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Why a Trip to Canberra Taught Me a Lot About Australia (& The World)

Apr 13, 2016 9:00:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

CAPAStudyAbroad_Sydney_Spring2016_From_Kisha_PAtel_-_Official_CAPA_Blogger_Image.jpegKisha Patel is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2016, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A political science and gender/women's studies major at Ursinus College, she is studying abroad in Sydney this semester.

Kisha recently spent a weekend in Canberra, Australia's captial city, where she ran a marathon. She talks about this experience and the other lessons she learned while she was in the city. 

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If you remember, at the beginning of the semester, my roommates convinced me of a crazy idea to run the Canberra Marathon for the Australian Running Festival located in the heart of Australia’s capital, Canberra. That weekend turned up quickly and I found that is was getting closer and closer to the date.

As a political science major and someone who lives outside Washington DC, I was excited to see Canberra. I have a thing for capitals. I get pretty geeky about it. I began planning all the things I wanted to do: Parliament House, High Court, all the important buildings. However, that excitement did not translate to my roommates. It took some convincing to get them to commit to going on Friday instead of just Saturday night into Sunday afternoon. I had an agenda and I was ready to learn about the capital.  

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Photo: Parliament House

Except, everytime I told a Sydneysider that I was going to Canberra, they gave me a look that resembled concern and pity and would follow up with a “really?” or “why?”. I was told that Canberra was pretty empty and that there was nothing in the city to see, to do, or anyone to talk to. My expectations lowered. It turned out that Canberra was definitely different than Sydney, but it had a lot of hidden gems to offer us.

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We arrived in Canberra on Friday and began our tour of the capital at Parliament House. I was surprised at how empty the capital area was. In Washington DC, you have to push through a crowd with your elbows to get close enough to anything to take pictures. In Canberra, I had the entire house to myself to get some cool shots. It was beautiful on the outside. We walked into the House and began touring the museum-esque set-up they had. I was surprised to see how much history was there.

They had an exhibit on how Australian currency changed from shillings and pence to the current dollars. They also had Queen Victoria’s old writing desk on display! But, my favorite section of the Parliament House museum was the section dedicated to the apology to the Aboriginals. They had the official apology from the Prime Minister along with many tokens given to the Aboriginals and tokens given to the government. It was really eye-opening to see this huge aspect of Australian history.

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Photo: Apology to the Aboriginals

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Photo: Queen Victoria’s writing desk

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Photo: Legislative Process

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Photo: Money

Then we spent some time looking at the gorgeous memorials and gardens around Canberra that were full of history. One of my favorite things was in the Senate Rose Gardens. They had a beautiful mosaic walkway that had plaques which outlined women’s roles in politics throughout the country's history. The plaques highlighted major events such as the first time women voted and the first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. In addition to Political Science, I am also a Gender/Women’s Studies major, so this walkway was one of the best moments of my time in Canberra. I was shocked to see how short the walk was. There were huge gaps between the plaques that demonstrated how women aren't represented enough in history, and how they aren't getting to make enough of an impact.

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We also had the chance to visit one of the most beautiful art galleries I have ever been to: The National Gallery of Australia. It had so many exhibits that captured not only the history of Australia, but the world. There were exhibits on Australian Aboriginals, Indian, and African cultures. The galley was full of world renowned artists whose work I could have only dreamed of seeing. I stood just a few feet in front of Claude Monet’s Waterlillies. I saw an entire exhibit on Andy Worhol. I saw a real Picasso on display.

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Photo: Waterlillies

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Photo: Picasso

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Photo: Indian art

Being pre-law and interning at a law firm in Sydney, I was also very excited to visit the High Court of Australia, the highest legal court of the land!

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There was also this other minor event during our weekend excursion where some of us casually ran 21 or 42 kilometers. Running the Canberra Marathon was one of the best experiences I have had, which is saying a lot considering I crossed the finish line in tear-causing pain with a sprained knee and was immediately carried to a first aid tent.

I expected my cultural experience to end on Saturday night once I was done visiting the monuments, but I actually learned tremendously during this run. To begin with, it was the most beautiful course I have seen. We got to block off the paths around all the monuments and the bridge and ran alongside these gorgeous buildings and a lake. What I learned about Australia came from the people I met, because I was shocked to see how friendly and nice everyone was during the run. At mile 5, my knee gave out and I fell to the ground. I was overwhelmed by how many people stopped running the race to help carry me off to the side and make sure I was okay. These people easily lost 20 minutes of their race finishing time to make sure I was okay. After being checked by the paramedics, I kept going (limping more than running) for the next 8 miles. Every time I would see someone who had witnessed me fall they would scream encouragement at me. They would run along with me for a little while to talk me through my pain and encourage me to keep going. These conversations not only showed me friendship and compassion; I also got a chance to learn a lot about the kindness of the people around me.

A few runners walked with me for a longer period of time and I got to learn details about their lives. I met one man who was quite elderly whome I saw lagging behind during the run. I slowed down to jog with him and began talking to him when he told me this was the 50th marathon he'd run. His doctor had told him that his bones were getting too weak to handle running, but he wanted to try and complete one more race. He spoke of how he grew up in Canberra and how different the city used to be. He told me how he watched politics closely over the course of his life and he knew every fact about any political decision that had ever happened.

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Canberra surprised me in so many ways. I learned about history, I learned about Australian culture, and I learned a lot about myself trying to complete this run against the odds (and after three medical professionals advised me against it).

I thought my time in this city was going to be full of eating and running before heading back to dynamic Sydney, but instead I found that there was more than met the eye in a city that appeared to be boring and empty. There is always a lot to learn and see if you ask questions and seek the unknown.

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To anyone reading this: I encourage you to visit your city, state, or national capitals and see what you can learn that you did not know before.

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Photo: National Carillon

Thanks Kisha!

Kisha's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned. 

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Topics: Sydney, Australia, Official Bloggers and Vloggers, Sports Abroad