Friday, February 24, 2017

Goondiwindi Cotton Excursion

Good morning!  I apologize if I have seen a bit absent from social media the past few days.  For my Cotton 300 class at UNE, I went on a 3 day excursion to Goondiwindi, Queensland to learn all about Australian cotton production.  And I must say- I learned a ton!  As the only person in the class who had never been around a cotton operation before (since it's pretty much corn and beans in midwest USA), I was able to broaden my agricultural and agronomic horizons immensely during the trip.

The first day consisted of familiarizing ourselves with the Shannon Cotton farm, operated by UNE cotton staff.  We learned how to create a cotton map, varieties of cotton used, what the growing season looks like, and precision ag technologies used in the industry.  I was intrigued to learn that 90% of cotton grown in Australia is GMO, and many growers are currently using a Monsanto Bollgard II (or III) variety.  We also looked at a cotton picker and other types cotton machinery.

It was unbelievable to me how different the landscape and the soil was in Queensland compared to New South Wales (where UNE is located).  The temperatues were much warmer.  Because the soil cracks, many houses are mounted on stilt-like-structures to prevent potential damage and cracking.  Additionally, there were cacti in pretty much any direction- even some that were three to four times taller than me!  I was also super excited to spot some kangaroo tracks at a farm- they walk around at night similarly to how deer wander in Indiana.  

During the second day of the excursion, we learned about cotton irrigation systems.  In Queensland, a lot of the cotton has to be irrigated (very costly) due to the climate.  I got a chance to try to pull siphons in the fields; however, I definitely need some practice.  We visited the Namoi cotton gin, receiving a first-hand look at how cotton is prepared for sampling from grower to merchant.  

Our day finished with talking to a cotton marketer from the LDC (Louis Dreyfus Company).  He explained to us that Australian cotton is so valued due to its consistent quality, reliable suppliers, and near-0 contamination levels.  The marketer briefed us a little with the cotton grading system, emphasizing how it's based on a system developed by the USDA.  He also shared with us some of the biggest buyers of Australian cotton- China, Indonesia, and other Asian countries.  

On the last day, our primary focus was cotton grading.  A cotton grade is a 3-digit code based on the average samples from the front and back of a cotton bale.  Cotton is ranked based on whiteness from 11-51 (11 being the whitest and creamiest color).  From 33-37+ (with the Australian base being 36), cotton is graded based on its fiber lengths.  A third number, from 1-6, is assigned based on the leaf content (1 represented the smallest and 6 representing the largest amount present in the sample).  During our trip to the grading site, we saw them use an HVI (high volume instrument) on the samples to efficiently grade the cotton.  Currently, there's a little discrepancy between using the machines versus hand grading, based on the fact that cotton in the US is different than that in Australia.  

Our final stop of the day was to the Goondiwindi Australia Cotton store.  We learned how the family business started and got to see a final example of what cotton is used for in the market- and of course, that included a lot of clothes.  

Even though we still have a lot more to cover throughout the semester, I can tell that this is definitely going to be a class I'll enjoy!  I'm so happy I can take home the knowledge I gain about cotton production back home when I return to Purdue- especially because so few people in the midwest know about cotton!  For now, I'll be catching up on all the classes had to miss for my trip. 😉


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Albies O-Week: A Recap

Hello everyone!

It's Sunday here in Australia, which means, unfortunately, O-Week (Orientation week) is coming to a close.  It was a complete blast and was a great way for me to get familiar with new faces and my new home for the next 4 months!

The week officially started last Sunday with "Coliseum Night."  In the middle of each block is an outside area called a coliseum where everyone drinks punch and mingles with people on their floor/ block.  Throughout the night, everyone signs each others' shirts (and maybe skin, when there's no more room).  By the end of the night, everyone's shirts are pretty much destroyed and everyone is wet from sprinklers and spilled drinks.

Monday night was more low key.  We had a speaker talk to us about the importance of driving safely on Armidale roads, especially when it comes to speeding.  On Tuesday night, we all once again gathered in the coliseums of our blocks and drank punch before our first official Servies function.  The theme was "Traffic Light Night," and we danced until we were exhausted on Servies' massive dance floor.

Wednesday was again, another chill night.  We drank champagne and mingled with members of our SCR- a great experience to network with some Albies' supporters.  Afterwards, some people went to the pub, but I was far too exhausted so I spent the majority of my night working on my online class through Purdue.  Thursday night was quite exciting, however.  Once more, we drank punch with our floor and the theme of the night was to dress as something that began with your block's letter.  Since I live on block D, I dressed up like a doll.  We all drank UDL's (a premixed Australian "crassic" [classic]) in the Albies' JCR.

Friday night was my first experience going to the "Trax"- an Australian pub that has the most beautiful outdoor room.  By Friday, the Albies "returners" (otherwise known as older classmen) had moved back to college, so it was a great way for me to meet more students my age and expand on my friend circle even more.  Earlier in the day, there was a "Billy Madison" function where everyone put their swimmers on and drank 6-packs in baby pools throughout the lawn.

Saturday has to be by-far my favorite day.  It was called "Albies Ladies Day," in which everyone got dressed up and drank champagne on the lawn.  On ladies day, the boys aren't allowed to talk to the girls until they make them lunch- quite a treat.  It was so much fun being able to dress up with everyone, making memories and taking adorable pictures.

As my week draws to an end, I'm sad that I have to say goodbye to care-free functioning, but I am actually pretty excited to start my classes and continue experiencing Australian culture and meeting new faces.  For now, I'm going to rest up- my week begins with a 3 day field trip to a Queensland cotton farm!


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Once You're Albies, You're Albies for Life!"

I'm sure many of you are wondering, what the heck is St. Albert's College?  I thought she was going to University of New England?  In terms of university, or "uni," in Australia, there are major differences between it and college.

So as you already probably know, the university I am studying and taking classes (or "units") at is the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales Australia.  However, on top of that, I am also a part of St. Albert's residence college- which is MUCH different than the residence halls/ dorms in the US.  In Australia, and particularly at UNE, the concept of being included in a residence college is similar to the involvement for a fraternity or sorority in the states.  My college, St. Albert's (or Albies, for short), is the only private residence college at the university.  As its name suggests, it has a Catholic background.  The process of getting in was not easy.  I had to fill out numerous applications and perform a Skype interview with the head master- which made it seem intimidating, but honestly, after only a week here, I am so happy that I went Albies because everyone is so welcoming and the support is unbelievable.

My building: Bot D
Not to brag, but Albies is considered the most elite of all the residence colleges at UNE.  They truly pick the best of the best students.  Albies is based on five key values: engagement, integrity, respect, service, and heritage.  A vital aspect of the college is community support.  Last night, I attended an SCR (senior common room) event in which I was able to network with Albies alumni and supporters who still associate with specific floor of the college blocks (or buildings).  Throughout the year, they will welcome us to their homes, serve as mentors, and host us for social gatherings, like the champagne breakfast before race day.  On top of that, we are sponsored by a local pub, Services, who gives all students of the college free pub memberships, and they host several social events for us on Thursday nights throughout the year.  They donate also thousands of dollars towards Albies sports teams- a major aspect of the college.

Collegiate sports at Albies are a huge deal.  Throughout the year, members of the college will train and compete in several male and female sporting events (football, rugby, hockey, netball, etc.), both within the community and within the university.  St. Albert's rugby in particular is very renowned.  They have won the Club championships each time for the last 8 years.  There are also numerous intercollegiate sports competitions where Albies competes against other colleges.  I'm pretty pumped about joining the Albies girls field hockey team later in the semester where we will play against Robb College.

Traffic Light Night with my new friend, Nicci

One of my favorite parts about Albies is the social aspect.  No matter what block you go to, everyone always has their doors open, welcome to visitors, and everyone is constantly playing music.   People drink beer very casually throughout the day, and the overall culture is extremely relaxed.  Albies also puts on numerous social events throughout the week so students can be more familiar with their floor-mates, as well as other members of the college.  For instance, during the week, there might be a floor punch (made of wine or "goon," vodka, and some sort of fruit drink) before you go to the pubs or a college function.  This week, we've had Coliseum night and Traffic Light night.  Each floor is co-ed, so you could pretty much be neighbors with anyone.  There's a large chance you won't be hanging out with the same friend group all the time- which is fantastic, because there's always a new face and new friends eager to meet you.

My first Albies shirt!
Albies is also extremely prideful.  Anytime we go on a "bottle-o" (liquor store) run or take a bus into town, students are always shouting Albies chants.  Also, Albies merch is an integral part of the college experience.  Everyone is constantly wearing Albies attire, whether it be a sports jersey, polo, shorts, tshirt- you name it!  I absolutely love being a part of such a tremendous college that cares so much about its members and is so committed to ensuring they have the best college and university experience possible.  I know I definitely will.  ☺


Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Real Aussie Barbie

Albies freshers
"Slip a shrimp on the barbie," we as Americans often here in reference to an Australian Barbecue.  Today marks the first day for "Freshers" (first years) at St. Albies to move in and begin their college adventure- which of course, included a barbie.  I can honestly say, I don't think I've been to as many barbecues in my life as UNE has had in this week alone.  Every day, someone seems to be putting on a barbecue.  Barbies are an integral social activity for Australians, whether amongst family friends or a large group of people, like today.

I wasn't really sure what to expect at my first authentic Australian barbie.  When I think of barbecue, I initially think pulled pork, but that was definitely not included on the menu today.  I also had the notion that perhaps there would be shrimp- or "prawns," in Aussie lingo- but that wasn't on the menu either.  Instead, Australians often refer to barbies as "sausage-sizzles."  The primary meat is sausage and steak. Unless you're having a quaint, family barbie, people rarely grill seafood.

As its nickname suggests, the barbie included sausage, steak, and chicken-kabobs- all extremely delicious.  With their meat, Aussies pile on on sorts of vegetables, coleslaw, etc.  I actually got made fun of as an American, since we normally only include cheese and some sort of sauce on our sandwiches. I was very impressed with my first Aussie barbie.  The steak was amazing- much better quality than just ground beef.  And the chicken-kabobs were a nice touch.  Barbecue sauce in Australia is much different, however.  Like a lot of foods, it is much less sweet than the way we make it in America.

Not sure if Albies was just trying to impress the fresher parents, but my first Australian barbie definitely deserves an A+.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The First 24 Hours

G'day Mates!

I am all settled in Albies residence college, and I have absolutely loved my first full day here in Australia!  The town of Armidale is adorable and the people here are super friendly.  What I love most about my experience so far is that all the buildings are extremely open and everyone has their doors open constantly- making it very easy to make new friends and hangout with people.  It seems like everyone is always doing something and everyone is so inclusive!

So far, I have learned quite a few things about Australian culture that differ from the US.  First of all, my biggest shock is that coffee creamer does not exist here! I tried hunting it down at every stores I possibly could, but couldn't find any.  Australians shorten everything- mosquitoes are "mozzies" -and they put milk in their tea.  Apparently people don't eat kangaroo regularly (despite popular belief) and while kolas seem cuddly, they can actually be pretty dangerous, due to their claws.  Instead of trucks in Australia, they drive "utes"- a car/truck hybrid that's much smaller.
Thatcher's Gold Cider

During my first night in Amidale, I went to my first Australian pub.  It was pretty laid back compared to US bars, but we weren't there on a very busy night.  I got a cider- very delicious and less sweet than US ciders.  Unfortunately, jetlag has been killing me so far, so at 9pm that night, I was ready to hit the hay.

Australian Iced coffee
After orientation yesterday, I went to a cafe on campus where I got my first (of many) Australian coffees.  To my surprise, when I ordered an "iced latte," I got a giant coffee with ice cubes made of coffee and a scoop of ice cream on top!  It was like drinking a milk shake.  Shortly after, I scheduled my classes for the semester and I'm quite excited.  I will be learning more about Australian agriculture in my Cotton Production and Ecology of Plant Population courses (or "units," as they call them in Oz-land).  I will also be taking a Communication in Digital and Social Media class, in addition to Genomic Analysis and Bioinformatics (not required for me to take, but I really feel like it will help me to prepare for grad school).

Koala and Kangaroo sign
The UNE campus is roughly a 20 minute walk from my residence college (and uphill, too), so I will definitely be getting my exercise this semester.  It's the late summer season in Australia, and the high was 92 degrees F yesterday.  It's been brutally hot so far, but I'm not complaining, since all my Purdue friends are dealing with snow this week.  Right now, it's Saturday morning, so I think I'm going to catch up with some of my new friends and go swimming.  I'll be posting more of my first week- "O Week" as they call it, so stay tuned!


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The day has come!

Well, today is finally the day!  I am currently at the Indianapolis airport as I write this post.  I knew today would be extremely hard, having to say goodbye to all my friends and family and all the things I love in the USA.  But it's also the start of a great new adventure, so I am striving to look on the upside!

Things have been pretty stressful trying to prepare... making sure my bags were under the weight limit, ensuring I packed all the vital things I would need... My permanent retainer actually fell out an hour before I was supposed to be at the airport, but luckily, I was able to stop by my dentist to get that fixed (shout out to Dr. Knotek for squeezing me in today).

I must say, I have had a wonderful extended Christmas break, being able to spend plenty of time with my friends and family.  For New Years, my sister and I were able to visit our cousin Kate in downtown Nashville- which was a complete blast! Last week, I visited my mom and grandmother in KY to go out to dinner at our favorite steakhouse- Columbia's- and go to a UK basketball game!  It has been great being able to spend plenty of time in Greenfield, relaxing and going to all my favorite Greenfield restaurants one last time with my dad.  Plus, I've had the chance to catch up with one of my best friends, Lauren, who will be studying abroad in Germany later this semester.  And to top it all off, I've been able to make plenty of memories with my friends at Purdue.  Last weekend, I had my "paddle night" (when a girl turns 21), and it was quite memorable to say the least.

My first stop will be in LAX, and then I will be traveling to Sydney, then Armidale.  I will be flying for 20+ hours, not including the long lay-overs between flights.  It'll be exhausting, but definitely worth it in the end.  It's amazing to me to think that I am, quite literally, going to be living half way around the world for 4 months.  While I know I will enjoy my time immensely in Australia, I know time will fly by, and I will be back in the USA once again before I know it!  Stay tuned for stories and pictures of my arrival.  For now, I will be (trying) to sit back and relax on my flight.