By Miriam Westbrook (University of Sydney, Australia).
It seems like 5 minutes ago I was writing my ‘First Impressions’ blog but somehow more than 3 months has passed since I arrived in Sydney and I’m already at the end of my first semester. Exams are still looming but after that I have the whole summer of travelling around the Pacific planned and I can’t wait to start exploring this amazing part of the world!
Part of my hydrology class here was a 3 day field trip during the Common Vacation week, so while the other study abroad students were hitting up the Gold Coast, Brisbane and Alice Springs I was making my way to the tiny rural town of Cootamundra, about 4 hours away from Sydney in the West of New South Wales. I was expecting full on bush land, but Cootamundra turned out to be more Peak District than Outback. Think green rolling hills, miles and miles of ploughed field and lots of sheep. The town itself was cool and had a distinct 1950s vibe, with old school motels, big diners that looked like converted cow sheds and the biggest RSL (Retired Servicemen’s League) that I had come across. On the way there I also got to experience the Australian phenomenon of random giant statues that are dotted around the country – we went past the giant ram but elsewhere in Australia are giant bananas, pineapples and other farmyard animals.
The trip was a great chance to hang out with proper Australians because the hydrology course is part of the Agriculture degree and attracts lots of students from traditional farming communities in Sydney’s outer west. It was also interesting (from a geeky Geographer’s perspective) to see the difference in the hydrology of Australia; in Manchester we study flooding in the Lake District, here the professors have to hope the rivers won’t have completely dried up when we get out there to study them. They also don’t have years of pollution from huge industrial cities still sitting in groundwater and soil; water quality barely features in Australian hydrology.
It wasn’t all studying though, the town were so delighted to have 30 students from the city visiting that they put on a karaoke night in the local bar for us, and there is no better way to bond with your professors than hearing them sing Bohemian Rhapsody after a few too many skooners of Carlton Draught.
When I got back to Sydney I finally moved in to my fabulous new beach pad with my new flatmate Rachel, a Manchester graduate. Our new place may not have internet, TV or a working oven, but we’re 30 seconds away from Bondi Beach so we’re making it work. We even managed to fill the place for our housewarming party (and my birthday party) last week, proving that we actually have made some friends here – and most of them were even Australian!
However settled in I feel, I’m still learning lots about Australian culture. I was disappointed to discover, after it was much too late, that Halloween here is not the major event it is in the UK – I’m used to Fallowfield being awash with fake blood and white face paint and accordingly spent a long time carefully assembling my vampire costume, backcombing my hair and applying bloody fake tattoos for the Halloween party we were going to. I shouldn’t have bothered; Rachel and I were pretty much the only two people in there who had dressed up, but refusing to be embarrassed we acted like that was how we dressed every night and had a pretty good time. Still, Australia has a lot to learn about Halloween.
I have a few weeks now that will be consumed by studying and trying to fit in as many hours as I can waitressing so I can save up for what will hopefully be an amazing summer – I already have Fiji, Cairns and New Zealand booked and plan to spend every last penny I have travelling wherever I can around the country. Can’t wait to share it with you!