The Australian Experience
I arrived in Sydney on a freezing cold, gloomy, rainy afternoon. Not the Aussie surf dream of pristine beaches, sunshine and cheerful sound of "G'day mate" we all envision. A Macquarie University shuttle bus zoomed me through the vibrant and bustling streets of Sydney city centre, over the Harbour Bridge, and onto the North Shore, where my academic home would be for the next five months. The four bedroomed apartment I was assigned, part of a larger Herring Road Uni Accommodation block, was grey, cold and uninviting. Only one of my flat-mates was there to greet me - Chung from Hong Kong, who had a most friendly smile, but could hardly speak English, nor tear himself away from his computer. This was hardly a promising start. Nonetheless, it wasn't long before more faces began appearing, and the sun did peak out, although only for a moment, not to be seen again until November. Despite the drab demeanor of the Herring Road Apartments, within, there was a fascinating, vibrant array of international students, full of life and Aussie travel plans. Mere days passed and we had formed a close-knit, diverse group of around twenty exchange students, almost everyone from a different country, including Austria, Norway, Lithuania, USA, UK, Germany, France, Ireland, Chile, Spain, and, of course, South Africa. Macquarie values itself as an internationally-focused institution, and of the 30 000 students, 10 000 are directly from foreign countries, not to mention the varying ethnic groups that make up the modern face of Australia.
Sydney certainly is not an Australian city. Perhaps Brisbane is, but the city of sails comprises of Asian, Middle-Eastern, and Eastern European immigrants first and foremost. This proves as quite a culture shock when one arrives, as the extent of the populace diversity is not something the Australian media, or travel industry project. Considering the exorbitant cost of living in Aus, and that I was travelling on Rands, I soon was forced to shift my focus from studies and uni life to a job. In search of higher wages and tips, I sought employment in downtown Sydney, 45 minutes from the uni. My first job was with Nosh Hospitality, who hire out staff to waiter at big venues when they host major events. It was a fantastic way to get to know all the sights and corners of greater Sydney, taking me to the Opera House, the Olympic Stadium, Randwick Racecourse, and the VIP rooms of very exclusive clubs like The Establishment. Despite the excitement of celebrities and opulence, I sought a more stable job, as I was at Nosh's whim, and that didn't auger well for my studies at Macquarie. I was hired by The Grace in city centre to work in their bar and café. It was the best of both worlds as my wages were absolutely fantastic (R210 per hour), I had steady shift times, and I still go to meet the rich and famous!
My time in Australia was a complete whirlwind, from late August onwards as work, a German boyfriend living in Bondi (one and half hours of busses and trains away), university social life with all my international friends, travel on long weekends and holidays, and my degree, kept me constantly exhausted but reverberating with the pulse of colourful Sydney. The university support group for exchange students was an irreplaceable cushion to fall back on when things got too much. Although it need be said, that due to the size of the uni and surroundings, there was no soul, and student-based cultural activity that I am used to at Rhodes, in little old Grahamstown. I missed that greatly, and there were times when the world felt it was spinning out of control. Typical Sydney lifestyle mate.
Once exams were over in early December I moved out of Herring Road, to many sad goodbyes, as our little niche of exchange students was splintering. Many of them left to New Zealand, or Fiji (as we had already done most of Aus East Coast and Tasmania), whilst others returned home. I settled in a priceless little house 200 meters from Bondi Beach with my boyfriend and our French housemates. I continued to work at The Grace, and we often headed up the coast chasing waves, in some of the best surfing spots in the world, in 'the magic bus' - a hippy-aged camper van. Upon return to Grahamstown in early February, I was truly able to digest the phenomenal experiences I had been afforded over a mere six months. Every second was jam-packed full of fascinating people, places, food (Sydney isn't one of the culinary capitals of the world for nothing), sights and sounds, all fused into the electric blue of the Aussie East Coast. I wouldn't change a single thing of my exchange, and the benefits of it keep on unfolding time and again in my last year here at Rhodes.