By DAVID KRIER
They went to Australia in search of spiritual guidance, hoping to one day lead their own congregation. But instead of finding their path on the grounds of the Hillsong International Leadership College in Sydney, Josh and Elizabeth Stromer discovered the wonder that is the wilds of Australia and New Zealand.
“Mainly, we wanted to experience Australia,” said Beth, a 2004 Boscobel High School graduate who married Josh five years ago.
And experience it they did—for three years—from the famous Sydney Harbor to the Great Barrier Reef, and even the mountains of New Zealand.
But it started at Hillsong, a Christian leadership college located in a suburb of Sydney. Beth attended for a year and a half, Josh for two.
“In the end it wasn’t for us,” Josh said. “It might be a great experience for younger people, but probably not for married couples.”
So they traded in their student visas for “working holiday” visas. Beth worked as a barista in a Sydney coffee shop while Josh taught music to children in the city’s Hills District. Leaving the Hillsong campus also gave them an opportunity to travel and experience the country.
And experience it they did. While camping on Jervis Bay on the Tasman Sea south of Sydney they witnessed five kookaburras—an Australian kingfisher—attacking a poisonous snake on the beach.
“They were all laughing,” recalls Beth. “Their cries sound like a bunch of people laughing.”
Jervis Bay is known for its extremely clean, squeaky clean, sand. While camping there, Beth and Josh heard the combined cries of the kookaburra and a bunch of magpies, which make an “alien, almost robotic sound.”
“That’s when we knew we were in a different country,” Beth says. “When we woke up we saw dolphins playing in the surf, which was very cool.”
They also saw huntsman spiders, the world’s largest with a leg span of up to a foot and a nasty bite.
“They just like to cuddle, that’s what the Australians say,” recalls Beth.
As long as they were close to the Great Barrier Reef, also the world’s largest, Beth and Josh decided to get their open water diving certificates. They dove in places like Manly Beach, just north of Sydney Harbour National Park, and Shelly Beach, just a short walk away and a “secret gem,” according to Beth.
They swam with grouper, stingrays, sharks and a wide variety of colorful, tropical fish.
The young couple also traveled around New Zealand for a week in an old beater car that eventually broke down in front of a volcano an hour from any town with no cell phone service. They were eventually rescued, but it cost them $100 for a jump start.
“Despite that, it was amazing,” Beth says. “We visited the Hobbit village in Matamata. That was very cool. And we spent a day soaking in the hot springs in Rotorua.”
After three years, it was time to come home, and they arrived back in Boscobel just before Christmas. Fortunately, the 15-hour flight from Sydney to Dallas aboard Qantas Airlines was nothing like the 36-hour ordeal aboard Southern China Air to get to Australia.
“Southern China Air was the worst experience ever,” says Beth. “We were scared for our lives the whole time.”
As for the whole Australian experience, Josh has only one regret, leaving his 45 students at Maxx Music.
“It’s hard to say goodbye to that many students,” he says. “The past three years went by like the blink of an eye. You just start getting rooted and it’s time to go home.”
“It was a fantastic experience,” says Beth. “It’s just such a cool culture, and a real melting pot. Besides Australians, we met people from the Netherlands, Canada, Romania, South Africa, Norway, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and China. I’d love to go back.”
But Beth’s mother, Sheila Sobek, isn’t counting on that.
“I’m glad they’re home,” she says. “They’re here for a little while and then they wander off. They have hot feet.”
For the time being, Josh has accepted a position teaching music at the Arboretum Music School in Cottage Grove, while Beth is looking for a job in the Madison area. But she already has her sights set on a new adventure.
“Italy,” she says. “That’s my plan. My ideal is to work in art. I’ve made some pretty significant strides in the past year, I think, and Italy would be great.”