Goodbye Sydney

15 Dec
Bridge and Opera House from Botanic Gardens

Bridge and Opera House from Botanic Gardens

Papers are done, everyone is packing open suitcases, and our final hurrah is minutes away.  This semester has been incredible.  Being abroad in Sydney was an amazing experience; I still become awestruck whenever I see the twinkling lights of the Harbour Bridge or the Opera House at twilight.  Culturally, things are similar to that in America but there are small nuances: being aware of the Aboriginal peoples, speaking with a unique accent and specific jargon, and a slightly different cuisine.  And living in Sydney provided opportunities to visit Melbourne, Adelaide, Tasmania, the Great Barrier Reef, and Uluru.  The scenery has been beautiful.

Despite all of this, what truly made the program amazing–I would venture to say life changing–were the people: students, staff, Australians.  In interacting with these fellow students on a daily basis, I learned many things, heard alternative opinions, and formed new friendships.  The way that everyone interacted was special: especially as the small inaugural class of NYU Sydney.  Things were rocky and bumpy on the academic side, but we all stuck together and none of us let those occurrences hinder our ability to enjoy ourselves and truly experience our new home.

It will be a long flight back to the States: an even longer flight because I will be missing everyone.  The backdrop of Sydney was beautiful and special, but what made the experience remarkable were the people.  And to that I would like to thank everyone.  There is no doubt in my mind that it will be hard to leave Australia and dismantle our special group tomorrow.  What we had was truly special: something that I do not believe would have happened at NYU in New York; it is simply too big.  Learning a new place, experiencing new things, and all the while meeting new people in the process: this is why I study abroad.  I can’t think of a better way to learn and enjoy life.  It seems like yesterday that I arrived and now–sadly–the time has come to depart.  The memories that I formed while here will last a lifetime.  For all the fun, I am forever thankful to my new friends.

The Heart of Australia

25 Nov

Uluru

Greens faded to reds, plains of grass became sparse, prickly foliage.  We left Sydney and landed in the middle of the desert of the Northern Territory.  Greeting us immediately and quickly melting the sterile cold we amassed from the airplane was the 109+ degree Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) dry heat.  This was the town of Ayers Rock.  Our accommodation consisted of a quaint little cabin; one of several in a larger campground.  Uluru (Ayers Rock) is a tourist destination: a tourist trap.  However, the site of Uluru with the rock cutting up and out of the desert floor is surreal.  There is an inherent mysticism about the place; no wonder the Aboriginal people consider it a sacred site, anyone can feel it.

The heat was immense but the dry heat (unlike what I am used to in Atlanta) is peculiar.  It slows you down over time instead of hitting you in the face once you step outside.  Since it was so dry, I could still function in the extreme temperatures, including the 109 degrees of when we first arrived.  We decided to rent a car (yes, again.  I have driven in every Australian state except Western Australia!) and it proved to be the best money-saving measure yet.  Everything there is expensive; one, because it is in the middle of nowhere (460 km to Alice Springs) and two because practically everyone there is a tourist.  We spent an ungodly amount of money on a tour of Kings Canyon (about three hours away by bus).  Despite all of this, the trip to Uluru should be done by anyone travelling throughout Australia.  It was incredible.

After paying (of course) to enter the National Park, we completed the 11km base walk around the iron-red sandstone rock.  This was really special because the four of us were practically the only ones out, the sky was overcast so the heat was bearable, and the views were tremendous.  The sun set quickly and I was a bit nervous getting back to the car, but all was okay because the moon was out early so we could see even after dark.

The next day we took a bus out to Kings Canyon.  A guide accompanied us on our walk around the rim of the canyon, walking through more beautiful sandstone and staggering views.  We also passed a swimming hole within the area called the Garden of Eden.  As we finished our 6km hike, the heat became brutal.  Let’s just say it was nice to get back in the air-conditioned bus after that.  Despite the amazing views, I can almost-definitely say that I will never take another guided bus tour of a place.  They are an extreme waste of money and after travelling throughout Australia under my own guidance and free will, I don’t think I could ever justify spending a large amount of money for someone to drive me around and tell me what to do and how long to do it…and I rant.

The trip may be the favorite of them all.  Travelling to central Australia–the heart of the country–is like seeing what everyone imagines the place to be: red earth, desert plants, intense heat; it is essentially everything minus the beaches.  It was great to experience this place with great friends and I had an amazing time.  Book your trips now!

Great Barrier Reef and Missing Shoes

19 Nov

Our boat that took us out to the reef

I just got back from a great adventure; one that I can now check off my bucket list.  This weekend I took a trip up to far north Queensland.  Staying in Cairns, we used the city as our leaping point in order to take a tour of the Great Barrier Reef and to venture around the area in a rental car.

The reef was pretty incredible.  While there, I snorkeled with multiple sea turtles, a reef shark, several extremely large clams, and a few hundred parrot fish.  It was a great adventure but in my opinion snorkeling is snorkeling.  You do it once and then you have done it a million times.  I am extremely glad to say that I went up to the reef, but I don’t think that I saw anything more extravagant than what you could see in the Florida Keys or the Caribbean.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy myself.  We were on a pretty large sailboat–one that we hired through a tour company–with about 30 other people.  Unfortunately, the winds were not cooperating so we had to motor out to the reef and back (as opposed to sailing).  We saw plenty of the gorgeous sun and took a dingy to the beautiful Green Island.

One of my favorite parts of this last adventure was renting a car (again!) and cruising around far north Queensland.  We saw some pretty neat stuff: fields of sugarcane, a road along the ocean cliffs to Port Douglas, some white, sandy beaches, and we drove down a dirt road and hiked to a secluded waterfall.  I decided that I much prefer to do my own trip; one in which I can arrive and depart whenever I want.  In addition, I think that traveling in small groups (no bigger than 5 people) is the ideal way to get around a new place.

Unfortunately, someone in our hostel decided to steal my running shoes while we were away on the reef.  They only stayed one night, so I was unable to confront them and my shoes will forever be MIA.  It sucks to be the recipient of thievery, but I suppose it could have been a lot worse.  It’s all part of traveling and learning about people: both the good and the bad.  Sadly, some people will steal in order to get by.  But shoes can be replaced and the memories I made in Cairns over the past weekend will never fade.

Multi-Faceted Education

13 Nov

A Wallaby and Joey

The absolute best part about studying abroad is the experiences that you can have while travelling and living in that host country.  Being in a new place allows for an entirely new world to open up for any traveler.  The possibilities for seeing new things are endless.  By just walking down the street or being in this new environment, you challenge yourself to understand and accept new things.  While abroad, there are classes.  But complementing this in-class experience, is an incredible and incomparable out of the class learning experience.  From going to new restaurants, seeing new sights, meeting new people, and having access to travel to entirely new places, the educational experience that any student gets abroad is unparalleled.  In addition, I believe that by learning things out of the classroom, it allows for an indelible impression that is much more meaningful than any paper or presentation.  The aspects of life that are unique and may even put you out of your comfort zone are the ones that offer the most memorable growth.

Over the past weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to travel south to Tasmania.  The island–known for its pristine and untouched beauty–was mostly a mystery to me until I arrived.  With a few suggestions from peers and professors here in Sydney who have travelled there before, we rented a car and hit the open road with uncertain expectations.  We began by driving up the east coast toward Launceston.  It was a beautiful sight but the dreary weather put a damper on most of the scenery.  However, once we made it to the giant national parks in the western part of the island–in particular Cradle Mountain–things changed.  Being away from cities and people and becoming a part of the woods always offers a brief escape to collect your ideas.  Between the gorgeous sunset, the shimmering mountain-top lake, the dopey wombats perusing the grassland, and the curious wallabies (see above photo), I was able to quell my thoughts.  During this reflection, I realized how amazing it is to see new places like this and interact with new people.  (Tasmanians are incredibly friendly and are amazingly hospitable.)  It is astonishing to think that everyone will derive their own unique memories and understandings of the place.  For me, Australia has provided an amazing opportunity to study on the other side of the world, learn about a country so similar to the United States yet with a distinct culture, and meet people who have grown up in this environment.  I hope it never ends…

More on Sydney

4 Nov

Sydney CBD and Harbour from Nielsen’s Park

The week was a bit slow: mostly classes and a few movie screenings for the Anthropology of Indigenous Art class.  Don’t worry, I don’t think one could really get bored when studying abroad, there is always something new to discover. We have also been keeping in contact with friends and family in New York; we send our well wishes to those who had to weather the brunt of Hurricane Sandy.

It was the week of Halloween so it was interesting to see the differences in celebrations between the States and here.  In sum, they don’t really celebrate here.  After talking with a few Aussies, they apparently prefer to celebrate “Movember” (comparable to our “No-Shave-November”) a bit more than Halloween.  (That’s sad.)  There were, however, a few zombies, ghosts, and goblins out on the street.  They were a fun reminder to the many Halloweens of home.  As a group, we decided to watch Hocus Pocus and we had an enjoyable night remembering our childhood excursions of trick-or-treating.  We did dress up and go out to a fancy club (Marquee) in a nearby casino (The Star) in Pyrmont.  A friend knew a hostess there so we got to bypass the line.  It was a good time and pretty much was the extent of our Halloween celebrations.

This weekend has also been quiet with the majority of NYU Sydney students going to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.  I’ll be visiting in a few weeks, so more on that to come in future posts.  But I have had the chance to explore a bit more of Sydney.  I took a stroll through the Surry Hills area.  It is nice and friendly with many shops, cafes, and pubs.  Definitely an area to check out if you ever visit.  Later, a few friends and I returned to Opera Bar (the cafe and bar next to the Opera House).  The views from this place will be forever breathtaking; having a beer with the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge in the background will never get old.  Another must-see in Sydney.

This next week will be another (slight) lull in the realm of academia at NYU Sydney.  I have a Creative Writing short story due for workshop and a few papers to begin for next week.  This weekend should be fun though with a three day visit to Tasmania.  As always, I’ll keep you posted.

Surreal Sydney (and adventures within and around)

28 Oct

Blue Mountains

The week began with my face lit by the soft glow of the computer screen.  Essay, essay, and then a third essay.  But that’s the boring part of the week.  I survived midterm season–more papers than usual–and the week got tremendously better once I turned in the last one on Thursday at 11am.

The weather was beautiful after our last class on Thursday so a friend and I skipped over to the Botanical Gardens and set ourselves on the grass to soak up the sun.  The sun felt great, but the grass was full of some weird aphid-like bug that kept biting our legs, so we left as soon as the sun crept behind a few clouds.

True fun began later that day when all of NYU Sydney met at the Exhibition Bar in the CBD for drinks and h’orderves.  It was a hopping and swanky bar and we all had a great time.  However, this was in preparation for the main event: watching Planet Earth with a live symphony orchestra at the Opera House.  The show was perfect, the venue was spectacular, and at intermission I just could not believe that my life was real as I stared out over the water to the Ol’ Coathanger twinkling in the clear night sky.  Acoustics were perfect, images beautiful, and the experience fantastic, I reminisced as we made our way down the stairs following the show.

To top off the weekend, yesterday was another NYU Sydney trip; this one to the Blue Mountains.  These are the mountains that are just west of Sydney.  They get their name from the blue tinge that appears when looking at them from afar.  This effect occurs (apparently) from the vapor the Eucalyptus Trees release into the air.  There are a lot of Eucalyptus trees.  Making our way into the fresh, mountainous serenity from the Big Smoke of the Big S was entirely refreshing and I enjoyed it greatly.  NYU Sydney sponsored the transportation, lunch, and a ride on the train up from the bottom of a gorge.  This train is supposedly the steepest train in the world.  It was steep indeed, and really fun to ride: almost like a roller coaster.

Now that midterms concluded, I have a few weeks of minimal work and I hope to continue exploring Sydney.  Abroad life is the best: every day feels like a dream.  It’s going to be hard to go home.

Spring Has Sprung–In October

21 Oct

Harbour Bridge

The sun burned in the sky and Sydneysiders around the city began to shout “Spring has officially sprung.”  I still have to check myself when remembering it’s the month of October.  My birthday was this week and never have I ever been able to go tanning in the park on the 18th of October.  That was a wonderful addition to the birthday celebrations.  In fact, it was dubbed the ‘triple birthday’ because three people in the program were born that day.  Unfortunately, I was the oldest.  While the others turned 21, I clicked into an age in which they no longer have specific cards–22.  I had an excellent birthday–thanks to my friends here in Sydney and the staff at NYU for throwing us a little soiree–but I could have done away with the mandatory two hour field trip to the Library of New South Wales.

Along with the birthday celebrations and the gorgeous, strong sun, this week also brought midterms.  And unlike past semesters, midterm season meant multiple essays sans exams.  For Anthropology of Indigenous Australians, we wrote an essay about the presence of Aboriginal culture throughout Sydney–or lack thereof.  In Creative Writing, we had a short analytical piece in which we compared select chapters from different texts.  This week brings assignments in the required class and Anthropology of Art.

In the midst of midterms, other exploratory activities have slowed.  I did make it to a wonderful picnic yesterday at Nielsen’s Park.  In a ritzy part of Sydney, this small beach and park feel more like a part of a country club than a public park.  A friend and I picnicked on a rock outcropping overlooking the Harbour and the CBD beyond.  It was a wonderfully relaxing adventure, the day and scenery were beautiful, and the company was perfect.

Now, back to writing papers and the lot.  Many fun things await the end of midterm season.

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