely and moved me closer to the front so I could lay down and sleep, and I felt better after that.

We landed late-afternoon and took a shuttle through the suburbs to our accommodation. The houses were beautiful, with steep roofs and cute little details on the window frames. Once we drove into the city proper, though, it was all tall buildings and grime.

We’ve only been here for a few hours so I’m trying not to judge it too quickly, but already I’m feeling like New York is not the place for me. I’m hoping to go see Central Park either tomorrow or the day following to fill my veins with nature. I’m already missing California’s trees and grasses.

It’s a full-on week this week, with meetings at both NYU and Columbia. I doubt I’ll have time for many tourist-y activities, but I am very open to suggestions if anybody has them!

Last Day at Berkeley

I took most of today to rest, as the fatigue was catching up with me. A group of us walked to a café across the road to fetch breakfast, which we brought back to The Faculty Club to eat at the long tables in the dining room. I love the atmosphere of this building and the surrounding gardens. If someone could transport this whole place to Perth for me that would be great!

I went back to bed for a few hours in the middle of the day, then spent the afternoon reading and listening to the goings-on outside my window. Others trekked into San Fran for one last hurrah or went to meetings with academics.

In the late afternoon/evening we attended a graduate admissions information session and a mixer with some of the graduate students here. It was interesting to hear about their different fields of study. All the Scholars are getting very good at their elevator pitches; I’ve started watching people’s responses for any surprises. Guests are always very interested in those of us incorporating culture in our studies—that doesn’t include me at this stage, but hopefully when I’m back home I can make the most of my family’s knowledge and start my own cultural learning journey!

This evening I had a lovely dinner with two of the other Scholars, the scholarships coordinator, and Richard. I ate four ribs and a lot of kale salad and a lot of cake! And finished it all off with a nice cup of tea.

We have to be down in the lobby at 4.50am for our ride to the airport, so I’m going to jump in the shower and head to bed. This time tomorrow I’ll be writing from New York!

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A t-rex skeleton in the Sciences building! (I love dinosaurs)

Berkeley Day 2

Today was supposed to be another busy one, but the fatigue hit hard. We had a tour of the campus this morning followed by a lunch hosted by the American Indian Graduate Program. Two presenters discussed their research into Native American culture and history—there were many parallels between their struggles and those of Indigenous Australians.

In the early afternoon I met with a graduate advisor from Berkeley’s English department, and had a nice chat about the program and campus life. Unfortunately I don’t think this one is a good fit for me, which is a shame as I absolutely love the campus. The focus of the course is a bit too narrow for my liking; I’d really love to explore the intersection of science and writing in my PhD, and I don’t want to be limited to only literature.

But there are plenty more universities to visit on this trip! And plenty more opportunities to learn about amazing courses.

I had a nap in the afternoon and woke up in time to go to a lecture by Professor Stuart Russell, who is a computer scientist who specialises in AI, and whose work I cited in my thesis. His talk was fantastic and I’m so glad I got to go. Like most AI researchers I’ve heard of, though, his view of the development of AI leans a little on the utopian side of things. I left the lecture with so many new sf and sci-comms ideas.

We had a group dinner at a restaurant 15 minutes’ walk from The Faculty Club, then grabbed an ice cream from down the road before hopping in an uber back to the Club for an early night.

Oh, and I just sent an email to MIT asking for a meeting while we’re in Boston… eep!

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Professor Stuart Russell’s AI jokes were solid

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This little guy delivers food around the campus!

Berkeley Day 1

Today we travelled from Stanford to Berkeley, and I took some time to finally have a proper rest. Others went off adventuring in Palo Alto and San Fran, or explored the areas around the Berkeley campus.

Berkeley is stunning. We’re staying in the guest rooms in The Faculty Club, which is a beautiful set of connected buildings nestled within a small grove of trees and lush lawns. The interior features wood-panelling, dim and moody lighting, plush armchairs and cute reading nooks. I am in love with the place.

This evening a small group of us went in search of ramen, and were served Maggi two-minute noodles with some chicken and veg added. We were not impressed. But then we found Tammy’s Chicken in Waffles, which is this cute little waffle place run by a trans woman who has fought her way up from homelessness to successfully running two businesses and supporting her local trans community.

The campus here is so beautiful. It’s a lot more organic and free-flowing than Stanford. And oh my gosh, the library. The library. They have a small reading library on the main floor which honestly looks like something out of Harry Potter, and upstairs there’s a massive hall filled with desks where students sit and read their textbooks. No sound allowed. One of the other Scholars took a photo for me and the click of my camera was enough to send grumpy looks our way.

This evening I’m relaxing in bed and reading while a men’s choir sings in the room beneath us and one of the other Scholars rushes to finish her thesis. Tomorrow evening I’m hoping to attend a lecture by Professor Stuart Russell, a computer scientist whose work I cited in my exegesis!

What an amazing place.

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Our room in The Faculty Club at UC Berkeley

An explanation, of sorts

I thought it would be worthwhile to give a little background on what I’m actually doing hopping on planes all over the globe, visiting fancy universities and meeting such amazing people.

I’m travelling as part of the 2018 Aurora Education Foundation Indigenous Scholars International Study Tour (the Tour, you can read more about it here). I’m one of 18 high achieving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students selected to come on the Tour to learn about the possibilities of postgraduate study overseas. Each of us will be lucky enough to meet with leading academics in our fields.

We’re visiting some of the top universities in the world: Stanford, UC Berkeley, Harvard, Colombia, and NYU in the US, and Oxford and Cambridge in the UK. With me on this trip are doctors and scientists and teachers and lawyers and all manner of other amazingly successful Indigenous Scholars. It’s truly such an honour and a privilege to be travelling among them.

The Study Tour is organised by the Aurora Education Foundation, who do amazing work supporting Indigenous students from high school right through to postgraduate study. The Aurora team, led by CEO Richard Potok, are some of the most lovely, warm, and dedicated people I’ve ever met. They truly care about the work they’re doing and the positive impact it’s having on the lives and communities of Indigenous Australians.

Probably one of the best things about this whole journey so far has been meeting people. I’ve never been surrounded by so many academically inclined Indigenous people before, and it’s wonderful. I feel like part of a community. I’ve already made friends from all over Australia, and I’m sure these friendships will last no matter where we end up in the world.

If you’d like any more info about the Tour or Aurora, feel free to flick me an email through my contact page. I could literally go on about these fabulous people for days.

Stanford Day 2

It was another long day today. I caught the bus to campus at 8.05 for a 9am group breakfast and info session. We learnt all about applying for graduate programs at Stanford and what we would need to include in our applications.

Following breakfast I met with a student services officer for the PhD program in Modern Thought and Literature. She had a dog in her office who was the sweetest little dude! We talked about my research interests and she suggested some other academics who might be a good fit for supervision, and she told me that MTL is where all the weirdos end up—sounds like my kind of place!

Then it was off to lunch at the Native American Cultural Centre, which was such a warm and welcoming space. We met more current students and learnt that Stanford offers courses in four Native American languages! MTL has a language requirement that you learn two other languages during your course, so if I were to come here I’d definitely consider one of the Native languages.

I got terribly lost on my way to my next meeting and arrived fifteen minutes late, but thankfully the academic I was meeting didn’t seem to mind all that much. She spoke with me about the Stegner Fellowship, which is Stanford’s non-degree writing program. It sounds absolutely amazing but I’m not sure if I’m in the right place with my writing yet to tackle something like that. I will definitely keep it in mind though.

I wrapped up the day with a meeting with another current MTL student, and we got along like a house on fire. I think I’ve made a friend! Maybe one day she’ll visit Perth and I can show her all my favourite cheap eats.

Tomorrow we’re bussing it across to Berkeley, but it’s pretty much a free day. I’m planning to do boring things like wash my clothes and track my expenses (woopsie! I haven’t done it yet…), and maybe find a nice spot outside to do some reading in the afternoon. I also have a bunch of emails to reply to and an article to write…

It’s just go, go, go over here at the moment!

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The view from my lunch spot on Sunday. There are so many cool cars here!

Stanford Day 1

So today we went to Stanford!

First impressions: the campus is beautiful, the book shop is well stocked, there is A LOT of merch, and the PhD in Modern Thought and Literature sounds amazing.

We started the day with a bus ride in to campus and killed time in the book shop for an hour until the start of our tour. Our guide showed us landmarks such as the library and the church and the edible blackberries. We also learnt about fountain hopping, a favourite pastime in the warmer months.

We had lunch with some current Aussie students, then split up for academic meetings. I spoke with a student studying in that amazing PhD program I mentioned and left feeling energized and excited. PhDs are between five and seven years here though, so I’m not super keen on the length.

We had another get-together in the afternoon at the Bechtel International Center and chatted with more students, and ate more food. Then it was back on the bus and home briefly before heading off to an NBA game. I was surprised by the atmosphere—it’s exactly like it is in the movies, larger than life and somewhat surreal. It was a good experience but I think once is enough for me!

Tomorrow is another early one, with a day full of information sessions and meetings. I’m learning about the Stegner Fellowship (a creative writing program) in the afternoon which should be super cool!

Also, I picked up a (signed) copy of Markus Zusak’s new book today, and had a nice chat with the guy in the bookshop about Australian authors. And maybe ranted about sf to a few people, as per usual…

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Golden State Warriors vs Phoenix Suns