I am new to Austin. I just moved to town, and what a time to move! I was most recently living in Doha, Qatar and have been in Austin for just over a month. It is always a challenge to move across oceans, build a new life, learn a new job, learn the ins and outs of a new office, learn the identity of a new institution, find a place to live and track my inbound shipment. Try doing all of this remotely during a worldwide pandemic, the likes of which the world hasn’t seen for 100 years.
Held hostage by my internet bandwidth, I have had to establish new routines in my new normal. Being holed up in a foreign place, being unfamiliar with my surroundings, not knowing anyone in the locale, and not knowing where anything is, is not a foreign feeling for me. I grew up all around the world, and with each move, there were always the feelings of loss, grief, frustration and stress. It was always most pronounced during the arrival phase of the move. But, once time had passed and my family and I would learn the idiosyncrasies of our new locale, those feelings would dissipate. Then, our shipment would arrive and we would slowly start to claim ownership of a space. We would build a home. Once we were surrounded by our things, this was our place, this was our home.
Home, for me, was always where my family was and where my bed was. It didn’t feel like I belonged and the situation didn’t feel real until my things were in my room, my posters were on my wall, and my books and DVDs were in their place on my shelves.
Right now, I am lacking all of that. My shipment is somewhere in the Indian Ocean and my nearest family member is over 8,000 miles away. I don’t have any of my old references to rely on. This move is a lot different than anything that I have had to do before. It isn’t like leaving home for college. There is no RA to make cheesy name badges to put on my door. I am by myself, and need to look inward for stability.
What am I going to do to establish a new normal? I won’t completely jettison the traditions that were important to my family, but rather adapt them to my new reality.
I grew up in a multinational and multicultural household, where my father was American and my mother was Australian. This meant that we had double the holidays! We grew up celebrating 4th of July and Australia Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas-in-July. There was one holiday that was always quite important to me as a kid, ANZAC Day. Historically, ANZAC Day commemorates the WWI Battle of Gallipoli, where Australians and New Zealanders fought the Ottoman Empire in modern day Turkey.
It was a military disaster and left thousands dead and wounded. But, it was the catalyst that resulted in the creation of the Australian identity. It was the first significant time that people from the newly independent colonies fought as one. They weren’t engaged as New South Welshman, Vics, or Queenslanders, they were Australians.
Thus, along with the armed forces, the notion of simply being Australian itself also received its baptism by fire. ANZAC Day is held every year on April 25th, the anniversary of the battle. It is a day that Australians pause and reflect on the sacrifice that many Australians have made, and it is somewhat akin to Veteran’s Day in the United States.
It is a day for remembrance, it is a day for friendship, it is a day of thanks. At dawn, Australians attend a memorial service, and my family was no different. We would go to the dawn service wherever we lived, pause, and remember. Afterward, we’d eat our fill of ANZAC biscuits and watch the ANZAC Test, a rugby league match between Australia and New Zealand.
ANZAC Day has always been dear to me. But, it has become even more so after the loss of my grandfather Pary, one of the people that I love, respect and cherish the most. How does one celebrate in a new city, new locale, not knowing the Australian community and during a pandemic with strict social distancing guidelines? Even in Australia, the service is banned due to public health efforts.
But, there has been a call that every Australian gather on their verandas, porches, landings, driveways or on their balconies and play the Last Post. I won’t be any different. At 6:00 am, at sunup, I’ll be on my balcony. After playing the Last Post on my phone, I’ll be thinking of LAC John Robert James, who served in the Royal Australian Air Force during WWII.
In the minute of silence I’ll say, “Thanks, Pary.” And from somewhere, I know I’ll hear his “Yep, righto.”
This post was contributed by Colby Seay, Education Abroad Program Coordinator.