By Olivia Smith, History, Australian National University, Australia.
Day 17 of my new adventure and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked “why ANU?” or “why Canberra?”. To begin with, the question was actually quite hard to answer, and I did admit several times that ANU wasn’t actually at the top of my list. But now, after spending ‘O-week’ (Fresher’s) and a week of classes at my new Uni, I can seriously say I wouldn’t chose anywhere different given the choice. This is a blog for those of you who like me, don’t end up with your preferred university for study abroad, and a reassurance that despite the cliché, everything really does happen for a reason.
After spending a week in Sydney, the 3 hour coach ride down to Canberra was admittedly rather upsetting; leaving the city behind, all I could see was desert or forest (there weren’t even any kangaroos). It certainly took a few days to adapt to the quiet capital city, but I soon came to realise that just because it was not like Sydney, or even Manchester, Canberra was its own little bubble, and the relaxed atmosphere of the city was a nice break from the intensity of home.
The campus definitely makes up for anything the city centre may lack. While it has been around 30 degrees here since I arrived, I doubt even rain could (figuratively) dampen the picture of campus; crossing stepping stones over Sullivan’s Creek on my way to class is 100% a highlight. It is obviously nothing like Manchester, but I didn’t travel 10,000 miles to spend the semester in somewhere exactly like home. Swap pigeons for parrots, squirrels for possums, cars for bikes, and concrete for greenery and you may have an idea of the ANU surroundings.
In terms of social life, Canberra isn’t exactly famous for its night life. I have to confess, it’s week 3 and I’m already starting to get bored of the student nights available, probably because I can’t help but compare it to Manchester. But with the right people, anything is fun, and if you know where to look you can have a really great night. There’s bars and pubs all over the city and one street a lot like Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Happy hour at the ANU bar is always buzzing, and its proven for me to be a great place new people and take a quick break from studies.
But you can Google facts about Canberra as a city, and what there is to do here, so I’ll speak more about my experience in halls and my thoughts about the university itself…
I was fortunately given a place at my preferred university residence, Ursula Hall, or ‘Ursies’ – you only get one choice so I was slightly worried. Unlike the basic flats we have back home, the residences here are much more communal; Ursies is admittedly the smallest but I’d safely say I’ve met 90% of the 250 people living here. It’s hard to explain how welcoming and friendly people are, but the thing I love most is that everyone knows everyone; you can walk into the dining hall for meals and happily sit next to anyone, even if you don’t remember their name, and they’ll make you feel right at home. I’m not sure whether I just got lucky with Ursies, some of the larger colleges may not be as easy going, but the general vibe of ANU is super friendly, so if like I was, you’re worried about making friends here then it’s safe to say, it’s basically impossible not to. Every day during O-Week there was some kind of activity planned giving you the chance to mingle, and before classes even begin you’ll no doubt feel like you’ve been here forever.
Another great thing about ANU is that not many people live in Canberra, and the university is one of the best in the country, so people travel from all over Australia to attend. Aussie students tend to stay at home for university, but Canberra is made up of the odd few who try and break from what they know and avoid the perhaps easier option of staying with all their school friends in a city they’ve grown up in. As an international student there are obvious perks to this, not only is it easier to make friends here than perhaps it would be somewhere else, as everyone really is starting fresh, but it also means you’ll no doubt have countless offers from the people you make friends with to go and visit places all over Australia.
With regards to uni itself, much like with many other aspects of Aussie life, work is extremely casual. This isn’t to say you won’t have to work hard, but after 1 week of classes I’ve gathered that the decision to do well, and the pressure to be on top of work needs to come from the student; the tutors want you to push yourself rather than be pushed by them. It does make sense, but I think it’ll take time to adjust to the fact that they encourage the use of podcasts over lectures – as most people find it easier to learn that way – and that being 1 of 8 people in a lecture meant for 100 is actually very normal. My words of advice for students coming here from an international university: be careful that this doesn’t give you a false sense of security that you have nothing to do !
If someone were to ask me now, “Why ANU?” I’d know exactly how to answer. The parrots may be annoyingly loud and the climate may have shocked me to some extent, but it’s day 17 and I feel right at home. The relaxed Aussie lifestyle is a nice break from the intensity of Manchester, and I know I’ve already made friends for life. ANU was in no way top of my list when applying to study abroad, but this experience is 100% what you make of it, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get your preference either. Take it from me, everything happens for a reason (and wherever you go, they’ll be obsessed with the British accent) !