By Sibeal Wheatley
Hey guys – my name is Sibeal and I’m studying abroad for the year in Sydney, Australia. I’m in my 3rd year in BESS, now taking single honours economics, and have wanted to go on exchange since I was in 6th year. To be quite honest, I didn’t put much thought into coming to Australia on exchange- in fact it was the only Australian university I had on my form. I think I just wanted to go somewhere far away, for a complete change of scenery and to challenge myself. By the time you finish second year you’re truly in your comfort zone, so feeling like a fresher all over again has been great fun, but also a bit daunting at times. I’ve been here for just over two months and will be writing a few blog posts over the coming year about my experiences down here. As this is my first post, I’ll write a little bit about my first impressions and what I’ve been up to so far.
Sydney is a great city and very different to any European cities I’ve visted, probably because this country is only just over 100 years old. The business district is full of skyscrapers and huge shopping malls, wheras the surrounding areas are full of street cafés (they’re big on brunch and coffee), local vintage markets, parks and beaches. The atmosphere is very relaxed here, despite it being a big city. Even though I arrived mid-winter, in July, the temperature hovers around 20 degrees all the time, and people surf all year round. Getting around is really easy, and is half price for students, meaning catching a ferry out to one of the beaches costs only around two dollars. The thing I like most about it is that theres always a new place to go and discover, a new beach or suburb. For example, one day one of my roomates (whose parents are Chinese), took us to Chinatown to try out some of the food. Chinatown is like a whole other world – I couldn’t believe it existed right in the middle of Sydney. Theres a large Asian population living here, so theres a sushi, dumplings, Thai or Vietnamese place on every corner. The food here is really good and eating out isn’t too expensive. Surrounding Sydney there are some beautiful national parks, including the Blue Mountains and Byron Bay, which are easy to get to for a weekend or day trip. So far I’ve spent most of my free time exploring Sydney. There’s loads to do and see and all the other exchange students I’ve met here are like-minded and up for travelling, so you can always find a group to go to somewhere you want to visit.
Sydney is probably more expensive than Dublin, especially accomodation-wise, so a few of the exchange students have part time jobs. I found a job easily enough in a local restaurant, and in general the businesses surrounding the university seem to be understanding of student life and are pretty flexible with hours etc. Theres also plenty of on-campus casual jobs so its pretty easy to pick up work. Minimum wage is 18 dollars here which is pretty good, and a lot of people (like me) are currently saving as much as possible in order to be able to travel during the summer holidays here, which start at the end of November and run until March. This means you have over three months to spend however you like- to backpack around Australia, visit New Zealand, Tasmania or South East Asia, all of which you’re (relatively) close to, living in Sydney. For me, this summer in Australia in the middle of my exchange was a huge reason I decided to come here for the whole year, and was willing to give up going on a J1 at the end of second year. You also get two week long semester breaks per semester, that are good times to travel. A group of other exchange students and myself are travelling up to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef for the one coming up. We booked it through one of the student travel agencies they have here- which are handy for planning holidays on a budget. Another aspect I love about being here is meeting and becoming friends with people from all over the world – I live with two Americans, a Brazilian and a Singaporian.
If you want to see what other people on exchange here at the moment are up to you can look at the ‘sydney.abroad’ Instagram page.
Anyway- I hope you enjoyed reading all this and it helped anyone thinking of going on an exchange to Sydney or Australia. J