I fell in love with Australia as a little girl after watching hours of Animal Planet, The Crocodile Hunter, and the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The unique landscapes, animals, and culture are like nowhere else in the world. My journey began with lots of anticipation and overpacking (as you can see). Going to Australia for a year was a dream come true for me, but leaving my family, friends, and pets was much more difficult than I anticipated. Once my plane was flying over Sydney and I spotted the Harbour Bridge and Opera House from thousands of feet in the air, a huge smile was on my face and my fears turned into excitement!
I am so glad I attended the International Orientation and social events provided by my new university. I had the chance to meet fellow exchange students from America and others from all over the world. I also learned some vital information on adjusting to the new culture and was treated to some traditional Aboriginal Australian dances and music. We even got to learn about and pet some very Australian animals. This was my first time meeting live koalas, kangaroo joeys, and this cute little crocodile!
My university campus is located in the rural town of Richmond, to the west of Sydney. Richmond is much smaller and more agricultural than I am used to. My major is Food and Nutrition and my Australian classes are taught very differently than at my home campus of Sacramento State. There is a lot less progressive work, like quizzes and homework. Share contact info with your Aussie classmates, since they will likely have done similar projects and can advise you on standard styles and formatting. I worked very hard my first semester and had a few blunders, but will be entering my second semester much more prepared and focused, now that I know what to expect!
Getting around the Sydney area is so simple with public transit, plus you get the best views of wild kangaroos grazing, the Opera House, and the Harbour Bridge. It is inexpensive and the best time to chat and laugh with your friends as you venture out. It takes about an hour and a half to get from Richmond to the heart of Sydney. I also worked a casual job as a vitamin consultant at a pharmacy a few towns over and took public transit to get to work. It may have taken a while, but it made me master the public transportation system and my job gave me a sense of perspective on what workplaces are like in a different country.
My university campus used to house the historic Hawkesbury Agricultural College, established in 1891. The current campus community still celebrates century-old traditions and welcomed me and the other exchange students into their culture with lots of enthusiasm. Hanging out with Australians helped me experience what being an Aussie is all about; Hanging out with fellow foreigners gives you an excuse to do all the touristy stuff and empathize with each other when times get tough. I recommend making all kinds of friends and chatting with people you may not normally interact with!
On campus, resident advisors plan dress-up nights every Thursday; they're a chance to relax after a long week of classes, have a laugh, and take lots of photos. I try to go every week; I never want to miss out on meeting someone new and the chance to get creative when making my costumes. Pictured here are two of my awesome Aussie roommates and myself in costume on a Thursday night. The theme was ABC (anything but clothes), and as you can see, we save our money for traveling around the country and keep it frugal when it comes to dressing up!
Try to use your weekends and breaks to travel if you can. My first big trip while in Australia was to the island of Tasmania! It's filled with ancient forests and unique animals. Myself and two other girls on exchange planned the whole thing: flights, hotels, itinerary, and car rental. I even got to drive on the left side of the road across the island. Oh man, was I nervous, but I got the hang of it quickly. The hardest part was remembering which sides the turn signals and window wipers were on and how the roundabouts work. This photo was taken at Cradle Mountain in central Tasmania.
In Tasmania, we stayed two days and a night at Wing's Wildlife Park. We got to pet and feed baby Tasmanian devils, a wombat, koalas, emus and of course kangaroos! You can see the joy all over my face.
You have to sample the local grub here in Oz, or as the Aussies say, "have a feed." Vegemite isn't so bad; I actually quite like it. I recommend having a small smear of it on buttered toast, mmm! Some other Aussie favorites I sampled included kangaroo sausages and steaks, emu burgers, meat pies with tomato sauce, a chocolate drink mix called MILO, and a birthday party treat called Fairy Bread, which is buttered white bread covered in rainbow sprinkles. Australia also has quite the café culture; many cafés serve high quality and yummy coffees and sweets! From a Nutrition major's perspective, it's not all the healthiest, but I happily try all new foods.
Here I am having the time of my life at Bondi Beach, one of Sydney's most famous spots. I felt so at home at this gorgeous beach paradise. I stayed near the shore with friends during Easter weekend. We followed the advice of the locals and ate lots of fish and chips, browsed their Sunday craft market, walked the coast from Bondi to Bronte Beach, and swam and sunned for hours (between the safety flags of course). It's a great place to do some souvenir shopping as well. I had to remind myself that this was real life as I floated in the warm, salty Australian ocean. It was a dream come true.
Sydney is a culturally rich city. I took my first solo trip to the city and stayed at my first backpacker's hostel during a citywide celebration called "Vivid: Sydney's Festival of Lights, Music and Ideas." The whole city was lit up in a colorful array of sights and sounds. Locals and tourists alike flocked to glimpse at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Opera House projected with awe-inspiring designs.
Did you know Sydney has its own theme park? I had always dreamed of having a fun day at Luna Park. Just a quick, scenic walk or ferry ride across the Harbour Bridge and my dream came true. Nothing like friends, ice cream, and roller coasters overlooking the city skyline and Darling Harbour!
The most memorable time while abroad for me was my 10-day 4-wheeling trip across the outback. We slept under the stars, cooked on the campfire, and saw vast and bright desert beauty everywhere we looked. It was the raw Australia I had always wanted to experience firsthand. Soon, 10 strangers from all around the world became 10 friends amongst the red sand and epic natural rock formations. I learned about the wildlife, settlement history, and about the native owners of the land. One night our camp was joined by Aboriginal elders who shared the history of their people and their culture. It was a time I'll never forget.
My second night during my outback adventure was on the 4th of July. I was the only American on tour and decided to share some of my culture and celebrate our Independence Day by making S'mores with my fellow travelers from France, Canada, England, Australia, and the Netherlands. Surprisingly, only the Canadians knew what a S'more was, but after the first taste test, everyone was hooked! Sharing your own culture is just as fun, important, and rewarding as learning about others.
Taking a rest stop at the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta; proud to be the driest town in the driest state of the driest continent.
My first 6 months in Australia have been a dream come true. I have challenged myself, tried new things, and have grown as a student, individual, and world traveler. I feel like I can do anything I set my heart on now, and have once again fully fallen in love with the people and places of this beautiful country. I have 6 more months to go and can only imagine how much more I will grow in that time and all the things I will do. I'm hoping for a trip to the Great Barrier Reef and some surfing lessons in the near future. As the Aussies would say, "See ya later mate!"
Learn more about the study abroad program in Australia