Thursday, 28 April 2011

Cusco's magical spell

I don´t think anyone could have properly described the spell I have been put under since arriving in Cusco. Sure, my trip getting here was a bit of a long one with planes leaving on South American time, i.e. hours late, others being delayed and canceled. However, now I am here and I am completely in love with this country and this place. Cusco´s cobblestone streets and alpacas are definitely a dominating feature that comes to mind when trying to describe it however there are many other things that stand out as reasons for this magical spell.

On our first night after an interesting 4hrs of Spanish classes we were struck by the sense of place and identity the people of Cusco hold. The main Plaza de Arms was packed with so many people it was an incredible sight to see in itself. After Liv made friends with a tourist guide who happened to be standing next to us we discovered that this was a special procession that happens annually on the Monday before Easter.

A huge black Jesus statue (Peruvians believe Jesus was black as they regard themselves as dark skinned), weighing 22 tonnes is transported around the streets of Cusco from 2pm to 7pm. Why the great fuss and sore arms? In the 17th century during a series of terrible earthquakes devastating the city someone pulled Jesus out from the Church and ran around praying for them to stop. They did, and this represents the respect and faith the people of Cusco hold.

After the event there were rivers of people trying to leave the main Plaza and thankfully we were able to (semi) stick together as our height, especially the boys, stood out over the fellow see of black haired Peruvians. Despite the cold that had crept over the city once the sun went down behind the magnificent mountains we were all still able to laugh at hearing Bob Marley´s song `Everything will be alright´ when we got on a bus that was so crowed the Oc Health and Safety officials in Australia would be doing back flips. This was only to be matched by another surprise Cusco threw at us when the song `I come from a land down under´ was on the radio the following night... and yes we did sing along loud and proud all the bus ride back to our wonderful hotel overlooking Cusco.

For the first week us we all got completely comfortable in the hotel we were staying. We made friends with the chefs, one of whom we hope to visit soon at his family home and share his weekly family Saturday lunch. Our three course lunches and dinners where perfected by our slice of pineapple and pear for `postre.´ We, well all the girls at least managed to mess the rooms enough so it took us some time to repack before going to our host families. We played many hours of cards in our free time and Harry even discovered the `magical´ powers of the mountain soaring high behind our rooms and learnt the painful lesson `beware of the dog!´

Unfortunately due to a few little microscopic bugs, namely bacteria a few of the group have had to spend more time than estimated at the hotel to learn guitar from the chef insted of discovering Cusco. Can we blame the 12 course lunch we had to celebrate Easter at the Spanish school that seemed so delcious at the time!!??!

Though I think secretly Bec was relieved when Cusco´s nasties caught up with the group and she had a few people to keep her company. However like me, everyone is captivated by this place. The bus companies we have been told to catch called `Zorro´, `Batman´ and `Rapido´ provide constant amusement especially when you see a `Rapido´ being overtaken at 20km/hr by a Zorro.

Meeting our families on Saturday was an exciting yet nerve wracking moment as we realised how much vocab we lacked in Spanish! Everyone enjoyed completely unpacking and settling into our homes for the next 3 months. It was lovely to be welcomed into these generous Peruvian´s homes and to be meet with smiles and often laughs when we tried to talk but generally ended up saying ´i´m sorry´ over and over again.... Easter Sunday was slightly different to Australia with the Peruvians not having Easter egg hunts but instead going to Church at 6am for a early service. Thankfully my family prefers the later 8am Mass.... We are all very excited to go to the school where we will be teaching and using our fundraising funds to build something the school needs. But most importantly it is to meet and get to know the children.

Until next time


Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Adelaide University use their teaching skills in Peru

In May this year, a group of nine education students from the University of Adelaide are venturing to Peru for five weeks to carry out a community education project as part of their degree.

While on placement, students will have the chance to teach social sciences, sport, English and other languages to students in local primary and secondary schools.

The team will also try their hand at some construction work aiming to improve educational facilities in local schools and provide additional incentive for children to continue their education.

This trip is proving particularly exciting for student Eliza Box who hasn’t previously travelled overseas.

“I can’t wait to experiencing another culture and be immersed in their language, foods, rituals and traditions,” Eliza said.

Eliza also said she’s feeling a little bit anxious about travelling overseas without her family.

“This will be my first overseas trip, and I'm nervous about doing it without any of my close friends or family,” Eliza said.

“However, I know that the more challenging the trip is, the more I will have to gain from it.”

So best of luck to our Adelaide University students. We can’t wait to hear all about it once you get back!

New Global Education Program

The Global Education internship program is a new professional program based in China. Different from volunteer programs, this is a program that allows international students in Australia to gain meaningful work experience in China. With global interest in China increasing, both Chinese local and multinational companies are coveting graduates with international experience. Antipodeans works closely with over 150 companies including 500 Fortune companies in Beijing and Shanghai to provide a clear career path and potential for permanent employment after the internship.

"The Global Education internship program helped me find the internship with LehmanBrown in Shanghai. It saved me a lot of time and efforts. I have developed effective interpersonal, communication skills, and team work skills through this internship. Antipodeans contacted me regularly to ensure everything went smoothly. I will definitely recommend this program to my friends. It was such an excellent experience."
- Yang Liu, Auditing, LehmanBrown, Shanghai

"My internship was with, China’s most popular internet portal that serves millions of users every day. Working in this company was not just a privilege, but also an eye opener for me. As a graduate from Macquarie University, I found it very hard to find work. After this internship, I was offered a job at an international company in Beijing and worked in web development. This program really helped me start my career." 
- Jonathan Wong, Web development, SOHU.COM, Beijing

“During my time at CRI, I have established good connections with my colleagues. With the support of CRI and the in-country agent, I was able to integrate smoothly into with the Chinese working life, sometimes working overtime on weekends to meet deadlines as well as participating in their annual swimming competition. I have thoroughly enjoyed the internship and through it, I have gained a better understanding of my future career direction.” 
- Lisa Liu, Online English Department at China Radio International, Beijing

Info Nights

There are regular Global Education Information Nights held in Sydney, with the next on the 18th of May. Free workshops in different universities are ongoing throughout the year. Over 100 students attended the UTS workshop last week, which was a fantastic success. These sessions are great opportunities for students to get more information about our Global Education internship program and ask questions directly to staff members.

To apply for a Global Education placement in China students need to follow the following steps. Students need to send in their resume, cover letter and a photo to June Yue on An Antipodeans staff member will be in contact shortly for a telephone interview. Students can then choose their preferred location between Beijing and Shanghai for a 4 to 24 weeks internship in their area of interests. Applications are opening now for both the winter holidays (June -July) and summer break (December - February).

Antips Staff Hit the Road

Local kids on the beach in Vanuatu
As part of providing researched and sustainable projects for Antips volunteers, our staff members often visit destinations first hand to gather information and get a feel for a particular project.

Over the last month Colin, Danielle and Joe all did just this, and headed off to research potential projects in Mauritius, Vanuatu and parts of South East Asia. All have now returned home to Sydney with glowing reviews of the locals and their communities in each country. Below is a quick wrap up from each trip.

Danielle Bukovinsky

After a few years discussing the possibility to include Vanuatu as one of our destinations, I finally had the opportunity to visit and research the opportunities that it could offer Antipodeans, Abroad. I wasn’t disappointed. In 2007, Vanuatu was voted as being the “happiest” country in the world and it is easy to see why. The people are amongst the friendliest I’ve met with big welcoming smiles and a laid back sense of island time!

Freshwater grotto in Vanuatu

Local kids in Vanuatu

Much of time was spent on Rah Island in the Banks group of islands located in the far northern TORBA Provence. This is a very special place, rich in Melanesian culture and unique customs from the region. The small island of Rah and the nearby “mainland” of Mota Lava will offer great opportunities for our Expedition & World Tours programs where Teams could be involved in building and renovation programs to improve the local community co-operative and hall and assist in building a much needed kindergarten on the island.

The Banks Island group also offers potential for our GapBreak and UniBreak programs where students could be placed in the local English or French schools on a teaching placement, or in the local Medical Post on Mota Lava to assist with outpatient clinics, antenatal and prenatal clinics, family planning and health education. There is also the potential for environmental and conservation projects, as well as facilitating a drop in centre for school leavers to educate them in mechanics, carpentry, traditional cooking and weaving techniques.

The remote location of Rah and Mota Lava, means you are a world away from things we take for granted. There are only four vehicles on the island, more often only two are road worthy. Most people walk or use traditional outrigger canoes. There is no electricity, no email, no shops, and very few tourists. There is however a welcoming string band, men’s and women’s custom dancing, sand drawings, traditional fishing, island reefs to explore with a colourful underwater world, endless white sand beaches and fantastic sunsets to watch and ponder the important things in life! Watch the website for the inclusion of Vanuatu as a destination you can travel to.

Joe Lodge
Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam

It was great to get back to South East Asia, it’s been a few years! I loved it. Not only the weather, but the food, the friendly people, the ability to be able to travel so easily from place to place and just soak it all in.

It was fantastic to visit our existing projects and see what all our Expedition, GapBreak and UniBreak students have done in the past 12 months, and the progress they have made. I was also lucky enough to make some great contacts for new potential volunteer projects.

In particular, I visited some new teaching and medical placements on the Thailand/Burma border that looked worthwhile, and very sustainable to the local community. I was then able to drop into some community projects in various Cambodian and Thai village communities, that would work well for our school Expedition program. These villages had no tourists and were definitely a highlight of my trip. My last stop was to visit some fantastic new GapBreak projects in the beautiful islands of southern Thailand, and get involved in some water activities!

To be able to access to these amazing communities, that the normal back-packer doesn’t go to, was a real pleasure for me. To sum it up? Great kids to meet, fantastic small local schools, the elephant sanctuaries, amazing food, stunning beaches and really fun and friendly people. I loved it all.

Colin Carpenter

Mauritius is a fascinating mix of Indian, African and French cultures. French is the predominant language amongst educated Mauritians but Creole is spoken by Afro-Indian locals. English is spoken as a second language. After meeting with three local NGO's, all involved with reef and sea animal conservation, I came to the conclusion that this would be a fantastic placement for our Antipodeans students.

The sea animal conservation project involves dolphin and whale watching, with the local organisation equipped with their own speed boat with professional driver. Students could go out on the boats Mon-Thurs, following the commercial tourist dolphin-watching boats and get up close and personal with dolphins. The aim is to observe, and record the dolphins and whale activities.

There are a range of exciting opportunities in this beautiful area for Antipodeans students – a very worthwhile trip indeed!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Welcome to Argentina! Gappers arrive in Buenos Aires

Photo: View from balcony of the student residence

After being delayed at the airport for a few hours, thanks to Sydney's
torrential rain, we finally made it into the air! The flight which was in
reality 13 hours, didn't feel too bad, except for when we landed and
realised exactly how jet lagged we would all be!

After paying our way into the country, clearing customs and somehow navigating a non - English speaking airport, we found our transfers and were bundled into various cars. Shocked by the realisation that in Argentina, they drive on the other side
of the car, and on the other side of the road, we were rapidly driven,
Argentinian style to our Student Residence. And it is huge! Beautiful
architecture and soooo many stairs! We were assigned rooms and cupboards and
begun to learn about the place we're calling home for the next few months.

Then starving as we all were, we decided to go and explore Buenos Aires,
trying to find ATM's to withdraw money, cafe's to grab something to eat and
credit to contact home. Being split up and unable to navigate half of us
wound up at a small pizza restaurant, where we were sung to by old men and
couldn't read the Spanish menu. After sort of, half ordering and chowing
down, we made it back to the residence, with a little help!

Exhausted, we all collapsed infront of the TV, numb to whatever was actually
happening. By 8pm, we'd all had it, and tried to get some sleep for whatever
the following day would bring!

Ta, Sarah

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Mitch plunges head first in Ecuador

Mitch is the Antipodeans blogger for his GapBreak Ecuador group. Our Ecuador Gappers arrived in Quito on the 24th of March.


For everyone viewing this blog (mostly parents), I would like to warmly welcome you to this fortnightly slab of literature.

We finally arrived in Quito after a 33-hour journey travelling via New Zealand and Chile. We arrived late at night so we were unable to see the much anticipated view which we were promised on the descent into the marvelous city that is Quito. It was extremely strange and unfamiliar exiting the airport in a compleltey foreign and unknown country. It wasn´t anything like leaving the terminal at either Melbourne or Sydney airports. We exited the international customs and were met with staring Ecuadorian eyes all the way up the path to our smiling new families for the next 3 months. After being greeted by Marcelo and Anita, Asta and I went to our new home with Anita, while Kate, Mich, and Sam left to theirs with Marcelo. I´m not sure about the others, but our first car trip home was the first of many eye openers - we drove home through many abandoned streets, children playing on the footpaths at 10 o´clock at night, stray dogs roaming the dark alley ways, and seedy looking bus stops.

The next few days were used to adapt to the altitude (we all succeeded apart from Sam) and recover from jet lag, as well as explore the city. The five of us ventured into the highly acclaimed ´old town´ on Sunday to have a wander. Our first stop was the Basilica Church - now, not being a religious man myself, i can admit i was not as excited as the others. However, upon viewing the architectural gem that is the Basilica, and especially after learning we could go up to the top of it, my mind was changed (because of the fact we could go up the top of it, not because i had some new found religious belief of any kind). After climbing several, extremely questionable sets of ladders, to say the view was spectacular would be an understatement. The way the city of Quito was laid out in front and around us was unbelievable.

In the absence of high sky rises and shiny buildings, it felt like you could see the whole city. After descending down the ladders, and taking some celebrity shots with some school girls on a field trip, we made our way to a nice park which i unfortunately cannot remember the name of. Like a moth to a flame, we rented what you could only call them as dodgem cars with wheels, after previously seeing kids in them scooting around the park. For 20 cents for 20 minutes, we roamed the park in our little cars (powered by pedals) looking like absolute fools. But we realised that is the beauty of being in a foreign city - you can really do whatever you want (be/look as stupid as you want), because NO ONE knows who you are.

Following the weekend we began our first batch of Spanish classes which ran from Tuesday through till Friday, which were a struggle to say the least. So yeah...

Anyways, after Spanish class on Friday we spontaneously decided to spend the weekend in the nearby town of Otavalo - a peaceful little town 2 hours out of Quito by bus, home to the most heralded and sought after indigenous markets of South America.

Saturday morning we awoke at 8:30am, walked out of our hostel and were met with thousands (you´d think i´m exaggerating but i do not lie, there were thousands) of stalls selling all sorts of handicrafts and whatnot. We spent all day wandering the little Quechuan stalls (Quechua are native Ecuadorians), and like typical youths, were sucked in by the cunning persuasive skills of the Quechuan´s, thus spending pretty much all the money we brought with us. After reading that last sentence, you parentals are probably shaking your heads and exhaling due to the fact that i said we spent all the money we brought with us. Well, we did. But don´t be so disappointed with us - "you need to be saaaaving", "be responsible with your money"! - we actually spent most of the day looking for presents for you guys because you´re so bloody hard to buy for! Yeah, here come the smiles....

The next day we caught a cab (what lonely planet claimed to be 4km but i am going to write to inform them it was actually 7km) up to a viewpoint know as "El Lechera". El Lechera, as it is locally know as, is a so called magic tree. We took many lefts and rights up the hill which made us think the taxi driver was taking us somewhere we didn´t want to go, but we finally came to what we were searching for. Situated on top of a grassy mound, was sitting an old, wavy curvy looking kinda tree. I think a better way to explain it would be a freaky possessed old lady´s demented hand as she is pointing at you casting some sort of enchantment over you. Nevertheless, it did look "magical".

And there ended our trip to Otavalo. And i would just like to say that my description of the tree is most likely incorrect as i do not have a picture of it handy.

Monday indicated the start of the real reason why we, your beloved children, are in Ecuador - volunteering. At 7am Kate, Mich and Sam took two buses to there placement, while me and Asta went to our placement, Escuaela de Union Sovieteca. I haven´t mentioned the name of the other´s school as i was notified they would be here with me when i wrote this but they are unfortunately not.


Our first week of teaching at our schools was, a mixture of things. From speaking with everyone, plus my own experience, the general jist can be described with these words - fun, scary, frustrating, rewarding, new, eye-opening, tiring, surprising, anger, challenging, and finally, laughter. Pretty big variety, yeah? Of course with little to none experience of teaching English in a foreign country, we are going to experience all these things, which we are of course not opposed to. Frustrating and anger aside, the kids are great. They always want to play with you (tiring, fun) and the words that come out of their mouths put a smile on your face (rewarding, surprising, laughter).

Finishing our volunteer duties for the week on Thursday, being terribly homesick missing our coastal lives back home we took a 10hour bus ride that night to a place on the coast called Manta, en route to our final destination of Canoa. We arrived in Manta at around 7am Friday, jumped into a cab, and drove almost 2 hours to the sweet as chilled out beach town of Canoa. Having missed the Australian sun and ocean immensely the past two weeks, we checked in to our hotel named "Hotel Bambu", and quickly ducked down to the beach. When i say to the beach, the hotel is on the beach. So yeah it was awesome. The water was 25 degrees, which Kate, Asta and i welcomed very much being from the chilly waters of Victoria. We spent the day chilling out, and pretty the much the whole weekend. That night however, i ate a bad bowl of spag bol, subsequently emptying out my stomach for a bit late at night. But you know, in the words of Forrest Gump - i´m not really sure the boundaries on language for this blog, so i won´t say but i´m quite confident you all know the two words, the last being "happens", that i was going to say....

sorry if that last sentence doesnt really make sense.

On Sunday morning, Kate, Asta and I took a 30 minute drive out of Canoa to the Rio Muchacho Organic Farm. The farm is run by a friendly New Zealand women and her Ecuadorian husband. We were met by a friendly American girl from Montana named Emma. Whilst waiting for two more people to begin the tour of the farm, Emma showed us how to make chocolate from scratch, which was really cool. We were then taken around the farm being taught about their aim and everything they do.

We returned to Canoa to meet Sam and Mich lying in the hammocks next to the hammock which Mich had broken the day before childishly swinging vigorously on it. We then jumped on a bus to a nearby town called Bahia, got into a bit of a tussle with an Ecuadorian couple regarding taxi rights, drove 2 hours back to Manta, and waited 5 hours for our 9pm bus back to Quito.

So that has been our first two weeks here in our new home of Quito. Please excuse any spelling or grammar mistakes as i´m in an internet cafe and i´ve gotta be quick due to the rapidly increasing internet cost.

So for now, from all of us,


Mitch Downey