Like Mowgli (in attitude and haircut alike), I grew up in a Wolf Pack.
Surrounded by strong, fascinating women from a young age, my Mom always brought her 3 best friends around. They’d been tighter-than-ever since college, and I always expected that I would turn out the same. Other girls didn’t mention their many fairy godmothers, but I always had mine. My grandmothers were the opposite of one another – the hoarder, the cleaner, the fighter, the traditionalist. Both creative and strong in their opinions, I watched them both truly flourish living on their own, when their men were gone.
Perhaps that was why all my friends as a kid were girls – or maybe it was that I still thought they had cooties – most likely the reason was my beatles-esque haircut, which made me look like an actual boy… but I digress.
Later my passion shifted to dance, where I learned that it’s ok not to be the best one in the room. I also learned you could push yourself to get pretty damn close. I gained a tribe with passion, one that thrived on a shared love of expressing ourselves without having to speak or sing in front of the crowds. I saw similar groups forming in my music and photography circles. We were running on the same waves of energy – entering tired but ready to go, leaving exhausted and sometimes frustrated but hungry for more. My mom jokingly called it a “cult” because of our always matching outfits and insane practice hours (did I ever really get up at 5am every day?! This does not seem possible). Looking back, I miss dance more than I could ever love the snooze button.
The coaches I had along the way reminded us to soak it all in, and enjoy the ride. They also ensured that we wouldn’t crash – but isn’t that what all our coaches are for? We looked up to the older girls, who looked up to them – we set aside characteristics to save for later, watched their worlds grow, and let them into ours.
When I graduated, I was afraid I’d never be that close with a group of girls again. I went into greek life with major doubts, my mom and grandmothers’ best friends from those worlds were the only convincing I had. It was hard at first, I’d grown up going to school with people I’d known for 13 years. These ladies were brand new.
They were different from me, they came from different places, different backgrounds, different experiences (some of their parents let them have cable, ugh). Unlike my dancing friends, these girls helped me explore new loves, different fields of study, expressions of creativity, languages, and in some cases – food (Thank you Lauren, for Sushi).
I’d never lived with anyone but my parents (and one tragically horrific pot-luck roommate, not all girls are awesome), and these girls took me in, let me sleep on their assortment of foutons, edited my papers, listened to my stories of a haphazard love life, drove me across the country, and saved my ass on more than one occasion. I’ve now lived with all girls, all guys, a mix – and they all have their drawbacks (assorted types of hair in the bathroom included), but as crazy as it sounds: I would live with those 75 girls again today.
I also somehow forced the girls at Sellards, a scholarship hall on campus – to let me join their exclusive parties and summer shenanigans. We were our very own lioness pride, always on the hunt for something new – always providing (beer and pizza) for the boys. They are some of the most brilliant women I’ve ever met and I’m honored they let me squeeze in.
I never considered studying or living abroad until I watched multiple girls from KU do it. They came back with stories and more than that, a glow about them. They had a new light ready to beam all over the world (some in a strobe pattern – I’m looking at you, Raging Rachel). It was my inspiring girlfriends who explored and lived in places like Nicaragua, Argentina, Ireland, England and more – who inspired me to try a new hemisphere.
My down under women took a little longer to assemble. Meeting new chicks in a new city is hard, especially when you’re not living with 75 of them. However, I can confidently say that the garlic-loving, man-protesting, business smashing group out here is well worth the wait. We stand up for each other when we’re far from home, we travel the world together, and we teach each other things every day.
I love all my girl gangs for different reasons, and they’re all full of brave, incredible women. They’ve pushed and pulled and hugged me into the woman I am today. So here’s to you, Girl Gangs- may we always be a part of each other.
“When are you coming home?”
My favorite question, hurled at me with only the best intentions, no less than 4 times a day every time I visit my hometown. The people who ask this question are not doing it to question my motives, or insult the lifestyle I’ve chosen. It’s often accompanied with a mystified look or purely confused inflection in their tone.
The question for me comes with expectations garnered from years of tradition. You can take a vacation, sure. Study abroad for a semester, maybe. Are you moving for a job, or a partner? All acceptable but not encouraged.
But to live in a world with no solidified timelines? It’s a concept completely foreign in all senses of the word. The expectation that your return “home” is imminent, and the idea that you may have formed a new kind of home somewhere else will flip minds, tables, people – all over the place.
To be settled and have a partner, and your dream job, and the mortgage – these are all accomplishments not to be belittled. However, we have to start assigning this same amount of pride and achievement to those who don’t have their timelines set in stone. I could move back in 6 months, or it could be 6 years. But until then, this is home. These people are home, this sunset and these completely different constellations mark where I feel like I belong.
To answer your question, “I don’t know when I’m coming back.” But I also won’t feel guilty about not having a timeline.
My life in Sydney is now officially a toddler. No more counting my time in Oz in Months – I’ve reached the big time.
Compared to the 6 month mark and 1 year milestones, this one seems a bit more grown up. It’s been less about finding myself and more about keeping that persona alive. Before I said I was “just hitting my stride,” and now I’m working to keep up with the (sometimes) manic pace I set for myself.
More than anything, this year was about learning. Living entirely on my own means there’s no Peanut Butter provided. Even the basics need to be figured out. Unlike living in The Brick House, 1600 Oxford, or my Host Family’s houses, there aren’t any leftovers there to start with. Pens, Cotton Balls, Maple Syrup, Band-aids (“plasters”) all of it has to be brought in on your own. I’ve learned that Sydney Winter does not make for a motivated Katie. It involves a lot of time inside trying to time your laundry so it can dry on days it isn’t raining. I learned that some hangovers take 2 days to get over, that avocados go bad at exactly the wrong time, that stamps are expensive, and online shopping is an epidemic.
Recently a friend sent me a message asking about following your dreams and “making the big leap.” This was my response:
You know, it’s hard to explain the dichotomy between being at home and living at home. Kansas has a way about making you feel like you’re in an episode of Cheers or something, “where everybody knows your name,” but it also means that nothing is truly “new” for you. Everything has a history, and I often found myself working so hard to find out how not to repeat it-or how to keep it going- that I wasn’t making decisions that were truly right for me. That’s why, for me, moving somewhere completely new, completely mine, completely fresh was important.
You can change your life if you want. It might not be exactly what your parents had in mind, and it will definitely be hard- but at least you can say you tried. I’ll never wonder woulda-coulda-shoulda, because I know.
I know, because my 2015 was better than I ever could have expected:
It started with a bang, moving in with the best housemates I could have asked for, Luke & Sim. They’ve both been so much more than I could have ever expected. BFFs on their own, they could have easily done their own thing and said hello when we crossed paths. Instead, they introduced me to their soccer team, connected me with job opportunities, and made my birthday special and full of serenades. I will forever be grateful to these two for listening to my rambling about Boys, Baseball, and BBQ.
I spent this entire year working at my sponsored job, no more Au Pairing for me! I saw a big increase in paycheck size, immediately followed by all of that money draining out of my bank account for rent in the most expensive country in the world, health insurance, gym membership, a phone contract, and way too many Ubers. Still figuring out how not to wind up eating the “rice and eggs diet” starting around the 26th…
This year also brought not one, not two, but three beautiful friends out to visit me.
Hannah & Kristin flew out to see me in March, and I finally got to show off my world here to the people who shared my Lawrence world with me. We may have replaced Football tailgates with Rugby Games, and Lake Trips with Gordon’s Bay – but that BFF feeling remains the same. So much love to these girls for sacrificing their Spring Break/Vacation Days to come see me. One month later, Matt flew out (free of charge) and took me up on my offer for free beer. Even though it ended up being the week of the Sydney Storm and subsequent Umbrellapocalypse, we managed to fit in Beach Walks, A Cheeky Trip to Cairns, Horse Races, and an impressive amount of Jack Daniels. I’ve had a few more friends allude to a visit in the upcoming year – see Hannah, Kristin, and Matt for references!
So cheers to two years! I’ve been on Three Different Visas, survived a full-time job and house-hunt. I’ve been up to Cairns again
and down to Melbourne for the first time. I said goodbye to some of my best friends and brought some new ones into my life as well. This next year will be filled with more of the same: Trips to the races, 4 more weddings on the books already, some more trips up to Cairns, and too many Beach Days to count; what I’m really hoping for is a year full of even more “firsts.” Those are what keeps my life down under different, they’re the reason I’m still in love with Sydney.
Two years out and the world is spinning exponentially quicker than when we walked down the hill.
Those little baby alphas who I taught about Derby Days and showed how to pour a Shark Attack? They’re graduating. They’re moving tassels from one side to another, finishing campaigns, and done with Jewel Degree.
My friends who moved away for Grad School, they’re finishing up and wearing different colored gowns – still Jayhawks at heart.
As i scrolled and swiped through the weekend of graduations, I noticed a difference from the cap-decoration spam last year. There was a shift from those completing their victory lap 5th year, to friends graduating from Law School, Pharmacy School, and Occupational Therapy degrees. My friends are becoming those adults who have post-nominal letters tacked on. They’re turning into Doctors, Lawyers, and contributing members of society. My friends have master’s degrees- MASTER’S.
I’m so proud of all my friends who finished their degrees and
accomplished exceeded their goals this weekend. So much of me wishes I could have been there to cheer each of them on. Trying to explain the graduation traditions at KU can be challenging at times, because the pictures never quite do it justice. “The walk down the hill is like the tunnel you ran through after your first-grade soccer games,” I told a friend. Everyone’s cheering you on – not just your own family, but everyone on the way down.
Rest assured that I love bragging on all of you to everyone over here. “My roommate Kay once memorized 200 drug names and uses,” I told my housemates. “Dylan graduated law school at 25. He’s going to make the best lawyer; one with a conscience.” I showed them the picture Kelly took as I walked down the hill arm in arm with my best friends in 2013. It’s my favorite picture from the whole weekend. “Kelly is graduating this weekend too, she’s so talented and has the biggest heart.” I try to keep the ADPi chat to a minimum because my male housemates are probably getting sick of it by now, but I pause at Kathleen & Jackie’s picture “These two are going to run the world one day, heaven help us all.” The list goes on “Lucy already got into KU Med, but she’s deferring for a year to go to Costa Rica because she’s a bad ass.” I point out Subha on my insta-feed as well “Everyone loves Subha- I know this because she has a snapchat score over 180,000.”
We’re in the big-kid world now, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. When I go home next month I’ll be watching not two, but four of my friends walk down the aisle. I’ll be celebrating Drew’s 21st (Godspeed), and visiting friends who I haven’t seen in two years but used to see every single day. We haven’t quite reached that period of christmas newsletters and school reunions, but we’re becoming more and more removed from our little LFK bubble.
So I’m raising a glass to each of you – those walking (or stumbling) down the Hill, those already in the real world and molding future Jayhawks (shout out to the OTown teaches), those finishing up grad school and people who like me are working their way through the first full-time job after “Uni” (see, I’m adapting to my surroundings).You did it! We did it! And none of us could have done it without the others. Rock Chalk my forever Jayhawks.
This was the longest I’ve ever kept a secret, and I think it will stay that way for a long time.
I bought my ticket home in November – without the guarantee that my visa would be approved in time to make it home. With some help from my favorite legal council, a lot of paperwork, and one frantic last minute cab-ride to immigration, I received special permission to leave the country for a trip home. Qantas released a new commercial the week before I left and I felt like it was written just for me. I watched it at least 50 times leading up to my departure. I dare you to finish the whole thing with dry eyes:
I left Sydney Dec 24 at 1:00pm and landed in LA just in time to see the Sun rise over the Pacific on the same day. From there it was a short layover then down to Dallas. The last leg of my journey took me to KC, where my family picked me up at the airport. With the exception of a few friends from out of state, and some secret agents in Kansas City and Lawrence, no one knew I was arriving besides my immediate family (Drew didn’t even know). Some did a better job at keeping the secret than others, but as a whole – I arrived under a cloak of pseudo-secrecy on Christmas Eve.
I got to spend a whole week surprising friends all over town. I opened the door for Drew on Christmas day, to which he responded with the man-shout of “OH! HEY!” Will’s Mom helped me ambush him at Chipotle, and Will then helped me show up at a high-school get together of all my favorite Science nerds. Brian helped me tackle Leah in the Middle of Mi Ranchito, and Lucy’s sister helped me stalk her even through she was visiting from Paris. Huggy arranged a get-together of 10 Lambda Chi Boys to surprise on the Plaza.
I had to wait until December 30 to set foot in Allen Fieldhouse, which felt like fighting some kind of gravitational pull. The added pressure of surprising some of my best friends, making it before the game started, and staying OFF any kind of television broadcast (so as not to ruin any surprises the next day) nearly put me over the edge. Of course parking was an utter disaster, and I sprinted through the tunnel before the game started, but not before the band started its pre-game set. Drew was saving a seat for me along with Jason & Gelareh who had no idea I was coming. Josh had been texting me updates about Chris and Cody from the basketball band stands, but I didn’t make it in time for him to film a reaction. Luckily Drew was my backup photographer, and got some pretty great shot. For so many reasons I couldn’t even begin to list, that reunion on December 30th was my favorite.
The Phog welcomed me home in true AFH style; Baby Jay stepped on my phone, newspaper confetti filled my pockets and purse, I ended up shedding all extra layers of clothing, and third row never felt so good.
New Year’s Eve was my most technically planned surprise. I had contacted Sandbar months in advance looking to reserve the back room for NYE. They don’t typically reserve anything, so I wasn’t too optimistic. However, being the amazing people/bar/perfect humans that they are… they granted me the back room and generously reminded me that I could bring any food that I wanted with me (Pizza Shuttle, duh). I truly have no words for the generosity of their staff that played such a huge part in starting off 2015 with every single one of my favorite people. So here’s to those people who trekked through the cold, who gave up part of their holiday, time with their families, put off their moving date, and made the drive to see me. Here’s to Kelly, Danyelle, Lora, Ashley, Lucy, Alissa, Hilary, Kay, Will, Chris, Jeff, Newman, Antonio, & Andy – My NYE 2014-2015 Crew.
The next few weeks were a whirlwind of coffee dates, BBQ tours, and last savored nights out in my beloved Larryville. I even got one more night in Allen Fieldhouse thanks to Drew’s Christmas Present! There were so many special people I wanted to see, and although working from home made things a bit more complicated, I could not be more grateful that everyone was free to squeeze me in.Also massive shout-out to Timmy and the current BHouse crew for hosting something at my favorite little home in LFK.
A lot of people asked me what seemed different, what had changed since I left. And the truth is that a few things had changed. My friends were growing up while I was gone, moving on to bigger apartments and real relationships, meals that don’t necessarily come out of a box or a delivery driver’s car, and (heaven forbid) avoiding dollar night on Wednesdays. Instead of going back to high school to visit teachers, they’re the ones making the lesson plans. But what I noticed most were the things that stayed exactly the same. Same barren trees signaling December is just the beginning of the winter blast (I forgot what it felt like to have snot freeze in a matter of seconds). The same weathermen and radio voices telling me where the slow parts of I-435 are, the same real housewives of Johnson County at every turn, even the same bartenders at my favorite watering holes. None of this is bad, I simply wasn’t expecting it.
There’s so much that I miss about Kansas every day. My closet looks empty without at least a few borrowed dresses from my sisters (and a few missing on loan). My stomach craves BBQ constantly, despite the fact that I brought home enough sauce to start a restaurant of my own. Watching Sports by yourself at 4am isn’t quite the same, and on some occasions my heart aches to squeeze the ones I love (see overdue hugs below).
…Which is why it was perfect timing to come home for a visit, but also exactly why I was ready to be back in Sydney after a few weeks. It is truly these polarizing places I love so much that keep me grounded.
So until next time beautiful Kansas! I’ll be thinking of you and spreading our love of large chunks of meat, college basketball, and well mannered drivers down under. I’ll be thinking of you on snow days while I lounge at the beach, and most of all I’ll be messaging each of you ALL THE FREAKING TIME. So while my love affair with Sydney isn’t over, I’ll always be going steady with you, KC.
Don’t forget: my couch is always open to visitors. After all, it’s your turn to buy tickets now 🙂
It is something you never plan on encountering. And if you grew up in the slightly Stars Hollow-eque bubble that is the Midwest its something you don’t even see on TV until after the family friendly hours ended on public channels.
I woke up yesterday morning -after 12 smacks of the snooze alarm on my phone- and rolled out of bed. Threw on a sunflower dress, whipped my hair back in a headband as a suitable replacement for a shower, and put on enough makeup to be deemed socially acceptable; I ran to catch the bus from the end of my street (374 Express to Martin Place) – standard Monday routine.
My bus dropped me off at Martin Place on Elizabeth St, right in front of the Channel 7 Studios, and about 100 meters from the Lindt Cafe, just like it does every day. I always love walking past the studio because they film the morning shows around that time so sometimes I get to see famous people performing or being interviewed, Last week it was John Legend, a month ago it was Katy Perry. Most Mondays I am running late, this week I was actually early. I walked through Martin Place as usual, past the giant Christmas Tree, fancy shops I can’t even afford to look at, flower shops, etc and made my way down the hill to work (about 1k away).
About 45 minutes after I passed through Martin Place, the tone changed forever. I started getting texts from friends who knew I worked in the city, checking on my status. One was as simple and frantic as “Where are you?”
Immediately, I asked around the office to find out what was going on. One co-worker mentioned something ISIS related in Martin Place. I recoiled just hearing the words, but the larger part of me didn’t believe his report could be accurate. There had been arrests about a month ago foiling a plan in Martin Place, but lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place- let alone the same city block. As I followed the changes developing through twitter and live-streams from ABC and Channel 7, I witnessed the terrifying events that had become all-too-common over the past year, unfolding around my city landmarks. There was my bus stop in the background of a reporter. There was the train station I sprinted out of on Halloween, running late to meet a friend. And there was Lindt, where I’d shopped for truffles for a friend not too long ago, the friendly staff that waited on me trapped inside.
I texted all of my friends as well, although very few of them work in the CBD. One was in the building housing the US Consulate, evacuated around noon by the Police. She walked down to meet me at my office while waiting to be picked up, and after scanning the street from her, I heard her call my name and squeezed her tighter than I had anyone else in a long time. Yet again I was reminded to tell your friends you love them, better yet- never let them forget it. I received messages from countless concerned friends and family. Perhaps most surprising of all was a concerned text from a former friend who I haven’t spoken with or been on good terms with for almost six months (below). In the heart of it all, the true colors of everyone I’d met in Sydney showed through.
The events that transpired throughout the day don’t need to be recapped here, but its safe to say that I was not focusing on work with my head or my heart. It was especially hard to when your job relies on 30 different twitter streams. When I left work at 5pm, 5 hostages had escaped and there was talk of multiple bombs throughout the city. My bus stop was understandably sanctioned off, so I took a train to another bus stop at Town Hall. The train that is packed almost every day was a ghost town. I rode home, sick to my stomach thinking that I was going about my normal day, while those remaining were living out their nightmare. I went to bed, hoping- praying that I would wake up to good news in the morning.
Instead, I woke up to the news of two beautiful souls lost. I got ready and ran down to catch my same bus, but even my tiny bus stop had a tiny cloud cast over it. Everyone looked down at their phones, everyone looked tired, and not one smile was shared.
The bus ride itself was silent. I wasn’t sure where they would be dropping us as the exclusion area was still in place. They dropped us off in Darlinghurst, an adjacent suburb about 2k from Martin Place. As everyone was ushered off the bus, we silently tapped off our Opal Cards and shuffled along the sidewalk and through Hyde Park. Never have I seen so many business people in the park; never have I witnessed such a heavy silence. As my walk got closer and closer to Martin Place, I had to decide what route to take. I decided to walk through. Not only did I feel it was important to face Elizabeth St head on, it was also the quickest way.
Walking through Martin Place where my bus normally lets off, I saw a pile of 30-40 flower bouquets and was compelled to add to the tribute. I walked down to the local flower shop just as it began to sprinkle, and purchased one Sunflower. From the Sunflower State to Sydney – some love for us all. A woman with a microphone stopped me afterwords. Working for WSFM Radio, she asked me about the flower and where my thoughts were. I was surprised to hear my voice shaking, and even breaking at times.
I didn’t know anyone inside, but I felt like I did. These are people I walk alongside every morning. I told that woman with the microphone, “I’ve always felt so grown-up and confident walking through Martin place. It’s the gateway to my first ‘big girl job.'” She smiled at me understandingly and I held myself together long enough to wrap things up.
On my way home from work today, I saw that tiny flower pile of 30 or 40 bouquets had grown to a memorial that could be seen from helicopters circling above. People came in droves, & estimates were there was one set of flowers being placed every minute throughout the day.
That small pile grew at a rate not even I could imagine. As an American, I have experienced terror and shootings. I’ve followed the Virginia Tech situation from the televisions at school, watched the Aurora Dark Knight coverage from my sorority house, and read about the high-school homecoming court who snapped in the cafeteria. But never has anything felt so close to home as the Sydney Siege did this week. And while Martin Place may have lost its innocence, it will still hold a very special place in my heart. We’re together on this one Sydneysiders; new or old, near or far, young or old: I’m sticking with Sydney.