Arriving Down Under: Adjusting to Life in Sydney

By Lauren Tennant, University of New South Wales, Australia

After multiple push-backs due to the pandemic, and 24 hours of travelling, I arrived down-under in Sydney around three weeks ago. Knowing first-hand the mixture of excitement, apprehension, and uncertainty, I thought I’d make a list to guide you through the transition into an exchange year and offer any tips from both my triumphs and mistakes, alongside my initial reflections.

Continue reading “Arriving Down Under: Adjusting to Life in Sydney”

Why I chose to Study at the University of Queensland

by Cam Kruger, University of Queensland, Australia

I have always been a keen traveller and inclined to travel the world, so taking part in the study abroad programme seemed like a no brainer to me. After many hours of researching the university destinations as part of the UoM study abroad programme, Australia stood out to me the most, especially Queensland.

Continue reading “Why I chose to Study at the University of Queensland”

Chapter Three: Places to visit in Canberra

Even though Covid-19 restricted me from flying to different places in Australia, I have been actively finding places in Canberra to make up for the travel losses. If you are a student coming to ANU in the future, you are lucky because you will have a plethora of stunning places in Australia to visit, and the following recommendations will help you catch some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Canberra.

  • Mount Painter Nature Reserve

Mount Painter Nature Reserve has a beautiful sweeping view of north Canberra with easy access paths. People love to walk dogs and enjoying nature there. I got my favourite pic here!

  • Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

A big big nature reserve in Canberra with plenty of wildlife. Instead of paying for an expensive ticket to the zoo, you can visit the Koala attraction. Also, keep an eye for different types of kangaroos on your venture in this reserve. They have picnic spots and BBQ facilities. Remember to be extra time cautious as it will determine your ability to see most of the place before it turns dark. For your notice, private vehicle access only. 

  • Lake Burley Griffin

This is the lake that is popular among every ANU student for its convenience in terms of going for a walk, jogging, and picnic spots. It is just 15mins walk from campus. It takes about 8hrs to walk around the lake, where you will pass by the Australian national parliament, the national gallery, and the national library. The Canberra Balloon Speculator and Canberra Fireworks night (both in March) are some of the major events that are set beside the lake. Definitely recommend visiting the lake before sunset. It is AMAZING.

  • Red Hill Nature Reserve

Another beautiful and accessible reserve in Canberra. Lots of eye-catching rocks along the tracks and an overarching view at the top. What makes this reserve distinctive is not just its view, but also it has an aesthetic fine dining restaurant which has got one of the most spectacular views and a team that brings a unique mix of culinary and beverage experience to offer quality food and wines from independent makers worldwide. This restaurant is called the Onred restaurant and I definitely recommend this for a special occasion.          

  • Yarralumla suburb

Last but not the least, Yarralumla is a beautiful suburb with one of the best real estate in Canberra (Most of the rich people from Canberra own the estates there). It’s very pretty!! 

A Covid Farewell

By Lauren Howie, the University of Manchester

Like many people on exchange this year, I didn’t get the send off I had anticipated. In our pre-covid fantasies we imagined a month of BBQs on the beach, sunset hikes and cocktails at those bars we just hadn’t got round to visiting yet.

The reality couldn’t have been more different.

How we imagined our send off to look like

PHASE 1: MOVING OUT

To begin with Australia wasn’t too badly affected by the virus. While the UK infection rates were rocketing, Melbourne was yet to record a fatality. But we couldn’t predict what was round the corner and staying in Aus during a pandemic seemed risky, not to forget expensive.

With great hesitation, we ended the lease on our beautiful home and booked a flight back to the UK. Our decision to leave brought about a mad frenzy of selling furniture and rushed goodbyes. It wasn’t till we parted with our last pot plant, that we finally realised our time abroad had come to an end.

Well thats what we thought.

All packed up and ready to go

Only 45 minutes after we had gutted our ENTIRE house we received an email informing us that our flight had been cancelled and that unless we had a spare 10 grand lying around, we weren’t getting another one soon.

We were officially stuck in Melbourne with only Chinese leftovers, a legless table and a new family of mice for company.

Sitting in our empty home eating Chinese leftovers

PHASE 2: STRANDED

With no electricity and a rapidly deteriorating budget, things began to look pretty bleak. I made several attempts to contact the University of Melbourne in hope of securing temporary accommodation. Much to my dismay, our host university took no interest in our plea for help. Running out of options we were unbelievably grateful to receive a message from my Aussie course-mate. Having heard of our distress, she insisted we crashed at hers or at the very least used her wifi while we sought for solutions.

My wonderful coursemate & her dog missy

PHASE 3: LOCKDOWN IN AUS

After a much needed 2 days away from the family of mice, we were ready to launch our covid action plan! We had struck lucky with an incredibly cheap air bnb in the city centre as well as a new flight home in a fortnights time.

Making the most of a ‘bad’ situation we spent the next 2 weeks relaxing in our apartment, playing boardgames, ordering breakfast, holding makeshift spa nights and learning Spanish. Overtime the supermarkets restocked and we found ourselves with a plentiful supply of loo roll and watercolours. Shockingly, lockdown in a swanky inner city apartment wasn’t all that bad!

PHASE 4: TAKE OFF

In the days leading up to our flight we constantly refreshed our inboxes expecting to see a dreaded cancellation email. To our disbelief, no email appeared. In a groundhog day like manner, we repacked, put on our face masks and headed to the airport.

Our airport experience was anything but normal. Firstly, our flight was 25 hours long but we weren’t allowed to leave the plane during our stop over. Instead we waited for 2 hours in the dark while cleaners; dressed as futuristic spacemen, sterilised every surface. Making matters more bizarre, no hot food could be served. With nothing better to do, we spent the last tedious stretch of our journey reminiscing and scoffing our faces with endless supplies of kitkats.

On the 25 hour flight

PHASE 5: REFLECTIONS

So it mightn’t have been the perfect ending to the perfect time abroad.

But I can certainly say that for the amazing people I met, the incredible places I saw and the unforgettable memories I made, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Farewell all, safe travels.

Lauren x

Chapter 4: Final Reflection

Even though this semester was nothing similar to my earlier expectations, I am ultimate glad and grateful for this exchange experience. People’s lives suffer more or less under the global pandemic. However, I feel that coming to Australia and spending 6 months here was the best experience I could’ve gotten under COVID. 

  1. Course selection

I was lucky to discover a course called “CBEA3001: Special Industry Project (SIP)”. This course provides students with the opportunity to work in a small cross-disciplinary team setting and solve a business problem presented by a local business client. Our client is an aboriginal corporation in Australia and we are matched with mentors from Pwc. By doing this course, I not only learned essential skills in consulting and gained the experience of working with diverse people and interacting with real client, but the project also gives me a chance to explore the aboriginal culture behind modern Australia. At the very beginning of the course when COVID hasn’t spread globally, the whole class went on an overnight trip to meet clients and get first-hand information of the project. We would have gone to meet clients again for the final presentation if the semester went normally. I would say that this course is definitely special and the hard skills and soft skills that I gained would be very helpful for career development. 

(field trip to Eden)

Another course that I wished that I knew before is call “FINM3009 Student Managed Fund (SMF)”. This course provides students the opportunity to take responsibility for over $0.6 million worth of investments. They have 4 different roles under the course that you can apply based on the prerequisite courses you have taken. 

Although SMF is very limited to student with finance background, SIP is open to every disciplines. 

2. Accommodation

I am lucky to live at Wright hall, which is the newest and one of the best equipped flexible-catered accommodation on campus. Wright hall has a good proportion of domestic and international students. People at wright organised plenty of activities throughout the year. It has 7 floors and more than 500 residents living in the hall. I hardly feel lonely and don’t have to make much efforts to maintain the new established friendships because I can see those people every day! 

For those of you who find it expensive living on campus while coming to exchange in Australia, I would say that living cost is generally higher here compared to Manchester. You would find food is a lot expensive as well. Therefore, the catered accommodation is not as expensive as it looks. If you want to be self-catered, B&G might be a good option as it is cheap and renowned for its good social experience. 

(Wright hall commencement dinner)

3. Society

Another highlight during the exchange is the sponsored Sydney finance trip that I went with ANU finance society. We visited 11 companies in 2 days and stay overnight in the CBD center. I found the event on Facebook, paid a small amount of community fee, and sent my CV to give a try. I wrote down this experience just to encourage the future exchange students to actively search for activities during exchange and be brave to take part in any opportunities. You exchange time is precious and limited, so make the most of it! 

(Finance trip to Sydney!)

4. People

Finally, the softest part in this reflection belongs to the people that I met at ANU. Looking back one year ago, I got my exchange result and found that I didn’t get into Sydney and Melbourne. I was upset and hesitated to accept the offer. I talked to people and ultimately decided to go exchange even though the result was not ideal. Half year ago when I was stuck in China due to the Australia travel restriction, I didn’t give up and went to a third country to self-quarantine. Now all the coincidence and efforts make sense: Australian Capital Territory remains one of the safest places in Australia during the pandemic and I met lifelong friends at ANU. I have made memories with people and they will be the very few people to stay close in my life. I also know that I can take someone with me in this lifetime journey. 

Easter egg – a letter from my beloved at Wright:

Melbourne’s Dollar Worthy Brunches

By Lauren Howie, The University of Manchester

So you’ve found yourself in culinary heaven … but you don’t know where to start? Have no fear, a Melbourne brunch guide is here.

Continue reading “Melbourne’s Dollar Worthy Brunches”

Chapter Three: Places to visit in Canberra

Even though Covid-19 restricted me from flying to different places in Australia, I have been actively finding places in Canberra to make up for the travel losses. If you are a student coming to ANU in the future, you are lucky because you will have a plethora of stunning places in Australia to visit, and the following recommendations will help you catch some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Canberra.

  • Mount Painter Nature Reserve

Mount Painter Nature Reserve has a beautiful sweeping view of north Canberra with easy access paths. People love to walk dogs and enjoying nature there. I got my favourite pic here!

  • Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

A big big nature reserve in Canberra with plenty of wildlife. Instead of paying for an expensive ticket to the zoo, you can visit the Koala attraction. Also, keep an eye for different types of kangaroos on your venture in this reserve. They have picnic spots and BBQ facilities. Remember to be extra time cautious as it will determine your ability to see most of the place before it turns dark. For your notice, private vehicle access only. 

  • Lake Burley Griffin

This is the lake that is popular among every ANU student for its convenience in terms of going for a walk, jogging, and picnic spots. It is just 15mins walk from campus. It takes about 8hrs to walk around the lake, where you will pass by the Australian national parliament, the national gallery, and the national library. The Canberra Balloon Speculator and Canberra Fireworks night (both in March) are some of the major events that are set beside the lake. Definitely recommend visiting the lake before sunset. It is AMAZING.

  • Red Hill Nature Reserve

Another beautiful and accessible reserve in Canberra. Lots of eye-catching rocks along the tracks and an overarching view at the top. What makes this reserve distinctive is not just its view, but also it has an aesthetic fine dining restaurant which has got one of the most spectacular views and a team that brings a unique mix of culinary and beverage experience to offer quality food and wines from independent makers worldwide. This restaurant is called the Onred restaurant and I definitely recommend this for a special occasion.          

  • Yarralumla suburb

Last but not the least, Yarralumla is a beautiful suburb with one of the best real estate in Canberra (Most of the rich people from Canberra own the estates there). It’s very pretty!! 

WHERE TO EAT ON KING STREET

By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)

Newtown is almost like the Fallowfield of Sydney! It’s a studenty suburb that is super close to a lot of USYD’s colleges and residences including the famous Queen Mary Building and its new rival, the Regiment. King Street is a buzzing hub of shops, restaurants and bars; it is the beating heart of USYD’s social life. After spending farrrr too much money in basically every single establishment that it has to offer, I’m well equipped (if slightly financially destabilised) to talk you through my favourites.

SOUL BURGER

Picture this. Little old Issy has made one of her first ventures out of her accommodation on day one to go and sort herself out with a SIM card. Vodafone may be at the top of the to-do list, but she is distracted by a poster. It’s a burger. And it’s a stunner. Surely you can’t pick a phone contract on an empty stomach?!

The best thing about Soul Burger is that it is completely vegan – and absolutely nothing about it reveals that fact. They pride themselves on re-creating timeless classics that you would never know are vegan. Rather than your classic Portobello mushroom or tofu burger, they’ve actually created plant-based alternatives to meat. Even many of my friends that are meat-lovers were shocked at the opportunity to order a Chilli Beef Burger with Dirty Cheesey and Bacon Fries! Getting the app was a great shout as well – sharing Sweet Potato Fries in Camperdown Park with friends was even sweeter when the fries were free.

My Favourite: The Satay Tofu Burger is one of the cheapest on the menu but not one to be missed. Peanut sauce everywhere, need I say more?

THAI POTHONG

Thai Pothong is one of the BNOKS (Big Name On King Street). I’d heard about it before from some family friends in England and when it was the topic of conversation at work in Sydney too, I realised that they must be doing something right in there! It’s a massive restaurant with two floors and is almost always full, which surely speaks for itself. Make sure you book a reservation! Full of East Asian statuary, wall art and plants, they’ve created a really cool sense of culture inside which makes your lunch or dinner feel like a bit of an event. With loads of really friendly and attentive staff, you will want for nothing as they are perfectly tuned in to an empty wine glass or rice bowl. The best part: it’s BYOB! Ten minutes before our booking, about fifteen of us met outside the bottle-o just next door to pick out the cheapest beer and wine we could find to keep the bill down. Although you’re getting a full-on dining experience at Thai Pothong, providing your own drinks prevents it from breaking the bank which is great for big groups of students. P.S. It’s voted the best Thai restaurant in Sydney!

My Favourite: Penang Curry, Penang Curry, Penang Curry.

THE ITALIAN BOWL

 The Italian Bowl works a little differently to how we might normally expect to eat at an Italian restaurant. They don’t take bookings so you get to queue outside on the bustling street and wait for a space on one of the communal tables. Again, it’s BYOB so people tend to enjoy some tinnies in the sun while waiting for a seat. In true Aussie style, everyone’s up for a yarn so I have to thank The Italian Bowl for the many random friends that I’ve made in that queue!

The idea here is that they absolutely nail classic pasta dishes. Firstly, you chose from all sorts of fresh pasta like fettuccine, linguine, ravioli or even potato gnocchi. Then, and this is the best bit, you get to choose from an abundant list of sauces. There’s eighteen different choices and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve managed to get through the whole lot in my time. From your basic Napolitana all the way to a fancy Mare E Monte, there’s definitely something for everyone. Priced at around £10 per pasta dish (and they’re quite hefty), it’s not extortionate but it’s definitely a treat.

My Favourite: I liked going a bit rogue and trying something a bit different; the Chicken Peppercorn did not disappoint.

LENTILS AS ANYTHING

Now this one is the dream ticket!! Before I went to Australia, I’d had lots of chats with older students who had already been on exchange to USYD. As soon as I said that I would be living near Newtown, every single one recommended Lentils as Anything. Run by volunteers (if you have a spare evening, definitely go and give them a hand), it’s a brilliant manifestation of wholesome Aussie community. They operate on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ basis, so after eating you have the opportunity to make a monetary contribution as you wish. This means it can provide food to those in need. Of course, this is a great gesture of social cohesion which fosters the inclusion of many different social groups. Even the long benches, that you share with others as you dine, promote a sense of community.

Great ethics aside, the food isn’t half bad either! With a completely vegetarian menu, the choices are changed daily depending on what produce is available. The whole experience is all the more collective when people lean over and ask you which dish you’ve gone for because they’ve never seen it before. There’s usually about three different plates on the menu, with an option for dessert or chai tea too. As well as the more consistent options like Thai Green Curry and Chilli Con Carne, they also include some more niche, adventurous dishes that really embody veggie creativity like a garlic and lemon courgette linguine. Both economically and environmentally ethical, Lentils as Anything really is a win-win.

My Favourite: Spicy Chickpea Pasta. I’ve not looked at a chickpea in the same way since.

MESSINA GELATO

It’s only right to end on a sweet treat and it’d be rude not to include my very own second home. Where do I even start with Messina? As I have generously undertaken market research for you all and selflessly tried the whole menu, my conclusion is: the more, the merrier. The vast range from mango or dark chocolate sorbet all the way to dulce de leche or white chocolate hazelnut gelato, meant that even going about thirty times a week didn’t make the choice any easier. You can have as many testers as you like, though! What’s more, there is a Special’s Menu which includes unconventional gelato combinations, usually adorned by a very on-trend and witty name. For example, they made a Fairy Bread gelato (after the renowned Aussie delicacy) which was toast and butter flavoured gelato with hundreds and thousands all over it. If you’re really in it to win it, have one scoop and dine in to sit and watch the making process through the window to the back – then you can have a second scoop of whatever is fresh out of the kitchen!

My Favourite: It was a rarity that I’d leave Messina without at LEAST one scoop of Super dulce de leche, earning its name by having actual in-house dulce de leche woven through. Take a bow, Messina.

GOING TO THE ‘FOOTY’

By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)

I’m sure we’ve all been to our fair share of football games in the UK. But with four different football ‘codes’ down under, watching live matches is ever so slightly different …

SOCCER

Soccer culture and what Aussies call the ‘English Premier League’ culture could not be more contrasting. I couldn’t believe that I was watching Sydney FC play against Adelaide United whilst sat in the sunshine with a picnic blanket on a small hill next to the pitch. I’m used to being cramped into a damp stand where a roof over your head is an absolute treat. The attendance for the A-League champions numbered only 11,217 spectators, similar to the capacity of League One side Rochdale AFC from North Manchester. As you can imagine, the chants aren’t quite the same as in the UK but I can assure you that the language is just as fruity! If you get the chance, I’d definitely recommend getting your hands on some AFC Champions League tickets. When Sydney FC played against Shanghai SIPG, we got the chance to see big names like Oscar, Ricardo Carvalho and Hulk play on Australian soil. 

AUSTRALIAN RULES FOOTBALL

If you refer to ‘football’ or ‘footy’, Aussies from Melbourne will normally assume you are talking about AFL – although those from New South Wales and Queensland might contest this and argue that Rugby League is the ‘real footy!’ A great way to immerse yourself in quintessential Australian culture is by heading to see an ‘Aussie Rules’ match for yourself. I was lucky enough to visit the Melbourne Cricket Ground with my friend whose family are members at Richmond Tigers (big thank you to the Bales!) Unlike in England, four Melbourne-based teams put their rivalries aside to share their home games at ‘The G’ so there is plenty of opportunity to watch AFL at one of the world’s biggest stadiums. Even walking down the Birrarung Marr, the famous walkway towards ‘The G’, was a special opportunity in itself. The Indigenous-titled path was full of fans singing and chanting together. We watched ‘The Tiges’ beat Melbourne Demons on ANZAC Eve, a commemorative occasion that celebrates national unity. Australian identification within AFL is paramount and so this was a perfect way to experience true ‘Aussie’ footy.

RUGBY LEAGUE

Rugby League’s cultural significance is demonstrated through the acclaimed ‘State of Origin’ series between New South Wales and Queensland where they battle for their hegemonic sport. Rather than having a home ground for a particular club and sport like Manchester United exclusively playing football at Old Trafford, the Leichardt Oval in Sydney is used for lots of different football codes and lots of different teams. A big group of us watched Sydney-based NRL teams West Tigers and Manly Warringah –  a great rivalry to witness. West Tigers only have around five home games here per season so their supporters flocked to Leichardt for the nearly sold-out event. Such was the competition between these two teams that you could literally hear the hits of tackles throughout the intimate yet packed Oval.

RUGBY UNION

Although Rugby Union is much more prevalent in the UK, it isn’t quite so popular in Australia. Their love for Rugby League is much more significant. We watched a Super Rugby fixture where New South Wales Waratahs beat Queensland Reds at the Sydney Cricket Ground which was completely different to what I have experienced at the other football ‘codes.’ NRL at the Leichardt Oval was filled with close-proximity viewing, yet Super Rugby at the SCG was the polar opposite. Unlike being part of the vast Aussie Rules audience at the MCG, the Super Rugby fixture only attracted about a third of the SCG’s capacity. Being normally used for cricket or Aussie Rules Football (which is played on a circular field), it was a really interesting experience to be physically distanced from the action. Clearly, the cultural significance of sport internationally is completely different. I’d really recommend going to a Sydney Swans AFL game to see what the SCG would be like when full to the brim.

Overall, watching live sport in Australia is something not to be missed. Australian Rules Football and Rugby League have rightfully earned their title of ‘footy’ which is really interesting to encounter for us Brits who have grown up on just one football ‘code.’ Being able to actually experience the different aspects of this sporting dispute provides a great insight into this great debate amongst Australian culture! Which camp will you choose?

Chapter Two: The Honeymoon Ends

I had never imagined that a global pandemic will happen when I went abroad for exchange. I thought once I got to Australia, all the troubles would be left behind and a whole new life would be ready to begin. However, not even after one month, I am stuck in my room, flipping through the album on my phone and lamenting that the amazing month I had has ended!

Some highlights in my wonderful first month:

  1. Two trips to Sydney

Sydney is an amazing city. It is so diverse and gives visitors different feelings. I went to Sydney twice last month. My expression may not be accurate, but I will try to convey what I felt when I visited those places by using other cities to analogise. 

Westfield shopping centre – New York, crowed, lots of big brands

Darling Harbour – the water, building and Ferris wheel are just like the view around River Thames

Opera house – magnificent and breath-taking, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco could be used to illustrate

Beach – made in Australia, nowhere else to see

2. Commencement dinner at uni accommodation

I chose Wright Hall as my accommodation simply because it is the only one with flexible (16 meals) catering, and the choice turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made. They had so many activities going on before the Covid-19 and in the first two weeks, I felt I would never get time to study. One of the most exciting and biggest events during the year was the commencement dinner for the whole hall. It is organised once per year in March when the academic year starts. (A similar event called Valete dinner happens in November when the semester ends.) On that day, everyone dressed up properly. Dinner started from 6pm until 10pm or later. People living in different blocks in the hall gathered at 5ish, took pictures, chatted, and used vouchers to get drinks. Then we came to the dining hall to have a proper dinner, which contained starters, main meals and dessert. Some alumni came to visit, staff announced the list of students who achieved extraordinary results in the past year and student representatives gave speeches. Hall residents were arranged randomly to different tables and had a chance to talk to someone new. After dinner, students could either go back or join the disco at the balcony. It was an awesome night.

3. Breath-taking view at Mountain Ainslie Canberra

Mount Ainslie is just a 20 minutes drive from ANU campus. It has a reputation for being the best spot to see the view of Canberra. We managed to get there before sunset and encountered an amazing night view. The unexpected beauty that I came across that night was the starry sky above the mountain. Even though stargazing wasn’t new for me, this remote mountain which stays away from the city’s light pollution surprised us with a sky full of stars.

4. Canberra Balloon Spectacular

The Canberra Balloon Festival is an annual event that takes place at the lawns of the old Parliament House. People gathered at the lawns before 6am and witnessed balloons taking off. It was exciting to see how the staff lit up fire and inflated big balloons. It costs more than $300 to take a hot balloon trip, but it is free and absolutely worth it to just stand by and watch. Those balloons are in different shapes including animals and cartoon characters. Whether the balloons will take off on that day depends on the weather condition. The official website updates their decision at dawn. That means whoever wants to see the balloons needs to wake up early on the right morning. 

Chapter One: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Australian National University

Going on exchange while the Coronavirus is spreading in the world isn’t a fun thing. I did not want to start the blog with the virus, however, without all the troubles prior to the beginning of my semester abroad, the story will not be completed. 

After taking the final exam at Manchester, I took a flight the next day back to China, planning to stay home for seven days during Chinese New Year and then embark on a journey to Australia. However, it was at that time that the Coronavirus outbreak started in China. On the 1stof February, after I checked in at the airport and started shopping in the duty-free area, my friends texted me that Scott Morrison has set a travel ban for visitors from China. “Are you kidding me?” I walked to the airport departure board and saw flights to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane… all cancelled! 

sdr

As you can imagine what happened next, the airport turned into a huge mess. People queuing for luggage, staff unloading and distributing them to the passengers. Each individual was wearing a mask, pushing through the crowd to get their luggage. I felt like even a healthy person could get sick or be affected under that circumstance. I finally got home with all my luggage, tired like a horse. 

sdr

It was a Saturday night, I sent emails to anyone who I thought may help. I kept telling myself to calm down, wait at least until Monday to see what they will reply. However,  I also worried that with one more day of hesitation, Britain will shut their door. Friends at uni texted me: “Hey, Ziqi. You can still come back to Manchester. Don’t have to gap.” Was this it? Were all my efforts for exchange ended up in this way? It was one of the most difficult weeks in my life. I was desperate: checked news, checked email boxes, texted Australian oversea students in China…

After struggling for one week, I weighted different options and decided to go to Thailand with two other girls for 14 days of isolation. It was my third time going to Thailand. Upon leaving there, I promised myself to never visit Thailand again. 

Hope is an important thing. Once there is hope, you will feel much better. In the flat we rented, we cooked, watched movies, chatted, and counted the 14 days down. It is true that plans can never keep up with changes. Just as I first planned to get to ANU campus early and mix up with all other students, I have now undergone an unexpected two-week vacation and missed O-week.  

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 🙂