Ummm HELP??! – Tips on living in Brisbane

So it’s been over a year since I was in Brisbane, Australia – over a year of sarcastic ‘sO yOu WeNt tO AuStRaLiA?! You never mentioned that!’ and of answering the questions of prospective Aussie travellers. I’ve noticed a trend in the questions i’ve been asked so I thought i’d write a somewhat practical blog telling the story of my fears and big questions, and some tips on day-to-day life as a student in Brisbane. I hope that this shows the big stresses of studying abroad aren’t really as big as they seem!

What about the BUGS??!! 

Thought i’d mention this first. It’s Australia right? And yeah, it’s all true, they still have dinosaurs over there, and there’s flying spiders as big as your face buzzing about ready to eat you alive as soon as you step out of your house.

Nah just kidding, but I was pretty on edge when I first arrived. I mentioned in an earlier blog that I was greeted by Jonathan, a beast of a spider sitting in a web right outside my ground floor window. I also remember checking under my covers and pillow every night for the first 2 weeks in the hope there was nothing under there to ambush me. Turns out mutant insects don’t exist, and giant spiders, especially when you live in the city, are pretty rare.

The worst experience I had with the Aussie bugs was during a road trip down the east coast. We decided to visit a hidden spot on the edge of a tropical forest where there was a rope swing and a big pool of water. It was so sick, but the only problem was the plague of horse-flies surrounding the water, and as soon as they caught wind of you they would swarm. The only way to escape them was dive under water or run for your life.

Getting away from the airport…

Don’t forget to book an airport pick up!! UQ and many other universities provide them depending on what uni you are going to, so book one a week or so in advance. I was silly and forgot to do this, but was saved by Jonno, a contact I was lucky to have in Brisbane.

Getting around in Brisbane

For a normal day of university or just exploring the city, having a ‘GO card’ is absolutely necessary in Brisbane. They are super easy to pick up, any Coles, newsagent or 7/11 (a small shop similar to Co-op but cheaper, and can be found on nearly every street) does them. All you have to do is beep them on their beeper on a bus/ferry at the start and end of every journey. Top them up by just handing them in at the 7/11 till or online at translink.com.au. I used to live in West End, so to get to UQ i’d take a bus and then a ferry across the river, which took me straight to campus. Also, I would be so lost in the world without google maps. Keep your phone and that trusty app always!

Food + shops

The two big supermarkets in Brisbane are Woolworths (yeah it still exists?!) and Coles. There is a sort of rivalry between the supermarkets, and most Aussies decide to be either a ‘woolys’ or Coles shopper. Both are similar in price. I used Coles, because they were closest to me, and they used to do these really cool mini plastic vegemite toys if you spent over $40 in a shop.

Speaking of money…

I used ‘Transferwise’ to convert my English £ to Australian $. There’s an app which is super easy to use, you simply type what amount of money you want to convert, it shows you the rate at which it will convert and then sends you the money within a day or so.

I set up a bank account with Commonwealth bank, which are also really easy to use and have an online banking app. There are Commonwealth banks scattered all around Brisbane.

What time did you have to travel?

If you’re organised and do work in weekdays, that leaves weekends free for travel, which is the most common strategy for study abroad students it seems. You also get a break in the middle of the semester of a week or 2. Many students also travel after their exams, which is probably the longest and most stress free time which is definitely worth taking advantage of!

My thoughts

Study abroad is full of random things to get stressed about. It seems like there’s so many things to keep on top of, especially before you leave! And yet, from my experience, the worries are certainly not as big and bad as they all seem. The important thing is to keep an open mind and HAVE FUN 🙂

The Manc Student: An Unexpected Journey (post-uni travelling)

…A brief account of my journey to Middle Earth (aka. New Zealand, aka. land of beautiful mountains)…

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Milford Sound, New Zealand

Most study abroad students, it seems, save at least a few weeks post-exams (after the official study abroad period) to travel. And why not! Having travelled so far to a place like Australia, NZ was temptation too great to resist.

One of my best friends from primary school, Joel, lived in Wellington at the time I studied abroad, so before i’d even left for Australia we planned a grand tour of NZ south island for the weeks after my time at UQ had finished. We arranged the trip with a company called kiwi tours, and before I knew it UQ exams had finished and I was flying out to Wellington to see Joel again. It was pretty crazy to re-unite – I hadn’t seen him for 3 years! We hung out for a bit in Wellington then took the ferry to south island to start the trip. At the beginning it wasn’t all fun, because transitioning from lovely sunny Australia at the near height of summer to the mild NZ temperature of 15 degrees was terrible. I remember curling up in the corner of the ferry wearing 4 jumpers and my woolly hat, just shivering all the way to south island.

We started in a little coastal town called Picton where we boarded the kiwi tours coach, which travelled clockwise around the coast of the island for 2 weeks. In a nutshell the trip was mostly jumping between hostels in coastal towns and cities. At each stop there would be loads of different things to do. To name a few, me and Joel ended up surfing on the west coast, kayaking in big glacial lakes, bungie jumping the world famous Nevis bungie jump, went mountain biking and partied with loads of other backpackers we met along the way. Bye bye leftover money 🙂

One of the most notable sights on the trip was Milford Sound, a famous fiord on the west coast of south island with the most incredible views. If you are ever fortunate enough to find yourself in New Zealand, this is a sight you shouldn’t miss (Also, if you didn’t already know, most of the Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand, and i’m a massive Tolkien nerd. I was insanely excited to visit places like the southern alps, aka. misty mountains in the LotR flms, which were just as notable as Milford Sound).

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Nevis Bungy, Christchurch, New Zealand
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Kayaking in the trendy coats they made us wear

Hostel living was tough but rewarding. You have to cook your own dinners in most hostels, meaning a quick shop at the nearest supermarket at each stop. The diet was mostly pasta and snacks like crackers. At one point we came across a fruit market which sold Joel a massive 8kg sack of apples for 7 dollars, so that kept us going for a bit too. The sleeping situation in hostels also takes some getting used to. You could be sharing a dorm with 4 people in one place and 20 people in the next, and alarms will be blaring from 4 am. But it’s all worth it because you meet some amazing characters in these places, and the freedom of hostel living is what backpacker culture relies on.

After the 2 weeks exploring the south we travelled back to where Joel was based on north island, Palmerston north. I stayed with the family Joel was living with, who graciously hosted this random smelly English backpacker for a week. It just so happened that during my stay there, the family were hosting a wedding ceremony! It was an honour to be a part of the wedding, which involved features of Māori culture, elements of which are still deeply rooted in the life of many New Zealanders and which remains a deeply loved cultural heritage.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to explore much of north island before my return trip to the UK, but it’s on my future travel plans list! The north island is known to be the more culturally rich of the two islands, whereas south island is where most of the famous natural sites and mountain ranges are. If you visit I would recommend spending at least 2 weeks on each island to experience the minimal amount of what there is to see in NZ. For such a small country, it is so rich in new experiences. So if you have time post-studies, don’t rush off back home if you don’t have to! Experience the country you’re in and anything else you want to see nearby without the stress of university.

 

It’s been a year already?!

I hope you appreciate that slice of The Notorious B.I.G’s ‘Juicy’, it took me ages to work out how to do that. It actually reveals a deep suspicion i’ve had for a while now – did I really study abroad? Or was it all a dream?!

It’s been so long since I left for Australia. After a year it seems almost as if I never really went. To have such an intense, unique experience and then almost suddenly leave it behind for your life to continue back home would have anybody questioning what on earth just happened. (Side note; honestly on this freezing cold November afternoon i’m starting to question whether the sun was part of this study abroad dream. Here, in Manchester, I can definitively say that the sun does not exist. I didn’t realise as I flew out of Brisbane airport I would be waving goodbye to both Australia and the SUN). So, in a way I guess studying abroad is dreamlike. For a long time it’s the only thing on your mind. There is preparation, scheduling, excitement and sheer panic for a lot of the time leading up to it. Then the actual experience is intense and fleeting. Finally as if waking up from a dream, life resumes at home. You’re left thinking ‘wow that was pretty cool’, and then dive back in to the business of English life and dreaded final year projects. In this sense the experience builds a degree of mental resilience – it’s a lot to come out of being abroad and carry on studying.

The aftermath of studying abroad isn’t all that gloomy though. There are loads things that have come out of it. For me, i’ve been inspired to travel so much more. It’s mental how flying out to a foreign country once on your own makes you realise how much freedom you have. Just this summer I visited some Dutch friends in Amsterdam that I met in Brisbane (big up foreign friends and free overseas accommodation 😉 ). Afterwards I spent 2 weeks driving around the entire coast of Ireland in a camper with 4 other guys. This is a super corny thought but the good times aren’t over when you come home – it’s accurate to say studying abroad is a catalyst for even more crazy adventures later.

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Silly times climbing the tallest mountain (Carrauntoohil) in Ireland – we left way too late & got lost in the dark trying to get back

My aim in this post isn’t to villainize England. Coming home is necessary! However I think the ‘dreamlike’ nature of going abroad resonates with a lot of the people that have studied abroad themselves. To me it was like a roller-coaster that I decided to just dive off at the end. Theoretically I could have stayed on that ride forever and not bought a return ticket, to become some sort of surfer hermit and live out my days in a beach hut. As much fun as that might’ve been I, unfortunately, had a million good reasons to come home.

Fear not fellow travellers, this isn’t the first and last time we experience the amazingness that is study abroad. It was not some one off dream. There is literally the world to explore and SO much time to do it!

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That’s definitely the back of my head in Australia – we can confirm it was not a dream

Brisbane’s infamous 22 person house

“Wow – that must be pretty crazy” is the standard response I get when I tell people i’ve been living in the 22 person house known as ‘Westella’ for the past few months. Honestly, pretty crazy is not a good enough description of the place – a more accurate description would perhaps be beautifully berserk. This post is a tribute to my experience in an international shared house and will hopefully encourage those considering to live abroad in the future.

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A few housemates and I having a fire on one of the rare beaches where it’s legal

I’d say I was extremely lucky in finding out about Westella. Most of us that live here discovered it by word on the street; after attending a few study abroad sessions you would be approached by a returned student like “Ay pssst, there’s this accomodation that I think you would be interested in”. One of my Italian housemates found the place by zooming into the city on google maps and picking the first accommodation he saw (not sure i’d recommend). The website was not at all convincing (have a gander and see why: http://www.westendstudentaccommodation.com), but considering the phenomenal dent the other accommodation options would leave in my student loan, and after a few more recommendations by other students, I decided to go for it nonetheless.

I travelled to Australia knowing no one, though was lucky enough to have Jonno, an Australian contact to pick me up from the airport (I forgot to sign up for the university provided pick up anyway – oops). It being Australia and all, the first thing I was greeted with as I walked up to the door was a MASSIVE spider sitting right outside the window of my room. Along with the spider I have 3 housemates from France, 2 English, 4 Irish, 2 Germans, 2 Danish, 1 Dutch, 3 Italians, 1 Australian, 1 Pakistani and 1 ghost – because every student house has at least one. I did not expect to come to Australia and meet so many Europeans. Luckily all of them speak English, decently enough, and they soon became like a family to me. In the short time of only 3 months I genuinely feel I have made some lifelong friends living here.

The house itself is located in an area called West End, which could be compared to the likes of Manchester’s Fallowfield. We have a nice local kebab shop and supermarket, it’s quite a dodgy area and is a bus (and ferry) ride from university.

If you are planning on moving into a shared house and expecting to be able to focus longer than 5 minutes I would check to see if there are any coffee shops or libraries nearby. I will admit that personally, the noise people make in the house isn’t distracting in itself. I instead rise up to the challenge of being even noisier.

From what i’ve experienced you can make anywhere feel like home. Moving abroad is a brave thing to do and the first step is definitely the hardest. As long as you take that big step and embrace the quirkiness of wherever you end up, moving abroad is completely worth it.