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Student Abroad: 50 Things I’ve Learnt So Far

Student Abroad: 50 Things I’ve Learnt So Far

Words by Adam Philpott

From my first few breaths of the chilly Sydney air in July to the “pens down!” instruction in my final exam, this semester has been a whirlwind of sun, study and sesh (cringe, but I like the alliteration).

Before I descend into a much-needed 3 months of summer break and highly-anticipated Australian Christmas and New Year, I am putting fingers to keyboard to test whether I have achieved the treasured objective of study abroad: to learn more about one’s self and their surroundings.

Now, 4 months Down Under hasn’t unlocked a clear map of the rest of my life, but it has taught me a lot of things I doubt I could have discovered otherwise. Here’s 50 of them.

I made the right decision

Choosing to study abroad in Sydney has been the best decision of my life so far. The city itself is beautiful and friendly, so too are the people in it, and I am learning about myself all the time with the freedom, independence, and challenge provided by moving to the other side of the world. I feel super lucky to be here.

(P.S. I promise the clichés stop here.)

I’m not going to return home with an Aussie accent

I truly did think I would come back home with an Aussie accent at the end of my time abroad. Now I’m almost halfway through, I can’t see it happening; mainly because my friendship group is devoid of Australians who are hard to socialise with outside of class since most live at home with their parents.

The world is a small place

I have had several ‘small world’ epiphanies in Sydney. My best friend here is good friends with someone I know from my home university and who I’ve seen in a Facebook profile picture for 2 years without thought or care for who it is. I also bumped into someone from college in Ivy who later revealed that 2 others are here.

I’ve caught the travel bug

I’m mesmerised by Australia and want to visit every part of it. Many hours have been spent procrastinating by mapping out potential travel plans for the next breather from studying. The glimpse of adventure study abroad has provided has only increased my desire to visit other parts of the world too. Can I just travel for the rest of my life?

Skyscanner, Booking.com, and Airbnb are my new friends

I hadn’t used any of these before coming to Sydney, but these guys are the go-to sites when looking to plan my travels.

I’m the one that is always owed

There’s always one person in the friendship group that will pay the group price, receive repayment at a much later date, and not complain about it. I’m that friend. We’re the true heroes in the friendship group.

Uno helps solve disputes

A trip to Tasmania revealed the surprisingly addictive nature of Uno – especially when there is something to play for. That something was the highly-prized front passenger seat in the car for the next day’s journey. It proved a great way to avoid the last-minute wrestle to reach the shotgun seat first. You must be jelly of our evenings in the youth hostel.

Australia is a mahousive country

I first found this out when I was travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney: most of the 8-hour journey was spent flying over Australia. While the almost 3-hour train journey to the Blue Mountains still kept me within the borders of New South Wales.

QMB is the place to live

If you’re reading this as an inbound USYD student with nowhere to live yet, look no further than the Queen Mary Building – especially if you’re coming from abroad. It is the place to be when starting afresh because it is extremely sociable and you’re almost certain to meet people like you. The basement is home to a sizeable games room which a lot of QMB’s 800 residents flock down to in the evening for a buoyant pre-drinking sesh. The best part, though, has to be the rooftop with breath-taking views across the city.

Don’t get addicted to Netflix if you live in QMB

Living in Sydney requires a strict budget. That budget can be seriously dented by a mere few hours of Netflix. A mere 3 hours swallows my monthly data allowance without chewing, and extra data soon consumes my budget.

I’m slowly turning vegan

I’ve had an environment-related epiphany this semester, spurred on by the knowledge that meat, particularly beef, is bad for the environment. Now I find myself experimenting with – and enjoying – vegan food such as tofu and sweet potato burgers. I’m not sure what this recent passion will evolve into, but I can’t feel good eating beef anymore.

Cider is not vegan

I was very surprised to find that most cider is in fact not vegan due to the use of animal products in the refining process; but I nevertheless eagerly ordered my first-ever vegan cider. “That’ll be $14.50 please.” Gulp. Just think of the environment, I thought. Each refreshing sip eased the burn on my wallet.

I was most disappointed that I wasn’t allowed to take the bottle home with me after; its label ironically suggested serving the vegan cider with pork dishes.

Avocados are great

What, you mean you’d never had avocado before 2018? That’s right – don’t hate me.

Tea tastes like it does back home

That’s because it is from back home. I did not expect to find Yorkshire Tea over here!

Vegemite and goon are disgusting

You have to be superhuman to enjoy these. That said, there is nothing quite like a throatful of goon and a shot of vegemite to initiate one’s arrival in the Land Down Under on a budget.

Fairy bread is a fairly nice snack

It may be the sort of thing expected of an eight-year-old if asked to make their own lunch, but bread, butter and hundreds and thousands do complement each other.

It’s hard to get in the Xmas spirit with Australian weather

Okay, it’s still November but I don’t feel like Christmas is imminent, despite shops’ commitment to play jolly songs and my accommodation’s installation of Christmas trees. Even the British Christmas TV adverts are failing to arouse my festive spirit. It’s way too hot to be anywhere near December 25.

I miss snow

Apart from the light dusting on top of Mount Wellington in Tasmania, I’m not going to see snow for a while; and definitely not this Christmas. I already miss the crunch underfoot and the sharp sensation left on my hands after throwing too many snowballs. Fast forward to a year’s time and I’ll be saying I want the Sydney sun back.

Australian politics is messed up

What are all these leadership spills?

How to navigate a gothic hard dance rave

I accidentally found myself at a gothic hard dance rave last month. There was a distinct look of fear and instant regret on my face when I realised what I had exposed myself to. How could I do that accidentally? Well, I agreed to go for drinks after work with a few colleagues. My thought was that this would be a great way to get to know them and in so doing my boss would be more likely to offer future employment beyond my internship. A few pints in, it was suggested we go to a club; but the nature of this club was not revealed until it was too late to back out. So, there I was, clung to the sidewall, still in my work clothes, observing the herd of drugged-up ravers in front of me doing the Melbourne Shuffle; many with hefty Nike trainers that screamed ‘I’m gonna smash your face in’.

‘Never again’ is an empty phrase

When I say ‘never again,’ it actually means ‘it could well happen again.’ Indeed, while I avowed never to step foot in a gothic hard dance rave again, I found myself there the following Friday – this time not accidentally – still concerned that rejecting my boss’ offer would make him less likely to hire me long-term. I’m weak.

Laws surrounding drinking alcohol suck

Lock-out laws, no doubles or shots after midnight and ‘Alcohol Free Zones’ are a lot less friendly than the bouncers in the UK who you can be stumbling towards and still get in.

I miss VKs

These cheap fruity alcohol drinks are THE beverage of choice in a UK club. You only deserve a club photo if you have one. Unfortunately, they are nowhere to be found in Australia – and goon doesn’t come close to being a sufficient substitute.

Don’t go to foam parties

It was my curiosity that took me to my first-ever foam party and the stinging eyes and irritated skin that will keep me from returning. In hindsight, scooping foam up off the floor and plastering it on other people’s faces was not a good (or hygienic) idea. My eyes were so blood shot the next day that someone at work thought I’d come in stoned.

Nights out start and finish earlier

Let’s start pre-drinking at 8? In the UK that would be seen as overly eager, but here I find myself setting my clock back 2 hours on a UK night out. I can’t complain, though; one of the clubs here has a swimming pool and the earlier start means an earlier finish and greater chance of making that 9 a.m.

Don’t purposely lose at drinking games

While the free drink may be appealing with a six pack around $20, no concoction of beer, wine and spirits is going to end well. On the plus side, I found out which of my friends I can truly count on in an hour of need.

I need a girlfriend

Turns out trying to find a girlfriend is just as hard 10,600 miles away from home. Someone date me pls?

A beard is for life, not just for Movember

Currently doing Movember myself, I now appreciate the effort others put in to grow and maintain a beard. I’m 3 weeks in and over the itchy stage now, so I might just keep it past the end of Movember. It’s growing on me.

I can’t surf

But I’m good at swallowing a belly-full of sea water and hitting other people with my board.

Be extra punctual

I get sweaty just by breathing in Sydney, so anything more than a brisk walk leaves me sweating buckets by the time I make it to my lecture. If you’re running late, accept your fate and don’t make the situation worse by running. No-one wants to be pulling their clothes away from their skin in a lecture.

It’s Macca’s not Maccy’s

And it’s spicy chicken nuggets, burgers with beetroot, and gravy-loaded fries.

$15 blender from K-mart is the shit

Who needs a Ninja or Nutri Bullet when you can have K-Mart’s finest? Seriously, for $15 it does the job nicely and comes with a cool bottle.

I don’t get homesick

Sure, I think about home and miss my family and friends; but I’m equally as eager to stay in Sydney.

Distance isolates true friendships

Within the first fortnight of arriving I received a barrage of new-found fame from my friends back home asking how I was settling in. I remain in contact with them, of course, but it’s easy to see who cares more about the friendship than others: quite simply, one’s better friends will message more frequently.

University constantly involves saying goodbye

Since arriving at university, I have found myself having to say goodbye (albeit for now) to many people in my life. The hardest of those was to my parents and sister at the airport; for a moment it felt like I might never see them again, even though I know I will.


Camperdown campus is beautiful. The Quadrangle deservedly prefaces the prospectus; but my favourite part of campus is the backdrop of the CBD that you get when sat in front of the Harry Potter building (yes, I still call it that).

U Sleep You Die rings true

At my home university, I could get away with doing little work in term time because my assessments were always at the end of a 4-week break. However, at USYD lectures, tutorials, essays and exams are all meshed together, forcing you to keep up with the pace of semester and ensuring your university time is stressful even when it is just pass or fail.

Aussie students live at home

They can’t get the true experience of living away from home independently that is almost synonymous with university.

Sydney doesn’t feel like a major city

Sure, it has its fair share of high-rise buildings and is always alive; but people don’t seem to be in a constant rush like they do in London, and the palm trees are an ironic juxtaposition to skyscrapers.

Bin chickens don’t deserve their rap

They certainly live up to their rather unflattering name but labelling them as pests seems a bit harsh. While they may show interest in your food, they don’t make you feel uncomfortable to the extent that a seagull would. Bin chickens know their place and that is to feed on whatever you leave behind.

Football is not that big here

By football, I don’t mean Aussie rules; I mean proper football that is frustratingly called soccer here. I attended a match between Sydney City FC and Western Sydney Wanderers and the difference in quality and support compared to the UK was clear. For starters, the beer-bellied crowd had to be aroused by a rowdy conductor with a microphone who impressively spearheaded chanting for the full 90 minutes.

Australians love flip-flops

I had an epiphany at the sight of a flip-flop vending machine. At first, I was bemused, but it soon all made sense: Australians love their flip flops. Even when it’s raining, the jocks at USYD insist on wearing flip-flops and unduly high sports shorts to reveal their bulging quads, while usually just carrying a laptop or pad of paper.

Sydney is hella expensive

Duh, Sydney is in the top 10 of the world’s most expensive cities. I knew that before arriving, but it still doesn’t lessen the shock of paying around $10 for one pint and $339 per week for accommodation. That’s why unfortunately I will have to spend some of my time here earning to keep my head above water and fuel my travel bucket list.

Sundays are for travelling

There are some rare bargains in Sydney, however. I was amazed to find that my roughly 5-hour round trip to the Blue Mountains cost just $2.60 – the cap applied to travel in New South Wales when travelling with an Opal card. There’s no excuse not to hit up the beach or go exploring on a Sunday. 

Maria Island is heaven

This solitude island in Tasmania is easily up there with the most beautiful places I have ever visited. I could happily live there amongst wild kangaroos, wombats and wallabies. The wombats put Nicki Minaj’s butt cheeks to shame.

Where are all the snakes and spiders?

Literally, I haven’t seen any snakes and I can count the number of spiders I’ve seen on one hand. Starting to think it’s all a hoax.

Korean restaurants know how to table service

My first experience of Korean dining had many fascinating elements; however, the button at each table which, when pressed, alerts the waiting staff of your need for attention was a revelation. In the UK, we’re condmened to awkward attempts to catch the waiter’s eye or flag them down.

Cold showers make the heat worse long-term

Google taught me that one. I’ve had to learn how to cope with hot sweaty nights since arriving Down Under. Sure, I’ve experienced them before but they’re certainly not a frequent challenge in the UK. The weekend it first breached 30 degrees since my arrival saw me order another fan for my room; while I resorted to home-made cooling tips in the meantime. Incidentally, cold showers make the heat less manageable in the long-term: once the initial refreshing effect of a cold blast wares off after 10 minutes, you’re left feeling hotter because the cold shower inhibited heat loss through the skin and left your core temperature uncomfortably high.

I don’t want to go home

If the remaining time of my study abroad is as good as these first 4 months, I’m going to be dragged onto a plane home kicking and screaming (and impoverished). But the influx of American students with their annoying accents and low tolerance of alcohol next semester could change this.

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