Monday, January 24, 2011

Post- Trip Reflection

I am so happy that I went on the "Doing Business in Australia" trip. Australia is nothing like what I saw here on my T.V. It is much more than blonde haired, blue-eyed surfers catching a wave. Australia has a strong connection to the Outback, which is mostly desert and covers the continent. I never realized what a huge place Australia is. It is the same size as the U.S. yet; it only has 22 million residents that mostly live on the East and West coast. Australia is a very diverse continent that has come a long way in terms of gender and racial equality. Australia reminds me of the U.S. in so many ways; while we have our first African- American President, they have their first female Prime Minister. Also, both countries were once ruled by Britain.
               While I was aware of the flooding in Australia before I went, I did not have a great understanding of the extent of the flooding and how catastrophic the damage has been to the state of Queensland and Australia as a whole. Queensland is the equivalent to Florida in America; Australians call Queensland the Sunshine state. Most of the produce grown in Australia comes from Queensland. The flooding has ruined this year’s crop, residents’ homes and killed 16 people by the time I left.
                 The worst thing that happened to me on this trip was being left by the bus on our way to the 20/20 cricket match in Melbourne because I was locked out of my room. Not pleasant! The good thing is that everything was solved and I made it to the cricket match in record time.
                 The best thing that happened to me on this trip was our group’s ability as a whole to overcome adversity and still achieve the goals that were set out for us.  No one could control nature, with 46 people on a trip, emotions can become strong and personalities can clash. However, most people showed selflessness and self-control on the trip. I grew as a person due to this study abroad experience. I learned how showing discipline and having a positive attitude could make any situation better. I also learned that never giving up and always having a backup plan are the most valuable tools one could have when abroad. Because we never gave up, we ended up missing only one event even though the flooding threatened to mess up an entire week of activities. Literally, the best thing to happen to me on this trip was the Sydney Opera House tour. My entrancement with the architecture really took me by surprise. To me, the Opera house represented the innovation, dedication and hard work that Australians show in their daily lives.


These are just some differences between Australia and the U.S. that I took note of during our trip. I have pictures of local foods and signs to go along!
  1. North: warm and tropical; South: cooler weather  
  2. Rubbish = trash 
  3. Driving: right side of the road as well as the lanes reversed 
  4. Soda = cold drink 
  5. Shrimp: prawns 
As shown, prawns in Australia are left au naturale. 

  1. Drinking age: 18 

Just a picture I took in a bar. You will never see that here in the states!

  1. Time difference: 16 hours, 45 minutes 
  2. Little customer service. No food returns, you must go and pick up your own food at some restaurants, no tips
No one loves Gelato more than me. However, I did not get any flavor because the lady behind the counter would not let me sample the different flavors. I guess its not normal to give food samples in Australia.

  1. Not rice crispy treats but "rice bubbles" 
  2. Taxes are included with the initial price of the item
  3. Money bills are made of plastic, no pennies!
  4. Ketchup is not that popular here and it costs extra money. It is also called tomato sauce 
  5. Lots of drinking and lots of gambling. Australia has the highest gambling rate in the world 
  1. Credit cards: sign. Debit cards: number
  2. McDonalds: Mackie's. Breakfast: Brekkie 
  3. Sprite = Lemonade - Lemonade = Sprit
  1. Subway is popular 
  2. One dollar and two dollar coin
  3. Ice is a luxury 
  4. Very expensive place, minimum wage is 15 dollars per hour
  5. Pram = strolle

A national delicacy, Kangaroo. Too bad I had it on my plate but chickened out of eating it.

Another dish which I don't see often: Octopus! I heard it was very seafood tasting. 

Great dessert. the mousse was really good.

Wonderful restaurants with amazing scenery.

This was the best yogurt that I have ever had!

Qantas and Google

 On January 20th, the last official day of our trip, I visited two companies vital to the Australian economy. First, I visited Qantas where Alan Milne gave us a tour of the Jet base, hanger and A380 aircraft. Qantas is celebrating its 90th anniversary so everyone on the tour got hats. First, we had a tour of several engines that Qantas has on its airplanes. Qantas gets their engines from Rolls Royce, and the cost 60,000 dollars each. The part of the airport that we went into was the airplane repair section. Alan told us that Qantas has a different repair crew work on each engine to prevent malpractice so if one team messes up on one engine, the other engine will still be safe. This explains why even though several A380's had engine failure, no one died on the flights and the planes made safe emergency landings. Alan also told us that each engine has enough power to flight the plane on its own but each plane has two engines just to keep passengers safe. The best part of the tour was when Alan let us tour an A380 plane. A380's are the largest planes in the world and they all have two levels. I was allowed to sit in the cockpit where I learned that pilots mostly direct the plane for takeoff and landing. For the rest of the flight, the plane is steered through computer programming. To make a profit, Qantas tries to seat as many passengers on the plane as possible. This means that they have to find the perfect number of first class, business class and economy class seats to put on each plane. Alan told us that the A380 could fit many more passengers than it does because Qantas decided that customer service comes first. That may explain why Qantas seats are a little more expensive than other airlines such as United. One of my favorite parts of the tour was when we went into first class on the lower and upper decks of the plane. Alan told us that each seat costs 20,000 dollars! In my opinion, that is an insane amount of money for a reclining chair, footrest and personal T.V. If someone can afford a $20,000 plane ticket one way, why don't they just invest in a private jet? Alan told us that when flight delays or cancellations occur first class passengers get put in 5 star hotels and are gifted with pricy items such as Rolex watches. Our tour leader shared an interesting quote with us from billionaire Warren Buffet. Buffet said, "The best way to become a millionaire is to invest a billion dollars in the Airplane industry". That quote was quite an interesting way to end our Qantas tour! 
I had a tour of the repair deck

Me sitting in one of the many Qantas planes

Me coming down the stairs on one of the upper level planes. The cockpit is located on the upper level of some planes.

Me and one of the famed Qantas Rolls-Royce engines!

So excited

Me in the cockpit of an A380 plane

Another picture of me in the cockpit

The first- class seats of the A380

Does this look like $20,000 worth?

Going down another flight of stairs.

All of the flight attendants outfits over 90 years. Its interesting to see how they evolved.

After lunch, we went to Google Sydney. It was interesting to walk to the building because Google is not one of the companies listed on the front of the building. Despite the surprise of the humbleness of the residence, Google Sydney stayed true to its reputation of being one of the most innovative, beautiful and best places to work. Before we had a tour of the facilities, a University of Maryland 2005 graduate named Stephanie Borgman gave us a brief overview of the company. Stephanie works in people operations for Google, which is similar to recruiting at other firms. Stephanie definitely had a global mindset, despite being an American citizen; she worked for Google Singapore before coming to Google Sydney. Stephanie said that she loved Sydney so much because she studies there for a semester in college. After Stephanie shared Goggles mission of  "Organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful", the award winning head of Travel Search for Google Australia Claire Hatton shared her life story with us. Claire said the message that she wanted to get across to us was to live the best life possible. Claire was born in England and her colorful career took her to many countries in Europe, Asia and currently Australia. She was recognized as one of Prime Minister Tony Blair's "heroes of the year" in the early 2000's for the organizational work she did in Jakarta during their civil uprising. After Claire's speech and some fun Google trivia, we had a tour of the facilities. Even though Google Sydney is a smaller location of some 600 employees the company amazed me! The eating area looks like a small bistro and it overlooks the Sydney Harbor. All Google employees (Googlers) get three free meals a day in their cafeteria from an expert chef. Googlers can even request certain foods be prepared. There is free ice cream in the cafeteria as well. On each level of the facility there is a snack room where Googlers can treat themselves to healthy snacks such as granola and dried fruit as well as sodas and iced tea in the refrigerator. There was also a game room with a keyboard, Wii games and a ping-pong table for the Googlers to just relax in. The decor in the office was amazing; there were giant fish tanks, and contemporary furniture such as a bathtub with a glass plate over it as a table. Each level of the office had a theme. The reception area was a jungle theme with a tire swing hanging from the ceiling. The dining area had a beach theme with beach balls and surfboards. Googlers did not have a dress code, they just wore whatever made them comfortable; flip-flops, gym shorts you name it! The Google tech room where Googlers could go to fix their compute Forbes r problems had music videos playing on MTV! I am so sad that we were not allowed to take pictures during the tour!

The jungle themed reception area

The view from Google's cafeteria. I see KPMG!
In conclusion, the Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wanted Google to be a place of innovation and freedom. I am not surprised that named Google the best place to work. Extremely talented people from all cultural backgrounds decide to work at Google because of its flat organizational structure and innovative corporate culture. Googlers get 20% of their workday to just work on projects that they are interested in. Gmail was produced from this 20% time. Instead of abusing all the freedoms that they are awarded, Googlers make the best of their time at work.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

RBA and The Sydney Opera House

On January 19th I went to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). I was excited to go to the reserve because I wanted to know the reasoning behind Australia's change from paper to plastic money. Luckily, we had Senior Economist Richard Finley explain the Bank's monetary policy and how the RBA has contributed to developing the strong Australian dollar that exists today. I learned that the RBA decided to switch to plastic currency because it was harder to tamper with and counterfeit. Mr. Finley said that in the 1980's counterfeiting was a huge problem in the country. Now, the new money has many tamper-proof devices etched inside each bill. I was pleasantly surprised to find out the Australia's currency has three women on it, including the Queen of England. A bill also has an Aborigine on the cover. During the presentation I asked Mr. Finley whether he thought that the RBA's monetary policy or the Government's Fiscal policy played a larger role in the strengthening of Australia's' economy. He said that they both played an equally important role. After the presentation we had a tour of the Museum of Australian Currency Notes. 

After lunch, our group had a tour of the Sydney Opera House. The opera house is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. Visiting the Opera house was my favorite part of the trip. I never realized what a miraculous feat the architecture of the building was until I heard the story of its formation. There was a worldwide search for a winning design for the Sydney Opera house. Jorn Ultzon had the winning design and his blueprint was almost thrown away! The judges were amazed with his vision but it was extremely hard to bring the design to life. The Opera house took double the time and triple the money to build than expected. There was an extreme amount of math and science used to make sure that the Sydney Opera house was stable. However, despite all of the talented people on the engineering team, no one could figure out how to make the structure work. One night, Ultzon had a dream that all of the arches were cut out of a single sphere. That dream turned out to be the solution! From a far the Opera house looks white but the tiles are actually yellow to prevent a glare. Unfortunately, Ultzon never got to see the Opera house completed, he moved back to Denmark to be with his family before its completion. Even though he died in 2008, his son and grandson are still in charge of the Sydney Opera House and it is a protected National Building. Photographs were not allowed inside the performance rooms but the Opera house does hold the largest organ in the world.  
Me in front of the great masterpiece

An inside view of the Opera house

Another inside view

A close up of the off- white tiles

A description of the great sphere idea!

Me in front of the Opera house once more

A grand view of the Opera house

After the Opera house tour, I went on the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb. The climb was 3 1/2 hours and went all the way to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I walked through many narrow spaces and ladders to get to the top of the bridge. Even though I was so high off the ground I felt very safe because I had extensive training and climbing gear before I went on the climb. Once I reached the top I had a wonderful 360-degree view of Sydney including the Blue Mountains, the Opera House and the Harbor city, all places that I had been. My favorite part of the trip was when our tour guide told us stories about the bridge builders that built the bridge over 100 years age. The Sydney Harbor Bridge is the largest bridge that is built by rivets. Each rivet took 3 people to make and the bridge has 6 million of them. During the construction of the bridge 16 people died from falling off the bridge. After one person fell off the bridge and didn't come back up, a search and rescue team found him at the bottom of the ocean standing feet first stuck in the mud. One of the only people who survived falling off the bridge went in the water with such force that the top of his boots were around his thighs and the soles of his boots had to be surgically removed from his feet. It could get pretty cold on top of the bridge so each climber had a fleece jacket and a raincoat just to be safe.

The formidable Sydney harbor bridge that I was about to climb.

Couldn't wait!

A group picture of all the the climbers in my section.

This is how I looked with all my climb gear on.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Canberra / Sydney

On January 15th, I explored Canberra, Australia’s capital. Canberra is very similar to Washington D.C. in terms of geography and political structure. Walking around the city reminded me a lot of Georgetown; Canberra is a very suburban, upper class area. The city is very hilly and beautiful. Canberra is not located in a state; it is simply named the “capital territory”. When we first arrived by flight into the city from Melbourne, we went to a glassworks factory where many apprentice artists make glass artwork. Canberra Glassworks is the oldest building in Canberra. It was built in 1901 to hold and transport coal for energy. The building was only made for temporary purposes however, it still stands today. The building is open now to tourists for tours and arts and crafts.  I made a stained glass design on a glass tile. Initially, I just placed the glass chips on top of the tile; the chips are only melted when put in a very hot furnace.  I decided to make a beach scene on my tile.

Some glasswork apprentices' work on their art. 

After we made our craft at the Canberra Glassworks, we went to the Australian Institute of Sports. There, we had a tour from an elite Australian Olympic swimmer. He took us around the institute. During the tour, the athlete told us that the Institute was built because a few Olympics ago, Australia did horrible in the games and did not bring home any gold medals. Australia self evaluated and found that, the only thing they were missing that winning countries had was an Institute where all of their top athletes could train with the best from around the country all year long. The Australian Institute of Sports has a weight training room worth 2 million dollars, a gymnasium for male and female gymnasts, a double volleyball court worth millions and at least one Olympic sized swimming pool. Our tour guide said that if a certain sport that is played in the Olympics does not bring home a medal, preferably gold, the sport program is shut down in the Institute.

The million dollar state of the art volleyball court in the institute.  This  was the same court that was used during the Sydney Olympics.

This is the stadium in the Institute. Celebrities such as Lady Gaga preform here.

On the 16th I went to the Open Weekend Market in Canberra. The market had a lot of great things including food, jewelry and native arts and crafts. One thing that surprised me was the Uggs, an Australian based footwear, are more expensive here than in the U.S. One lady who worked in retail told me this is the case because Uggs made in Australia are made with premium wool only found in Australia. Since this country is the main exporter of wool in the world, one would assume that wool would come a little cheaper here. Despite Uggs being very popular in the U.S, I have not seen anyone wearing these boots here. An Australian tour guide named Trish told me that they are considered slippers here and it is very unfashionable to wear them in public - they are the equivalent of boxers. I found this interesting because each country has different perceptions of fashion. 
An Aboriginal man playing a digiry instrument in the market.

A Belgium Waffle with fruit at the Market! So good!
    After our group left the market we went to the National Museum of Australia. The museum had amazing architecture, including four blue poles made by American artists that the museum bought for more than 20 million dollars. The main exhibits in the museum include native animals to Australia including the Kangaroo and Wallaby. Other exhibits include an aboriginal display that showed their social as well as survival culture and their struggles with winning respect in the new Australian society. Our tour guide took us into an artifact storage area that is usually closed to the public. She showed us an authentic boomerang that is round on the top and flat on the bottom with a slight curve in the middle.
Aboriginal Art at the National Museum of Australila

Me and the blue poles in the background that costed the Museum millions of dollars to buy from an American artists.
The architecture was amazing at the museum.

A model roller coaster in front of the museum.

KPMG is International, they were the main contributors to the museum.

Traditional Australian boomerang 

Aboriginal Baskets. Some were woven so tight that they could hold water!

Australians have a similar relationship with Aborigines as Americans  have with Native Americans. The Australian government issued an apology to the Aborigines and recognize them as the original people of the land.  

The beautiful Australian Parliament.
 Next, we went to the Australian Parliament. It was great to visit both Chambers in the building and discover the history of the Parliament and how the Australian Government operates. The Parliament is now a renovated building that was built 23 years ago with more space to build up in the future. The Australian Government used ideas from both American and British systems. For example, Australian government has the House of Representatives and the Senate, similar to the U.S. structure. The senate and representative rooms were pink and green to represent the native Eucalyptus plant.  Prime Minister Julia Gillard presides over the Parliament; she is the first female Prime Minister of Australia. I really appreciated the contemporary uniqueness of the Australian Parliament. Voting is also mandatory in Australia. If you do not vote, you get a fine in the mail. Despite the older establishments in the U.S. and the U.K., Australia found its own way.
A view of the old Parliament House

The Senate room

Another picture of the capital

The House of Representatives. 

The famous painting in the dignitary room of the Parliament. There was a huge competition for the painting winner. 

Which is more scenic: Canberra or D.C.? Hmmmm....

Me posing on the roof of the Parliament building. 
On the 17th, we went to the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. First, we went to Featherdale Wildlife Park. There was a young Joey named Patty greeting us at the door. Even though the baby Kangaroo was eight months old, you could still hold her in your arms. In the park there were Koala’s everywhere. Most of them were sleeping as expected, but there were two eating a Eucalyptus plant that you could take pictures with for free. There were also some Parrots native to Australia that said hello to you; I think that the parrot I talked to was shy because she was kind of quiet. There were Kangaroo cones available for a dollar so that the guests could feed the Kangaroos. It seemed as if they were used to the people because they were jumping all over us to get to the cones. I also saw the smallest penguin species in the world at the park. These penguins are native to South Australia and are on the opposite side of the spectrum compared to the largest penguins, the Emperors. 
Koala's sleep 16 hours a day

The tinniest penguins in the world.
An owl and I having a conversation

Feeding a Kangaroo ice cream cones. 

After we toured the Wildlife Park, we went to the Blue Mountains. I have been to mountain ranges before so I was not that excited because I thought I knew what to expect. However, I had an amazing time at the Mountain range. First, we took a walk down to a beautiful cliff waterfall called the Wentworth Falls. Then, I went on my first skyway over the mountain range. What made this skyway so cool was that the car had an automatic glass bottom that turned on once you started the trip. We took this skyway to a scenic buffet restaurant overlooking all of the mountain formations including the Three Sisters. Not only was the restaurant on the top of the mountain, it revolved so that we could get a better panoramic view.  Every time I went up to get food, I had to take some time to see where my seat had moved! After the buffet, we went on an exciting mountain rollercoaster that took us to the bottom of the mountain. There, they had a display showing us how coal miners in the mountain range lived during the early 1900’s. I was surprised to feel how cool it was in the coal mines. Even if it was 100 degrees outside, the miners needed coats and gloves to work inside the coal mines.  
Me in the Blue Mountains

Me in front of a waterfall.

Blue Mountains!

The Skyway I went on has a glass bottom.

It was electronic so it clouded up once we reached our destination.

Our group in the 360 view restaurant on the top of the mountains.

There was a roller coaster in the middle of the mountains, it was amazing.

The ride was pretty exciting and steep.

The track was almost vertical.

Sarah Christine and I in front of a Blue Mountain Waterfall.

The group and I posing in front of a mock roller coaster.

The three sisters rock formation.
This is where the Sydney Olympics were held in 2000
 After our tour of the Blue Mountains we went on a cruise through the Olympic Park. Sydney had the Olympics in 2000; it was a great opportunity for them to boost their economy and tourism industry. Our tour guide Nigel told us that the Olympic ground was a big swamp before Sydney won the bid. He said it cost Australia millions of dollars just to stabilize the ground to make it suitable for walking and construction.  In the middle of the Olympic grounds there is a wildlife reservation with a giant elevated walkway. Nigel told us the reservation was formed because around a decade ago, scientists found a frog that they thought was extinct for thousands of years in the area. They were so excited that they started tours so people could see the newfound species.The problem was that the frogs did not mate when people were around so the Australians nearly wiped out the species for good. Now, it is illegal to go onto the Wildlife Reserve as an effort to protect the species.

The Sydney Opera House. Truly amazing.

An Aborigine man playing a digire
A typical wine tasting with a bottle of water, a wine jar and glasses.

On the 18th, we visited the Hunter Valley, known for its ability to produce high quality wine and cheese. I never drank wine before this trip and even though the tour was exquisite, I am still not much of a fan! Nonetheless, I learned how to taste wine; first you admire the color, then you swish the wine in your glass to get the aroma going, then you sniff it, last you take a small sip and move it around on the tip of your tongue to taste the flavors and sweetness of the wine. I went to three wineries today and tried around 24 different red, white and dessert wines. Of all the wines, I think the dessert ones taste the best. On our second winery stop, the man working there wanted us to leave with a bang so he brought out chili liquor for us to taste. Right after I smelled it, I knew it was hot so I did not try it; some other people did though and said it was still burning their stomachs 10 minutes after drinking it! In Australia wine makers are moving from the cork top to the twist off top because it is hard to grow the cork trees in Australia. Also, because cork comes from a living organism, it can get infected with bacteria and produce a bad odor. In Australia, only grapes that thrive in warm weather are grown. Of the 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world, about 100 are grown in Australia and these grapes grow well with olives and roses. 

The wine expert who took us through the different wines.

Our tour bus on our first vineyard.

Our second vineyard

This is the worst drink ever! There a chili peppers in the liquor.

The second vineyard we visited.

Our third winery. 

Our tasting director

A guide to keep us on track with all of the wines.

All of the girls posing in front of the welcome sign at McGuigan Wines