Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mark Pittman - Melbourne, Australia

Mark Pittman is a senior studying Economics, International Business and Political Science at the University of Utah. He is currently participating in an internship in Melbourne, Australia through the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

A sudden drop in altitude was my wakeup call in the 747 I was flying on as it quickly approached the Australian mainland. The captain explained that the tropical weather was prone to creating periodic turbulences. The plane landed and I immediately felt the rush of warmth and humidity as the cabin doors were opened at Sydney International Airport. I stepped off the plane and saw the wide expanses of runway, above which were a clear blue sky and a radiating sun. I had arrived in paradise. A short connecting flight put me into Melbourne, and I had already met three people on the plane who lived in the area and had volunteered to help guide me through the airport. They made sure to leave their phone numbers and told me to call if I needed anything at all. I soon learned that this experience is not unique. The friendliness and warm hospitality of the Australian people is what had me contemplating what it would be like to stay and make a life in Australia, and I was actually considering it after only two days in the city.

I was greeted at the airport by the driver for Minister Mary Wooldridge, the Member of Parliament that I was here to do my internship with. My first fault was walking to what I believed to be the passenger door. I was quickly reminded that in Australia, everything is opposite. The drive to the office in the downtown area of Melbourne had me wincing more than once. I kept expecting to be facing oncoming traffic, since I’d usually be driving on the other side of the road. We went into the building and ascended 22 floors into a glass and stainless steel Mecca overlooking the entire city. I was greeted by a slew of staff from the minister’s office – all eager to meet me. Moments later, the minister herself interrupted a meeting to come and say hello. I spent the next few days getting set up in the office and exploring the hundreds of sights and marvels of the Melbourne business district. My first days in Australia were fantastic; it didn’t hurt that the weather in Salt Lake was right around freezing and Australia was still in the middle of summer.

Throughout the next week, Parliament was sitting, and I was in the House chamber watching an exciting and quirky event called question time. This heated exchange of insults and complaints is undertaken daily during sitting weeks of Parliament, each day members from the government and from the opposition get to ask the government ministers five questions each. Most of the time, the question is never answered because members scream insults and shout disruptions at each other. Parliament week was followed by a party function, in which I met many of the members as well as some of the government ministers. To top it off I explored the Melbourne City Museum – an amazing display of architecture, history and just plain cool exhibits. For a more local feel, I sat down at one of the hundreds of cafes that the city has to offer and sipped on an espresso and cooled off with an ice cream.

My most exciting adventure came during my second weekend. I had been invited to go on a camping trip to Wilson’s Promontory National Park, the southern-most tip of the Australian continent. We arrived after work on Friday, pitched our tents, set up camp and soon after called it a night. The next day I awoke to the sound of bacon sizzling in a pan, and sure enough breakfast was served. We spent the day hiking Mount Oberon, lying on the sunny white beaches, and enjoying the Kangaroo steaks and cold beers of an Aussie barbie (BBQ) while we watched the sun set over the ocean. That night we ran into wombats, possums and all manner of Australian birds. None of them seemed to care we were there – they were just looking for some scraps. The next morning, we discovered that there was a broken container on the ground and the birthday cake from one of our campers had vanished. The next day was warmer, and after getting a good sunburn on the beach, we took an afternoon hike and then broke camp before heading home. On our way home, we stopped for some Aussie fish and chips. It was the perfect weekend in paradise, and my only problem is that Australia has a paradise on every corner. My internship was facilitated through the Hinckley Institute of Politics but would not have been possible without the support of the University of Utah Study Abroad Office and a contribution from the student fee scholarship. Australia has become an amazing and defining experience in my life, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t gone. 

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