Student Abroad: My First Impressions of The Land “Down Under”
Words by Adam Philpott
Despite the smotheringly-tight goodbye hugs from family and the best efforts of a runaway suitcase to stop me, I have made it to the other side of the world, to the land of surf, barbecued shrimp and flip-flop vending machines. Or, as I have now come to learn, ‘Straya.
Now, the runaway suitcase was certainly a moment: I was making my way to the departure gate at Kuala Lumpur airport when I heard what sounded like a suitcase approaching fast behind me on the escalators. Indeed, I turned around to see a pink suitcase hurtling towards me, the owner looking on unapologetically as if to say, ‘deal with it’. What happened next was pure instinct. Wildly alert, after having just consumed an iced latte, I hurdled the pink case of death and made my flight unscathed (cue the Mission: Impossible theme tune). Since then, I’ve wondered if my moment of agility brightened the day of the CCTV team.
Another shock to the system came with my very first breaths of Australian air. I was freezing my ass off in just a t-shirt and shorts, deceived by the plethora of exotic Google images that provided the initial pull to study here. Dazed by images of golden sand and crystal seas, I stupidly thought that somehow 16 degrees in Sydney would be far nicer than 16 degrees in England. But no, 16 degrees is 16 degrees – which is not a temperature that takes kindly to shorts and a t-shirt. Still, it didn’t stop me going in the sea at Bondi – a classic ‘spot the Brit’ moment.
Having said that, in my first month I’ve learnt that the weather is too nice to be called ‘Winter’. Being from a place where a surge from 15 to 20 degrees is celebrated as a heatwave and where Australian Winter weather would be greeted with open arms at any time of the year, it is a welcomed change to be sweating in Winter in just a t-shirt. Though that could be down to my remarkable ability to constantly need to rush everywhere more than any amount of sunshine.
Other than the weather, most things here are the same as in England, so there hasn’t been any culture shock. It’s only really the weather, currency, odd Aussie phrases, wildlife (seagulls here are much scarier), crisp packets (how dare they brand salt and vinegar in pink – that colour is clearly reserved for prawn cocktail), and a few exotic additions to the Macca’s menu. The closest experience I have had to a culture shock came at a picnic on Manly beach where I had the unfortunate experience of trying Vegemite. It was genuinely the worst thing to ever touch my taste buds. Fairy bread was a bit better; but Australia’s saving grace so far has to be the Tim Tam. Boy, they’re good.
As for campus, the prospectus-laden Quadrangle is pretty impressive compared to the spaceship-like Central Hall and asbestos-laden Derwent College back home, which no amount of Aussie sunshine could make attractive. Unless other students from my university are reading this, the weight of that Derwent insult will be lost; but at least now I can say I am probably the first person to stick it to the University of York’s most hated college from Australian soil.
Only when I was on board the plane did it hit me that I’m not going back home for a year. What do I hope to achieve? A lot of people say exchange changed them, others found themselves saying, “It’ll be the best year of your life”. My policy is to explore a part of the world that seemed too far away, to travel lots, to learn along the way – and have a bloody good time while doing it. In the meantime, hopefully you are not bored of my musings already as there will be a regular instalment for the next few months at least. That is if I haven’t been attacked by a paralysis tick, venomous snake, shark, and the many other things I have been warned can kill me here. Although I am starting to wonder if it’s all a hoax since I saw no wildlife other than the odd boring bird during a trip through the Blue Mountains.
Until next month – AP.