One of the first questions people back home ask me is what’s Sydney like. I tell them to take one part glamor, one part indie chic, and five parts Australian sarcasm and you have Sydney. The overall vibe is a mutual “don’t f- with my stuff and I’m not gonna f- with yours” (it’s true, Aussies swear a lot). I think it comes from their laidback attitude mixed with their no-beating-around-the-bush way of speaking. The next thing I tell them is how absolutely massive it is, not so much height wise like Manhattan but in terms of how spread out it is. You could drive an hour and still be in Sydney. It’s like someone wished a beach town turned into a cosmopolitan metropolis overnight.
The city is divided into neighborhoods with my apartment in one called Chippendale. About a ten-minute train ride from downtown, Chippendale is an up-and-coming district with a growing hipster population. Alley walls are tagged with edgy graffiti murals, contrasting with the 19th century wrought iron verandas of the houses themselves.
With all the warnings of culture shock and homesickness, the transition to Sydney life has been easier than I thought. It’s comfortable living here, even walking and driving on the left side of the road has become like second nature. You can almost convince yourself you’ve lived here your whole life but then the littlest thing will remind you that home is halfway around the world. There are the obvious things like different shaped plugs or accents and then there are the things that aren’t noticeable at first but add up to the feeling that you are not at home. Take the grocery store for example, obviously, the products would be different than those in America but the most frustrating part is the way the store is arranged. Items grouped in ways that I wouldn’t think of. Instead of being in the snack aisle, cookies are in the coffee and tea aisle. Instead of the pasta aisle, Mac and Cheese is in the prepared meals aisle. Maybe this frustration, this reorientation of the way you think is one form of the culture shock they told us about. You can mentally prepare for different diets, living situations, language barriers, but the minutia of everyday life is not something you really grasp through a chapter in your guide book.
I guess one of the things I was most scared about in coming to Sydney was not knowing anybody and, if I’m being completely honest, celebrating my birthday alone. The first night I was prepared to spend by myself given that I had only just gotten here. Suddenly, out of the blue, a fellow Badger texted me to meet up with her and some others in the same housing program. Our little troop went for a bite in the nearby neighborhood of Newtown and have been inseparable ever since. My 21st came about a week after arriving in Australia and it has been one of the best yet. After an authentic Sichuan dinner (I can tell it was authentic because I still can’t feel my taste buds), we went back to my apartment where they surprised me with a birthday cake and gifted me what any college student wants: stickers and beer. They have been so sweet and I am glad I could find a group like them so quickly. If you guys are reading this, you rock! We’ve become so close in the short time we’ve been here I can’t imagine exploring this wonderful place with anybody else.
The days pass like a dream. I’ve already seen and done so much I’m not sure I can process going back to real life. Classes and my internship fill my weekdays. Trips to beaches and around the city fill my weekends. I’ve seen the Opera House and Harbor Bridge, tanned at Manly, Bondi, Lady’s Bay, and Palm Beach, done the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, celebrated at Pride Parade, had breakfast with koalas, seen Broadway’s Aladdin live, and visited Melbourne and Wollongong. Sydney has been like a wish come true and I can’t wait to see what else it has to offer.