Layla in Australia: Redfern

November 17, 2015

We are in the thick of exams season at Sydney Uni! Exams work very differently here compared to how they are at Richmond. They’re spread out over 3 weeks, with the first week being a ‘reading week’ where there are no exams. I was unlucky enough to have 3 exams on the last 3 days of the exam period, and to put the cherry on top, the last on is on a Saturday! Needless to say, I have quite a few long nights ahead of me. In this post, I’m going to talk about housing here in Sydney and the neighborhood I live in.

Sydney University exchange students get a discount to live at a building called Urbanest Cleveland Street in Redfern, an inner-city suburb of Sydney. It’s about a ten-minute walk up the Cleveland Street to the edge of campus. However, Sydney real estate prices are very, very expensive, and Urbanest is no exception. I would compare Urbanest to Gateway Village back at Richmond, but it is much more expensive, even considering the favorable exchange rate. Luckily, the Office of International Exchange is generous enough to give students studying abroad in expensive locations a $1000 stipend, which helps mitigate the ridiculous cost of housing in Sydney. There are other student accommodations in the suburbs surrounding Sydney Uni, but my Urbanest location had the advantages over these options of ensuite bathrooms, a kitchen for each apartment, availability on a semester-only basis, and the discount.

I share an apartment with five other (American) exchange students, one who also happens to be a Richmond student. The six of us share a kitchen, with each of us having our own bedroom and bathroom. The building itself is very modern and comes equipped with a (very expensive!) laundry room, computer lab, gaming room, and gym, among other amenities. So while Urbanest is expensive, I think that the quality of the housing and its proximity to campus is worth the cost.


My (cleaned just for this picture!) bedroom at Urbanest. It's definitely a comfortable size for one person.

My (cleaned just for this picture!) bedroom at Urbanest. It’s definitely a comfortable size for one person.


While my building is technically located in Redfern, it is actually at the corner of 3 different Sydney suburbs – Redfern, Chippendale, and Darlington. It’s also less than a five-minute walk to Redfern station, one of the biggest train stations in Sydney. You can take a train from Redfern to pretty much anywhere in the city (except for the airport, which can be frustrating as a travelling exchange student). Living so close to the train station has been a highlight of my time in Sydney — I’ve never lived in a city before, and public transport has always been nonexistent. Not having to rely on a car and being able to catch a train anywhere I want to go in the city has been an amazing experience.

On the way to Redfern station, I walk up what was formerly the most infamous street in Sydney – Eveleigh Street, or ‘The Block.’ The first time I walked up Eveleigh Street, I immediately noticed a grouping of tents in a field, just in sight of the station. I later learned that the tents were what is called an Aboriginal Tent Embassy. To explain the origins of this tent embassy, I need to explain Redfern itself.


The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, captured in July 2015.

The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, captured in July 2015.


Redfern is a suburb with notorious connotations in Sydney. When I first told my parents that I’d be living in Redfern, they balked. As people with a view of Sydney from the early 2000s, all they knew of Redfern was its seedy reputation. The neighbourhood is known for its high concentration of Aboriginal Australians. As I’ve learned in my Australian history class this semester, the relationship between Aboriginal Australians and non-indigenous Australians has been extremely complex and is fraught with tension to this day.  For example, even before Australia became an independent nation, the advent of white settlers decreased the native population by 90%, and up until the 1970s, the federal government forcibly removed indigenous children from their families under the guise of “child protection.” Aboriginal Australians still experience severely disproportionate rates of poverty and incarceration, and lowered life expectancy and health. It’s been fascinating to observe the differences between the way indigenous peoples are treated here versus in the United States. Here, the prime minister in 2008 made a formal apology on behalf of the government to the indigenous population, there is a National Sorry Day annually for people to reflect on the historical treatment of Aboriginal Australians, and before many speeches and ceremonies, it’s customary to mention that the indigenous tribe is the “true owner of the land.” Thinking of these differences though, I can’t help but reflect on one of the signs I saw at the tent embassy: “don’t recognise, decolonise.” While it seems like Australia is much more progressive concerning its relations with its indigenous people compared to the United States, is it just a facade? It doesn’t seem like merely mentioning and apologising and reflecting is enough — what actions are being taken?


The Australian Aboriginal Flag painted on a wall next to the tent embassy. Another difference from the United States: it is designated as one of the official flags of Australia and is flown alongside the Australian flag.

The Australian Aboriginal Flag painted on a wall next to the tent embassy. Another difference from the United States: it is designated as one of the official flags of Australia and is flown alongside the Australian flag.


One day right before mid-semester break, I walked my normal path up Eveleigh Street to Redfern station and was shocked to see that the field where the tent embassy had been was completely empty. I later learned they had been evicted. As the presence of my student accommodation complex suggests, Redfern has been rapidly gentrifying and has mostly shed its infamous reputation. It’s not fully gentrified yet — there are always a few people begging outside of the station — but it’s been dramatically changed in the last decade or so. Developers from a charity called the Aboriginal Housing Company evicted Aboriginal people from their homes on Eveleigh Street and then demolished them, promising to provide low-cost housing for the original residents. Instead, the company has decided to build more student accommodation on the land, and the tent embassy was erected in protest. The eviction came coupled with a promise of a grant to build the promised low-cost housing alongside the student accommodation, but I definitely will be following this case when I’m back in America to see if it actually comes to fruition.


This image isn't mine; it's from Wikipedia. But I really like it because it shows the proximity of Redfern to the rest of the city, and shows the appeal of the neighborhood for gentrification. Also -- see that ugly brick building with the weird windows in the background? That's Urbanest Cleveland Street.

This image isn’t mine; it’s from Wikipedia. But I really like it because it shows the proximity of Redfern to the rest of the city, and shows the appeal of the neighborhood for gentrification. Also — see that ugly brick building with the weird windows in the background? That’s Urbanest Cleveland Street.


Living in Redfern has been an eye-opening experience for me. It’s been a way for me to see the history I’ve been learning about in class first-hand. It’s been a lesson in prejudice — I was initially nervous to be living in Redfern, but I’ve since learned that it’s not at all dangerous and not to judge places on their reputation. And lastly, it’s been an amazing way to experience living in a city for the first time.


This is my favorite street in Redfern, called Vine Street. Walking past the brightly-colored houses on my walk to the station always puts a smile on my face.

This is my favorite street in Redfern, called Vine Street. Walking past the brightly-colored houses on my walk to the station always puts a smile on my face.

Layla in Australia: A Day in the Life

October 15, 2015

Today I received a reminder on my phone telling me to renew my travel notification for my bank. My bank only lets you notify them that you’ll be traveling abroad for 90 days at a time, which means this notification means I’ve been in Australia for just about 3 months. Needless to say, I didn’t realize how long it’s been! I’m just over halfway through my time abroad, and in 3 more months I’ll be starting the spring semester back at Richmond. To say I’ve settled here in Australia is an understatement – I feel just as home here as I do in the United States, if not more. To use some of my Australian slang that I’ve picked up, I’m really not keen to come home… in fact, I still haven’t booked my return flight to the States. Here, I’m going to describe a typical day for me here in Sydney, and hopefully show why I love it so much.

9 AM, any given Thursday: Wake up… after hitting the snooze button on my phone about three or four times. While I was never a breakfast person in America, the lack of a meal plan and a dining hall on campus means that buying lunch is expensive. Instead, I typically eat a bowl of Weet-Bix, a classic Australian cereal, for breakfast and bring a granola bar and some fruit for lunch. After getting ready, playing around on my phone, and eating breakfast, I make the ten- to fifteen-minute walk up the road to uni.

11 AM: Macroeconomics lecture. While it’s tough to keep focused for the entire two hour lecture, the material is interesting enough to stay awake and the ten-minute break in the middle helps. The professor tends to show how what we’ve learned about in class applies to the Australian economy, so I get to learn about not only general macroeconomics but Australian policies as well.

1 PM: With lecture over, I cave to my biggest weakness: coffee. I don’t really drink coffee at home – I’ve never liked the taste. I did drink caramel macchiatos while studying for the MCAT, but mostly the appeal was the caramel sauce. The coffee was just the bitter obstacle that I drank quickly so I could indulge in caramelly goodness. However, Australia is known for its delicious coffee, and I decided that I couldn’t come here and without trying a flat white, the classic Australian coffee drink that’s like a less foamy cappuccino. Needless to say – I had one, and I was hooked. Coffee here is so good that I don’t even need sugar to make it palatable like I do in America. My guilty pleasure at uni is a flat white and a croissant from the café in the New Law Annexe.


A flat white from the coffee shop where I first tried Australian coffee, Campos in Newtown.

A flat white from the coffee shop where I first tried Australian coffee, Campos in Newtown.



For the first half of the semester, I had four hours of gruelling chemistry lab directly after my economics lecture. This lab, which I had multiple times a week, was the bane of my existence, endlessly frustrating me with my inexplicable failures in it. But luckily, as of a few weeks ago, the lab has ended and I can finally go to quidditch trainings! Trainings on Thursdays are 3-5 PM in Victoria Park, the park bordering the USYD campus. I’ll generally do a little study after my coffee break and then head to training, where we run drills, play scrimmages, and play netball. Netball is a sport that’s pretty popular in Commonwealth countries but almost unheard of in America. It’s similar to basketball, but one major difference is that you can’t run with the ball. Needless to say, I often forget this rule, so netball isn’t my favorite. Practice usually has about fifteen people present.

5 PM: After practice, the quidditch team heads to the pub! Generally we start at the Forest Lodge Hotel (affectionately nicknamed the “flodge”) just north of campus in the suburb of Glebe for dinner and then head to the neighboring Roxbury Hotel for trivia at 7:30. Weirdly, pubs are called hotels here… as are hotels. That was definitely confusing at first!


Me and a handful of quidditch mates at the Roxbury hotel. This was actually taken after my very first training at USYD. I'm in the purple jacket, and pictured clockwise are my friends: Kat, Cameron, Lachlan, Laurel, Nat, Tom, Lachlan, and Paul. Usually our table is two or three times the size!

Me and a handful of quidditch mates at the Roxbury hotel. This was actually taken after my very first training at USYD. I’m in the purple jacket, and pictured clockwise are my friends: Kat, Cameron, Lachlan, Laurel, Nat, Tom, Lachlan, and Paul. Usually our table is two or three times the size!

Since Australian universities are mostly commuter schools, the focus of social life is off-campus, typically at pubs. On-campus or house parties are almost unheard of, except for students who live in colleges (which are akin to American fraternities, and generally only for students who don’t live in the metropolitan area.) Since there are no communal dining halls, dorms, or apartments for students to socialize in after classes, pubs fulfil that role. Speaking sociologically, drinking is much more of a focus in daily life at university here than it seems to be in America, even accounting for the lowered drinking age.  ‘Mateship’ is one of the cornerstones of Australian culture, and buying drinks for your mates and having them reciprocate is one of the ways that it is expressed.

Typically, my friends and I will stay at the pub until it closes, around midnight, with some people filtering out earlier to catch public transport home. Usually then we will split up to go home, or if we’re still feeling sociable, some will come over to the apartment complex where my friend Sam and I live, Urbanest. It has a TV room on the ground floor filled with couches that is typically empty by the time we get there, and is great for late-night hangouts. Once everyone goes home, all I have to do is take the elevator up four floors and I’m home.

Hopefully this post has given you a little insight on what it’s like to be a university student in Australia. My life isn’t glamorous by any means, but it’s definitely fun. While I’m not jetting off to a new country every weekend like many study abroad students, I think that by immersing myself into Australian culture, I’ve gained a much deeper appreciation for where I am studying abroad. I think for a lot of study abroad students, between all of the traveling and lack of deep connections with local students, their host country becomes interchangeable with any other place. Not to say that traveling often or being friends with other exchange students is bad, but I think that by making local friends and really getting to know Sydney on a deeper level, my study abroad experience has been infinitely richer. I can’t even fathom how much it would have lacked without my Australian friends – they have made this experience what it has been so far for me, and I will miss them terribly when I go back to America.

Layla in Australia: Canberra

September 17, 2015

One of the things I was warned about before coming to study in Australia was that certain times of the semester are extremely busy, while others are relatively light. I’m here to report back that this is definitely true! My past few weeks have been chock-full of exams and assignments, but for the next few weeks I haven’t got much going on. Now after recovering from my past few weeks (and the delightful disease my mates and I have dubbed the ‘Canberra plague’), I can recount what I’ve been up to!

Like I mentioned in my last blog post, last weekend I travelled to Canberra, the capital of Australia, with the Sydney University Quidditch Society. While in Canberra, we played a tournament against other teams in New South Wales. Technically, Canberra isn’t in New South Wales but in the Australian Capital Territory, like how Washington isn’t in Virginia or Maryland but the District of Columbia, but it’s grouped with NSW for geographic reasons.


The USYD Quidditch Society at the September Triwizard Tournament at Australian National University! Our team name is the Unspeakables, and so we take this picture after every tournament. We may have gone 1-3, but we looked pretty fierce doing so.

The USYD Quidditch Society at the September Triwizard Tournament at Australian National University! Our team name is the Unspeakables, and so we take this picture after every tournament. We may have gone 1 in 3, but we looked pretty fierce doing so.


Speaking of Washington, D.C., comparisons between it and Canberra were on my mind for most of the trip. Unlike DC, Canberra is almost an embarrassment to Australians — it’s a small city in the bush lacking in grandeur. My Australian friends who don’t play quidditch were a bit perplexed as to why I was bothering going to Canberra. However, Canberra’s similarities to DC were pretty interesting to this American. It’s got the cherry trees, a big body of water in the middle, a “Capital Hill” with the Parliament House at the top, and very confusing roundabouts. Like DC, it was a planned city, a compromise between Sydney and Melbourne. However, while DC feels very lively, Canberra feels more like someone built a city and then forgot to put people in it. Driving from Sydney to Canberra is a bit eerie — you’re in the middle of nowhere and all of a sudden, a small city appears, seemingly out of thin air. It’s so remote that half an hour before we got to Canberra, my mates and I got out of the car and did a bit of stargazing because the light pollution was so noticeably absent. Anyone who’s driven the cesspool that is I-95 into DC knows this is the exact opposite of that experience.

Due to the prevalent belief among Australians that there’s not much to do in Canberra, we spent a lot of our time in the cabin we rented for the weekend, hanging out and playing mafia, the signature card game of the Quidditch Society. So naturally, I don’t have many pictures documenting my weekend in Canberra. The one downside I’ve found of having mostly local friends is that they aren’t particularly interested in doing touristy things like visiting monuments or museums, so I didn’t visit anywhere that really warranted picture-taking. Perfectly understandable, if a little disappointing! Luckily, one of my quidditch friends is a newcomer to Australia and just as keen as I to be unashamedly touristy, so we’ve been doing fun things in Sydney like going to the aquarium together. While I’ve loved my experience so far being fully immersed into Australian life, it is good every now and then to take a step back. I have to keep it all in perspective and remember that I’m not here permanently, and I need to take advantage of my time here. Right now, I’m finding that the best mixture is having a set routine during the week of school and going to the pub with my quidditch mates, and dedicating one day of the weekend to freedom and touristy exploration. Balance is key!

I also learned from this trip how to better go with the flow. I’m naturally pretty controlling — I like to be in charge and make decisions. It’s not the best part of my personality. But during this trip, I wasn’t the one driving and therefore had no control over where we went or what we did. It was frustrating, but also a necessary experience for me. Being more flexible was something that I needed to work on, and I think this trip was a really good exercise for me in learning to let go of the need to obsessively plan out a trip. Especially when traveling, things don’t always go according to plan, and it’s good to be prepared to handle it.


The one touristy thing I did convince my friends to do! Canberra has recently become famous for this tiny cafe called Pâtissez, which makes these ridiculously large and decadent milkshakes that they have dubbed "freakshakes." I had the Pretzella freakshake, which probably had half a jar of Nutella in it and was absolutely delicious (and deserved after a day of quidditch!)

The one touristy thing I did convince my friends to do! Canberra has recently become famous for this tiny cafe called Pâtissez, which makes these ridiculously large and decadent milkshakes that they have dubbed “freakshakes.” I had the Pretzella freakshake, which probably had half a jar of Nutella in it and was absolutely delicious (and deserved after a day of quidditch!)

Layla in Australia: Uni Life

August 18, 2015

As I’m now getting into week 4 of classes (it’s absolutely incredible how fast time is flying!), I thought now would be a great time to talk about uni life here in Sydney and how it compares to Richmond. A quick aside: the word “uni”! Australians are all about abbreviations, as seen in this video we watched at orientation at USYD. And yes, it’s USYD — I haven’t heard students use the full name of “University of Sydney,” just USYD.

Thanks to a particularly stressful junior year and the maximum number of AP credits, I’ve just about finished my major, minor, and general education requirements at Richmond. This meant I got to select any classes I thought seemed interesting (and had good class times!) to take in Australia. Like Richmond, the normal course load is four classes. My four are introductory macroeconomics, introduction to computer programming, synthetic medicinal chemistry, and a course on Australian political history and ideas of nationhood.

Every class here has two components: a lecture and either a tutorial or a practical. Lectures are held in enormous lecture halls and consist of the instructor presenting on material for either an hour twice a week or two hours once a week. At first, the size of lectures was completely overwhelming — the largest class I’ve ever had at Richmond was about 35 students. I walked into my upper level chemistry class on the first day in awe at the hall with about 100 students, and commented on it to the girl next to me. She gave me a weird look and said, “Really? This is about a quarter of the normal lecture size.” Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten more used to these large classes. It’s a lot more intimidating to ask a question in a lecture here than it is in the intimate classrooms at Richmond, but questions are not discouraged by any means. Lectures here are also recorded, so if I ever felt like I missed something in lecture, I can always go on Blackboard and re-watch the lecture.

The other parts of classes are probably more familiar to Richmond students. Tutorials (“tutes”) are once a week and essentially discussion groups with a graduate student and about 20 fellow students. The small size, mandatory attendance, and personalized attention remind me a lot of Richmond classes. Practicals (“pracs”) are the equivalent to tutes for more scientific classes like my computer science or chemistry units, and are just like labs at Richmond.

The last major difference between coursework here and in America is the number of assignments. For example, there’s only one assessment in my chemistry course — the final exam, which is worth two-thirds of the grade (“mark”). The other third of the mark comes from three labs in the practical. This means there’s little incentive to learn the material throughout the semester, compared to Richmond, where I typically have three tests during the semester in addition to the final and other assignments like homework. The responsibility for planning and learning is put directly in the hands of the students.

Getting away from academics, probably the biggest difference between uni life in Sydney and college in the States is the social life. Most students at USYD commute from home, sometimes up to three hours roundtrip, instead of living on-campus like at Richmond. This means after classes are over for the day, the campus can seem deserted. An Australian I met in my chem prac told me that his favorite parts of his exchange spent at the University of North Carolina were the school spirit and college sports, two things that are distinctly lacking in Australian universities due to the commuter atmosphere. The “Sydney University” sweatshirts embody that — they’re mostly worn by international students, not Australians.  Yes, I did get one, and I wear it proudly. No shame.

One thing that does remind me of Richmond -- this spider! I saw it painted in the middle of a busy sidewalk on campus and had to take possibly the world's most awkward selfie with it. Again, no shame.

One thing that does remind me of Richmond — this spider! I saw it painted in the middle of a busy sidewalk on campus and had to take possibly the world’s most awkward selfie with it. Again, no shame.

To integrate myself more into the campus life that does exist, I’ve joined a few societies, which are the equivalent to our clubs. I played quidditch my first two years at Richmond, so I decided to join the Quidditch Society here at USYD. This is turning out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made since coming to Sydney. Being part of a team gives you an instant group of friends (or mates as they’re called here!) and also opportunities to travel — for example, in a few weeks I’m going to the Australian capital, Canberra, for a tournament. Every week I look forward to the practices and the classic Aussie tradition of going to the pub afterwards with my mates, for a few drinks, dinner, trivia, and card games.

While university in Australia is definitely different to college in the US, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad. I’ve really enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone and adapting to a different sort of university experience. The independence here can be overwhelming – from the anonymity of lectures, the lack of incentive to study throughout the semester, to the ability to avoid interacting on campus. So far, I’ve tried avoid the common pitfalls and keep up with my studies. We’ll see how successful I am as the first assessments come due! Next week I have a five page paper for my history class due… as a chemistry major who hasn’t taken a true writing-intensive course besides French since FYS, I’m a little nervous. But challenging myself is exactly what I came to Australia for, so I think I’m up for the task.

The main building on campus, called the Quadrangle. This marks another difference to Richmond -- while some buildings on campus are just as gorgeous as the Quadrangle and any building at Richmond, the architecture is ridiculously heterogeneous. I won't disgrace your computer screens with a picture of the hideous monstrosity that is the chemistry building.

The main building on campus, called the Quadrangle. This marks another difference to Richmond — while some buildings on campus are just as gorgeous as the Quadrangle and any building at Richmond, the architecture is ridiculously heterogeneous. I won’t disgrace your computer screens with a picture of the hideous monstrosity that is the chemistry building.

Layla in Australia: First Impressions

August 11, 2015

Hello from Sydney! Sorry about how long it’s been since I’ve updated. I’ve been so busy falling in love with Australia that I forgot to update this blog! I’ll try and detail some of my first impressions about Sydney here (although at this point, I’ve been here for about three and a half weeks).

Many people who are thinking about traveling to Australia fixate on the length of the flight. While it is undoubtedly long, it’s not unbearable. I was lucky enough to have a nonstop flight (the world’s longest!) to Sydney from where I live in the States, Dallas, which definitely helped cut down on the travel time. Between the movie, two meals, six episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, and sleeping, the 17 hours passed by more quickly than I had expected.

I’ve often thought over the past fourteen years what it would be feel like to finally arrive back in Australia and see it from the plane. Before selecting my seat, I carefully researched the best position to catch a glimpse of Sydney from the air… but neglected to consider the fact that I would be landing around six o’clock in the morning. In the middle of winter. Needless to say, it was pitch black when we arrived in Sydney,  and my 17 hours spent in the window seat was for nothing. Even then, the lights of Sydney that I could see and the sensation of being on solid ground again combined for a wave of emotion, a mix of nostalgia and excitement. Once off the plane, I was immediately struck by the weather — apparently it was the coldest stretch in Sydney in years! Though jarringly different from the 100-degree days I had left behind in Texas, I quickly discovered it actually… wasn’t that cold. More than my massive suitcases, the thing that pegged me immediately as a foreigner was waiting on the outdoor platform for the train to my apartment in a short-sleeved T-shirt. Since then, every reference to the brutally cold winter by an Australian has just made me smile — by Richmond standards, this is nice spring weather!

The very welcoming signs in Sydney Airport made me very happy.

The very welcoming signs in Sydney Airport made me very happy.

I arrived in Sydney on a Friday and left early the next morning for my first trip, a weekend pre-orientation for exchange students up to the Hunter Valley and Port Stephens, which are a few hours north of the city. This trip was a whirlwind — in less than two days, we went to the Australian Reptile Park and got up close and personal with some furry locals, wine tasting, whale watching on a boat, and sandboarding down massive sand dunes.

Me with a kangaroo friend, 2015.

Me with a kangaroo friend, 2015.

Me with a kangaroo friend in 1999.  Guess I've changed a lot since then, but kangaroos are just as cute.

Me with a kangaroo friend in 1999. Guess I’ve changed a lot since then, but kangaroos are just as cute.

It was definitely a fun trip, but it made me even more resolutely sure of something I had been thinking about back in America. While it’s comfortable to make friends with other foreign students, I made a promise to myself to focus on cultivating friendships with Australian students. I can build friendships with other Americans at home, but the goal of my study abroad experience has always been to rediscover the place I left as a child. For me, the only way to do that is to really immerse myself into Australian culture and befriend Australians, not Americans who couldn’t name the Australian state Sydney is in. (Yes, that actually happened on the trip. For anyone studying abroad, please do some research about where you’re going beforehand! American ignorance abroad is a stereotype that’s hard enough to break when people aren’t reaffirming it.)

I spent the rest of the week before classes began discovering Sydney — just taking off in a random direction from my flat in Redfern, a suburb a bit more than two miles from Circular Quay, which is the part of Sydney’s downtown (what the locals call the CBD or central business district) that most people associate with the city, and exploring whatever area I find myself in. What I’ve noticed so far is that “Sydney” is a bit hard to define. The CBD is a very small area, and even the “city of Sydney” which is the umbrella for the CBD and the inner suburbs is still much smaller than I imagined, with a population roughly similar to the city of Richmond. Only when adding in the massive metropolitan area, which stretches about an hour in every direction, can you appreciate the full population of the city. Nevertheless, I remember exploring Sydney’s Haymarket, Sydney’s Chinatown, during my first week in the city and feeling the energy from the crowd as I walked down Sydney’s major street, George Street. Normally I feel a little overwhelmed and claustrophobic in a big crowd, but for some reason, it just felt lively and freeing. I realized then how much I already loved being in Sydney.

The classic touristy picture from Circular Quay of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Surprisingly haven't been here in the daytime yet.

The classic touristy picture from Circular Quay of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Surprisingly haven’t been here in the daytime yet.

I especially love Sydney’s compactness and ease of public transport. Coming from America, it’s amusing to listen to Sydneysiders complain about their public transport — at least it exists! It’s a fairly quick walk from where I live to most of the inner suburbs or the CBD, and I can easily find a train or bus to wherever I want to go. Where I grew up in New Jersey, the closest train station that would take me on an hour-long train ride to Manhattan was a half an hour drive away! This ease of travel has made it simple for me to explore Sydney, especially the quirky neighborhoods of Surry Hills, Glebe, and Newtown. Every day, I fall more in love with the city, and every so often I’ll turn around and see a view like the ones below that just reminds me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to be here. I can’t wait to discover more of this amazing city, and finally venture to the famous beaches when it gets a little warmer!

The Sydney skyline from Victoria Park, the park that borders my university.

The Sydney skyline from Victoria Park, the park that borders my university.

Layla in Australia: Introduction

July 17, 2015

Hi everyone! My name is Layla and I’m studying abroad at the University of Sydney in Australia this semester. Though studying abroad is very common for Richmond students, most of my friends were pretty surprised when I told them about my plans for the semester. Why, you ask? Three reasons:

  1. I’m a rising senior. The majority of Richmond students who study abroad do so their junior fall, but I’ve met people who’ve studied abroad semesters ranging from sophomore fall to junior spring. But senior year? I didn’t know it was possible. It’s much more common than I thought – there are at least five other rising seniors going abroad that I know of. Hopefully this blog will help dispel the myth that there’s only one possible semester to study abroad!
  2. I’m a chemistry major. Anecdotally, it seems like science majors are underrepresented in study abroad. For example, of the 21 chemistry majors in my grade, I will be just the fifth to go abroad for a semester. While it is definitely possible to fit in a semester studying abroad into a timeline of required science courses, it requires careful planning. I’ve heard a lot of my fellow Gottwald enthusiasts talk about how they didn’t study abroad because it wasn’t possible with their major. I’m hoping to help bust this myth as well and show how studying abroad can complement any major.
  3. I’m a citizen of my host country — I moved to America from Australia when I was seven years old. This was the reason that I originally thought I didn’t want to spend a semester abroad when I first came to Richmond. I thought that my international experiences before college meant that I couldn’t gain anything from spending a semester abroad. I’ve now come to realize that I couldn’t have been more wrong. The summer after my freshman year, I spent a month in La Rochelle, France, taking classes for my French minor. While I had a wonderful summer eating baguettes and practicing French with my host family, the small taste of a study abroad experience left me longing for more. My program was rigidly structured, with weekends designated for group trips, and independent travel outside of La Rochelle was prohibited. I itched for the opportunity to travel on my own and discover the country for myself. The more I thought about my experiences in France after my return, the more my desire to take a risk and spend an entire semester abroad grew. I knew as soon as I started considering studying abroad that I wanted to rediscover my birthplace, which has always held a special place in my heart, despite my faint memories of it. The University of Sydney was a logical choice — I love beaches and big cities, the university has an enormous class catalog, which is perfect for a science major with diverse interests, and it’s only an hour and a half away from Wollongong, the city where I grew up.

Australia’s academic calendar is very different than America’s, and the spring semester (known as semester 2) runs from the end of July to the beginning of November. So even though it feels like I’m still in the middle of summer break, it’s time for me to leave for Sydney! It’s hard to describe the emotions I’m feeling. I’m leaving a lot behind in America– my entire extended family is here for a family reunion. They live all over the world, from Iran to Sweden, and so I only see them about once every five years. I’m so excited to get to Sydney, but I’m really sad and not ready to leave my family behind. My packing for Sydney has consisted of the suitcase I threw together while I was frantically putting my stuff into storage in Richmond last week, so needless to say, I’m also feeling anxious to see if I’ve packed the right things. So it’s definitely a mix of emotions. Mostly, I can’t wait to spend the next six months really getting to know Australia!

#TBT My mom and I in the Australian countryside. I'm excited to revisit some of my childhood memories!

#TBT My mom and I in the Australian countryside. I’m excited to revisit some of my childhood memories!

The Two-Step Program

January 11, 2012

Finally, this is the last post. I’ve boarded my plane, reached my destination of home, and am back in the United States. My study abroad is over. But really, it doesn’t feel like it is. I think one of the hardest parts about studying abroad really is the end; the part where you leave the country you spent a significant portion of your life in. Once you get home, it hits you that you’ve just left the country, school, and friends you had just started calling your own. You start to realize that you really were in another country (in this case, halfway around the world) and going back to visit just isn’t something our current level of human technology makes simple or cheap.

Ironically enough, going home can make you feel…well, homesick. The thing about studying abroad is that no matter where you go, you throw yourself into a completely new environment. You toss away any foundation of who you are or friends you have or what you know and get to find out who you are without everything else you’re so used to identifying you. You throw away all the labels and, regardless of your experience, you realize that it’s something you’ll never forget.

I finally understand how those people from “Lost” felt. Even though they were almost murdered countless times in the most incredulous ways, they would always feel a connection to that insane place they spent a portion of their lives in. Now, I’m not saying that my experience in Australia was equal to that of being on a deserted island. But even looking back at those  low points (few and far between), I can still laugh, smile and feel some sense of wistfulness.

With that said, I have made my own patented guide to cope with returning.

Dear (insert name of study abroad student here),

(Mike), you have just returned from your study abroad experience. At times, you may feel it will be hard to cope. Therefore, someone has composed this multi-step guide for your benefit.

1. Although modern technology has yet to provide us with teleportation devices, molecular destabilizers, etc., it has provided us with Facebook and Skype. It makes keeping in touch much simpler. And though you may want to cut off your entire trip’s existence altogether to make it easier on yourself, your trip happened, so deal with it and cherish it. Miss your friends and keep in touch — it’s normal. And didn’t you make friends who are back in America now, too? Keep in touch with them as well; you can reminisce together.

2.  Refer to step 1.

With this guide, my study abroad trip really does come to an end. However, the experience really never does quite end.

P.S. Here’s that other guide I promised you– Mike’s Guide to Australian Phrases:

Arvo – Afternoon
Mate 1: Sorry mate, I don’t do the whole arvo tea thing.
Oi: An expression or interjection similar to that of “yo” or “Hey you”
Mate 1: Oi! Get over here mate, the footie game’s about to start!
– much like the cheers said at a toast, but can also be used as a response to an act of kindness you have received.
Mate 1: I’ll get the door, mate
Mate 2: Ah, cheers, mate
Mate: A friend or acquaintance
Barrack: To cheer or support, especially an AFL Team
Mate 1: Hey mate, who do ya barrack for?
Mate 2: I barrack for the Essendon Bombers of course!
AFL: abbreviation used to refer to the Australian Football League where Australian Rules football is played
Footie: Another abbreviation used to refer to Australian rules football
Mark: A catch, used especially in AFL
Mate 1: If he had made that last mark, he would have been close enough to score and win the game!
Speckie: A spectacular mark in AFL
Mate 1: Did you see that speckie?! He got on that other bloke’s shoulders to mark that!
Bloke: another term for a man, similar usage to dude
Sheila:  Another term for a girl or a woman
Snags: another name for sausages
Get on ye mate: an expression used to express a job well done to another person
Mate 1: I finally did it! I spoke to that Shelia I’d been telling you about!
Mate 2: Ey! Get on ye mate!
No worries: an expression similar to that of “not a problem”
Mate 1: I’ll get the door mate
Mate 2: Ah, cheers mate
Mate 1: No worries
Thongs: flip flops
Troll: a prank or a joke
Zed: The letter z

The Last Supper

December 14, 2011

The semester was coming to a close. At this point, finals were done, summer had begun (remember, Australian seasons are backwards from the US) and, sadly, many people, like myself, were preparing to go home. That meant that a plethora of last hurrah’s would have to be packed into the few days remaining before I would return to a cold winter.

Study abroad is filled with expectations. Some are met and, conversely, some are not. But sometimes, maybe even more often than not, it is the things you least expect to meet your expectations that do. Sometimes it is the events you happen upon by chance that leave a firm imprint in your memory.

And sometimes, it is the things you go to out of obligation that become the moments you’ll never forget. I remember getting a text message from my friend coaxing me to come out as it was his last night in Australia, the same night I had already said yes to my final taekwondo dinner. This would be one of my last opportunities to hang out with the taekwondo club, the club that helped me to find my place here. At the same time, this would be my last night in Australia to hang out with a close friend I had made. So, I figured we could just put the night plans on hold and at least go to the team dinner first. They had made a tertiary reservation for my friend because, after spring breaks shenanigans and my midlife taekwondo crisis, he decided he would come to the last few practices that were left. And so we decided we would both go to the dinner and put our plans on hold until later.

What proceeded were the shenanigans and inside jokes I had loved come to live with and would soon have to learn to live without. I could easily say we were having a great time. Soon the dinner was coming to a close and final speeches were made for graduating presidents and jobs well done by coaches. And then a speech was made…for me. A speech was made and a gift was given to the exchange student who had been a part of the club for barely half a semester. People applauded and thanked…me. I was dumbfounded. I was speechless. Most of all, I was touched, sincerely. At that point I didn’t know what to say, but I had to say something so I stood up and spoke. I thanked everyone for being so welcoming and really making me feel like a part of the team. I thanked everyone for treating me like a family and really being my closest friends while I was abroad. And, as I was talking, I realized that all these things that rushed to my head that I just repeated without hesitation were completely true. In a nutshell, these people really helped to make my experience what it was and I can confidently say it would not be the same otherwise. Even days before I left, days after finals, I was still learning. And thus, things you expect to occur do not always do. However, sometimes, those expected things that don’t occur, or the expected one’s that do, make your situation better than you could have possibly imagined.

Sydney Adventures

December 14, 2011

So they say the human attention span limits our ability to focus for extended periods of time. That’s why experts recommend that about every two hours you deserve a 45 minute study break in order to refresh your mind. You know what? I value expert opinions. I mean, after all, they are called experts for a reason. So before my last exam I figured I’d take my study break. But, since I had been studying and writing essays for the past two weeks, I figured that, mathematically, I need a break proportionate to the amount of work I had been doing. And that’s how I justified my one week vacation to Sydney before my last exam. A few other spiders studying at University of Melbourne and I went off to Sydney to stay with a few Spiders studying there. And thus, we were spreading our spider web over Australia…because we’re spiders. Spiders spin web. And that, my friends, is almost definitely the last Richmond Spiders pun I will make.

Anyway, a few friends of ours from Richmond offered to let us stay with them in Sydney. What’s nice is we’re getting an opportunity to see what it’s like at other universities in Australia. They live on campus at their university, but much like University of Melbourne it is very much a commuter school. Still, the smaller minority who live on campus is proportionate to the size of the entire student population. So, there are about 1000 students living here at a time.

The city of Sydney is incredible. We took time to visit some of the famous touristy areas like the opera house and the royal botanic gardens. Before we left to venture out into the nightlife of Sydney, we had to decide whether we would try to catch the last night train, or wait until they started again in the morning. And that’s when I realized you reach a point in life where you tell yourself that all-nighters are over-rated. You come to believe and accept that, after countless late night study sessions and written-in-one-night papers, nothing really special happens at the break of dawn other than a weird bodily sensation of fatigue that you can’t really differentiate between “just woke up” fatigue and “it’s really time for me to go to bed but I’ve had too much caffeine” fatigue.

So, like back at school, we decided that we would catch the last train, feeling that we had outgrown the all-nighter phase. And with that decision, we learned another very important lesson. Some decisions don’t go the way you plan them to. Sometimes, because of things like track work on trains, a changed bus schedule and a very convincing argument that there will be a second “last train”, you just don’t get to avoid the all-nighter…And sometimes you don’t get to avoid it three times in a row. Now, as much as I would love to say that the incredible people we met at 4:30 in the morning showed us a different part of Sydney that I will personally hold dear forever, I can’t, mainly because everyone else was asleep at 4:30 in the morning. What was incredible, though, was the way friends can make up games to keep themselves entertained for hours until the trains start running again. I guess that’s when the creativity kicks in. But you definitely find out who you can and cannot deal with after four hours in the Australian version of Burger King. And I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

The Story With a Moral

December 7, 2011

My first in-class exam was in Intermediate Macroeconomics, and I was slightly terrified.

After my three days of non-stop studying (minus the bathroom breaks and nap breaks and food breaks… and Facebook breaks and TV breaks including, but not limited to, Dexter, Community and How I Met Your Mother), I was as ready as I would ever be to take this exam.  I decided I would get there relatively early, and this meant that I would get 15 minutes of reading time before the exam began, almost like a bonus for being early. I was ready to go. I had my pre-exam cup of coffee. I had pencils, pens and a calculator. I was wearing pants, unlike most typical pre-exam nightmares.  The only thing I hadn’t done was the pre-exam workout my housemate had suggested, but I figured I could do without the morning jog.

I went to the general exam hall 15 minutes early, and I learned three very important lessons. Lesson number one: not all exams are held on campus, apparently. Lesson number two: my exam that day was not held on campus. Lesson number three: I would get that pre-exam workout my housemate suggested. After asking around and discovering that my exam was a solid five blocks away from campus, I ran for my life.

When I finally got there, not only did I fail to arrive 15 minutes early, I was 15 minutes late. I jumped into my chair as the gears in my brain jumped into double overtime. I was wide awake at that point, and scribbling answers as fast as I could. I glared at test proctors as they distracted me from my exam by reminding me to fill out insignificant information like my name and student ID number. Sweat was racing down my face as if my eyes were the finish line, forcing me to waste time to clear my vision.

However, at last, I finished without a second to spare and not a second to double-check. I walked out of that exam hall to a shining sun and warm happy smiles all around. The moral of the story is…well… I don’t think it has anything to do with morning jogging, really. Maybe the moral is… “directions a day keep the lost and tardy away!” Okay, you know what? We’ll just go with the moral: “In life, the unexpected occurs.” So, in preparation, be prepared to be unprepared, because preparing can only help you to prepare for that which can be prepared for.

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