Heaps Keen for Aus Mate!

Australian sunrise courtesy of Katie Stengel.

Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi. Extra emphasis on the “Oi!” That’s been the best way to describe my latest Australian offseason adventure. One would assume the third times the charm, but, man, have I made an ass of myself. Third time in Australia and yet I’m still shocked at the cultural shift. So hopefully you can enjoy a laugh or two at my expense. As many of you may know, this little hop across the Pacific changes more than just the accent. The culture, weather, coffee quality, and driving direction are all drastically different.

The Only Time DMing is Encouraged

Let’s just start from the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you first get off the plane, your phone is in airplane mode and your body is in severe jet-lag mode. This equates to a little fogginess where, if you’re anything like me, you stand dumbfounded in the customs line. The poor man must have asked me why I was coming to Australia about five times before my brain clicked in and came up with a somewhat coherent response as to what would motivate me to sit in coach twiddling my thumbs for 16 hours.

After being corrected for saying soccer instead of football (the audacity!) I proceeded to find Vodafone and purchase a prepaid phone plan asap! This may be the easiest process where you just swap your SIM cards and immediately have a weird-looking Australian phone number. Herein lies the next dilemma. How does one non-pretentiously update their contacts with their new number? How do you send a message, “Hey, in the off chance you actually wanted to reach me, here’s my new number!” Or in my case, I tried to send a polite “I swear I haven’t been ignoring you, I just have a new number” message. To which, my “friend” responded with “Oh…. I never texted you.” Talk about a humbling experience.

So instead you just gotta embrace that cultured-college-girl-who-studied-abroad-and-lost-her-pride mantra and say “Hi friends, DM in a non-creepy, one time totally acceptable way if you want to contact me.” A little part of my dignity died with that post, but you gotta hope that someone might want to reach out and get a hold of you despite the time change.

Home Sweet Jet Lag

So now I’m on my way “home” to Newcastle with my Australian number and poor Australian taxi driver who I’m completely ignoring because I’m a walking zombie who either needs sleep or coffee or better yet, both. Needless to say, I pass out, drooling on myself for the entire two-hour ride home. Upon arrival, I have approximately two hours to gather myself and get ready to trip over the soccer ball at practice. (Oh, wait, I’m sorry, I misspoke yet again: it’s “training!’) Getting to see teammates who became some of my best friends last year after seven long months was awesome! If only I could understand their accents and not ask, “What?” fifteen times, they might actually think I was an intelligent American. Oh well, better to keep ’em guessing. Training was interesting to say the least: my touch may have been akin to that of a baby elephant, but I managed to pass the ball in a straight line and, that my friends, is an accomplishment with this level of jet lag.

Post training, all I can think about is being horizontal. Experts will tell you to try to fight exhaustion and stay up until a reasonable hour. I’m sorry experts, you don’t know how much of an undercover grandma I am. Come 8 p.m., I better have my teeth brushed, PJs on, and sleepy-time tea in hand. I hardly made it through two pages of my book by the time 7:14 p.m. rolled around, and my eyes were sealed shut. For the first week, I patted myself on the back for staying awake past 7:30 p.m. and sleeping until 4 a.m. Fair warning to anyone who thought about visiting: jet lag is the real deal. It’s like being hungover and yet intoxicated at the same time. Your head is spinning, you want to sleep, but can’t; you check your phone and message Americans who are wide awake and wondering why you can’t form proper sentences, and wander around hungry at weird hours. It’s a strange, strange place.

I still stand firm in my solution for jet lag: drink enough water and watch every sunrise. Seriously, the sunrises on the beach are unbelievable and since you’re already up before the sun, you may as well go witness how neat nature is. No pictures do it justice, so just relax, put the phone away, and sit in awe of how the sun colors the sky every morning.

Ride or Die

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. About a week later, I felt I was adjusted and ready for Aussie living. That is until I tried to get in the car after shopping only to open the LEFT-hand side front door. I actually opened, stepped inside, sat down, and put my hands up to reach the steering wheel before realizing everyone around me was staring at the uncultured American.

Instead of simply getting out and entering the proper driver’s RIGHT side of the car, I sat there and pretended to be waiting on someone. I actually did that thing where you pretend you’re on a phone call and have a truly not weird conversation with yourself. Like I babbled back and forth with myself as if someone was on the other line asking me questions. For some odd reason, I thought this made more sense than that awkward walk of shame out and around the car because I still get confused by the “drive on the left side of the road” thing.

Welp, about five minutes pass and I’ve deemed that long enough to trick the onlookers, who really couldn’t care less. So then I’m off and trying to pull out of my absurdly terrible parking job to make it home without drifting out of my lane. This sounds like I’m a pubescent tween with her permit, but I swear trying to park when all your angles are thrown around on the other side of the car is no small task. It takes me several attempts at a simple parking space. I’ve even had to circle around the lot to find three open spaces so I avoid judgmental eyes and dinging innocent parked cars. Every time I manage to weave my car in-between the lines, I feel I’ve made it one step closer to becoming an adult.

Hey DJ, C’mon, DJ!

One final detail I feel the need to mention about Aussie driving: the radio. I don’t consider myself musically inclined. I will be the first to admit I have no rhythm, can’t rhyme, and can’t name the artist on even the most popular tunes. I tend to stick to country music or whatever my passengers decide to DJ when manning the AUX.

However, I have to say Australian DJs on the radio must not have had their coffees. Or perhaps they are just thinking of how soon they can run to the beach — I mean, that’s my mindset 80 percent of the day too. Whatever the reason, there are only about five radio stations that play tunes I recognize. But don’t be fooled. When I say I recognize them I mean they are those Ed Sheeran songs from about five years ago or 80’s pop hits that my dad used to jam to.

On the off chance that you find a station not playing classical music, you may be lucky enough to hear that song that American radio stations overplayed four months ago. It’s a tragedy that I look more forward to hearing the fun Aussie accents during the commercial breaks than the music the DJs decide to play. All I have to say is thank goodness for AUX cords and roommates who have good taste in music. I can only handle the emotional extremes of belting out an old Britney Spears jam to stopping dead in my tracks when the “Macarena” comes on next so often. I’m not kidding, they play those party hits on the radio that aren’t really hits but still manage to be played at every wedding reception known to man.

The worst part is that just yesterday I got hit with the “Sorry, you’ve used up your 14 allotted Spotify days while abroad” message. Since I’m still too much of a peasant and refuse to pay the $5 per month charge for premium, I get commercials in the U.S. and kicked off the app completely while in Australia. So here’s my formal plea for any new country music recommendations while I’m being deprived Down Unda.

Katie Stengel for Newcastle Jets (Newcastle Jets).Blending in like a Cheap Covergirl Foundation

Okay, so after drawing too much attention to myself on the road, I have also found ways to stand out while out and about. As soon as Americans speak here, people perk up and ask “Are you Canadian?” Hmm… not quite! We’re actually the cooler North American country, but I do like that they think our accents sound nice. I tend to prefer theirs, but hey, different is cool. If the accents don’t set us apart, our clothing certainly does. I’ve noticed that Americans have no problem wearing athleisure clothes to coffee, to shop, even to go out to dinner. I believe leggings are considered a step up from running shorts and jeans are the ultimate dress-up attire. Anyone who puts on a pair of jeans to Netflix and chill at home, confuse me. How do you relax with all those seams and tightness?! So when I wander around town in leggings and an oversize tee like I’m still in college, I look very different from the typical Aussie girl — you know, the ones who either have no clothes since their headed to or from the beach or are sporting fancy rompers just to go grocery shopping.

I’ll never forget the time I actually put on my Sunday best, aka ripped jeans and a nice top to go to dinner with my roommates. When I say we went out to dinner that means a halfway decent spot that we can still afford on our balling-on-a-budget salary. Despite our “dressed up” attire, we still managed to be classified in the non-disclosed “gross girls group” and hence we were seated in the far back corner so as to avoid deterring other customers.

I was offended until I noticed every other girl in heels and dresses with hair and makeup done and dusted. Duly noted! I will work much harder on my appearance before leaving the house here. I say this, but I may just pull the “Oh, I just came from the beach” excuse because those people get away with walking barefoot everywhere. Seriously, you either are dressed to the nines or have sandy feet and hardly anything on and yet nobody bats an eye. But if we wear something in that steady middle ground it’s all side-eyes and back-corner dining. I guess there’s something to be said for that old phrase “you never know if you’ll meet the man of your dreams at the grocery store.” So for now, I’m making a valiant attempt at dressy like an Aussie because their style is light years ahead of mine — fake it til you make it!

Coffee: Socially Acceptable

All that standing out may have worked for Dr. Seuss, but I think I was born to try to fit in. My awkward body can only handle so much until I try to hide away and just assimilate. I stay far away from the cameras and try to fade into the background as often as possible. So this time last year, my Australian teammates made it their mission to force me to like coffee. I always refused because I claimed I was saving money each day that I didn’t drink it. Plus, I didn’t want to become a caffeine addict. Flash forward a year, I’m poorer, get a headache if I forget my daily dose, and am more social. Coffee is a cheap excuse to meet up with friends, family, or sit in a cafe and pretend to have a day job. So for social purposes, I’ve joined the cult and learned to appreciate the beauty of sharing a good Aussie flat white. Let me clarify, I don’t mean actually share the cup of Joe-y. (Get it, like a kangaroo cuz it’s an Australian cup of Joe? Wow, okay I’ll stop the dad jokes.)

The coffee is certainly smaller than in America so there’s no way on God’s green earth I could manage to split the cup. That’s just silly. Anyways, having a cuppa with a friend has become one of my favorite parts of the day. It’s much better than being that person who goes to the best cafe only to spend $5 on a hot pot of water and a 15-cent tea bag. I may be far from a coffee connoisseur like some of my teammates who grind, measure, and press their own beans at specific temperatures and perfect the classy cup each morning. In all honesty, that just sounds exhausting and less convenient than paying a barista for some Instagrammable latte art.

And yet, Australians do coffee right. There’s something about the beans or talented baristas or some coffee technique that I don’t totally understand that makes it taste better. The biggest challenge is limiting myself to one cup a day so I avoid jittering and spazzing out because we all know how much focus it takes just to drive here. So in an attempt to feign being mature, cultured, and adult-ish, I happily order a skinny cap and remember to Instagram it so everyone knows I’m out doing something social and chic in Aus.

Life is Worth Living

Along with the coffee culture, I have noticed another quality I hope to bring back to the States. While most everyone works here, including most of my teammates, they do so to live. They make enough money to have money to spend on life. They are focused on their specialty and complete their task, but are laid back enough to realize life is more important. When it’s time to punch the time card, they do so and move on. There’s not this incessant need to work overtime to surpass their coworkers or complete the project as fast as possible. There’s a time to work and a time to play. And if you happen to be late because you had living to do or coffee to drink, so be it. The “let it be” mantra reigns supreme here. Conversely, in the U.S. I feel most of us live to work. We seek this American dream where if we work harder, longer, and more often than our cohorts we will succeed. I’ve seen so many friends and family members work overtime, extra time, and all the time. We get so worked up over work that we forget to take a breath and slow down to enjoy life. Admittedly, I believe the punctuality and efficiency I’ve grown accustomed to in the U.S. is important, but a little more relaxation could go a long way. So my goal here is to learn that it’s okay to spend an extra five minutes catching up with a friend and accepting that life will work out eventually even if I don’t stress about it.


[dropcap]I [/dropcap]am looking forward to the season starting here so we can get past this preseason nonsense. Once games start, the true fun begins. W-League is a tremendous opportunity to stay game fit and continue to grow as a player in a unique league. As fun as it may be to plow snow and freeze when walking outside, this is my year-long summer escape. Playing in the sun, staying tan, and getting to play soccer across the ocean is a dream. I can put up with a lack of dancing-boots worthy music and a few looks from being underdressed. I can manage spending a few extra dollars and few extra minutes sipping my coffee with friends. I’ve even come to look forward to the funny interactions with locals when they ask things like, “How’re you going?” instead of “doing.”

I’m taking in this country and all it offers makes for an incredible four months of stories, adventures, and soccer. So here’s to many more laughs. Probably at my expense.