Spontaneous Trip To Oz
Early on a Friday morning in March 2003, I got an unexpected call from a friend who worked at Harley-Davidson. The call went something like this...
"Corey, I'm going to Australia as part of the Harley 100th Anniversary World Tour. I can trade my first class ticket for two seats in coach. You wanna go? Hotel and transportation included."
"Hmmmm, a free trip to the other side of the world... Will I see a kangaroo?"
"Uh, I suppose."
"Okay, you twisted my arm. When do we leave?"
"Tuesday. And I'll need your answer by three o'clock today."
"Tuesday!?...Today!?...Um, give me an hour to figure out a way to tell my boss I won't be in next week. If you don't hear from me by noon, it means I got fired, which won't be all bad because it'll mean I'll be available.”
Shortly after hanging up the phone, the reality set in. In four short days, I could be on a flight to Sydney. Then panic set in. I had a week's worth of work ahead of me, I was scheduled to teach a digital scrapbook class to a group of high schoolers, I had signed up for a shift at the volunteer clinic and there was a score of coworkers who would be counting on me to deliver my usual workload. How can I just disappear?
I needed to reason this out; I needed to talk to someone. This required unbiased advice. So I did what any person in my situation would do, I called the person most likely to tell me what I wanted to hear.
I had met Liam almost eight years earlier, and the two of us had built a life together that included a great deal unexpected adventures. He qualified as a "dreamer," so I knew there would be no risk in consulting him. I began with, "Liam, I have an opportunity to..."
I didn't even have to finish for Liam to respond with an emphatic, "Corey, you can't pass this up. You have to do whatever it takes to make this happen. This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity." His list of reasons continued, and I knew I called the right person. He finished with, "Do you think you'll be able to use vacation days for this trip, or would that be pushing it?"
Oddly, Liam wasn't the only person who saw this as a great opportunity. My boss and my coworkers all jumped on board, and it didn't take long before all my responsibilities were covered. I was on my way to Sydney.
Let me just say, Sydney is an amazing city. The harbor really does look the way you see it in the postcards, the Opera House is even more impressive when explored in person, and the people really do say "G'day."
I only had a week, so I had to take in as much as possible. I stayed with the Harley riders at Olympic Park and took the train into the city each day and covered all the major sites between city centre and Watson Bay (and most of it by foot, mind you!). I only caught one museum and didn't climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge, but squeezing in Paddington Market, the eastern beaches and St. Patrick's Day in The Rocks proved to compensate.
Planning the Return
This one-week outing simply wasn’t enough. Sydney, afterall, is hardly a fraction of the continent, and by the third day, I knew I'd be back.
Still groggy from my jetlag, I was online typing details into Australia’s immigration scorecard to help determine my likelihood of obtaining a work visa. The result all but suggested that unless I had $100,000 to “invest” in Australia or planned to go back to “uni” (university), I should probably look at New Zealand.
Undaunted, I dug a little deeper. That’s when the year-long “working holiday” visa popped up. And I found it just in time -- the visa is only available to those under 30, and I had a few months before hitting that milestone.
The “working holiday” visa was primarily geared toward young people from various European and Asian countries, and Canada (darn, I grew up 100 miles south of the Canadian border), but a shorter visa was available to U.S. citizens (four months instead of twelve). This would be my ticket to getting back to Oz and have an income while I was there.
Obtaining the visa requires "sponsorship." So after sorting through the various "sponsoring" organizations, I applied for the visa through BUNAC (www.bunac.org). For $500, the visa was mine. The process was surprisingly simple. I filled out an application for BUNAC and an application for the Australian government, sent in my check, my passport and my itinerary and a month later my passport was returned with a fancy sticker inside.
At this point, the scariest part of the process was dropping my passport in an envelope and mailing it to a foreign consulate in Washington DC. For some reason, writing a $500 check to BUNAC wasn’t nearly as much of a concern...nor was the fact that I had to book my flight BEFORE I was awarded the visa. Somehow, I just knew it was going to work out.
The $500 covered all the visa fees ($100) and included shuttle from the airport, accommodations for my first two nights, breakfast for the first two mornings, a Lonely Planet guidebook, 24-hour emergency assistance, luggage storage, mail holding/forwarding, a Sydney Harbor Cruise, internet access and a handful of other “services.”
I was on my way to living and working in Oz...even if it was for just a few months.
More to come...