Alpaca my…. oh….

So I guess I was probably asking for trouble when I called this trip ‘Operation Alpaca’…

Having already made a comment in the previous post about the frequency of my required repacks, I (of course) would be the one whose backpack decided to go on a merry jaunt across New Zealand without her. Lucky chook. I arrived on the Gold Coast after my week in NZ, only to wait at the baggage carousel watching the same forgotten suitcases rotate around and around, until I finally made peace with the fact that I was destined to head to a Japanese late winter with only the Queensland weather suited clothes off my back, a bag full of electronics that required chargers I didn’t put in my carry on and a toothbrush and jumper that my friend would graciously lend me that night.  I spoke with the Virgin people who were very helpful but had no idea where the bag was so it was therefore quite obvious that I wouldn’t be getting my belongings in time for my 0900 flight to Tokyo the next morning. ‘We will find it though’, they kept saying optimistically. At this point I had visions that somewhere a suspicious international customs agent would be pulling apart my big purple rucksack to find a vast array of sweaters, chargers and 7kg of books about risk management, accidents and terrorism. Needless to say I was not as optimistic as the Virgin girls were.

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* Yes Virgin, I am very sorry too… 

Thankfully, with the promise of a cold beer awaiting for me at my friend’s place, I was quite able to remain philosophical about the whole thing, surmising that it was the probably the universe’s way of giving my spine a break from carrying 23kg around bustling Tokyo. And, as my Uncle would later point out to me, it would never have fit in my capsule hotel anyway.

But I am getting a little ahead of myself. It wasn’t all bad news at this stage as I had just got back from what can only be described as a week of epic educational awesomeness. NZ Massey Summer Institute Emergency Management Course, oh you were a blast! I was so fortunate to be exposed to a variety of amazing speakers to learn from, a large group of knowledgable peers from a multitude of emergency management industries and I also had the great pleasure to become acquainted with what will from now on be my ‘Disaster Family’.

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*  The Disaster Fam do Taco & Tequila Tuesday… 

As a distance student, it is difficult sometimes to feel part of an educational community due to the lack of face to face interaction with social groups and class peers. However, put a bunch of distance students together on a study tour and add a few dinners, a ‘name that cow’ pub quiz, and a late night Jenga tournament or two and you have yourself a community.  The great conversations, study advice, job stories, laughs, jokes and support that we shared as a group during that week was definitely a highlight for me and one I will not forget.

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*Taking risk assessment to a whole new level… 

I could go on and on about how much of a good time I had but since blog brevity is not my strength and this would no doubt run to a length that would make Tolstoy blush, I will instead offer up five of the many highlights from the week;

  • Two minutes into the course commencement and a siren starts ringing. Since we hadn’t even got to the building safety brief at this stage, we all shuffle in a confused fashion outside in time to see the fire trucks turn up. Thankfully, it was just that someone had burned toast somewhere. Still, it was a good introduction to New Zealand Emergency procedures and an impromptu way of getting to know our fellow classmates as we huddled together in a penguin like fashion against the.. uh.. tropical New Zealand elements.

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Firemen first thing on a Monday is never a bad thing… 

  • On Tuesday, we headed out to the NZ National Crisis Management Centre and got to play in their operations room, planning emergency evacuations for a hypothetical storm threatening Auckland. It was a real ‘future career goals’ moment and also very educational in the variety of ideas proposed from different industries. It’s amazing what other people think of that you would never have even considered. I like to think that thanks to us, Auckland has lived to rival Wellington another day! Saying that, Justin Bieber was due to play a concert there later that week. If we had known, perhaps things may have turned out very different…

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* The team outside NCMC having just saved Auckland #theavengersgotnothingonus

  • Massey’s Joint Research Centre for Disasters (our hosts for the week) turned ten before we arrived so our awesome coordinator David arranged a birthday BBQ in order for for us to join the celebrations and network. It was a great afternoon of chatting and laughing over some good tucker. That night, the team carried on the party in downtown Wellington. Needless to say, there were a few heavy heads for the Friday morning lectures.

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* The team head out to continue the birthday celebrations #squadgoals 

  • On Thursday, we got taken on a field trip with the legendary Russ from GNS. He has actually discovered a fault line? How cool is that?! He seemed to think it was pretty funny that we were so impressed, but bearing in mind the last thing I discovered was that you shouldn’t wash pink beach towels with white t-shirts, I definitely think it was worth our awe. David and he showed us the tsunami lines suggested by the community to alert and remind people of the height level of a required evacuation. We also got to visit the GNS HQ and have a picnic on the Wellington fault itself. It was a pretty fab way to spend the day.

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When everyone else is there for the view but all your team want to see are fault lines…

  • On Friday, we went to visit a Marae, a Maori meeting place, specifically built to provide assistance to the community in the event of a disaster. It was a really interesting insight into their cultures and traditions, and we also got to learn how to do the Hongi (the traditional Maori greeting) properly. Cue much embarrassed giggling but we eventually got the hang of it and it was a really nice introduction to some authentic Maori customs. Plus we got fed and it was deliciiiicccioouusss!!! Unfortunately unable to take pictures of the Marae so here is one from a few hours later!

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* The squad take on St Patrick’s Day in Wellington…

So that’s five of the best – hard to pick as there were so many good times during that short week. My final remark on it would be that I have not laughed as hard as I have over the last five days in a long time, and I have come away with a clearer sense of my journey moving forward, a lot more subject knowledge and some really great new friends. For that, I will always be grateful to this trip.

I have probably over-rambled again so I will leave it here. Next stop on this quest is Tokyo! Will I survive 12 hours on the Gold Coast? Will my backpack arrive in time for my next flight? Will my textbooks make it through border security?

Find out next week in another blog update from “I won’t name this trip anything as I have learned my lesson and I do not wish to jinx myself further!”







Spring Break and Weekend Getaways

Having finally settled into Kamloops, I’ve been able to get out more on more weekend trips and explore what’s around.

Wells Grey National Park


On the road to Wells Grey National Park

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to land a seat with a few friends on a trip to Wells Grey National Park- just a few hours out of Kamloops. So off we went in the rental car on a treacherously snowy road past mountains and rivers, for a weekend of snow shoeing and waterfalls. I had never snow shoed before, so the first hike we went on was a fantastic experience (and thank god we had snow shoes or we would have been waist deep in snow). The hike went through a few hours of untouched landscape until we finally found the frozen waterfall at the end- and it was absolutely stunning.

Throughout the rest of the weekend we checked out plenty more sights in the park. My favourite was Spahats Falls because you could see the water rushing down inside a clear tube of ice. Such a cool thing to see!


Spahats Falls

On the last day of our trip we drove a few more hours out to Jasper, and did a 6-hour snow-shoe hike up a mountain there. After a few hours of climbing uphill in cold and wet shoes I discovered my enthusiasm for snowshoeing had absolutely faded, and by the time we got back to the car in the evening, I took off my snow-shoes and swore to never put them on again. Although I must admit, the views from the mountain were absolutely worth it.


The absolutely-worth-it view of Jasper from the top of the mountain

Spring Break in Seattle

After a week full of midterm exams and assessments, we were all blessed with a week off. With friends going to New York, California and Banff I decided to take my own holiday and head off to Seattle (mostly because it’s super cheap to get there- only a $15 bus trip from Vancouver!).


Just a tiny part of the gum wall

My week there was absolutely amazing, and while I promised myself to get at least some study done each day, my time was absolutely full with museums, markets, art galleries and famous sights (and needless to say, no study was achieved). My favourite part of Seattle was the Pike Street Markets, a popular farmers market where the original Starbucks café was launched (and believe me, I drank my fair share of coffee there). The markets also have a famous gum wall- where people come from all over the world to chew some gum and stick it on top of what looks like the underside of a high school desk.


Poutine for days (literally)

After a week of travels, I was excited to return back to Kamloops and find out how all my friends’ weeks were. We all caught up at a friend’s house, over an excessive amount of poutine for dinner (a Canadian staple which is basically chips and gravy with the added magic of melted cheese).


Curling is a popular sport in Canada, which looks a lot like lawn balls on an ice rink. One person essentially pushes a rock down the rink, while the rest of the team sweeps in front of it with a panicked expression on their face. I find it absolutely hilarious to watch on TV, simply because the competitors’ faces look so intense, while they watch a stone slowly slide down a rink (it’s a bit odd).

The last weekend I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to give curling a go with a group of my friends. While you feel a bit silly sweeping so vigorously in front of a slowly sliding stone, I had an absolute blast and think I’ve found my new favourite sport!


My first try at curling!

For the rest of my time I’ve just been catching up with friends, studying, drinking excessive amounts of Tim Hortons coffee and yes, still eating too much sushi. Hopefully I’ll have some more adventures to catch you up on soon!

Best wishes,

Sarah xx

Adventure is calling… alpaca my bags!

Well good morning! Or should I say konichiwa!

Yes, that’s right, I am going on exchange at APU Japan! Yippee!!

Wow that was a lot of exclamation marks but you must excuse me, I have been up since 03:50 this morning and I am running on the power of two very decent sized coffees already. Ahhh coffee.. supporter of early flights, sponsor of university degrees; it has been getting me up to adult since 2002. True story: Coffee loves you for the wonderful person you can be. Decaf hates you and wants you to die sleepy.

At the time of writing, it’s 5am and I’m in the departures lounge at Newcastle Airport, drinking a giant cappuccino that I accidentally stole from a fellow passenger when I picked up the wrong sized beverage off the counter. Given that less than five hours ago, I was dancing to eighties disco in my AirBnB, I probably need the larger cup more than him. Sorry my friend, it’s a dog drink coffee world out there.

Anyhoo, I should probably introduce myself. At the risk of sounding like an AA member…Hi I’m Sian, I’m a distance-ed student of Emergency Management and based in Melbourne. I’m twenty-eight so I guess you could call me a ‘mature student’. Gosh that makes me sound so… mature? Yikes, not sure I’m ready for that title yet. I already felt old this morning when I saw that Buffy the Vampire Slayer started twenty years ago today. I actually used the sentence “back in the day” last weekend without a tinge of irony. The horror! Okay so I’m joking… well kind of. I’m in my second year of my bachelor but I actually study part time which means I have spent the majority of this degree moving from text book to work desk to coffee cup and back, thoroughly confused about what time it is, what I’ve done already and what I am supposed to be doing right at that moment. This exchange is the first time I will be studying full time and also the first time I will be living in student accommodation. As a fairly seasoned traveller, I suspect this will probably be where my own personal challenges lie but I am looking forward to making some new friends and experiencing university life in a brand new way.


So the trip! Or as I am now referring to it ‘Operation Alpaca’ (as in Alpaca my bags.. Yes… thank you thank you, I’m here all week…) on the basis that I have to keep rejigging my backpack and hand luggage for the differing airline weight allowances. Always great when half your carry-on is made up of books about terrorism and air crashes. Yeah.. airport security really loved that. Anyways, I started off in Newcastle three days ago. My little brother has just completed his rifleman training at Singleton so the family and I flew up from Melbourne to see him march out. Since he is being stationed in Darwin, I am unsure when we will next all be together so the weekend was the perfect opportunity to have a good old family send off for both of us departing Taylor kids… and boy did we celebrate!


(My poor mother’s ongoing attempt to get a nice picture of us)

Now I am on my way to Wellington, New Zealand to take part in the Massey University Emergency Management Summer Institute Program through CSU Global for a week. On completion, I will fly back to the GC overnight and then straight on to Tokyo. After two nights in a extremely Japanese capsule hotel, I’m flying down to Oita to make my way to the APU student exchange house in Beppu where I will be living for the next five months.

The fab thing about this process so far, besides how great you become filling in forms (trust me, Australian Immigration was a cakewalk in comparison!), is all the amazing people I have connected with so far just in the planning process. APU have a really great online community that you can get involved and meet people through even before you arrive. I am also looking forward to a few beers with the NZ crew tonight thanks to CSU connecting us on a Facebook group. Locally, I have made new friends through people I know who have been so happy to share advice about the country they love. I also joined a Japanese language class and was lucky to meet a lovely bunch of people who loved mumbling their way through suspect Japanese phrases over an Asahi as much as I did. I can’t recommend enough that you start connecting early. It really wets your appetite for the journey ahead and makes you feel so much more supported from the get go.


(My new friend Ai-Chan who is giving me Japan advice and some Jagua ink over lunch. The right wrist says Tabibito (traveller) and the left says Sian)


(The Japaneasy language class taking lessons on the road for some post-class beers and delicious Japanese food in Melbourne.)

Right well, I better leave it there for now. I have rambled at you enough for one day. We are about to board and I am planning on spending the next three hours crammed in a fetal position, learning how to type an assignment with the arm movement range of a T-Rex. You have to love domestic air travel. At least I have a cold beer with some new friends waiting on the other side. As Yazz once sang on the year of my birth (aaaaall those years ago), the only way is up!