Here comes summer!

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.2013-10-02 12.27.50Image

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.ImageImage

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!

Settling down…

By Miriam Westbrook (University of Sydney, Australia).

It’s already week 3 of my first semester here at the University of Sydney and I can’t believe that I’ve been here over a month! Orientation week was great if a little hectic, with so many international students from all over the world to meet and a new university to get accustomed to. But now I’ve started lectures and tutorials things have really settled down; so far the Australian university system seems very similar to our own in Manchester, with lectures, tutorials and some computer modelling practicals. The campus is beautiful though, and as much as I love Manchester it just doesn’t compare. Even though it’s supposed to be winter here the sun is shining almost every day and you can spot the other British exchange students a mile away – sitting in shorts and flip flops on the reclining chairs on the University lawns while Aussies huddle up in jumpers and Uggs.

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My back garden…

I’ve really enjoyed my studies so far because I’ve had the opportunity to branch out a bit, especially with my Australian history module which is a really great introduction to the country. I’m also getting used to the confusion on people’s faces when I tell them that my degree is in geography, a subject that doesn’t really exist here – I’m stuck somewhere between earth sciences and sociology!

It’s not all about lectures though, I’ve managed to find a waitressing job at a restaurant in Bondi so I can start saving up and planning for the summer (at Christmas!). Last Sunday was the City2Surf charity run, 14km from the city centre to Bondi Beach so the restaurant and the whole area was packed with buzzing runners who’d just finished and were relaxing by the beach. The weather was so beautiful and I managed to catch some of the race that went by my road before work.

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Manly Beach
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Amazing views from the Botanical Gardens
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Harbour cruise party!

The international student department have been running social events for exchange students for us to get to know each other and the city. The first of these was the Welcome to Sydney party at one of the many bars on campus, which from a slightly awkward start turned into a pretty crazy night! There was also the harbour cruise party, which had the added benefit of amazing views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House from the deck. Everyone is so friendly and interesting that it’s been easy to make friends, but I’m still finding myself sticking to the English and European students – hopefully I’ll branch out a bit more as the semester goes on!

And she’s off…

By Miriam Westbrook (University of Sydney, Australia).

Welcome to my blog! Here is my first post – the pre-departure nerves, exhausting flight and finally my arrival in beautiful Sydney. Enjoy!

4 days to go…

It’s getting pretty hard to pretend that I’m not actually leaving now that my flight is in 4 days, but I’m doing my best to avoid packing or saying goodbye to my friends. I’ve got my visa, flights are booked and I even have somewhere to stay when I arrive, but I still can’t quite believe that I’m going. Of course I’m excited, particularly because I’ve Google Maps-ed where I’m staying and it’s about a 5 minute walk from Bondi Beach, but the fact that its winter down is Oz is making me reluctant to leave this British heat wave!

Last Thursday I had drinks to say goodbye to most of my friends, which was very sad but it’s hard to imagine not seeing them for a year. I know the year will fly by but I can’t imagine being without any of my friends for so long. I’m saddest to be leaving my sister whose first baby is due in September – I won’t get to meet my new niece or nephew until they’re ten months old!

I’m also not concentrating too much on the university aspect – I’m hoping that will all sort itself out when I get there. At the moment I’m mainly focussed on getting through the 3 day flight, particularly the 10 hours I have to spend at Abu Dhabi airport.

The first 48 hours

Well, if we’re including the journey, its more like my first 96 hours (or something, I lost track somewhere around Abu Dhabi), and the journey was so long that it deserves its own paragraph. Saying goodbye to my parents and best friend at the airport was pretty emotional, and I didn’t really stop crying until I’d left Sydney airport. Apart from the tears, both flights were pretty uneventful, and the coffin-esque sleeping pod at Abu Dhabi airport was something of a highlight of the whole trip. There was also the slight issue of the Jewish fast that started at sunset on Monday night, which happened at some point while I was flying over the Indian Ocean. I might have been slightly lax in my calculations as to when sunset was, but who can blame me?

me and han airport

An emotional goodbye at Heathrow

Anyway, I’m here now and hopefully wont have to repeat that ordeal for a whole year. I landed around 7 AM, went through a very diligent Customs and finally made it to my hosts in North Bondi. At this point I was emotional, scared and overwhelmed, but mostly just very, very tired, and not caring about adjusting my body clock, had a 4 hour nap. This really didn’t help my jetlag and I woke up today at 4.30AM, convinced it was mid-afternoon. I’ll get there eventually. After my nap I wandered down to Bondi Beach, where it promptly started to rain, so I sheltered for a while and then walked home. Today was my first and last day as a tourist in Sydney, before I start university and become a proper Australian (kind of). I took an open topped tour bus around the city and was completely blown away by the beautiful parks, harbours and architecture. I’m usually more of a countryside fan but Sydney is completely breathtaking. I fell in love with the amazing parks dotted around the city and the sparkling  ocean visible from most of the city centre, next to huge glass skyscrapers home to corporate headquarters, and of course the iconic Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Seeing Sydney really got rid of the homesickness that I’d been crying about only hours earlier.

Prawns (I think) at the fish market

Prawns (I think) at the fish market

Sydney Harbour Bridge. Much more impressive in real life

Sydney Harbour Bridge. Much more impressive in real life

A low point though, was at the fish market, where I stopped to grab some fresh sashimi for lunch. The salmon looked amazing, like it had been swimming around less than half an hour ago. I took my lunch to the eating area outside, where I had two pieces (admittedly the best two pieces of sashimi that I’ve ever had) before being, and I don’t use this word lightly, viciously attacked by a flock of seagulls, that stole my salmon and knocked my pot of soy sauce all over my new jeans. Naturally, I screamed loudly and repeatedly, further embarrassing myself. I had an apple for lunch instead.

A week in

Orientation has started, I’ve navigated the Sydney transport system, met my fellow Manchester exchange students and now I’m well and truly settled in. My bank card even arrived yesterday so I’m officially an Australian. I was blown away by the university on the first day of international orientation – its so huge that Manchester looks like a private study room in AG in comparison. The Great Hall (and it does actually look like Harry Potter) is modelled on Cambridge and is very impressive. The University is typically Aussie in its laid-back attitude; our first day involved a sea safety lesson, promotion for Spring Break vacation packages and an earnest plea by the Study Abroad coordinator to fall in love with an Australian, and to bring them back with us to do study abroad in the UK!

Enrollment itself starts tomorrow, and with it all the boring things like lectures, timetables and library cards. But the Welcome to Sydney party on Thursday should be a highlight – more on that soon!