Alyssa S. | Australia – University of Sydney (Art and Philosophy)

Feeding a wallaby at the Featherdale Wildlife Park

Exploring art and culture in the Land Down Under!


What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB? 

As an art major, I mainly took major courses abroad while at The University of Sydney. These were mostly studio classes, but I also took an online class, as well as an intro class to something that wasn’t part of my major. The difficulty of the classes and time spent on them were about the same as they are here at UCSB, but perhaps the most different thing was how your assignments and exams were marked. Percentage points had a much lower baseline in passing a course, so for instance a C-level grade started at 50%, while a 75% is where the A- range begins. It’s strange to think that the percentage points are so low to be able to get a C and it seems easy, but don’t let that fool you! They don’t give out high percentage points that freely, and a “distinction or high distinction” (A- and above) is still as difficult to get as it is here at UCSB.

What was your favorite class abroad? 

My favorite class abroad was called Virtual Objects 2D, where I learned how to use CAD (computer aided design) programs. With CAD, I was able to explore different methods of designing and building my own objects and become familiar with 3D printing, laser cutting, and laser sintering. It taught me to think about how to render my art digitally so that it could be realized in a three-dimensional functional form, which is something I hadn’t done before. 

Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad?  If so, tell us about your experience.

I did not intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad.


The Quadrangle at USyd

How would you describe your host institution?

USyd is a huge institution, with an enrollment of almost 60,000 students, but it never really felt crowded due to its huge campus and satellite campus across Sydney. It’s quite close and about 20-30 minutes from the Central Business District and the Sydney Harbour, depending on whether you take the bus, train, or walk.

Staircase in the Abercrombie (ABS) Building

Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?

 There are some student clubs/organizations that you can join, and USyd holds a club day in the Quadrangle (similar to the Arbor) at the beginning of each semester where you can check out anything that interests you. A lot of these clubs do have a small fee of $5 to join, but there are so many choices, from cultural to food focused clubs, so there’s sure to be something that you’ll like!


Describe your housing situation.

I lived in an ensuite double in an apartment of eight within Urbanest Sydney Central. This accommodation company housed a lot of other international students from around the world, not just the U.S. It was one of the housing options suggested to me by USyd, and it was really good because everything was pretty clean, new, and had unlimited WiFi (which is sometimes hard to come by). The cost of living averaged to about the same as it would here in IV, but it was fully furnished and came with air conditioning. The only things we really had to buy were sheets and utensils, pots, and plates and stuff, but it wasn’t too bad because the shopping center was only two blocks away. Same goes for the university, which was just a block further, and about a 15 minute walk to campus.


Where did you eat most of your meals?

I cooked most of my meals at home, but I would eat outside on average once of week. There are a  lot of good local places to try out! My favorite was a Thai restaurant called Yok Yor, located just outside of the CBD.

How much was an average meal?  Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?

I would say an average meal, if you were to buy something from a restaurant or take away, would average around $13-$15. As for groceries, I would spend about $40 a week. I would just suggest that you try not to eat out as much, if you want to save money. However, if you really want to pinch pennies but have a strong craving for a meal you didn’t cook yourself, save half and eat the other half another day. The serving sizes are about just as generous as they are in the US, so you have plenty of food for both meals.

Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?

No, Australia is pretty similar in eating habits to California, so restaurants have a good array of food for people with dietary restrictions. Purchasing food at the local store and cooking at home is also a great option. At the housing complex I lived in, they would have community barbeques where they also provided veggie options, so it’s all pretty accessible. 

Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.

My most memorable dining experience was when I went to an Indian restaurant in Edgecliff called Flavour of India. I don’t typically eat Indian food too often but I love curry, so I decided to give this place a try. My boyfriend was visiting and he really likes Indian food, so we decided to take the train and make the trip there as a sort of last hurrah before he had to fly back here to UCSB. The food was honestly so incredible, and actually quite gourmet, and the restaurant was classy and quiet. Since it was sort of late and we were one of the only patrons there, the chef personally came out to greet us and gave us a complimentary mango dessert, complete with sparklers and a song. It was just a great experience overall, having good food with good company.

What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?

I think what I miss most is the really good Asian food. Being so close to Asia, Australia has some pretty good options, whether you want Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, or Chinese, you name it. There is a sort of outdoor food court near Urbanest Sydney Central called Spice Alley where there are a lot of different food stands from different places. They also have some really good boba shops that I would frequent regularly. Most of all though, I miss the dark chocolate Kit Kats. I can’t seem to find them here, but I would just pick those off the shelf a lot of the times I went grocery shopping. Oh, and the coffee. The coffee in Australia puts Starbucks to shame, to put it simply.

Don’t forget to try some Shapes!


Describe your host city.

My host city was pretty large and urban, being Sydney and all. Once you get farther away from the CBD though, Sort of similar to Los Angeles, there are different neighborhoods within the city, which they call suburbs, with their own sort of character. I believe there are over 200 different suburbs within Sydney itself, all explorable through public transportation! It’s very cool though because there’s so much to discover and there’s so much diversity wherever you go. 

Was it easy to get around?

It was fairly easy to get around, as I would often use public transportation to go somewhere. USyd students have the advantage to get a Concession Opal Card, a card that allows you to travel anywhere by metro, bus, train, light rail, or ferry at a discounted rate. It also has a lower cap on the amount you spend on transportation so you never spend more than “$8 a day, $25 a week, or $2.80 on Sunday” according to their website. You can “top up” or reload at major retailers or grocery stores, or through the Opal Card app which is even easier. There are a lot of stops and stations around the city, so you never really have to walk too far! If you have somewhere to go, you can just type the location into Google Maps and it will give you the shortest route/travel time, it can direct you to your nearest stop, give you information about where the bus is, and the list of times it’s scheduled to arrive.

Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?

I felt very safe walking in my city. Even at night, I felt comfortable walking and riding public transportation alone as a female. I didn’t even get cat-called often. Regardless, you should still avoid walking alone and should grab a friend during nighttime. It makes the journey more fun too.

What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?

Sydney has so much to offer, but two of my favorite things to do were shopping and going to the beach. The CBD has like four malls all within a few blocks of each other, so I would often go just to look around and try out some local food! Bondi (pronounced bond-eye) Beach is also nearby and very famous, with its beautiful half moon bay, so I’d go as much as I could when the weather was great. There’s a scenic walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach, but if you also wanted to visit a beach that was a little less crowded, you could take the ferry to get to Manly beach. As a fun fact, I learned how to surf at Bondi! Despite being born and raised in California, I never learned how to surf, but something about those waves and sparkling blue waters really got to me! Also, be sure to checkout the Featherdale Wildlife Park to see some native Australian animals!


Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.

Australia and Sydney aren’t that different from California, really. I think the only things I really had to adjust to were the sticker shock and the whole driving on the right side thing. Things seem a little expensive in Australia, but with the conversion rate, you’ll find that prices are generally the same. The only exception to that I’d say are groceries and fresh produce are a tad more pricey. As for driving on the opposite side of the road, it just takes a little bit of getting used to. Pro tip: look right first, then left. People tend to walk on the right as well, so if you want to avoid bumping into someone, it’s good to keep that in mind.

How did you handle culture shock?

I didn’t have too much culture shock, honestly, except for the first few days I got there. This was only because I didn’t have enough money in my bank account nor physical Australian currency and no data to get anywhere and I had my big suitcases with me; it was just a lot to handle all by myself in a new country. My advice would simply be to make sure you have money to pay for things in the beginning, but you don’t necessarily need cash since you can pay by card. You should also try to get a SIM card while you’re still at the airport so that you have data to help you get around right off the bat. There are usually better discounts on data and phone plans at the airport as well. Everything else you can figure out pretty easily, since English is the national language, so if you need help don’t be afraid to ask someone—you’ll find Australians are generally very friendly! Other than that, you won’t be lonely or bored if you talk to as many people as you can. Like I said, Aussies are laid back and welcoming, so they’re open to talking, and you also have other UC students you can relate to!

What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?

My favorite aspect of my host culture was how laid back people were. Despite being in a city, there was a good sense of ease in the air wherever you went. Lots of people hung out at the many coffee shops set up around every corner. It’s great for mental health as it really helps reduce stress.


Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.

My favorite travel story was when I traveled with two of my flatmates to New Zealand for the mid-semester break. Over the course of seven days and nights, we visited the North and South Island. We rented a car and drove from place to place, staying at a different hostel every night, so we covered a lot of ground for the length of our trip. To recap all the highlights, I hiked a lot, got to see a lot of breathtaking views, went wine tasting, saw a glacier, some geothermal springs, penguins in the wild, and visited a place called Puzzle World. I also dug a hole on the beach where hot water filled it from below, visited the cove where they filmed a scene of Narnia, and for my favorite part, got to feed some sheep and hold a ten-week old lamb. It was definitely a trip that I will always remember.


What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?

Making friends. Sometimes being social is a little hard for me, but I was lucky to have had such great flatmates who I ended up becoming friends with. They in turn also helped me branch out and meet more people.

What was your biggest challenge abroad?

My biggest challenge abroad was being away from people back home. It wasn’t that I was necessarily homesick, it was just that it was a bit hard to communicate with family and friends who were in a different time zone nineteen hours behind. Also, being in a long distance relationship, it definitely is difficult to navigate bumps that would normally be a lot easier to iron out in person. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible though, because you can Facetime or video call to keep each other up to date in your lives, it just takes some more effort, communication, and a little bit more scheduling.

How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?

Being abroad has changed me to be more open minded, to see things from more and different perspectives. It has reminded me that I can be independent and self-sufficient while also having a good time. My desire to travel more has also grown, because it makes you realize that there is so much to see in the world, and that you always take something with you from the places you visit, whether it’s a memory, a photo, a lesson, or an experience.

What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?

Go for it. Pick where you want to go, what you want to do, and make it happen, because it will change you in some way, big or small. This is a prime time to do whatever you want, and as long as it’s not decidedly harmful, it will help you grow.

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