The 6 months I spent traveling and studying in Sydney, Australia was the most exciting, fulfilling, and valuable adventure I’ve had in my life so far.
- What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?
AT USYD, I took two upper division political science classes, one GE music class and one elective. The level of difficulty and workload was very similar to UCSB, but the structure and schedule was very different– I only had each class for two hours a week, and each class had only one large midterm paper and one final exam or paper. This meant that the focus was on independent learning, and time management was key.
- What was your favorite class abroad?
My favorite class that I took abroad was my elective called “Sports in Australian Culture,” where we learned about the importance of Australia’s sporting traditions, and got to go on field trips on the weekends to watch sporting events such as Rugby and Aussie Rules Football. My favorite field trip was watching the most important match of the Rugby season between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks in an epic showdown at the Sydney Olympic Park.
- Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.
- How would you describe your host institution?
University of Sydney is a very old, prestigious university which follows the classic English university tradition. The campus is breathtaking, overlooking the Sydney skyline with traditional gothic architecture and sprawling green lawns. The student body is very international, with countless exchange students from across the world, especially Asia and Europe, and of course a lot of Australian students from surrounding areas.
- Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?
USYD is slightly different from most US schools in that campus life is not such a central focus of the university. As such, student organizations and clubs are harder to come by than at a school like UCSB. However, they do have a developed exchange student network, with a lot of events throughout the semester both on-campus and in the city that are specifically catered towards exchange students and returnees.
- Describe your housing situation.
I lived in an apartment building catered toward students of the various Sydney Universities, with lease options of 6 months or 12 months, making it a popular option for exchange students. I lived in an apartment with 5 other American exchange students, where each of us had our own room and bathroom but shared a kitchen and living room. The building was a 10 minute walk from the University of Sydney.
- Where did you eat most of your meals?
I ate most of my meals in my apartment, as I grocery shopped each week and cooked most of my meals. There was an extensive choice of on-campus restaurants and cafes for the days when I did not come home for lunch. On the weekends, I often explored different restaurants throughout the city as Sydney is a famously awesome place for foodies, with excellent and diverse cuisines from all over the world.
- How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?
Meal costs in Sydney are very comparable to most restaurants in Santa Barbara, or slightly more expensive. An average meal at a restaurant would cost between $6-10 USD, while on-campus restaurants were usually cheaper because they provided a student discount. I personally limited my spending on eating out in order to save money for traveling– grocery shopping and cooking at home is a lot cheaper than eating out regularly!
- Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?
Though Australia has a less prevalent vegetarian/vegan trend than the US, all the major metropolitan and touristic areas have extensive options for all dietary restrictions. Not only do most restaurants have vegetarian and vegan options, but there are countless restaurants dedicated entirely to this type of cuisine.
- Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.
The coolest meal I had while abroad was organized by the USYD exchange student program, and the outing was called “Breakfast with Koalas.” We woke up at 6 am, before the Sydney Zoo officially opened, got a private tour of the zoo, and then finished by having a hot breakfast buffet in the Koala habitat area. We got to pose for pictures with the koalas and hang out with them all morning.
- What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?
My favorite Australian food was Tim Tams, the most popular treat in Australia. Tim Tams are a chocolate wafer cookie that come in all kinds of flavors, including honey comb and coffee, but my personal favorite was the dark chocolate flavor. You can’t find them here, but I am still searching for a way to order them off Amazon.
- Describe your host city.
Sydney is the largest city in Australia. It has a fascinating history and endless things to do there. It is the perfect combination of beautiful beaches and modern city. Just 4 metro stops from my apartment near the University took me to Circular Quay, where you can find the famous Harbor Bridge and Opera House with the surrounding neighborhood of the Rocks, which is overflowing with amazing food, quirky pubs and classy rooftop cocktail bars. The world famous Bondi beach was just a 10 minute ride from my apartment, with breathtaking clear blue water, awesome surf and gorgeous sunny weather nearly year-round (though the winter months from June to August can hover around 40 degrees). I spent 5 months In Sydney and never ran out of things to see– I was discovering new spots in the city until the day I left.
- Was it easy to get around?
Sydney has a very developed public transport system, and of course and extensive Uber network. With your student ID you are eligible for a concession metro card which gives you reduced fares on all trains and ferries. The train system is easy to navigate and I used it nearly every day to go to various spots around the city.
- Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?
Sydney is of course a much larger city than Santa Barbara, so in that sense safety was a bit more of a concern for me while I was there. However, I really only tried to avoid walking alone late at night simply because I was less familiar with the city, especially in the beginning, and I wanted to avoid getting lost. I never felt unsafe or nervous while I was in Sydney because it is very well developed and much safer than most other cities of its size. As long as you exercise common sense, stay aware and practice the buddy system on nights out, safety is not a real concern in Sydney.
- What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?
One of my favorite things I did was at the very end of my stay, I went to the christmas tree lighting festival in Sydney. The whole city was already decorated in festive lights and flags, but at the very center of the city, there was a giant Christmas tree. The lighting festival was a huge party with christmas music, carollers at every street corner and a huge party until the countdown where the turned on all the decorative lights the covered all of the buildings and the tree. It was so festive and heartwarming and just such a grand spectacle, I had never seen anything like it. It was the perfect way to close out my study abroad and say goodbye to the city.
- Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.
Australia in not different from the US in very significant ways. The biggest difference was simply being surrounded by so many people from all over the world because Sydney as a city is much more international than Santa Barbara. One big thing I noticed was simply the perception of the US by people from around the world– it was an interesting an eye-opening experience to be exposed to the perspectives that people from other countries have regarding the US. Some of the specific places I visited had more stark cultural contrasts– for example the Daintree Rainforest in Tropical North Queensland has a large aboriginal population and many parts of the region are sacred, there are specific areas that we cannot go and particular ways to behave when you enter this sacred territory. Through that visit I learned a lot about the various aspects of aboriginal culture and the history of the area.
- How did you handle culture shock?
Because Australia is culturally similar to the states, culture shock was not a huge issue for me. The biggest adjustment was getting used to the attitude towards Americans, especially in an academic context, where the perspective on politics and history could differ from what we are taught here.
- What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?
My favorite aspect of Australian culture was just how welcoming and friendly Aussies are. The stereotype of Australians being super laid back is definitely true– I really enjoyed the laid-back, happy, and friendly attitude with which Aussies go about their lives.
- Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.
At the end of my semester, I traveled to Bali, Indonesia, and had some of the most unforgettable experiences in my life. One of these was waking up at 1 am to hike up the top of the Mt Batur volcano to watch the sunrise. We hiked up the mountain in the pitch-darkness, led by a local guide. The climb up the side of the volcano was extremely steep– the last 45 minutes of the ascent had us scaling up the mountain on all fours. We got to the top before sunrise, and the sky was lit up by more stars than I had ever seen. As we watched the sunrise over the lake, we ate eggs that we had cooked over the steam of the volcano, and watched long-tailed Macaque monkeys dart around the edge of the cliff, stealing people’s food and water and climbing on the temple at the top of the mountain. It was such an incredible and humbling experience.
- What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?
Honestly, my biggest fear about studying abroad was just that I would be really homesick and miss the familiarity of Santa Barbara and being close to my family. Of course there were days when I missed my it more than others, but I found that all the adventure and excitement of being abroad made me realize that I was capable of being independent and actually gave me a lot of confidence in myself. Also, I facetimed home regularly and really enjoyed reporting back to friends and family about all the amazing things I was up to!
- What was your biggest challenge abroad?
I am routine-oriented person; I am very organized and like to plan ahead, so the spontaneous nature of study abroad was a bit intimidating at times. I had to find ways to develop some sort of routine that would allow me to stay grounded, especially when it came to managing studying with all the traveling I was doing simultaneously.
- How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?
The biggest way that studying abroad changed me is simply how much confidence it gave me. I have never been so far away from home for such a long time, and before leaving I was worried that this would be a huge challenge for me. However, I really came into my own while I was there– I got really good at time management and studying efficiently, learned how to plan amazing trips on a budget, and I overcame my anxiety about all of the things I was unaccustomed to: traveling alone, navigating the subway, trains and other public transportation, and being in large crowds of people. My experience abroad taught me that I am more capable than I had originally given myself credit for, and ultimately just created a thirst for adventure and discovery that I didn’t realize I had within me.
- What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?
GO ABROAD!!! Go somewhere you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to go. Studying abroad is such an incredible, rare and valuable opportunity that we are so fortunate to have. No other experience has the potential to teach you so much about yourself and the world around you. Get organized, make a plan, and take the leap!