After around 32 hours of travelling between time zones, at 9am local time I arrived at my Halls of Residence at the University of Sydney. With hair like a bird’s nest wrestling my heavy luggage into the building, the sight of me inspired pity in two girls that I will now forever remember as my ‘first friends’ in Sydney. They clearly recognised from experience the state I was in! After an extra sweaty check-in to my bedroom having mistaken the heating unit for air conditioning, I decided that it was time get a few of the important administrative bits and bobs out of the way so I could kickstart my new life.
PHONE – I didn’t manage to get my SIM card unlocked before I left the UK which delayed the process a little so get that sorted if you can – but don’t panic if you don’t manage to either – It just means I had to wait for around two days before I could purchase a new Australian SIM card.
BANK ACCOUNT – Commonwealth Bank in Australia is definitely the one to go for! Take along your passport, confirmation of enrolment and national insurance number for a smooth process – I rang my Dad at 4am English time asking him to rummage through my room at home for my old pay slips to find my national insurance number (This didn’t go down so well with him but the Aussies at the bank found it hilarious!) I suggest sorting your bank account out after you’ve sorted a SIM card as you can set up your Online Banking straight away then.
OPAL CARD – In Sydney, students are entitled to a Concession Opal Card which provides you with city travel at a much better rate than an Adult Opal Card. However, it requires an online application that I hadn’t yet completed. So, if you’re really prepared, get that sorted before you set off and use your accommodation address so that your opal card is delivered ready for your arrival! If (like me) you’re not quite as organised, I’d recommend just using an Adult Card temporarily which can be bought at most corner shops while your Concession Card gets processed – it will still be a life saver for those buses that are ‘PREPAY ONLY’.
DUVET – Taking a bus to Broadway Shopping Centre (with your swanky new Opal Card) is a great way to finish settling in. With a few different shops stocking homeware, I was able to compare prices and sort out a duvet and kitchen supplies on a budget. Even better, there is also a supermarket so you can get that fridge full all in the same trip. Make sure you take note of the size of your bed – I didn’t even know that ‘king-single’ was a size until I realised that the single sheet I had bought wasn’t going to fit!
Although the sleep-deprivation still prevailed after a power-nap, I decided to explore my Halls of Residence a bit more. It was during this jaunt that I bumped into the girls that had helped me earlier and we arranged a trip to Glebe Market (it has every stall you could possibly imagine as well as live music next to a massive picnic area) for the coming weekend – Our first of many trips to come! Despite being so tired and ready to curl up for the night, summoning up the last dregs of energy really taught me the importance of putting yourself out. Even now, I will always use the communal spaces instead of doing little tasks in my room like working or filling in my diary – coming across new people during these mundane activities is such a good way to engage with others. Who knew that writing a shopping list could spark such great conversation?!
When: November 2018 (Coming into Australian summertime, so it was hot!)
Rottnest Island a ferry ride away from Perth, is one of the ‘must see’ places I had been told to visit since I moved to Western Australia. For any of my fellow geographers, Rottnest is a sandy, low-lying island formed on a base of aeolianite limestone. Alongside Garden Island, Rotto is a remnant of Pleistocene dune ridge. The island was separated from the mainland about 7000 years ago due to sea level rise. However, human remnants have been found on the island dating back 70,000 years. The indigenous people of land known as the Noongar people, call the island Wadjemup and lived on the island before it detached from the mainland.
The island is around 20km and we managed to explore it in a day. We hired bikes, stopping off and enjoying hidden beaches throughout the day. However, we plan to go back for a weekend and camp over-night. The wildlife in Rottnest is what makes it so special. Extensive reefs surround the island, that you can see in the incredibly clear water as you arrive by ferry, and snorkel in the warm waters. Bottlenose dolphins and migrating humpbacks are welcome visitors of the island and the Perth canyon just off the island is one of the main habitats for blue whales in Australia.
Overall, the absolute highlight of Rottnest or as the Aussies call it Rotto. Aside from the great views, beautiful beaches, amazing snorkelling or enjoyable cycling tracks are the super friendly quokkas. These little creatures are marsupials, and like kangaroos carry their joey’s in their pouches. They are about the size of a cat and just as friendly, allowing you to approach them seemingly unfazed by humans. The island actually gets its name from the Quokka. In the 1600’s Dutch colonisers believed the Quokkas to be giant rats, and thus named the small island ‘Rotte Nest’ after the Dutch word Rattennest meaning rats nest. Rotto is one of the few areas in the world where the native quokka can be found. This is due to the exclusion of natural or introduced predators. Their only predators being snakes, who thankfully aren’t as friendly.
Known as ‘the worlds happiest animal’, Quokkas are celebrities on the island with many trying to get a quick pic with the creature.
I can’t wait to go back and visit this rare and uniquely beautiful island, and hopefully meet up with some more Quokkas.
It’s been seven months since I waved goodbye to Brisbane and five months since I returned to sunny, sunny England (to clear up confusion the two-month gap was not all spent in transit, although the flight can feel that long – I spent this time working in Greece). The time has absolutely flown and the tan has definitely disappeared, but now I’ve just about had the chance to take a breathe since being home, it’s time to reflect on the ups and downs of returning from such an incredible experience of a year abroad.
The down sides.
Despite returning in late August when the days were long and the air was warm, writing this now in bitter January makes warm weather seem like a very, very distant memory. One of the questions I’ve been asked most since being back is ‘don’t you really miss the weather?’. Yes. Yes, I do miss the weather. Please stop reminding me about how warm I was this time last year while I’m in my draughty student house without heating.
Another aspect I’ve not been enjoying adjusting to is regaining the academic mindset I’d built up during first and second year at Manchester. Not only did I find my course content easier last year, I also didn’t feel such extreme pressure to achieve the top possible grades due to only having to pass the year, so found myself a little more relaxed than usual. Now coming back to my fourth and final year of university I’m finding myself having to having to mentally re-train myself to pile the pressure on, as there’s no way I can be coasting at the most important stage of my academic career so far. Don’t get me wrong, having a more relaxed year is never something you’ll hear me complain about; however having to hit the ground running again when I’d gotten used to strolling was a bit of a shock to the system.
Finally, I never thought I’d hear myself say this but I miss my job. I spent many, many hours last year working in an extremely high-quality, high-pressure restaurant which I didn’t particularly enjoy. However, the fact that the minimum wage in Australia is twice what it is in England meant that despite the higher living cost I was living like a queen to some extent. I definitely took this for granted at the time; although I’ve been lucky enough to get my job back at the same lovely family-run restaurant I worked at during first and second year, pay-day doesn’t quite have the same thrills and it feels extremely frustrating being paid half the amount for the exact same hours.
Coming back from Australia definitely has not been all doom and gloom. Seeing my friends for the first time in over 14 months had to be one of the best feelings in the world. One of the things I did dislike about Brisbane was being in a completely different time zone to most of my friends – if we wanted to call, it would have to be planned in advance so we could do the maths in terms of time difference, and the internet was so poor in my house that calls were usually distorted and cut off prematurely. One thing that I’d missed so much about Manchester is having all of my friends a stone’s throw away, and this is so great to be able to experience again. Many of my friends also went on a year abroad meaning they’re now back in Manchester which is extremely lucky, and being able to properly hear about all of their experiences face to face has been incredible. Saying goodbye to all the friends I made last year was hard, don’t get me wrong, but this was made easier due to the fact that most of the people I met in Australia actually go to University in Leeds. This means if I do need someone to moan to about the cold to or take a stroll down memory lane with, they’re only an hour or so away.
Despite what I previously mentioned about having to pile the pressure on myself for fourth year, I quickly realised upon beginning classes again that having an extra year of knowledge has been more beneficial than I could have ever imagined. Classes I took last year have given me an entirely different perspective and background knowledge on topics involved in the modules I’m studying this year, meaning I’m far better able to form opinions and arguments. I am very aware that I’m stating the absolute obvious here and that of course an extra year of studying at university will give people an academic advantage, but I’m finding it incredibly beneficial and it’s always good to address.
Lastly, as strange as it sounds being framed as a positive point, one thing I’ve found extremely positive about being back is knowing that I only have one more year of commitment tying me to living in the UK. Having experienced living abroad has only increased my urge to live in different places and try new experiences. Although I am enjoying being back home and finishing my degree, I’m finding it so exciting knowing that this time next year I could be anywhere in the world, and having a home base and being surrounded by supportive friends and family while I explore all my options is such a good feeling. Having an open road with no set plan after summer is a little scary, but I’m definitely looking at it as although one door is closing, countless more are opening and I’m excited to get back out there.
I feel like I have overused the phrase “Australia has really changed me” but I can’t stress this enough. Studying abroad has given me a new perspective on life, a new passion to travel and new traits to enhance my character.
Although I returned home quite a while back, I still feel connected to Australia. Even in simple conversations, you are bound to bring up the fact you were abroad – “When I was abroad…” “In Australia we had…” Will people get tired of hearing your stories? Absolutely. Will that stop you from telling your stories? Absolutely not.
The memories you create and the people you meet will always stay with you on your journey. Some of my best friends I made on my time abroad still hold the same value in my life. (Thank you Steve Jobs for FaceTime!) Of course studying abroad means you literally have to study abroad, but making time to socialise and really step out of my comfort zone has helped me in life in more ways you can imagine. For example, I spent part of my Summer 2018 in Singapore with a friend from exchange who was local to the place and offered me a place to stay as well as be the best tour guide you could have! You never know how the people you could meet abroad can help you in life. And vice versa!
I can’t say studying abroad has been all fun and games – because it hasn’t. There were days when I would get homesick, days when I felt down, and days when I was just uncomfortable. But that’s okay! This was all part of the process. This was what contributed to change me as a person. This was what made me adapt.
When you are abroad, you will have times when you feel lonely, the best way to overcome this is keep in touch with your family & friends back home. I can’t stress this enough! I also realised that keeping busy helps! As an exchange student, I met heaps of other exchange students on the same boat as me (tip: ‘heaps’ is Aussie for lots!). For me, spending time with these people and sharing stories really helped me feel better. It’s all about patience and baby steps.
I truly can’t put into words how lucky I feel to have lived my dreams. Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef? Check! Feeding kangaroos? Triple check! Experiencing these things at the time doesn’t feel so overwhelming, but over time looking back at the pictures really humbles you and you become grateful for this opportunity you had been given.
I strongly recommend the Study Abroad programme, I promise you it will all be worth it.
Thank you for the memories Sydney. I can’t wait to see you again.
Reflecting on my time abroad is difficult because truthfully, I never wanted it to end. The hardest part of studying abroad was leaving. I can confirm reverse culture / re-entry shock is real.
The reason why so many clichés about studying abroad exist is because there is no other way to put it; studying abroad truly was the most incredible experience of my life. I made friends that I know will be there for life, who bring out the best in me and make me laugh for hours on end. I travelled to the most insanely beautiful places and made memories that I will carry with me forever.
Although I was lucky enough to spend way more than 24 hours in Sydney, I thought this blog post could be a useful guide for those students who are studying abroad elsewhere in Australia or nearby who only have a couple of days (or hours) in the city!
I also thought it would be a fun way of compiling all my favorite spots in Sydney!
No matter where you are in the world, there will always be that short-lived sigh of relief between the last assignment and the start of exams. Fortunately for me, coming towards the end of my time in Australia motivated me to seize this fleeting moment devoid of academic stress and do something useful with it. So once my last few assignments were submitted and I had returned from Stradbroke island (which you can read about in another of my recent blog posts), I had decided that I am no longer a mainland person and started researching my next getaway. Having recently explored the second largest sand island in the world, I set my sights on the only thing better: the largest. Fraser island!
I quickly discovered that this wasn’t going to be the cheap and easy ride that Stradbroke was. The route to Fraser was much longer and far more expensive, involving 4 hours on trains up to the Sunshine coast, another hour and a half coach to a privately-owned ferry port and a ferry over to the island, which as it is privately owned costs $160 for one vehicle(!). The trip also includes other sky-high costs such as a national park fee, camping fee or accommodation costs and all the other necessary amenities like food, as supplies on the island are few and far between. Due to not having time to plan our trip too thoroughly, we decided to go with a tour group. These are extremely popular and there are several companies that promote similar routes; after a fairly short cost-benefit analysis we decided to stick to a 2 day 1 night whistle-stop tour.
The beach adapted 4×4 hybrid coach picked us up from Noosa Heads on the Sunshine Coast at ridiculous o’clock in the morning on day 1 and took us further up the coast to the ferry port (a humble shack on the beach) where we crossed the surprisingly short distance to the island. Fraser island is what you’d expect from an island formed entirely from sand – almost nothing but beaches, trees and cliffs. Extremely natural and unspoilt, or so it felt in the dead of winter, anyway. Our tour guide later explained to us that during the summer periods when the island is at peak tourist season, each attraction you can stop at has between 500-600 people swarming around. We very luckily avoided this and had most attractions to ourselves within our tour group, which consisted of 11 people. Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable on the island’s history, geography and Aboriginal culture and told us extensively about each point we visited. When we first arrived, we were driven down 75 Mile Beach (yes, it’s huge!) to our first stop: Lake Birrabeen.
The water was freezing but so blue, and we had a little splash about before being whisked off through the jungle to our second stop, an area in the woods called Central Station. It was named this during the height of the logging industry that operated on the island before it became a protected national park. Central Station now houses the remnants of this industry; all that’s left are some derelict houses and machinery amongst the redwoods. A little eerie, but still beautiful. Logging stopped on Fraser around 50 years ago and the recovery is slow but sure. As well as the hundreds of tree and plant species, it’s also home to native wildlife such as Dingoes and koalas. We unfortunately didn’t see any of these, however we did manage to catch a glimpse of sting rays, sharks, dolphins and whales from a lookout point called Indian Heads the next morning, which more than made up for it!
We spent the night at a relatively luscious resort somewhere along 75 Mile Beach, which was extensively fenced off to prevent any Dingoes wandering in and wreaking havoc. The stars were incredibly clear due to the complete lack of light pollution, which always makes a refreshing change after spending lots of time in a city. Our stops the next day included Indian Heads, a beautiful freshwater stream called Eli creek, and my personal favourite: a huge rusted shipwreck, which washed up on Fraser island in the 1960s. It was used as a hospital ship in WWI, and later for bombing practice by the Australian army after it was found beached on the island (uninhabited of course). By the afternoon of the second day we were absolutely not ready to say goodbye, but our time was up and we very unwillingly parted from Fraser and all its beauty and charm. I’m not prepared to accept that I’ll never visit Fraser Island again, and it’s given me even more motivation to revisit this area of the world again as soon as I can.
Georgi Fogarty (University of Queensland, Australia)
Housing can be one of the biggest worries when moving abroad, especially when you don’t particularly know anyone that’s going out with you. As a bit of a social butterfly, I had my sights set on a living situation that would allow me to meet a lot of people -ideally university halls, or a share house if not. Unfortunately, university halls were extremely far out of my budget which initially worried me as that’s where I’d envisioned myself; halls seem perfect as everybody is in the same boat of not knowing anyone. So in a slightly less than ideal but fairly common situation, I found myself arriving in Australia in July and being welcomed with open arms by a hostel ( admittedly not the homeliest) while I searched for somewhere more permanent. I’ll admit it’s not the best situation to be in when you’re brand new to a country but the time flew by and after a week of manic house viewings, estate agent visits and sending messages on all sorts of housing advertisement sites, I found myself signing a contract into a student share house. It was pretty much exactly what I’d wanted – a house in one of the most sought-after suburbs in Brisbane filled with other brand new international students, all small fish in a big shiny new pond. The catch? The house had the capacity to accommodate 30 people. That’s 30 raucous students under one roof. It definitely set me up for an interesting year.
The old part of the house is an ‘Old Queenslander’ style, the same as most residential houses around the East coast of Australia. This basically means it’s big, airy, wooden and set on stilts for ventilation. It’s then been extended backwards, forwards, sideways, below – most possible directions – to make room for the 29 bedrooms (one is designed for 2 people to share).
We have two kitchens (one upstairs, one downstairs), 5 bathrooms, 2 living areas and a very comfortably sized garden with a barbecue: great for if the kitchens get overcrowded at mealtimes.
Without a doubt, the mess. Imagine this: everybody has a glass of water and completely unintentionally forgets to wash up the glass. That’s immediately 30 dirty glasses covering every surface, table, wall, floor, ceiling – you get the picture.
You’re never alone. This can be bittersweet when the time comes that you come home from a long day at uni and just want to make a cup of tea without having to make conversation with 16 different people in the kitchen.
There is a definite and prominent lack of resources. At 7pm when 17 people are battling for the dinner rush front line on the ONE oven in the upstairs kitchen, things can get a little hectic. The same happens when 6 people simultaneously run for a shower before uni. Chaos.
First and foremost, the social aspect was amazing. With so many people, there will always be somebody that you get along with, and maybe one or two that you don’t – but honestly that was never an issue. Chances are, in a house full of 19-25 year olds that have all chosen to do a year or semester abroad in Brisbane, you’re going to have a lot in common with most of the people. Although despite the commonalities in mindset, it was such a great way to meet people from different social, educational and cultural backgrounds.
You’re never alone. I’m aware that this was also a negative, but for me the benefits of this point drastically outweighed the costs. With 30 restless students it’s extremely rare that nobody will be down for a weekend away, or even just a trip to the supermarket. One quick message in the group chat and within minutes you have a fully-fledged convoy, no matter where you’re off to.
Being around international students, everybody is in the same boat of coping with homesickness, university stress and all the drawbacks of a year away from all that you’re used to. This means that there was the most incredible unspoken support network. Everybody just gets it.
With 30 people, although house events are a mess to organize (I’d compare it to herding cats) when everybody pulls together it means you can get some seriously great games of rounders underway.
30 people was an incredibly fun yet a little overwhelming experience when you’ve only ever lived in 6 or 8 people flats, but I’d do it again 10 times over. I was so full of apprehension arriving in that hostel alone last July knowing that the easy choice of university halls simply wasn’t an option, but looking back I’m incredibly glad I took the matter of housing into my own hands. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but from now on I’ll always vote for the more the merrier.
Arguably the most attractive part of moving from Manchester to Australia for a year is the great weather and beautiful beaches. So after being away for a grand total of ten months, in May I finally took a weekend off work and visited the largest beachy attraction closest to Brisbane that I knew of – Stradbroke Island. To be honest, it completely amazed me that it had taken me ten months to get here in the first place seeing as it’s around 3 hours door to door and it was one of the first things that inspired me to do a year abroad in the first place; an extremely fond memory of mine is first talking to an exchange student from the University of Queensland at the Manchester Go Abroad fair all those many moons ago in October 2016, and she told me that at the weekend she’d take a break from assignments and go to her closest island to sunbathe and watch dolphins swim. Who doesn’t want that? Me, apparently – after having my sights set on this magical mystical place for so long as a large part of my motivation to get to Brisbane, it had taken me a grand total of nearly a year to get there. Regardless, it finally happened!
Getting to Stradbroke Island involved a free weekend, a bus to the centre of the city, a train to the coast and then a ferry over to the island. This is probably the same effort, distance and price as getting from Fallowfield to the Peak District, but with sun instead of sleet and koalas (cliché but true) instead of rabbits. When I initially formed an image in my mind of the second largest sand island in the world, I was drawn to images of beautiful but desolate open and untouched spaces surrounded by nothing but sea. This was all true, with the edition of a few sparsely dotted hostels, bottle shops, restaurants and a boules club. So after checking into a cosy youth hostel on the north coast, we settled in for a long, hard day of soaking up the toasty autumn sun on the beach, still going strong at 25 degrees. The hostel was a classic surfer’s hostel, with sand in every crevice and a few battered acoustic guitars that had probably seen a lifetime of being played ‘Wonderwall’ on around a campfire on the beach, which was a very handy 20 metres away.
The beach is an endless stretch of white sand bordered with palm trees and shrub on one side and an extremely blue ocean on the other, straight out of a travel brochure. The colour of the sea honestly looked artificial, but the temperature was perfect and we spent a long sunny afternoon splashing around in the surf and playing cricket on the beach. It was hell. At dusk, we headed a little further round the coast to Stradbroke’s main attraction, the north gorge walk. This is a long, wooden board walk that spans a stretch of the cliffs around the north coast, and is definitely the place to be for sun set. From our high vantage point on the cliffs, we were also given a front row seat to huge leatherback turtles, manta rays and dolphins below us which was spectacular.
The Australian nature cliché didn’t end there though as heading slightly back inland we passed a dozen kangaroos (including bonus point of a mother with a Joey in her pouch!), wild koalas and as it got slightly darker, hundreds of bats.
The sunset was easily one of the best I’ve ever seen, and we headed back to the hostel with rose tinted goggles feeling drunk on the wholesomeness of the day we’d just experienced. It’s easy to forget that it is actually autumn now on this side of the hemisphere when the days are still so warm, so the 10 degree lows of the night came as a bit of a shock. We managed to overcome this fairly quickly though by hoarding blankets from our hostel and huddling together on the beach for a pretty remarkable astronomical display.
The next day consisted of similarly wholesome activities; sunbathing, surfing (which I discovered I am terrible at) and very sadly saying goodbye to the island. However, not for long; I plan to return at least once before I leave to make up for 10 months of lost time! But for now it’s back to daydreaming about dolphins in between assignments.
When talking about Australia, the first thing that comes into mind is… Kangaroo! Well, yes, kangaroo, but what got me most excited before coming here was the amazing weather and nature. That was why I arrived ten days before the beginning of the first study week, and went on a road trip with my friend.
It was a trip along the east coast of Australia, starting from Canberra and ending in Gold Coast. We rented a car from Hertz, which seemed to be the only company leasing cars to younger drivers. Price is quite fair, and fuel in Australia is cheap. So overall, driving is a more economic (and surely more fun) way to travel than flying.
One of the great things about the road trip is that you get to appreciate the various landscapes of this huge continent. When we started from Canberra, the landscape was more of a dry one. Along the road was dry and yellow grassland, dotted by low, often strange shaped trees and bushes. I reckon that was because Canberra does not have coast. As we got near Sydney, the plant cover started to become denser. Above half way from Sydney to Gold Coast, landscape turned even greener. The veg cover made the sunset beautiful, like this…
We went to many famous tourist attractions during that trip and certainly saw many awesome views. The first being the famous Bondi beach in Sydney. A bit of a disappointment – it was not as nice as people say. It is a bit over-crowded: we went there on Tuesday and still, the beach was full of people. However, if you go along the beach, and turn to the cliff beside it, there was something different.
However, what truly amazed me was not any of these places. One night, as we drove from Sydney to Gold Coast, we pulled over to take a rest. And when we looked up to the sky, we saw the ‘milky way’. You can see the belt so clearly. There was no word to describe the scene, as human seemed so insignificant compared to those mysterious lights, which have been there for millions of centuries. I managed to take a photo, but it did even touch the true glory of what I saw in person. I wish I had a better camera. (and a tripod)
Gold coast certainly lived up to its name. Premium beach can be found anywhere. If you are a surfer, you do not want to miss this city. One funny thing about Gold Coast: it sits on the border between Queensland state and New South Wales state. These two states have different day light saving time systems. That means, Queensland, despite having the same longitude as NSW, it is one hour behind NSW. So don’t forget to check you phone/watch to adjust for that. Our hotel was right on the border. More specifically, the border lies between my bed and the night table. Every night I left my phone to charge on night table, it woke me up next morning at NSW time. And when I went downstairs to have breakfast, the clock on my phone jumped back one hour, showing Queensland time. I lost quite a few hours of sleep there…
This will be the first of three blogs showing you guys how beautiful Australian nature is. See you next blog.