I have met some incredible people while on exchange from all walks of life which has not only enriched my friendship circle but also widened my cultural understanding. Melbourne University’s Exchange club (MUSEX) held numerous events during both semesters of my exchange to make it easier for likeminded exchange students to socialise and get to know one another. I met many of my friends through this society and similarly travelled across Australia and South East Asia with them. On our travels we met fellow travellers who joined us for part of our trips or enjoyed the days we had together.
Aside from exchange students, being in Australia I found the locals to be extremely welcoming and hospitable which is reassuring when you first arrive in a new country. The Aussie’s held up their relaxed and fun loving lifestyles with frequent BBQs and outdoor adventures.
Although I will be returning back to the UK soon, I will definitely keep in touch with friends i have made while on exchange and from my travels!
Every year in at the end of May, Sydney has a light festival called Vivid. For 3 weeks after dark, Sydney’s CBD and harbor buildings are illuminated by a colourful light show. The Opera house, Harbor bridge and botanical gardens are all lit up and there are interactive exhibitions throughout the city. What started in 2009 as a light efficiency display has now become a major tourism event for Sydney in the winter. I myself visited the harbor and took in the sights at 3 separate occasions, each time able to see something knew and pay witness to the massive crowds the lights attracted.
Aboriginal culture is an important aspect of Australian history and today’s culture. Nowhere did I get a greater sense of this than at Uluru (also known as Ayer’s Rock). This massive rock formation in the middle of the Australian outback is a very important and sacred place to the indigenous peoples. While I was these walked around the base of the rock with a tour guide and found that certain places of the rock where we were asked not to touch or take photographs of and also asked not to climb or walk on the rock. The tour guide also told us stories called dreamtime, these stories were children’s stories, they had lessons and very simple to understand. Other stories and lessons, we were not allowed to hear because, as non-aboriginal, we did not have the right to hear them. We saw ancient paintings on the walls of Uluru each which told a story, some of which we were able to hear and others which we were not allowed, and will never be allowed. We learned about the roles of men and women in aboriginal culture, and how there were different stories which were heard by both. As a woman you would never hear men’s dreamtime and visa versa. I found it very interesting and important to hear these stories and, more importantly, to get a basic understanding for this aspect of Australian culture which isn’t often talked about or seen in Sydney. Growing up in Canada, also having an aboriginal contingent and a similar history of oppression, I think it is very important that this information is shared and heard by all and visiting Uluru was one of my favourite trips while in Australia.
A large part of Australian culture is sport. Surfing, football, Aussie-rules football, cricket, tennis, rugby, dog racing – there is no sport that Australia is not interested in. However, one of the biggest events of the year is the Melbourne Cup, a three mile horse race which lasts only around 3 minutes but makes the entire country stop and watch. In Melbourne and parts of Victoria, the day is a public holiday, but in Sydney, it didn’t seem to stop people from dressing up to go to their local bar or restaurant for a full day of drinking and eating for the event. I, myself, heard about the event only a couple of days before and soon realized that all of my local restaurants were already completely booked for the day, so I spend the race watching with my flatmates on the TV. Similarly to Ascot, people get very dressed up, just even to watch in a pub and dress codes are strictly adhered to even hundreds of miles from the race itself. While my personal experience may not have been very extravagant and watching it on TV slightly anti-climatic, seeing the whole city get excited for the event was exciting enough for me.
As when going to or living in any country other than then one your were raised in, I feel like you can always find some interesting things locals did as children which seem so odd to you. One of those things for me was some of the food which was seen as classically Aussie. One day when I went to the grocery, I picked up a chocolate scroll from the bakery, however it wasn’t until I was home and tried it that I realized it was definitely not chocolate, but vegimite. I later learned this was a classic Aussie food, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget how wrong it tasted to me.
Another item like this is fairy bread, which is essentially white bread buttered with colourful sprinkles on it. To me, this seems like an odd combination, but apparently, growing up this was many Australian child’s favourite food.
One of the things that struck me most while in Australia is the similarities in pop-culture. Although it might be on the other side of the world, the music and movies which I see were the same which all of my friends were talking about back at home in Canada and the UK. It was interesting talking to some family friends who moved from Canada to Australia some 40 years ago, and to hear how different that aspect of life was then. Before there used to be separation, different music and film industries, not however with the advancement of technology and globalization of consumer trends, what is at the top of the charts in Australia is at the top of most English-speaking Westernized countries.
One difference which myself and all of my exchange friends did enjoy is the Australian TV. While there were a number of programs from the United States and the United Kingdom, there was also a lot of Australian programming. Australian versions of reality TV shows like the Bachelor and Survivor were on and very popular and also shows like Home and Away and Neighbors which were what I would consider soap operas, locals were very invested in. My favorite show, however, was probably the classic Bondi Surf Rescue which which follows the lifeguards at Bondi beach which was 30 minutes away from home home. Overall, I really enjoyed the similarities and dissimilarities with living abroad.
By far the best part of this experience of my year abroad has been all of the people I have met. From when I first landed meeting my roommate and flatmates was amazingly comforting in a foreign place. The group of friends I made my first semester I think will be friends forever, at the end of the semester it was so hard to lose them and to have to start over but it was worth it because in my second semester I made so many more friends from all different places. Through my travels around Australia and New Zealand I was able to meet a unique mix of people from around the world and was able to learn so much from them. Below is a sampling of the some of the people I’ve met so far on my travels.