Though there are still about three weeks left and a few major events left (trip to Botany Bay and FINALS) before my time in Australia ends, it feels like I’m just about to say my inevitable farewell. The sun and warmth of the summer that greeted me when I first arrived in Sydney has noticeably begun to fade. Aussies in warm ‘winter’ gear remind me of the season’s and semesters end, and already increasingly early sunsets feel like a page being turned away from this chapter of my life.
There have been all sorts of ups and downs from my time in Sydney, but I’d say the most important thing I’ve gotten from my time here is a deeper knowledge about myself. Being alone for such a long time was definitely not easy, but it was definitely worth it. I learned more about what makes me happy, what makes me sad. I learned to love the beach and have fully embraced the Aussie attitude of just dealing with things.
Furthermore, I have also learned more about those around me. Living in Australia has allowed me to see my America more clearly. Through the eyes of another country, I’ve come to understand a different part of my country. I admittedly was quite disillusioned with America before coming here, but after hearing first hand the stereotypes and impressions others have of the U.S., I can see with pride that I come from a nation of bravery, and perseverance and passion.
Honestly, if I were to predict what I will remember from my time here in Australia, the two things that stand out are: my time in New Zealand, and the social struggles I faced here. New Zealand is a given since it’s my favorite place in the world, however before coming to Australia, I did not expect struggles I faced here. For some reason, I expected a giant, happy, NYU family that did everything together. In hindsight I think I was thinking of summer camp, however I really did expect we would all form a giant group of friends. Although this isn’t how things worked out, I did become more comfortable being on my own, and I met someone who I think I will be close with for many more years to come. If I could have given myself one piece of advice before coming here, it would have been to focus my time and effort making local friends outside of the NYU bubble.
My time in Sydney was full of introspection. Sometimes it was uncomfortable, and painful having to face parts of myself I did not like, however the wisdom I gained about myself was absolutely worth it. I am extremely grateful for my time here in Australia, and the opportunity to witness the unique way of life here. It was fascinating hearing about the lives and experiences other students were having all over the world, and it was wonderful to spend time each week reflecting on my travels in all kinds of thought provoking ways. Thank you, and farewell.
Sydney is, in general, an easy place to live in. It is a first world, English speaking, western city. Sure there are some difference; things actually close here (usually around 6 pm), and people ‘talk funny’, but in general, Sydney is very much like New York City. In fact, I often think of Sydney as a healthier NYC. It is more green and laid back, safer and more easy going. It is also a very active and health conscious city; most people are quite fit (which makes sense given the number of gorgeous beaches in/near Sydney). This brings me to my first tip: stay active. There are a million ways to do it, be it running, surfing, yoga, zumba, etc., etc. Not only will it keep you healthy and confident, it is also a great way to meet locals.
A second tip is to be prepared to cook. Sydney is extremely expensive, and $20 meals will add up fast. On the flip side, the produce in Sydney is usually quite fresh, and if you know where to go (PADDY’S MARKET), you can get your tasty fruit and veggies for pocket change. The next tip is to get a job or internship, or anything that pays. Though things are very expensive in Sydney, it is counterbalanced by the high wages: minimum wage in Sydney is a glorious $16.87. Get a job, meet some locals and fatten up your piggy bank for a fraction of the effort it would take in the States.
Another tip however, is to keep your schedule free. I would say the best way to do this is by taking less courses (3 max, or 2 if you are doing an internship). This applies for any study abroad site. When you are abroad, it is important to have time to travel. You will have plenty of other semesters to take courses, but when’s the next time you’ll be in Australia?? You’re going to want to go explore every chance you get, and it frankly sucks to have to stay in on weekends doing the same busy work you do in NYC , knowing that these amazing opportunities to travel are passing by.
That brings me to my next tip: GO TO NEW ZEALAND. Spring break is probably the best time to do it, but if you can stay in Australia after the semester ends, I would highly recommend you spend a week or two in New Zealand. New Zealand is (in my opinion) the most beautiful country on earth. Rent a car and spend a week driving through Middle Earth. Kiwis (the locals) are probably the most friendly, happy people you’ll ever meet. Furthermore, New Zealand is an immensely popular destination for backpackers (in Europe and Australia its common for college students to take a gap year and just travel), so stay in hostels as much as possible and make new friends. The three things I’d say are must do while you are in New Zealand are: go skydiving (or any extreme sport), visit ‘The Shire’ in Matamata, and spend some time hiking.
Lastly, my tip for any future Sydneysiders is to not be scared. Before coming to Australia I heard about a thousand times that EVERYTHING WILL TRY TO KILL YOU. Drop bears, snakes, giant spiders…the list goes on and on. First of all, drop bears are not real. They are a made up creature meant to scare visitors for the amusement of Aussies. Now you know. Snakes, on the other hand, are quite real and extremely poisonous. They are however, not very dangerous. They rarely attack and even if they do, if you stay still, you will almost never die. In fact, there is approximately only one death every 100 years. Spiders though…are huge and everywhere. Its terrifying and disgusting but that’s just the way it is. Aussies never seem to even notice them, so, like with most of the difficulties you might face while living in Australia, the best attitude to have is to simply suck it up and move on. Do that and you’ll fit in just fine mayte.
Twenty thousand feet above Lake Taupo. Strapped up and ready to go. My instructor inches us closer along the bench in the small airplane-I’ve been in countless airplanes before. But this time there’s one huge difference: the door is open, and we jump out.
I used to be irrationally scared of heights, queasy when looking out a window more than a story up. As I grew older, I was able to reason with myself, and somewhat convince myself with the reality of my safety. I pushed myself to look out the windows stories up, and see the amazing views the height afforded. I didn’t let that knotted pit in my stomach stop me from climbing up onto the roof of my house, the one place my family couldn’t access when I wanted some alone time. Over many years, I believe I had conquered that fear, an accomplishment I loved myself for.
I believe traveling is the time to push yourself, and grow, so when I returned to New Zealand (a place dear to my heart, and a land famous for their extreme sports) I knew it was time for the ultimate test.
I skydove in Lake Taupo. It cost about $500, and it was and probably will always be the most amazing thing I’ve ever done (except for maybe giving birth, but that’s a different story…). One thing to understand about sky-diving is that it’s very safe. You are strapped to an experienced sky-diving instructor (a “Tandem Master”) who takes care of everything. The Master pulls the chute at the right time and guides our landing. The only thing the student has to do is lift your legs before you touch the ground, nothing that requires skill.
Knowing all this might detract from the ‘cool’ factor of skydiving (because I essentially just fell from a very high distance and someone else controlled everything else), but personally, it will always be one of my most amazing memories.
The butterflies in my stomach as we climbed into the sky knowing that this time we’d be jumping out. The moment when we kicked out of the plane and all you could feel was wind, gravity in your stomach, and adrenaline. The curve of the world, seen with my own eyes for the first time. The knowledge that I was completely exposed out there, no metal or machinery to hold me. Oh god the view, the ground slowly and surely getting closer beneath my feet. What I felt up there was adrenaline and pure bliss. I was not afraid-I felt alive. To be honest, I felt like a goddamn angel, utterly alone in my plummet to the Earth and the rest of humanity. Sure a million others have sky dove before, and sure some might say it was an overpriced tourist trap. When I think back to that experience, I feel pride in myself for simply having done something so amazing, and gratitude to the technology and professionals who made the experience possible. The memories of that (too short), fast, fall will continue to thrill me for the rest of my life.
In all of Middle Earth, I believe it is the Shire that is the most lovely. Ever since I visited it years ago, I have longed to return. Although the Hobbiton movie set from Lord of the Rings, is not a place one can actually live in, I have often considered it to be my dream home. Ah, to live in the Shire, where all is green and peaceful and good.
My journey back to the Shire took three years. Planning when and how I could return in America. Deciding to get one step closer by study abroad in Australia. Slogging and waiting through weeks and weeks in Sydney until spring break when I would have enough time to go to New Zealand. And then flying and taxiing and walking and driving until we reached our Air BnB/home away from home in Auckland, New Zealand. But the real adventure had just begun.
The first step was finding an available time slot to book a tour of Hobbiton.
After that was done and paid for, there was the dilemma of getting there. Simply driving the rental car would have been simplest, however, there was the unexpected dilemma of my traveling companions: apparently none of them wanted to go. They preferred to stay in their (temporary) homes and sleep in and relax (rather like Hobbits!). They couldn’t understand how traveling to such an amazing location was better than leaving the comforts of their homes. So it was decided that I would set out alone.
Next, was what transportation plan was actually doable? Bus? Train? Taxi the whole 5 hour ride? Eventually I was able to book two bus rides, one from Auckland to the town Matamata, where the set was located, and another to the set itself. $50 dollars later, the tickets were mine. All I had to do was get to the bus stop in the middle of the city at 7 am,,,which then raised the issue of getting to the bus stop… We were in the suburbs, more than an hours walk away from the city center. And buses didn’t start running until 7 am. The only option was taxi, but how would I be able to get a taxi to pick me up at exactly 6:20 am in this quiet, purely residential neighborhood? I didn’t have cellular service in New Zealand, so I couldn’t calla taxi booking company.
Right I as I was internally freaking out, there was a knock on the door. It was the home owner, here to say hello. And she knew exactly who to call for a cab at 6 am. A few minutes and a phone call later, I had a cab booked and every step of the journey was officially set. All that was left was to actually get there and back according to plan.
The actual trip consisted of 90% sitting and sleeping and waiting, and 10% pure (unwarranted) panic that something had gone wrong. Did I drop my ticket? Is my bag still next to me?? Did I sleep through my bus stop??? Thankfully, in the end everything went smoothly. 16 hours after I left the house, I had made it to the Shire, and then back home again.
In the eyes of a stranger, I can be anyone. I am unlimited, a blank canvas that I can color however I want. I am usually happiest when traveling, and this is undoubtedly one of the reasons why. Since interactions with strangers are usually ‘simplified’ as Simmel said in his essay, it becomes that much easier to become how I want to be. In life I strive to be strong, independent, friendly, happy, kind, clever, cheerful, noble, grounded….but it can be so hard. When traveling, somehow it gets easier. When interacting with a complete stranger for the first time, I don’t have to worry about acting ‘like Avanty’, or ‘being authentic/myself’. The person standing in front of me doesn’t know my mistakes, weaknesses, or how I have been before. All I have to worry about is being the best me, giving the ‘right answer’, acting in the ideal ways I want to be like. It is easier to be outspoken, brave and kind. I have less trouble striking up conversation with the passenger next to me on a bus alone in New Zealand, than I would in Sydney surrounded by classmates. I can simply decide to jump out of a plane (sky dive) when I’m in a group of other strangers because it is what the brave and fearless Avanty I want to be would do. And I stop in the middle of the road when walking alone to help the struggling and lost-looking Obaasan (grandma) though I might not have if I was walking with acquaintances.
Strange isn’t it; its not like these are things I am ashamed of doing-yet I probably would not have done them if I was with people who ‘knew Avanty’. In the eyes of a stranger, however I act at that moment is who I am. They will think of me as outgoing and optimistic. And in turn that makes it easier for me to believe and internalize those characteristics. When someone else believes me to be a certain way, it makes it easier for me to believe it as well.
I think people often get stuck in ruts. When you are in one place, surrounded by people who think of you in a certain way and thus expect you to act a certain way, that itself become self-affirming in its own way. I guess this can be good and bad depending on what is expected, however it also seems so limiting. We are capable of such an incredible range of things. We all have braveness, kindness, strength, humor, compassion, patience, etc. etc. To some extent we all embody all traits, have them within us. So aren’t the labels like ‘the wild one’, ‘the quiet one’, ‘the funny one’, ‘the silly one’ that we give our friends, the categories that we place those around us in (even subconsciously) silly and restricting? Sappy as it might be, we have such a short, fleeting time in the world. So doesn’t it seem foolish to put further limitations on ourselves, and each other? Every time we look at each other and ourselves, I think it would help to try to see things through the eyes of a stranger, to believe in the possibility of the best in ourselves, and those around us.
To be honest, before coming to Australia, I didn’t even know if Australia had slaves. I knew it had been founded as a penal colony so I expected there to be some people of African descent, but only a tiny amount of the population. When I arrived in Sydney, this guess was confirmed by the infrequency of which I saw and people of African descent. Since there were so few of them, I couldn’t imagine there were many “Black versus White” race tensions. As it turns out, the term ‘black’ in Australia actually does not refer to the same ethnic group as it does in America. In Australia ‘black’ refers to the Aboriginal peoples of Australia; the American equivalent of ‘Native Americans’.
Much like in America, the Blacks had their homeland stripped away from them, their culture suppressed, and were looked down upon by the whites. In fact they were only legally recognized as residents of Australia, the country they were in first, in 1967.
The Rabbit Proof Fence was one of three rabbit-proof fences building across the length of Australia to keeps the rabbits (huge “breeding like rabbits” ecological and agricultural problem) away from the rest of Australia. Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence tells the story of three half Aboriginal half White girls, who are taken from their tribe in accordance with laws that treated the Aboriginals as less than second-class citizens. They were torn from their mothers’ arms and sent to camp where they were to be raised in White ways. They were among a generation of “half-caste Children” who are now referred to as The Stolen Generation. An entire generation of mixed race Aboriginal children were rounded up and raised in camps, their culture and native tongue stamped out of them, in hopes of then “breeding the black out of them”.
Molly, Daisy, and Gracie too were sent to one of these camps. This book is about their escape and their long struggle home. They escaped from the camp barefoot with only bread crumbs in their pocket, evaded the trackers and police sent after them, and followed “the Rabbit-Proof Fence” for 1,500 miles in hopes of reaching home. In some ways their journey home makes me think of the Underground Railroad. Like runaway blacks in America, they had to run in secret, avoiding contact with people who could possibly recognize them as runaways and report them to the police, and often being helped in secret by other Aboriginals they met as they fled. Oh yes, there were black and white tensions. For decades and decades Aboriginals/Blacks faced discrimination and persecution. The after effects are still felt to this day. There is still racism against blacks, and they are more likely to live in poverty, go to prison and suffer from many other socioeconomic disadvantages. The story of these three little girls brings to light a side of Australia I never knew existed.
Though there is a bloody, rough history between the Blacks and Whites of Australia, there seems to have been a much more active effort to redress and correct the sins of the past, at least compared to America. Aboriginal culture has a much larger presence in modern Australia than it does in the United States, and can be seen in many aspects; for example, the Aboriginal greeting the NYU study abroad students were greeted with. Thought this true story tells a terribly sad tale of a time of oppression, it is important to remember and examine these wrong doings so that things can move forward.
What is the first thing you picture when you think of Sydney? If it’s the Sydney Opera house, it was probably the beach. Bondi, Bronte, Coogee, Manly…the list goes on and on. Sydney/Australia is full of famous, gorgeous beaches, and there is a reason why they are so strongly associated with Sydney; they truly encapsulate the spirit of this city.
Take for example, the walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee beach I did with some classmates. I can safely say it was one of the most Australian things I’ve done to date. We started out at the edge of Bondi beach. It was midday on Saturday, and it was hot, but not too humid. The beach was dotted with bronzed bodies laying out in the sun, soaking up the sun. There were people of all ages and races. They could have been anyone; a business man from Sydney’s Central Business District, a barista from one of the thousands of cafés in the city, an artist, a teacher, a construction worker-they all looked the same when stripped down to their skivvies. People of all different religions and backgrounds, laying around enjoying the simple pleasures of the sun, the sand and the sea.
As we walk past the first beach, on the elevated boardwalk that hugs the coast, we pass (or rather are passed by) plenty of joggers. Sweaty and toned, they represent another important aspect of Sydney; the importance health and appearance are given in Sydney. Looking around, it is almost hard to find people who aren’t fit, and walking down the street, there are plenty of people in sneakers and exercise clothes. There are a million gyms and ways to work out in Sydney, and being active is simply a part of most Sydneysiders’ lives.
As we continue walking, the coastal path curves and all of a sudden we are greeted with a spectacular view. It is Coogee beach, but it also Sydney. We are overlooking the waves and the shore, but just a little further along, we can see houses and buildings, shops and cafés. Houses sprawl above us on the coast, surrounded by trees and greenery, and in the distance we can see the bustling skyscraping, heart of Sydney. On one side is a sandy paradise, and right next to it is a bustling civilization.
This too exemplifies the importance ‘nature’ plays in Sydney. Unlike New York City, trees, parks and greenery can be found everywhere (real, magnificent trees, not the pencils that line much of New York’s streets). While Sydney is still a well-developed city, nature still claims many parts of it. I often see people sitting on the grass, under the shade of a large tree and enjoying their lunch breaks. And though its considered a popular tourist destination everyone goes to Bondi. In this beautiful land in which a terrifying percentage of creatures can kill you, it makes sense that nature has the presence it does in Sydney.
Though these characteristic in no way represent all of what Sydney is, they certainly represent much of what makes Sydney so unique and dear to me. The acceptance, inclusiveness, health-consciousness and appreciation for nature that Sydney exhibits can all be found in one place: the beach.
To be honest, I came to Sydney to go to New Zealand.
There is more to the story and other factors involved, most of which relate to reasons to study abroad in general, but when it comes down to it, all of my interest (at first) in the actual act of flying to Sydney stemmed from the simple fact that it was much closer to New Zealand than New York was.
You see, New Zealand holds a special place for in the hearts of myself and those of my family. It is Middle Earth, it is the dream, it is the most beautiful country in the world. I love New Zealand, its landscape and its culture. Up until less than two months ago, I knew almost nothing about Sydney, and wasn’t exactly dying to find out more.
Upon landing in Sydney I was still equally indifferent. The weather was pleasant and the trees were nice, but my heart was unmoved. I am not overly fond of the sea, and the blue skies held no particular charm. All I felt was that I was in a different country, with much warmer weather and slightly strange customs. Some things were nice (no snow!!!), some things were annoying (even more expensive than New York), and many things were the same (a first world, western city). But I did not love Sydney, and did not see what made it so beautiful.
~Fast forward a few weeks ~
I was walking back from class, on George Street through Sydney’s Central Business District. It was midafternoon, and not too hot. I passed by a newsstand and a small post card caught my eye. It was a picture of some Sydney beach, (probably Bondi or Bronte) specifically of the sea turning white against the coast. It was beautiful. The water-a mix of the deepest cerulean and turquoise, rippling into crisp white where it crested. The beach-a large cove with light tan sand, large, darker rocks lining the side. And after the beach, a few hundred meters back, a rocky cliff atop which lush greenery and red roofed houses sprawled. Above it all, the consistently beautiful blue skies and puffs of cotton clouds that I had consistently dismissed, unimpressed. Suddenly, I got it.
I could see what people loved about it, why people would call it “The Harbour City” with such affection, when there was plenty more to it that just its waters and coasts. I understood why how people could love beaches, a fact that had previously bewildered me (all that sticky salt water and sand everywhere!).
The next weekend I joined my friends and voluntarily went to the beach in Sydney for the first time (Bronte Beach). I’ve gone to the beach five more times since then, and am going again this Friday.
I have to disagree with MacCannell’s proposition that traveling is essentially a modern day parallel to any sort of authentic sacred ceremony from primitive society, however at the same time there is undoubtedly a struggle for an “authentic experience” when traveling.
While sometimes when traveling, my goal is to experience the ‘authentic’; the life and people in this foreign place, this is not always feasible. When one has only a week to tour an entire country, is it really possible to notice enough little moments that give you an ‘authentic’ experience?
Perhaps the reason why many tourist sights and activities are so popular is because they allow those visiting to get a taste (albeit and over exaggerated, artificial taste) of the place they are in. For example, doing the cliché tea ceremony in Japan might be very touristy, but at the same time it may offer a glimpse into the rather traditional ‘peaceful’ aspect of some of Japanese culture. This is not to say that all Japanese people like tea or are peaceful-that would of course be an incorrect stereotype-however there is also a truth to this. There is something more reserved and formal and elegant in part of Japanese culture that is incredibly unique to it, and is one of the many charms that visitors and residents fall in love with.
Likewise the Bondi Beach visit in Sydney is also very stereotypical and clichéd, however there is also something quintessentially Australian about it. Healthy, bronzed bodies relaxing on a beach, with surfers in the front and barbeque picnics in the back-how much more Australian can you get?? There is of course, more to Australian than its relaxed and fit beach culture, however this is one of the amazing aspects of Australia that make it unique.
I often find myself drawing comparisons between these ultra clichéd touristy things and extract. Extracts might have at one point been carefully obtained from collecting plants or material, drying them, grinding them, crushing them, working with them, and straining them-all to get a small amount of relatively accurate extract. However now thanks to furthered chemical research and technology, almost all extracts are synthesized in large batches in a lab. The result: a concentrated, pure, isolated compound that is easily accessible. It is regulated and predictable and easy. However it can also be flat. Have you ever ground up and used actual vanilla beans, and can you accurately describe the flavor? How can you perfectly portray the precise amount of sweetness and the exact strength of the caramel or coffee notes? The creamy undertones, and any floral high notes? Each bean is different and complex.
Compare that to a mass produced bottle of McCormick vanilla extract. I can describe that in one word: 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldahyde (in alcohol). Sounds delicious.
And yet it is delicious. Its convenient and popular for a reason. It may be fake but it also captures the essence of vanilla. Cannot that be enough?
I think it is important to strip away this ‘sacredness’ that surrounds “authentic”, non touristy traveling. While that may have its merits, it can also be incredibly hard to achieve. That’s where the so-called ‘inauthentic” traveling comes in. Each have their merits, it is up to the chef and traveler to find a balance between them.
The book Tracks, simply put, is about a woman and her journey. Specifically Robyn Davidson’s 1700 mile trek through the Australian Outback. One important thing to know about Robyn Davidson is the fact she is an ordinary person. She was not brought up in any sort of harsh environment, but on a ranch in the perfectly developed Miles, Queensland, and Brisbane. She is not some extreme nature fanatic, and she went to school and got a job in a city. She was me, she was you.
Davidson did not have any grand reason for her journey, nor was she seeking to prove some point. She was simply sick of ‘society’, with all its pretensions and burdens, and at last “took the first step”, and made the decision to go on this journey. She was also seeking privacy. One reason most people travel is to experience different human cultures, and ways of life. So in this aspect, Davidson was not ‘traveling’, in the usual ‘culture-tasting tour’ sense that most people seek. She intended to make this 1700 mile journey with the company of her camels, her dog, and no other humans. The happiest part of her journey was when she had solitude, alone in the middle of the desert with only her animals.
However what it seems she learned most about was humanity. Circumstances led her to travel with elderly Aboriginal leader named Eddie, who guided her through parts of the desert. He taught her to be connected with the land, and how to honor her surroundings as the Aboriginals did. She learned about herself, and human nature. The following is one of her realizations that I found most profound:
“The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision.”
Such illuminating insight is another part of travel. Davidson understood that when we embark on our travels, we become able to see things differently, and as a result of this, we can see things more clearly. In our modern world, we are so used to being constrained and regulated by time. Time is a steady, marching thing that we must constantly keep pace with. Time can be measured out and weighed in value like money-but it is not! While she was in the Outback Davidson was able to break free of this “white-man obsession with time” as Eddie put it. Sometimes days felt like minutes, and minutes stretched into eons. “…desert time refused to structure itself. It preferred instead to flow in curlicues, vortices and tunnels,…” Why should we march to time, or make it flow by at such a strictly measured tempo? We should be more like Eddie.
Australia is in ways, a very hardy place. There literally are thousands of things that can kill you, and to this day, the middle of Australia is under-populated. It is desert and bush, and it is wild and beautiful. The Outback is an integral part of Australiana, and can teach us all something, be it about our capabilities, our connection to the land, or our priorities. Davidson says that “Real travel would be to see the world, for even an instant, with another’s eyes”. Through this account of her journey, we are able to truly travel and learn from her, as she traveled and learned from Eddie, and her journey, and the land.