University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

When I tell people I’m studying and living in Sydney for the year, the first thing they jump to is the weather; “Oh you must be loving life in the sun”, and “I bet that’s a welcome change from our minus degrees winter”. And yes, it’s a lot sunnier here than in the bracing Norfolk climate. But the heat hasn’t made it into my “reasons to live in Australia” list. In fact, I miss the cosiness of cuddling up with a hot chocolate on a grey winter’s day, although maybe I won’t be saying that next November…

However, my experience here has been really amazing for reasons aside from the hot weather.

At UEA, the triathlon club was a large part of my student life and not wanting to let all the Tim Tams (Australian penguin bars) get to me; the first thing I did on my arrival was join a local club. One of the girls I met there said to me “there’s no better way to see a new place than by training through it” and I’ve definitely found this to be true. My best experiences here have included running along the famous Bondi-Coogee cliff walk, watching the sunrise over the beaches while doing hill laps at 5.30am in Watsons Bay and most of all body surfing waves of up to 7 foot on the iconic Bondi Beach (which, if I’m honest, hasn’t been without its moments of panic; I’ve definitely “been smashed” by a wave more than a few times). But Sydney has amazing coffee and breakfast food and I’ll take the waves smashing me and all the 4.30am starts, as long as I get to have breakfast afterwards!

Training with a local club has meant taking part in some great races and events. Because of the beautiful beaches and the massive swimming culture in Australia, not to mention the warm temperatures, there are some awesome ocean swims taking place almost every weekend over summer. The ‘Bondi to Bronte’ swim had over 1800 people taking part and is the 2nd largest ocean swim in the Southern Hemisphere, I’ve never seen so many people in the water. But it’s no surprise if you go down to Bondi Beach any evening of the week and note the number of training groups and surf life-saving clubs doing their thing up and down the beach!

I guess I should mention the “study” abroad … The great thing about this year is that it’s given me a chance to experiment with modules (or ‘units’ as they’re known here) that I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. I’m taking a ‘philosophy of science’ unit this term, which more than anything is making me realise that Environmental Science really is the subject for me.  Australia differs to the UK in its student experience. Aussie students for the most part treat university like you would school; attending classes during the day but living at home throughout their degree. This is definitely a disadvantage of Australian university life, detracting somewhat from the student experience meaning that making friends that are genuinely Australian, not fellow exchange students, can be difficult.

Another thing that a year abroad facilitates is travel. I’ve been places I may never have experienced had I not been studying here. I’ve been to the Snowy Mountains (there’s no snow in summer but they’re beautiful), Canberra (which looks more like a big park than a city), New Zealand’s South Island (immense mountains in every direction, and really cute penguins), the Great Ocean Road (has amazing cycling) and the Great Barrier Reef (so many fish!)… In all these places, the parts I enjoyed most were the places that I hadn’t heard about before I went there, the ones that were miraculously devoid of crowds of people taking selfies! For example, the iconic Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road and the Milford Sound in New Zealand both left me feeling slightly unfulfilled and disappointed, and selfie sticks were not blameless in this.

The travelling was great, and is what gets mentioned a lot as a defining feature of the study abroad experience. But for me, while New Zealand’s Kepler track was amazing, as were the turtles on the Great Barrier Reef, it’s the boring day-to-day studying, training and doing my food shopping, which has made this year an amazing cultural immersion and that is something I am very grateful for.

Rachel Hawker, Environmental Science.

Feeding the kangaroos
Feeding the kangaroos
After an ocean swim race at Bondi Beach.
After an ocean swim race at Bondi Beach.
From the top of the Kepler Track in New Zealand.
From the top of the Kepler Track in New Zealand.
Australia is a dangerous place.
Australia is a dangerous place.
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