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On returning from Oz

I’ve just returned from nearly three weeks in Australia. It’s been a long time since I was away from home for so long.

During the first leg of my trip, I spoke at the Winter(!) conference of the librarians of SLAV (School Library Association of Victoria).  I’ve never met a more intrepid, creative, energetic and forward thinking group of professionals. They are a strong tribe. And  I am a huge fan.  (If you haven’t already, subscribe to Judith Way’s Bright Ideas blog!)

The librarians of SLAV are also the most gracious of hosts.  My husband and I felt so cared for during our stay in Melbourne.  Thank you Camilla, and Mary, and Chris and Judy, and Rhonda, and Susan, and my many other inspiring new  colleagues and friends.

So, I’ve been a little off the grid.

Let me tell you a bit about the personal part of the journey.

In the no-place-like-home category, I realized that I’ve taken a few very American things for granted.

This is not to say I wasn’t charmed by: the elegant, old-world friendliness we discovered in Melbourne; the glorious sun, beaches, and sea creatures on the Whitsunday Islands; the lovely rolling hills, delicious wines, and hospitality of the Hunter Valley region; and Sydney’s stunning bridge, Opera House, and bustling harbor.

(Note: On the road, I was reading and unsuccessfully channeling a little bit of Liz Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. Last time a took a trip this long–on a student Eurail pass in the 70s–I was reading and unsuccessfully channeling Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying.  Another story.)

Anyway, I am not very zen.

Here’s what I craved in nearly three weeks away:

  1. Big paper cups.  In Australia, as in other parts of the world I’ve visited, it is easy to get wonderful coffee.  Delicious coffee.  (That is, once I figured out what long black and flat white was.) But it is hard to get lots of coffee.  Even when I found the omnipresent 7/11, their large cup of coffee held less than eight ounces.  There was no Wawa and I could not whip together my lovely 24 ounce concoctions of just a little cappuccino with coffee and skim milk and Splenda.  By the time I returned to my hotel room to enjoy my breakfast coffee I’d had to go out and buy another.
  2. Affordable Diet Coke.  My soda habit is very expensive to support outside of the United States.  In Melbourne and Sydney, I’d buy a can for three dollars and try to make it last a full day.  Restaurant refills–soda or coffee–are not free.  A saving grace was that it was a better value to order a local wine with dinner than a Diet Coke.  More on wine below.
  3. Wardrobe.  Ever since airlines starting charging for checked bags, I’ve been working hard to take just one.  For a trip that lasted nearly three weeks, covered two climate zones, and both professional and casual venues, this was a daunting task. I believe I deserve some kind of packing medal for my accomplishment.  But women in Melbourne and Sydney were so stylish.  I especially coveted their shoes and boots and great winter jackets and sweaters.  Tempted, I stopped in several lovely boutiques, but the prices, even the sale prices, stopped me in my tracks.  And so, most days I wore my old black puffy jacket (it was light and went with everything.)  And I longed for my at-home wardrobe, especially the very cute boots sitting in my closet.
  4. Internet. I am used to paying for Internet at many hotels. I wasn’t used to paying as much or for having to decide on levels of access/download speed.  I was told that McDonald’s was the place everyone went to for free access.  And that was just the problem.  Whenever I did find a McDonald’s, it was jammed.  Needless to say, blogging and tweeting and monitoring the good old PLN became a challenge.
  5. Shopping.  (Yes, back to shopping.) Normally an intrepid shopper, the prices of goods of all types.–except for wines—inhibited my considerable natural inclinations and talents.   I suspected Ugg boots would be such a bargain in the place of their birth.  Not so.

Perhaps, there’s no place like home, but in so many ways there’s no place like Oz.  I am glad I left my ruby slippers in the closet.

I’ve never met a people as friendly and kind as the folks I met everywhere we landed in Australia.

So I adapted.

And, here’s how I grew:

I learned I could wean myself off Diet Coke and coffee. (For  a while.  At least in the massive quantities I was used to.)

I developed a serious taste for Australian wines.

I could balance the expense of traveling by not overbuying and overfilling my bag.

I watched and even chatted with wallabies and cockatiels, and colorful creatures of the sea.

I focused a little more on the people next to me, rather than those on the grid.

I enjoyed the sun and my husband.

And some of the new friends we made:

Dennis and Friends on the deck from Joyce Valenza on Vimeo.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Joyce, it sounds like you had a fantastic trip. I think it’s important to remind ourselves what it feels like to step outside of our comfort zones every once and awhile. You’ve inspired me to do something “just a little crazy” today!

  2. Thanks for the shout out Joyce. We had a fabulous time with you and the conversation for days was about your energy, commitment and passion to make schooling and education a better experience for students.

    Thanks for travelling all that way to inspire us! You are one magic lady!

  3. Hello Joyce
    So pleased to hear you and Dennis are safely home. It was a pleasure to share some Aussie experiences with you both and perhaps provide a personal perspective on parts of our culture. As you say, the size of our take-away coffee is more of a reflection of our British heritage rather than anything we’ve adopted from the US.

    I’ve attended a SLAV Melbourne Eastern Metro region meeting this evening and was pleased to still be receiving very positive feedback from your presentations. You’ve further kindled the flame that was lit by the SLAV VicPLN program. The excitement is still quite palpable. The topic of discussion this evening was ebooks and I demonstrated my iPad. It was a good sharing of ideas.

    Election day coming up on Saturday which is another source of excitement – go Julia! In our household we’ll share it with the excitement of a four year old birthday party.

    Kindest regards to both you and Dennis. Delightful guests.
    Regards Camilla

  4. Joyce,

    I could tell from your Flickr stream that you were having a fabulous adventure, and this posting confirms it. Are you converted to one-suitcase traveling now? (deciding to leave the boots behind must have been agonizing!)

  5. Thanks for the warm welcome home! Camilla and Judith, I will never forget your kindness. Kristen, looking forward to much more inspired craziness together! Diane, I am still trying to follow your packing lead. Baby steps, my friend!

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