Hey everyone! My name is Ruta Gebreyesus and I am a junior at San Diego State University. I am studying abroad at University of Technology, Sydney, Australia for the spring semester of 2016. It is my first time out of the country and I am already in love with this continent. I now know what everyone meant when they advised to stay a whole year if possible. A semester is just too short.
I have been here for about a month now (which is why this is kind of a long post) so I think I have had enough time to decide what I love and what I don’t. So below is a pros and cons list to break it down for anyone considering studying abroad in Sydney!
- The food! If you know me, you know this is very important. Live to eat, not eat to live. That is the motto. I am in love with the cuisine here. I really have not had any “American food” and I am fine with that. There is a vast amount of Thai food, Indian food, and other ethnic foods at my fingertips. I have only seen two McDonald’s since arriving. It’s beautiful. Portion sizes are smaller. Eating healthy and authentic food is the norm here. It has never been so easy for me to be vegetarian because all the possibilities I have. Sydney is definitely a foodie-friendly city.
- The population. Australia: 23.13 million. America: 318.9 million. New South Wales: 7.544 million. California: 38.8 million. Uber drives tend to apologize about “traffic”. What they call “traffic” is nothing in comparison to Los Angeles traffic. The population size contributes to the slow paced and chill vibe that Australia has. When I first arrived, an Aussie friend I met at school said to me that “the pace gets even slower as the weather gets hotter.” I’ve learned that is completely true. As soon as the sun rises on a warm day, everyone is headed to the beach to soak it all in. It’s a peaceful laid-back lifestyle that I am pretty foreign to. I’m more of an “on the go 24/7” kind of girl. In the U.S. I don’t get tired of being on the go 24/7 and if I do, I just drink coffee. But I am adjusting and soaking in this peaceful laid-back lifestyle in while I can.
- The coffee. I have only seen two here. Surprisingly, this is not a problem though. The streets are filled with unique cafes to choose from. When I first arrived I learned that with many food and drink items, just because something has the same name in two different countries does not mean they are created equal. I ordered an iced-coffee my first day here at a cafe nearby and l was sure the barista just handed me the wrong drink. There was ice cream and whip cream on top of my iced-coffee. I soon learned Aussie iced-coffee was more a confection than anything else. It is usually served with tons of ice, vanilla ice cream, milk and a mountain of whipped cream. I learned the Aussie term for my drink, was an “iced long black.” I thought I tried it all when it came to coffee. I was so wrong.
- The beaches. I have never seen beaches so picturesque. The lack of pollution, white sands, and crystal blue waters are just so amazing to see. New South Wales is such a clean state and that shows when you visit the beaches. Australia is home to hundreds of the most beautiful beaches. Aussies take care of and take pride in their beaches, keeping them clean and generally pollution-free. There are over 100 beaches in Sydney itself. So much to see, so little time.
- Diversity. However, there is a lack of diversity in Sydney (or at least in the city area where I am located). It was a bit of a culture shock. Coming from Los Angeles and SDSU, I am use to having all types of races, specifically Africans and African-Americans around me. I miss having African-American classmates all striving for success and aiming at bettering ourselves. It’s refreshing. I definitely took these things for granted. However, adjusting has not been difficult. This is because everyone in Australia has been amazing to me and I have not had any issues regarding racism or things of that nature. I also visit an area called Newtown frequently, which is about 10 minutes from the city. Newtown has a wide range of foreign and ethnic markets and restaurants, and has proven to be a diverse urban area. It has quickly became my favorite spot in Sydney.
- Everyone loves America. Whenever someone notices my accent, they instantly know where I am from. They proceed to ask me where and the excitement in their faces builds up. I’ve gotten so many funny remarks to being from California. A girl I met at the gym once grabbed my hand and said “I feel like I’m meeting a celebrity right now.” Various people have asked me if I have driven through every state on a road trip because that’s like “the American thing to do.” (Ain’t nobody got time for that.) Everyone’s favorite questions to ask:
-“How many famous people have you seen or met?”
-“Isn’t gas crazy expensive in America?”
-“Is it safe? Aren’t guns a huge issue? ”
-“How are the parties? How is the Greek life?” I did not know that Greek life was something primarily done in America. Plenty of students I met want to study abroad at SDSU and attend a “sorority and fraternity party like in the movies.”
-And lastly, everyone’s favorite: “How do you feel about the election?” I could just brush this question off every time I hear it. Talking about one particular candidate is a quick way to change my mood. However, I just use this time to enlighten them about our election. Generally, Aussies are so politically informed about the United States. They explained to me how nearly everyone has been watching this political race (many for entertainment purposes) due to how highly publicized it is in Australia. I digress, but point is get out there and vote, Americans.
- Tobacco. The only con I can really point out would have to be the amount of smokers in Sydney. I am definitely surrounded by tobacco way more than I am used to. It’s becoming my new normal to see teenagers smoking cigarettes while waiting for the bus to arrive or adults smoking in all types of areas. This may be because I am located in the city, which is very busy and the most populated. But it is definitely something I won’t miss.
- Coogee to Bondi Coastal Walk. If you have seen any Australian postcard, chances are you have seen an image of Bondi Beach. By far the most popular and tourist-y beach in Sydney. Bondi Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world and is visited by over 2 1/2 million people a year. We started our walk before sunrise and made it through six beaches and a number of coves, cliffs, parks, and bays. I was really excited to swim in the Bondi Iceberg Pools. This is an outdoor pool located at the south end of Bondi Beach surrounded by the ocean. Little did we know it was closed on Thursdays. It was still a beautiful walk. I’ll be back when the weather warms up again to get my swim in that pool.
- Blue Mountains and Featherdale Wildlife Park. Blue Mountains is a mountainous region and a mountain range that borders on Sydney’s metropolitan area. This is already one of my favorite places in Australia. I have honestly never seen something so scenic. I could not complete the whole park in a day, so a friend and I used a whole weekend to see as much as possible. I already want to go back. It includes steep cliffs, eucalyptus forests, waterfalls and villages dotted with guesthouses, galleries and gardens.
- Seeing kangaroos. One of the first things I wanted to do when coming to Australia was see a kangaroo. For a second I was under the impression that I would somehow bump into one (unrealistic I know). So my friends and I decided to visit a wildlife park where you can feed kangaroos and pet koalas. I was too excited. The kangaroos were so friendly (and hungry). Eight of 10 koalas were asleep and we learned that they sleep for up to 22 hours a day. They need more sleep than most animals because eucalyptus leaves contain toxins and are very low in nutrition and high in fibrous matter so they take a large amount of energy to digest. Random fact.
- Trying kangaroo. I know. I just talked about visiting a kangaroo. But a couple nights before that, I tried kangaroo at a restaurant. (Yes, I did feel guilty when I saw the kangaroo.) This has been on my bucket list to try for a while now and since I am in Australia I felt it was only right. It was chewy. It was different. It tastes much stronger than beef. It was interesting. It was good but nothing I would crave again.
- Weekend at Port Stephens. Last weekend I visited both Birubi Point and Port Stephens. This was about two hours away from the city. This is the largest moving coastal sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere. At Birubi Point, we rode camels along the beach and into the water. It was like riding a horse times 50. We also rode horses, went sand-boarding on the sand dunes and went on a dolphin watching cruise nearby at Nelson Bay. We all agreed the camels were definitely the highlight of the weekend.(Photo of Ruta and friend riding camel) Caption: We named him CamCam and I was clearly obsessed.
By the way: I’m going to start making video blogs of all my trips touring out of the city and country soon. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!
Ruta Gebreyesus is earning a bachelor’s degree in Foods and Nutrition at San Diego State University. She is blogging from Sydney, Australia during spring semester 2016.