Ah Australia, a land with inconceivably nice weather and an ever-long list of animals that can kill you with a single bite. Ok, the whole ‘every animal here can kill you’ thing is mostly an exaggeration, but the weather sure as hell isn’t. This place is so hot compared to Canada that I had to restock my entire wardrobe with nothing but tank tops and flip-flops. Obviously, it’s nothing to complain about when you think of it, but there was one problem. Like good Netflix and decent Amazon service, the sweet invention of air conditioning never seemed to make its way down to Sydney.
There were, in a near-twisted, ironic sense, at least five space heaters scattered across my apartment because the second that it drops below 25 degrees you’ll see more Patagonia jackets than the morning lineup at 49th Parallel.
That brings me to something else, apartments. We’ve grown accustomed to hating housing situation in Vancouver because there are no apartments and any place you do find is either too expensive or a literal closet, or both. I despised my sardine can of a room in Walter Gage I had cramped myself in for the last year and a half before leaving for Sydney. Surely, apartments here can’t be worse than that? Right?
No. No they are not.
I stayed in a University apartment building and I figured that the worst problem I’d have to deal with would be the occasional spider or really ugly wall colour. Turns out the place hadn’t been cleaned in years and there was rotting food scattered all across the kitchen, the worst of which was a pack of unrefrigerated lamb sausages that expired in 2015. Did I mention that Sydney rent makes Vancouver rent seem like a pile of peanuts?
As for school — cause that’s still a thing when you go on exchange like it or not — it was, with no better way to describe it, kinda weird. I went to the University of New South Wales (UNSW), one of the the country’s major universities centrally located near the heart of Sydney. While highly ranked, almost everything was done online, even midterms.
Because of this, the campus of almost 60,000 supposed people was almost always empty. As one of the six or seven regular lecture attendees, the classes themselves are pretty similar in style to UBC, apart from the echoing of the professor’s voice over a deserted lecture hall.
So the living situation at UNSW was a borderline public health issue and the academics were very mediocre. Thankfully, those were the only really issues with my five months in the land down-under.
Sydney is an insanely gigantic city, especially in comparison to Vancouver. It almost seemed like there were endless amounts of neighbourhoods and districts to visit. I found even myself studying across the city just to explore new areas, cafés and study spots. It was an added bonus that I had made good friends with a bunch of Sydney locals who had come to UBC on exchange the semester before who could give me some insider perspective.
But in a sort of ironic sense, the best part of going on exchange to Sydney was when I left the city itself. The first major trip I went on was a two-week backpacking trip up the East Coast of Queensland from Brisbane to Cairns. This actually wasn’t that hard of a trip to get together as there are actually tons of booking agencies in Sydney and across the country that offer bare bones trips up the coast with buses and hostels.
Going up the Queensland coast with breathtaking stops in Fraser Island, Rainbow Beach, Noosa and so much more culminated in Cairns with two additional trips into the Great Barrier Reef and Cape Tribulation — two days that I’ll never forget for what I was able to see and what I learned about ecosystems and conservation efforts. I also took a good month's worth of Instagram photos.
While Australia is similar to Canada and North America in a lot of ways, there are the little differences that you notice. Music tastes, food, attitudes on life, McDonald's menu items. Some things are better, others not so much. I truthfully think that the best part about being an exchange student was being able to experience these differences while meeting people from the other side of the world and living someplace different.