Before leaving for Sydney, I spent most days outdoors teaching tennis and soaking up the heat of the sun which I would miss greatly while in the winter of the Southern Hemisphere. I anticipated that the weather would be a balmy 65 degrees everyday, and was not deterred by my mother’s warnings that I would surely freeze if I packed only summer clothes.
In my last few weeks home, I encountered many different reactions to my upcoming abroad experience during family events. Many are under the impression that because Sydney is at the edge of the earth it must be quite remote and distanced from meaningful civilization. I could see some frown inwardly as they questioned me about Australian culture, asking with carefully selected diction what else is important to Ozzies other than drinking, partying, and laying out on their beautiful beaches. More importantly, they projected jealousy at what appeared to be my five month vacation.
My friends understood the importance of studying abroad in a different light: they were sure that my experience would initiate meaningful changes in my attitudes towards school, culture, and most importantly life.
In reality, my expectations and feelings are the only ones of value to this blog. As a political science major I am fascinated by the continent quite similar in vastness to the United States which boasts a penal colony as its origin. As for the culture, I was excited to interact and, if all goes well, integrate into a population in which about 20% of the people have a convicted criminal for an ancestor; if only the American tax dollar paid for prisons that start thriving metropolises like the English did! The University of Sydney has an enrollment of 50,000 students –45,000 more students than Emory, my home university–with clubs and other fantastic amenities to support such a population. It is one of the top three universities in Australia, and certainly a desirable place to expand my academic horizons. I was excited to be treated like an adult, something I cannot experience fully in America until the age of 21.
My journey down under kicked off at noon on July 13 on a flight to Chicago. I don’t think I could truly appreciate how much I would miss my mom until she waved goodbye to me at the Philadelphia airport, and suddenly I felt very scared and vulnerable. Three hours later, at the Chicago airport, I experienced my first time change: a one hour setback both on my watch and my flight to Las Angeles. When we were finally permitted to board the delayed plane, I quickly noticed that the girl sitting next to me had a backpack, a carry-on, and an excited expression. We spent the entire flight referencing Bill Bryson’s book, A Sunburned Country, and would have remained chattering in our pre-abroad bliss had not the elderly passenger next to us overheard our conversations and tried to convince us that his son-in-law is the chief Rabbi of Australia (if only that title exists). He told both of us that he was positive we are both Methodists and Baptists (which we are not), socialists (possibly because of our conversation skills), and finally settled on insisting that we are communists. Our flight ended shortly after he introduced us to the middle-aged man sitting next to him, named “my unmarried son.”
Once at the airport, we boarded a shuttle which took us to the gate of Qantas, the second oldest airline in the world which compensates for its inferior age with superior service (and prices) to any other airline I have ever travelled in economy class. We were advised to buy alcohol in the duty-free shop because prices would double once we entered a liquor store in Sydney, and what ensued was a mad rush for the precious tonic comparable only to Black Friday in Times Square. The plane proved to be spacious and both my neighbors were enrolled on my abroad trip, and we all quickly scarfed down the wine provided by the airline and then fell deeply asleep.
Upon waking up on the plane I was confronted by a beautiful view of the sunrise from the camera on the outside of the plane.
As we landed in Sydney, a man was rushed out on an ambulance for complications during the impossibly long 15-hours of flight. Once the ambulance and quarantine team had left and we were permitted to exit the plane the pilot announced that another unlucky passenger had turned five on the 14th; with the 14 hour time difference it was now July 15th and the child had lost this day. I cannot omit in this blog how painful it was to exchange my hard earned money at the counter outside customs in return for much less money in Australian dollars.
IFSA-Butler transported the group to the Sydney Academy of Sport where we were greeted by terrible cold, rain, chocolate muffins, and a wild cockatoo sitting nonchalantly in a tree (this bird sells for well over $1000 in the US). All of us had three roommates, but we had little time to spend in the room because we went on a lengthy “bush walk”: I thought this would be a leisurely stroll among the native flora and fauna, but it proved to be a hike through feet of mud and scaling soaking wet flat rocks at 90 degree angles in order to see Aboriginal “art” etched on top of a mountain. At one point a rainbow appeared through the heavy rain, making the whole affair feel to me like the story of Noah’s Ark, except instead of symbolizing a wonderful covenant with god it made us realize that our tour guide had lost almost the entire group on the desolate mountain. It was an interesting way to start our trip abroad, but this eliminated any thought of Australia being an easy vacation as many people back home imagined it.
That night my roommates and I struggled to stay awake until 9 pm Australian time, then once we finally allowed ourselves to sleep we all woke simultaneously at 4 am or similar hours. We could hear the strange sounds which were blasted from the beaks of strange birds on the national park campground where we would stay for this 4-day orientation. As one of my roommates read a book in her bed waiting for the sun to rise enough for breakfast, she discovered a large red cockroach-looking creature crawling toward her pillow. I learned during this orientation that bugs in Australia are either enormous or small with lethal venom.
This second day in Australia we attended a morning tour of the Taronga Zoo where we saw a few interesting birds, including a very friendly emu which looks like an ostrich. We were able to pet fluffy kangaroos and watch them prance around with wallabees. Finally, they guided us through the Tasmanian Devil exhibit which is special because it features an animal that is becoming endangered due to a rapidly spreading facial tumor disease, transmitted when they show friendship by biting each other on the face with the same pressure as an alligator’s jaw (I hope I never make friends like that here in Sydney!).
We took a beautiful ferry ride to Circular Quay, where we were able to get our first views of the famous Sydney Opera House and the great Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Once ashore we explored the markets at the Quay which had amazing food and interesting tourist souvenirs, then we split up and my group ventured to Darling Harbour and Chinatown as well as the cheaper mall in the asian quarters. By the end of the day my feet ached but I mustered up just enough energy to learn Aborigine dancing with the rest of my group back at the campground. On Sunday, after hours of tedious orientation they instructed us to pack our bags for the University of Sydney. All of us were extremely excited to move into our permanent lodgings and of course to get internet. I don’t think I have been without internet this way in years! I miss having my 3g network on my iphone.
I was very excited when I moved into my studio apartment which has its own bathroom, a minifridge, the biggest bed I’ve ever had, and no heat. I’ve never had any of these things in my 2 years living at Emory! Now the rain is pouring, a reminder that I have no raincoat, and Sydney’s freezing winter wind is inviting me to explore the city more!