At home in Australia

Nov. 14, 2011, 3:02 a.m.

Home: it wasn’t until I heard my Australian host mother, Maree, say it that I really contemplated the sound of the word itself.

At home in Australia
(Courtesy of Katy Storch)

Maree and her husband, Stan, took me and my host sister, Elise, in for the first three weeks of our time with Stanford’s program in Australian Coastal Studies. During these weeks, we were studying the intricacies of coastal resource management from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the University of Queensland.

We would return to Maree and Stan daily, whining about the schedule and its toll on our wellness, describing the stale air and windowless room we were cooped up in for all those hours.

And Maree and Stan would listen, patient and sympathetic. Stan, in his mid 60s and an avid road cyclist, would shake his head at the injustice of it all, while Maree, cautious with her well-placed wit, would echo our concerns.

Maree and Stan took us out to the Gold Coast beaches on our first weekend off. We travelled to Noosa and Mooloolaba, two picturesque beach towns, where we ate gelati, shopped for produce at a local market and had our first swim in the Pacific Ocean on the other end of the globe.

During that trip, Elise and I practiced saying the word “home” in an Australian accent. It was Maree who inspired it; there was something gentle and soothing about the way she said the word every single time.

So we practiced and practiced. We practiced throughout the rest of our stay with our host family. We practiced after we left them to traverse Queensland, on the cattle ranch in far north Queensland and on the white sandy beaches of Heron Island. We would reminisce about our stay with Maree and Stan; about the warm, buttery tone of Maree’s voice and her clever teasing; or Stan’s bear hugs and light-hearted chuckle. We missed the gentle sounds of the home that we had come to love.

There are 47 Stanford students studying here in Australia. Some of us have seen the first kangaroo, shark and koala of our lives. We’ve watched the sun rise and set over the Great Dividing Range. We’ve counted shooting stars on the beach, the sound of whistling wind and crashing waves lulling us to sleep.

My home, once a concept that kindled images of family and green oceans, extended in the past few years to encompass the echo of “oh-twelve” chants and the clunk of loose red bricks shifting under the weight of bicycles on Stanford’s paths. It stretched further last year, when I studied abroad in Florence, to include mozzarella gnocchi and Lorenzo Ghiberti’s gold doors at the Baptistery. And now its scope has widened to include Australia’s beaches and the mirror-reflections of constellations I grew up tracing with my finger.

Home: the word lassos a swirl of emotions and images. For me, home is family. Home is the warmth of the hospitable — a buttery voice and unconditional love.

— Katy Storch

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