God Helps the Outcasts

Excerpt from Bethany Van Eps personal blog “An Australian Adventure(r)” Bethany is a Spring 2017 student from Dordt College. Reproduced with permission.

(a fitting song related to this post is Follow You by Leeland. Put it on for mood music if you’d like 🙂 )

Today marks a week since serving my last shift at an organization that has quickly become a huge part of my life and I have a lot of feelings about it. This semester I had the honor to spend every Tuesday morning from 9:30 until 12 serving with some of the most kind hearted generous people I’ve ever met and I’d love to tell you about it.

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When I was assigned to Gateway Baptist Care Centre when I first arrived in Australia I had no idea what to expect. At orientation I learned that I would be working with the ‘On Track’ Program. This program was a branch of the Care Centre which admitted a set number of clients every six months and provided these clients with food parcels and listening ears every 3 weeks. The goal of this program is to support families and individuals in the midst of troubled times while also helping them regain their footing and encouraging them to break cycles of reliance on welfare programs. It was such a beautiful ministry. My fellow ASC students, Marissa and Alyssa, as well as myself were told it was our job to set up for community tea and that we would be taking turns interviewing clients and working in the shed. I was excited.

On our first Tuesday we got a taste for how impactful our relationship with our fellow volunteers would be. We started the morning by praying together, and in between meeting with clients we were asked about how our experience was so far, what America was like, etc. Genuine interest was expressed in us, which was touching. One of the sweetest gestures though, was when all of our fellow volunteers banded together  to find out where we lived and who could give who rides to placement every week. This small gesture of kindness was huge to us three Americans (who were already getting a little sick of public transport 😂).

As the weeks passed we all had a chance to interview clients, which really just meant sitting with them, asking how they’re doing, and listening and showing genuine care for their situations. If you weren’t assigned to interview you were working in the shed assembling food parcels to be given to these families and individuals who were down on their luck. At the start we rotated two interviewing and one in the shed. As the semester progressed however, and the supervisor Robyn began to know our personalities and strengths a bit better we found a permanent role that was perfect. Marissa, as a psychology major interested in counseling was assigned the task of interviewing every week (which she LOVED) while Alyssa and I, as business majors who like systems and organizing, got to work in the shed. Again, this reassignment was an itty bitty gesture that communicated a large amount of care and concern that we should all be comfortable and utilizing our skills.

At the start of the semester I had a feeling this placement was God’s vehicle for blessing me but I had thought it would be through the clients I worked with or perhaps in the warm-fuzzy “I helped someone” feeling. While those were both true and present I found my self blessed immeasurably by the staff of volunteers I had the pleasure of working with week after week. Our little team grew so close and saying goodbye last week was  more difficult than I had ever thought it would be.

This semester I witnessed first hand what actively loving your neighbor looks like, as well as the power of recognition of suffering as well as the recognition of common humanity. Sitting and talking to people (a pass time I greatly enjoy anyway) offered them an outlet to share their troubles and feel validated amid their suffering. For some, this program is their first glimpse of God’s love. Being able to show God’s hospitality to refugees and his love for strangers was an honor and to be honest it’s mind boggling to me that God chose me to be a vessel in this way. This semester I also had the joy to feel the rewarding power of generosity both in being able to give generously in food and compassion to those who need it as well as in receiving more from this volunteer crew than I could ever repay.

After all of our clients were taken care of last week our little team came together and gifted us cards, along with parcels of Australian goodies to bring home with us. We were speechless and so so thankful. Then, as if they hadn’t given us enough, they drove us up to the Mount Gravatt lookout, bought us coffee and we had one last hour of fellowship. I teared up as we hugged goodbye then and am getting misty eyes writing this now.

I will never forget my time at Gateway Baptist Care Centre, nor do I want to. I pray God continues to bless this spectacular ministry and that people continue to be blessed through it.

Blessings from Brisbane
Bethany ♥

Have Class, Will Travel

Excerpt from Bethany Van Eps personal blog “An Australian Adventure(r)” Bethany is a Spring 2017 student from Dordt College. Reproduced with permission.

As a part of my course requirement here in Australia I have to take CS254: Australian Indigenous Cultures and Worldviews as well as AS200: The View from Australia. These classes are about understanding and embracing the beautiful country we’re studying in and the beautiful people that inhabit it. Through these classes, in an effort to truly let us experience Australia, we’ve been on a number of really neat field trips, taking us out of South/Central Brisbane and letting us explore.

St. Helena (hell-ay-na) Island: AS200
Just off the coast of a South Brisbane, St. Helena Island opened in 1867 as Queensland’s foremost maximum security prison for men. The prison operated as one of the most lucrative businesses for the government housing a sugar mill, limestone kiln, and an award winning stock of cattle. While only 7% of the original buildings are still standing there was plenty to tour, led by our actor/guides demonstrating the prisoner-convict relationship and making the historical tour both funny and memorable. A day of historical touring and playacting helped us learn about Australia’s dark convict history.

(learn more: http://www.sthelenaisland.com.au/)

Stradbroke Island: CS254
Stradbroke Island is a popular tourist destination off the southern coast of Brisbane in Moreton Bay. While this island sports gorgeous beaches and often hosts Australian families on a weekend away, the ASC brought us for an entirely different purpose. As a part of our Aboriginal Australian cultural studies we took a two day trip to Stradbroke in order to learn and experience the history and culture of the island’s first inhabitants, the Quandamooka people. We first learned about traditional dress, song, and dance from Matt Burns, before then then visiting Uncle Norm and touring the elder’s museum which was full of artifacts that told the history of the island. We spent the next morning making traditional sand art with Craig aka ‘Tappi” before taking an afternoon swim in Brown Lake (a lake which looks like a massive cup of tea due to the surrounding trees dropping Tea Tree leaves into the water to decompose). A wonderful weekend full of cultural study and enrichment.

**These pictures are from the lovely Emily Kelly, Anna Gibson and the ASC staff. No phone=Bethany’s pictures lacking any form of quality**

Australian Outback- Bonus Downs: AS200
The Australian outback covers a large percentage of this country’s land and is generally unexperienced by the population at large. In order to learn about this more wild rugged side of Australian history and culture we took a nine hour drive towards the heart of the country and spend 2 days 3 nights in a sheep shearing shed an hour outside of Mitchel. This trip could really have a post unto itself, but I’ll try and shortlist the jam=packed 4-day weekend. We had the privilege staying at a farm-stay called Bonus Downs, hosted by the lovely Madonna and Lyle. Our time there included a property tour, a brief history lesson of the farm, a discussion about environmental stewardship as Christians, a little trek through the mud to catch Yabbies (like a little crawfish), and nightly campfires. Part of our discussion on environmental stewardship included the issuing of a challenge. A no-shower challenge. The purpose? To preserve water, feel connected to ‘place’, bond with each other (and give Bethany dreadlocks). The result? A shower has never ever felt better. While we didn’t get as dirty as students in semesters past and were treated to a bit more luxury, red dirt, mud and campfire

**These pictures are all Anna Gibson’s I believe but Emily Kelly and Alyssa Migliaro posted some really cool ones on FaceBook as well**

Bridgeman Baptist Church- Dhiyaan Service: CS254
Bridgeman Baptist Church is a medium sized Baptist Church located in North Brisbane. This past Sunday in an effort to learn more about how Aboriginality and Christianity are compatible practices we traveled as a class to experience their Dhiyaan Service which is lead by Aboriginal Australian worship leaders and pastors. At this service we were able to see a Galatians 3:28 demonstrated through a traditional dance performed by members of the congregation, both young and old, indigenous and nonindigenous, male and female. It was a beautiful opportunity to witness the blended, diverse body of Christ and was really eye opening for all of us. CS254.PNG**Photo Credits: https://www.instagram.com/australiastudiescentre/ **

Overall this semester has given me wonderful opportunities to explore not only the awesome city of Brisbane, but also the beautiful country it is located in! I’m so thankful for classes that facilitate this kind of hands-on, exploratory learning and have been so blessed in this way! Eighty some odd days of exploring down, twenty some to go! Excited to soak up as much as I can!!

Blessings from Brisbane,

Bethany ♥

embrace the smallness

Excerpt from Marissa Showalter’s personal blog “Riss Lynn Takes Brisbane” Marissa is a Spring 2017 student from Messiah College. Reproduced with permission.

“It’s good for the spirit to be reminded as an individual or a community that there will always be something bigger, older, richer, and more complex than ourselves to consider” – Tim Winton, Island Home: A Landscape Memoir.

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Australian Outback by Mitchell, Queensland. Photo by Alyssa Migliaro

In the last week, I’ve truly experienced Australia the way that most of the rest of the world pictures it to be: koalas and kangaroos, red dirt for days, and starry night skies that take your breath away. That’s right folks, I finally experienced Australia Zoo and the Outback (and I’m not talking about the steakhouse). And what an experience it was.

So two Mondays ago it was a public holiday (Labour Day) here in Queensland, and what 18198218_791562847677225_6166771247237832656_n.jpgbetter way to spend our day off from uni than a trip to Australia Zoo?! Yep, you heard me, I finally went to the home of the Crocodile Hunter. If you thought my level of excitement to be in the Butterfly Sanctuary in Cairns was high, you should’ve seen me Monday morning. Bouncing off the walls is definitely an understatement.

I have never been to another place quite like Australia Zoo. In the U.S., all the zoos I have been to have been crowded, noisy, and very city-esque. This one was sparse, tranquil, and felt as though we were actually in the wild. Some of the animals even roamed free from their exhibits with their trained handlers — such a strange occurrence! You wouldn’t see a dingo being walked down the sidewalk in proximity to patrons at the Philadelphia Zoo, that’s for sure.

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The view from the treehouse on Bindi’s Island

Growing up watching Steve Irwin as the Crocodile Hunter on Animal Planet as so many of us did, it was unreal walking amongst his legacy at Australia Zoo. The passion that oozes from his memory and the staff is palpable, and it makes you excited too. This is the Australia that I always pictured from my childhood, this wild and untamed side that invokes all the images of deadly snakes and riled crocs. I even got to hold a koala and walk among kangaroos and wallabies in “Roo Heaven.” SO EXCITING.

But seriously, the Outback trip was AMAZING. It was a class excursion, so the whole group of Americans went. It was 10 hours of driving to get to Bonus Downs, the farm that we were staying at just past Mitchell. This farm regularly hosts large groups and is run by Madonna and Lyle, the sweetest old farm couple you will ever meet. It was a nice weekend away to sort of just chill out, get some peace, and reconnect as a group. We slept in a sheering shed and under the stars while we were there, sat around campfires, and ate TONS of food, a personal favorite of mine. Pretty sure we had a full meal every two hours (well maybe not but it felt that way!).

And can I just say that I love camping?! The smell of the fire, the fresh breeze that

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Photo by Anna Gibson

caresses my face in the evenings, the stars shining brilliantly in the sky, the freedom of having no schedule and just being able to sit around chatting and sipping on coffee, singing worship songs, and just feeling God’s presence hovering over us all. Takes me back to my favorite place on earth, Roxbury Holiness Camp, where I’ve camped with my family every year since I was in diapers. There is no place where I feel more at peace or more connected with God than out in His Creation. Praise Him for this beautiful, magnificent, diverse world!

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Photo by Anna Gibson

Among other things, I also learned how to crack a whip (and I would recommend staying a safe distance away if I have a whip in hand), I shook hands with the prettiest horse ever, held some yabbies (crawfish), took some solid naps, and went for long walks in the red soil with the flies swarming (I had a whole heap of them just sitting on my back — if you don’t like bugs, the Outback is NOT for you just an FYI).

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Lauren and I are professional nappers. It’s a gift. Photo by Anna Gibson.

The last night, I also slept under the stars despite the cold (yes, remarkably and to my utter shock Australia does get cold at times!). I remember waking up at probably around 4am and catching my breath as I peered into the dark night. Tim Winton, a famous Australian writer, best describes the experience of the Australian night sky in his memoir Island Home:

In the desert the night sky sucks at you, star by star, galaxy by galaxy, until you begin to feel you could fall out into it at any moment. In Australia the sky is not the safe enclosing canopy it appears to be elsewhere. It’s the scantiest membrane imaginable, barely sufficient as a barrier between earthbound creatures and eternity … you feel a twinge of terror because the sky seems to go on forever.

And it does indeed go on forever, I can attest to that! The night sky does a remarkable job of reminding you how unimaginably small you actually are, and makes the hairs on your arms stand up when you consider that despite the smallness, there is a great big God who knows us personally and CHERISHES us with an unfathomable and inconceivable love! Embrace the smallness friends, because within it the glory of God is revealed. I wish that I could take pictures that would do justice to everything that I am seeing with my eyes so that you all could feel the way I feel as I look upon God’s handiwork. How breathtaking. How marvelous. How awe-inducing. He is good. SO GOOD.

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Photo by Alyssa Migliaro

Carry this sweet reminder of God’s greatness with you this week. Take a moment to look at the sky and drink in the wonder of His presence. Thanks for reading.

xoxo, Riss

*Fun fact: did you guys know that 80% of Australia’s population actually lives in their top 20 largest cities? Hold this up in comparison to the U.S., with only 10% of our population in our 20 largest cities. We think of Australia as being a country full of crocodile hunters, when actually the majority of the population is comprised of city-dwellers. Pretty mind-blowing, hey?

Cover photo credit at the top goes to Alyssa Migliaro!

tennyson said it best

Excerpt from Marissa Showalter’s personal blog “Riss Lynn Takes Brisbane” Marissa is a Spring 2017 student from Messiah College. Reproduced with permission.

“Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” These words of Alfred Lord Tennyson have taken on a whole new meaning to me now that I am left with only six weeks left until I leave Brisbane and seven until I return to the States. Tonight I am feeling so keenly the heartbreak that I know is inevitably coming my way. I keep wondering to myself how I can possibly live contentedly back at home after having lived the life I have these past few weeks — and I’m stumped. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to do it.

I am so glad to have done this program. I’ve met so many people that I love and have gotten to experience so much. But at the same time, I’m kind of mad at myself. I’ve let so many people into my heart, and I’m going to have to say goodbye soon. I’m already trying to steel myself for the leaving, but I also don’t want to waste a single moment that I could be spending with one of my friends here. Life is too short, and time is too precious.

So I’m stuck with the heartbreak, I guess. I have never identified with Tennyson more in my life. “Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” I am so blessed for the relationships that I’ve formed during my time here, and I wish I had the opportunity to grow them even more. I will admit, it makes me a bit sad to think that when I leave I might just become a distant memory to people as well. Like, “oh yeah, remember that one American girl who was here for a little bit? What was her name again?” I will leave, people will continue on with their regular lives, and I’ll be long forgotten about. The next American girl will come to replace me, and I will become just become one in a list of many. I don’t want to be a distant memory. What a depressing thought.

Study abroad, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. But they didn’t tell you that when you finish, your heart will officially be living in two separate continents on the opposite sides of the world. Prayers are appreciated friends, because this is going to be a tough one.

Just some late night thoughts.

xoxo, Riss

Clever Titles Are Hard

Excerpt from Julia Eshleman’s personal blog “Julia Nicole Eshleman” Julia is a Spring 2017 student from Messiah College. Reproduced with permission.

Okay, this is embarrassing. I wanted to write a post every other week… and five weeks have gone by since my last writing. Whoops.

There has been so, so much going on, and therefore, there will be a lot of skimming in this blog post. But tonight I have time to write, since my midterms are finally done (woohoo!).

Although I have only traveled within a few hours of my home so far, I feel like I’ve been to lots of new places in the past month. One of the most educational examples of this was when our entire Aboriginal culture class went to Stradbroke Island for a fiDSC_0405_editeld trip, and we were taught dances, practices and history from First Nations tribe members who knew our lecturer, Lea. Indigenous Culture, which I knew absolutely nothing about prior to coming here, is both fascinating and heartbreaking. As I learn more about the ways in which colonization has hurt this ancient, magical sort of people group, I have gained so much respect for Australian Aboriginal people; the way they view the spiritual realm, the land, and the connection between tribes is beautiful.

Stradbroke has some of the best views I have ever seen. It’s a small island; picture cliffs, brilliant waves, and very few businesses. I hope to head back to Straddie to go whale watching in the fall before I leave if I can(If you know me well, you will know exactly how I might feel about whale watching).

Although people ask me all the time if I get homesick, the sickness that worries me most is actually how I’m going to feel when I have to leave Australia in two months. There is just so much that I’m leaving behind. I’m going to miss watching the sunset in my backyard through the dining room window, and walking home from school. I’m going to miss singing worship songs at my church, and spending time with my friends. I’m going to miss having tea with the kind people at my service placement, and I’m going to miss eating dinner with my host family.

This is why even though I definitely miss parts of Montana and Pennsylvania life frequently, I cannot wish my time away. I know that I will go home in two months, unless something very dramatic were to happen. However, I don’t know if or when I will ever return to Australia. The thought is sad, but it influences me to be content in my circumstances- that thought and, of course, the fact that my circumstances are pretty sweet. There are times when I’m sad, or I miss people, but I could not possibly ask for a better place to be.

I’m actually going to write another blog post soon about my Spring Break trip to the Great Barrier Reef, so stay posted 🙂 As always, you guys should know that you can text, FaceTime, or email me whenever, and I love to hear from my friends in the states (or family members!) Thanks for being willing to listen to me ramble on yet again. I love you guys!

tuesdays are for heavy hearts

Excerpt from Marissa Showalter’s personal blog “Riss Lynn Takes Brisbane” Marissa is a Spring 2017 student from Messiah College.  Reproduced with permission.

Hi friends! It’s me again. Just procrastinating writing a paper and such, so instead I thought I’d write something just for the heck of it.

I just realized that I haven’t shared about my service placement yet, and I want to take a moment to do that because it is a super important part of my abroad experience. So every Tuesday while I am here, I volunteer in the mornings at Gateway Baptist Church in their Care Centre. This is also the church that I have been calling home since arriving in Brisbane, as every week I have been tagging along with my host family to the 10am service and the young adult service at 6pm.

I love volunteering at Gateway for soooo many reasons. Of course one of those reasons would be that I get to connect with more people who attend the church. And I have met such lovely individuals — people who truly want to do the Lord’s work and further His kingdom here on earth. It is a privilege to work with them every week and see the way God uses their willing hearts! I also love that I get to serve and affect lives for Christ even while overseas. As I wrote in my first blog post, my heart longs to be so much more than just a tourist during my time here. Being a part of an organization like the Care Centre allows that to become a much more tangible reality. I don’t want to simply be served and give nothing back to the community that has been giving me so much! I want to do my part as well.

One of my favorite aspects, though, would have to be the opportunity to interact with a part of the community that I wouldn’t usually have access to. I mean, I attend a private Christian uni, basically all of the friends I have met are church attendees, and my host family is Christian. I don’t have a lot of exposure to the marginalized society here aside from this opportunity. And how powerful it has been to rub shoulders with individuals who have been going through deeply troubling times. Australia is a place where life seems so incredibly perfect; the sun shines about ninety-nine percent of the time, people are friendly and cheerful, and everyone is always hanging out and having a good time. As one of my Aussie friends put it, “Life is just too good here!” In a world that seems so pristine, it is hard to imagine that there are people going through some truly harsh realties. The Care Centre helps put that into perspective for me.

Part of my job at the Care Centre is to package food to give out to those signed up for the On Track program, which assists those who are going through financial struggles. I also do interviewing with clients that are signed up for the program in order to help assess need and to check in to see where they are at in their lives (very reminiscent of social work-type duties). The Care Centre is a well-rounded program, offering assistance with food, clothing, household items, and also responding to emotional and spiritual needs.

Some days are nothing short of heartbreaking. Once we had a woman come in who had been evicted from her home the night before with a litter of young children to care for. Another day we had a Syrian refugee share the joy of the birth of his new baby boy, only to have that joy dimmed by fearfulness for the family he left behind in Syria and the unknown future his young family now faces in a new country with no connections and few provisions. We had another sad soul who shared her struggle with suicide and depression. I ache for these people who have been dealt such unfair hands in life. Tuesdays are for heavy hearts.

There is beauty in that pain, however. There is beauty in walking alongside these people and letting your heart break for them when theirs is already so fragmented that it can’t break any further. There is beauty in lending strength when the burdens that are borne are so heavy that they can’t be shouldered any longer. There is beauty in a smile that says that “sure, things aren’t great now — but you aren’t alone anymore.” And there is beauty in the resilience that I see as I stare into the eyes of those who have been battered, but not broken.

Tuesdays are for heavy hearts. But they are also for redemption and renewal, transmitting a hope that comes from Christ alone and the work that is being done to further His kingdom.

Thanks for reading friends.

xoxo, Riss

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I volunteer with two other Americans from ASC, Bethany Van Eps and Alyssa.
Bethany is the one pictured in this photo! They are both fantastic human beings

An Australian Adventure(r)

Excerpt from Bethany Van Eps’ personal blog “An Australian Adventure(r).” Bethany is a Spring 2017 student from Dordt College.  Reproduced with permission.

Hey all!
I swear I’ve been trying to write this blog post for like a week and a half now. Unfortunately, the fourth and fifth weeks of school (so last week and this week) in Australia marks the start of assessment due dates and increased reading requirements. It’s been a busy week and a half to say the least.

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Here’s an ultra-flattering picture depicting the humidity. I had just stepped out of the AirCon* of the bus and was going to walk home. My glass fogged up immediately.

But I am not complaining. I mean I’m in Australia! And the humid 80-degree weather won’t let me forget it. Last week we had heaps* of rain so the grass and trees have become increasingly vibrant and lush and I am now living in a tropical wonderland. It is gorgeous. Interestingly the rain here is different than at home. At home when it rains it gets a little cooler and the humidity is generally released from the atmosphere. Here however, after the rain it stays just as warm and muggy as it was pre-rain meaning you’re walking around in a greenhouse. The rain also comes in like 5 minute showers of varying intensity which is fun for walking and public transit. Let’s just say I bought a raincoat within two weeks of landing and am still working on my timing. Queensland weather, I tell ya what. Technically it was supposed to be autumn a few weeks ago but the summer heat has held out. I never thought I’d say I miss the cold, but living in a literal sauna has changed me.

We’re in the midst of week 6 here in Australia, which seems crazy. It feels like I’ve been here forever, but I credit that to very long, very full days. Some of my days have been fairly chill, but due to the whole ‘I’m on the other side of the world’ thing, each day is being treated as an adventure none the less. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Queensland State Reserve library, working on the piles of homework I’ve accumulated. With big windows overlooking the skyline and four floors of study space with big tables and comfy spinny chairs, it’s quickly become one of my favorite spots. Lots of coffee shops have been visited and lots of coffee has been drunken (drunk? drank?) as well. I honestly think I’m more hooked on it here than at Dordt, which quite frankly (with how often I visited 55th and the Bunsen Brew and how quickly I ran out of defender dollars last semester) is impressive.

Another area of this city I’m coming to love is just a short walk along the river from the library. South bank is this gorgeous area along that is right along the Brisbane river, situated next to the big ‘BRISBANE’ sign and the Eye of Brisbane (ferris wheel). It’s this really chill, semi-touristy area with some awesome features and some real good photo ops. There are two main pools; one is a normal pool surrounded by big rocks and the other is a sand-bottom pool attached to a man-made beach. Next to this is a splash park and kid’s pool area. Leading down the river a bit further is a mini, super shallow river area covered in and surrounded by rocks (perfect for sun baking*). It’s difficult to explain, but not at all difficult to enjoy. Every Friday night and Saturday afternoon the little side street of shops that runs parallel to the pools gets turned into a little street fair/market selling art, clothing, crafts, and food. I been many a time, with many a friend and I’ve loved every visit more than the last. 😊

I’ve been on a few awesome class field trips, but I think I’ll do a blog post dedicated specifically to non-Brisbane awesome-sauce a little later (when my list is a bit longer 😉). Sorry this was so very delayed! I’m going to try and get better at updating. I’ve been requested to comment on some differences in food, vocab, and other daily conveniences so stay tuned!

Love and blessings from Brisbane,

Bethany ♥

*Aussie Slang, look at me adapting to culture