I remember looking through the assignments for the Art of Travel course at the beginning of the semester, late January, and thinking how far away May 5th seemed. It is unreal how quickly time passes…but I digress! This course has been a great way of breaking up my study abroad experience. It has given me new topics to think about and a way of organizing my thoughts about Sydney. I especially enjoyed the reading assignments for this course. The books related to our study abroad site were incredible. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara gave a personal account of a tragedy that I had only heard about in class. It enhanced my experience here because it gave me an understanding of why an apology was so deeply needed by the Aboriginal community. And Tracks by Robyn Davidson provided an epic depiction of vastness that is the Australian bush. Although I live almost two thousand miles from where these stories took place, the outback lies at the heart of Australian identity and it is crucial to acknowledge that. The most challenging thing about the course was incorporating the weekly readings because I already had so much to say. I am a hyper-observant person, and I always made a point to read the prompt, think about it, take notes, observe, and then do the readings. The readings were great and truly thought provoking, but if I would advise doing them before you observe because I struggled, and occasionally failed, and fitting them into what I was trying to say.
The most rewarding part of my time here was learning about Australian culture and identity. I started this course with a post confessing my obsession with Australia, that has not changed at all, but now I can talk about why I like it. Before, I had these ideas about what Australian culture was, but now I know the history behind that. I could talk about the bush myth for days and compare and contrast the US and Australia for even longer.
Because the US and Australia are both settler societies, they share many similarities. I am taking a course called Anthropology of Indigenous Australia and I was embarrassed by how little I know about Native Americans. The only thing I could compare the Aboriginal experience was to the African-American struggle in the US. Although similar in that they both faced incredible amounts of systematic discrimination, they are different and can’t truly be compared. I want to learn more about Native Americans in the future. It’s great that I know about Aboriginal Australians, their history and culture, but how sad that I know nothing about Native Americans living in the country where I was born and raised?
NYU can make this program better by partnering with a local university and giving NYU students the opportunity to take classes there. I cannot say this enough, NYU global sites are a bubble. NYU New York prides itself as being a university that offers all of New York City as a campus and I fully believe it does. When I am in New York, I feel like an adult, working, interning, and going to class. There is no bubble. I do not feel restricted, yet I feel supported by my school. The staff in Sydney is fantastic, but I felt suffocated at times. We live together, go to school together in one building, and have few opportunities to meet those outside the program. I love the network of global sites, without it I would not have been able to spend one and a half years abroad and graduate in four years, but they have not been programs full of cultural immersion that I would expect from study abroad.
I dreamed of a city that combined the beachy, active vibes of Los Angeles, and the upbeat, city life found in New York, and Sydney exceeded all of my expectations. I came to Sydney with the intention of checking out a city I may want to move to in the future, not necessarily as a place to completely change my perspective. If you only have one opportunity to go abroad, I would tell you not to go to Sydney. I think that your study abroad experience should make you crack, challenge you in ways you never imagined, and help to rebuild you as a stronger, more focused person. My freshman year abroad did that for me and it was extremely tough. Sydney did not challenge me at all, it felt weirdly like home, but it was an amazing semester nonetheless.
First tip, BRING A JACKET. Sydney does get somewhat cold, especially after experiencing the sweltering summer heat. I laugh when I see people sporting coats in 70-degree weather, but I laugh even harder at the people in my program that only brought shorts and tank tops. And if you are considering going to New Zealand at any point, which I 90% believe you will visit for Spring Break, bring layers. And while we are on the topic of clothing, Sydney is a relaxed city so your heels and fancy dresses will not be necessary.
Second tip, go to Paddy’s during your first week here. It is a weird, underground market that is dirt-cheap. Woolworth’s is only a block from the dorm, but you will feel like an idiot for spending $4 on an avocado when you can get them at Paddy’s for $1. About Life, another grocery store, is a trek, but it is worth it. The raw caramel slices are incredible and it is the only place I have found that sells black beans!
School is a little harder than you might expect. The Australian Experience course is fascinating and I suggest everyone take it. You are in Australia so you should learn about Australian culture. You may think that you can learn about the culture from the people, or just by living here, but there are things that we discuss in class, such as life as an Arab-Australian, the respect for lifeguards vs. surfers, and immigration policies that I promise you, you will never encounter in everyday life. If you are a global public health major you are probably only coming here for Epidemiology and Environmental Health. These are rewarding courses but the professors can alter your experience. I would recommend saving them for New York. There is a divide in the program between pre-med students and everyone else just because we are in completely separate courses, so get to know as many people as you can during orientation! Despite the program naturally splitting into two groups, everyone is pretty close. You may worry about not meeting Australians at first but by the end of the semester, I promise you won’t care that much. My group of friends here has become my family, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Try every flavor of Tim Tams, buy Lucas’ Pawpaw ointment instead of Chapstick, stock up on duty free alcohol, and go to the beach as much as possible, even if it means skipping your class readings. Sydney is one of the most naturally beautiful cities in the world and it deserves your full attention.
With the current weather forecast, one could say that my days of bliss in Sydney are over. It has been pouring all week, twenty-four hours a day. There will be a break from the rain this weekend but it will start back up again on Monday. YAY! The term ‘torrential downpour’ has been given a new meaning. But during my last few days, cooped up in my room because the weather is legitimately scary (3 people have died so far from their homes being washed away!), I have reflected on my moments of pure bliss from the beginning of the semester.
This semester was a vacation in every sense of the word. With classes only meeting once a week, I had five days weekends every week. The workload has been a lot larger and more difficult than I anticipated, but the first month here, I did not have much to do aside from work on my tan. I remember my first time going to the beach, the quintessential Sydney beach, Bondi. It was so hot, probably because I had just come from winter weather straight to the middle of summer, and I couldn’t wait to get in the water. The bus’ ac system was seriously lacking too. Coming down the hill from Bondi Junction, you could see the beach. The water was crystal blue, and the waves were crashing on the rocks. It was absolutely perfect and a moment I will never forget. Bondi exceeded every expectation I had of Sydney beaches. To top off the amazing scenery, I also got a delicious salad from Bondi Fresh, and because I had no work to do, I sat on the beach all day.
Another great moment was going to Earth Food Store, also in Bondi, during my first week of classes. I had planned to go to the beach but it was overcast and super windy. So instead of sitting on the beach and eating the sand that was being whipped into my mouth by the strong winds, I decided to explore. I stumbled upon Earth Food Store, an organic grocery store and café, and looked over the menu. I had high hopes for Australian breakfasts, and Earth Food Store was my first, and most delicious, authentic, one. I had a plate of toast, avocado, tomato, soft-boiled eggs, and fresh goat cheese. It was incredible because it was so fresh, and I was not even upset about not being able to hang out on the beach.
Another great moment was when I was walking back from a pilates class, the sun was shining, and I stopped at this bakery called Dough, and picked up some fresh bread. I hope to live in Sydney one day because of everyday moments like these. There is nothing special about going to the beach here, I have been back a hundred times, or getting avo toast or fresh bread. But the first time I did each of these things was special because they would rarely, if ever, happen in New York.
I have not done as much traveling in Australia as one might expect. For one, Australia is massive, pretty much the same size as the United States, so travel is pretty expensive. And much like New York City, there is so much to do in Sydney that I have not craved a weekend away. My only travel experience, aside from living here, was during my spring break trip to New Zealand.
Four friends and I flew into Queenstown, located on the South Island, and rented a car, planning to road trip for the six days of break. We had our first hostel booked in Queenstown and after a fun night out, we decided that we wanted to stay a second night. Unfortunately, our hostel was completely full, as was every hostel in town. So we packed up and created a rough itinerary for the next few days. Free wifi, however, does not exist on the South Island, so booking hostels was chaotic to say the least. Our plan was to drive all day and stay the night in Dunedin, located about four hours west of Queenstown. We planned to get an early start the following morning so we could do some hiking, see the penguins that Dunedin is known for, and get on the road for our next four hour drive to Te Anau. Despite Dunedin being the second-largest city in the South Island, there were very few hostels there. It became clear that night at dinner, after we met a group of girls who were obsessed with our American accents and the fact that we lived in New York City, that not many backpackers venture to Dunedin. We finally found a little hotel that was vacant, but because we were all on a budget, we had to sneak two people in. The room had plenty of space but they require additional fees for the fourth and fifth guests. So one of my friends and I hid in the car while the others checked in, and made a run for it, careful not to alert the owner at the front desk. We had our own bathroom so it was by far the nicest accommodation we had during our ‘vacation’.
The next morning we were all ready to get on the road. My friend went to the car to grab a few things and was startled to find that the battery was dead. We were certain that the lights weren’t left on so we called the rental company. He was extremely rude and said “yeah right,” when we told him we didn’t leave the lights on. So a friend and I trekked to a gas station and carried a massive battery and jumper cables back to our car. All this was happening about an hour before check out, so tensions were high. We needed our car to be fixed, but we also did not want to pay the extra persons fee! We managed to get out of there by 10:00 check out. Next time our car battery died, the very next day might I add, we handled it like professionals and we were careful not to leave the car lights on a third time.
I really resonated with Cesar Pavese’s quote “Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance.” It is an eloquent, concise way of saying everything I love about traveling. The feeling of being constantly “off balance” gives you the opportunity to explore new things without judgments that may have been present before your trip. Strangers are a good example of this. When you are traveling you are open to new people, seeking to find a relationship built on tolerance and understanding, even if it only lasts a few hours. When I am in my comfort zone, in New York or California with my circle of friends I have known for years, I tend to judge the few new people I interact with more harshly. I believe this has to do with me feeling completely comfortable deciding what qualities I like in this new person, and if there are no interesting qualities present, I can move right along. The constants of my habitat make it so that I am not searching for familiarity in a new person. But when I am traveling, I need to feel connected, and typically all travelers are longing for this too.
When I was in Wanaka, New Zealand over spring break, my friends and I decided to cook dinner in our hostel. Unlike most hostels where there is a communal kitchen for all guests, this hostel had a kitchen in each dorm. There were five of us and one other person staying in the dorm, Lars. We arrived and quickly started preparing dinner. After dinner we began discussing relationships, and love, and many of the other personal topics that come up after drinking a few glasses of wine. Lars chimed in a bit later, and offered up some of his own advice. It was as if we forgot he was there, but once he started in our conversation, it was as if we had known each other for years. He told us he was 39 years old and traveling alone following his divorce. He told us the reasons for his divorce and also went through his reasons for traveling. The kinds of conversations you have in hostels with other travelers are unlike any other conversation because you likely have nothing in common besides being in the same place at the same time. The only thing all humans can relate to is vulnerability, and if you show that and let someone into your personal life, your past and your present, it is likely that this stranger will become a whole lot more than that.
After our four-hour long dinner chat, my group and I went to a bar with Lars to continue our conversation. The next day we woke up, and checked out of our hostel. He was still sleeping so we did not say goodbye, but quickly regretted that decision because we had shared a really great evening together. We went back into the room, said our goodbyes, and invited him to breakfast. The closeness we felt the night before disappeared. We ran some errands in town and then parted ways, excited to leave our sixth-wheel behind. The next day we drove to Queenstown and as we were in line for the famous Ferg Burger, we ran into our favorite stranger. It was an awkward 15 minutes to say the least. Lars was a stranger that became much more in a few short hours, and a mere hours later, he was back to his stranger status. It’s odd because we shared intimate details of our lives, holding nothing back. It was not as if we had some sort of superficial connection. But I think that the thing about letting strangers in is that you can only do so in the right time, and place. He transcended the status of stranger, only briefly, but fell right back into it because that is what he was to us, nothing more.
Robyn Davidson, the author of Tracks, was tired of city life. In 1975, she set off on her 1,700-mile journey from Alice Springs to the shores of the Indian Ocean in Western Australia in order to find some privacy. I was aware of the fact that almost 90% of the population lives in urban areas before I came to Australia, so it was not surprising for me to read that the routes Davidson traveled were rarely used. I think the book said some were used by as little as four vehicles a year. But I think for most people, visions of an Australia so deserted that a person could go miles without seeing a soul, is a new one. The kind of privacy she was looking for is uniquely Australian in that it relies on the continent’s thousands of miles of empty land. In the United States many people road trip across the country and marvel at the open spaces, but Australia’s open spaces are on another level. I have mentioned the Australian bush myth before, but I think that her ability to see the barren Australian outback as a place of peace and tranquility instead of as one of the harshest landscapes in the world that could easily kill her is a reflection of the bush myth’s pull on society.
Davidson brought four trained camels to accompany her on her journey, however, I was surprised to learn that camels were her animals of choice. They were brought to the continent to do hard labor in central Australia because they could handle the harsh, arid climate. Once the trains were built, they were useless and so they were set free. But instead of dying, they thrived and helped Australia achieve the largest population of feral camels in the world. Davidson moved to Alice Springs and worked with camels for two years in order to prepare for her journey. I was surprised to learn that her journey was so planned out, mostly because I assumed a person enamored by the bush would attempt such a trip on a whim. I admire that she understood the landscape and took years to learn how to work with the camels. Davidson received a grant from National Geographic in order to complete her journey and with that, she received a visit from a photographer, Rick Smolan, every few days. She faced numerous struggles along the way. Her most trusted companion, her dog, died, she had to shoot dead a few feral camels in order to prevent them from attacking hers, and every time she encountered another human, even Rick, she would become roaringly upset.
When I first learned about Davidson’s story I was unimpressed to say the least. I thought it was a publicity stunt, some random act performed by an attention-seeking young adult for no rhyme or reason. But after reading her story, I learned that she was a young woman looking for something, the way all young people do. In order to discover herself, she needed to go on this journey. She says, “I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.” She set out on this journey and intended to complete it, but similar to the study abroad experience, there is so much that happens along that way that the end destination becomes unimportant. It is a symbol for the journey, not the end goal. As all of us young adults go into our next chapter in New York, whether we are juniors or seniors, I think that Robyn Davidson has some great advice. “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 endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.”
In my last post I mentioned the Australian bush myth, which in many ways defines Australia. Before coming here I had never heard of the bush myth but all of its qualities, white, hyper-masculine, rugged, nature-loving, egalitarian, rebellious, were traits I had already given to Australia. It is helpful that I have one single explanation as to why people all around the world have this idea about Australians, but it also brings to light a lot of limitations with what we imagine Australia’s spirit to be like. And although Sydney is the biggest city in Australia, I still sense the bush myth’s presence here. The outdoorsy attitude is perhaps the most notable difference compared to New York City.
I arrived in Sydney in the middle of the summer, on a rainy day, in the middle of Sydney’s rainiest week in the last year. The weather was weird to say the least, and people could not stop talking about it. But once it cleared up, I realized that was because being outside is everything to Sydneysiders. People go to the beach all the time, after work or before work. They go for swims in the ocean, with swim caps and goggles, something that people elsewhere rarely do. Australians also came up with the genius idea of building pools right next to the ocean so that they fill up with ocean water. Every beach I have visited so far as had at least one pool. The greatest things to do in Sydney are outdoor activities. Whether you are going to the beach, going on a hike in the Blue Mountains nearby, or even sitting at a café, the more time you spend outside the better. One of Sydney’s most popular activities for both tourists and locals is a three-hour walk from Bondi to Coogee. The sun is brighter and stronger here, and I think people are happier because of it. Most restaurants have outdoor seating, some are completely outdoors, and many have giant windows that remain open during business hours. It is as if they are saying, “I’d rather be outside,” by refusing to close the windows.
Another trend in a city with great weather is that everyone is working out all the time. On my way to school I see what feels like a thousand people, probably half of them are in gym clothes, going on a run our going to the gym. And there are gyms everywhere! People in New York are health conscious, but Sydneysiders are on another level. They have also put every kind of fitness class possible, from barre to pilates to hot yoga to spin to pole dancing, in one gym which is revolutionary for an American who would have to have memberships at seven different places in order to have that kind of variety. The food also reflects the health conscious, sunny lifestyle. The produce here is incredible compared to New York. The cuisine is all about using fresh, delicious produce and not much else. It is simple and so good.
Sydney’s spirit is the spirit of the sun. Life revolves around being outside and they take full advantage of the amazing weather and natural landscape.
In my Anthropology of Indigenous Australia course, my professor mentioned that when the British first arrived in Australia, they depicted the Australian landscape much like the British countryside. The trees in the paintings looked nothing like what one would truly find in Australia but in order for them to understand it, they needed to paint it in a way that others would understand. They had never seen anything like it, and I guess the newness so shocking that they could not even accurately depict it. Fortunately, artists were able to get it right a few decades later. Aside from Aboriginal art, which is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Australian art, paintings of the landscape are at the forefront of my limited knowledge of Australian art. I learned a little bit about the Heidelberg School in one of my classes and all the old school paintings of Australia I have seen scattered throughout the my life surely were part of that movement.
The Heidelberg School is basically Australian Impressionism. It began in the late 1800s and aimed to accurately depict Australian life and landscape. My professor presented this as something completely unique, something I found funny because the paintings reminded me of European paintings I had seen in both the Impressionist and Romantic styles. The variety of landscapes in Australia is beautiful but I asked how paintings of landscapes could be anything special. For one, the Heidelberg School produced the first Australian art that represented the true colors, lighting, and plants of Australia. And prominent artists associated with the movement, Arthur Streeton and Frederick McCubbin were born in Australia. Unlike the British painters who weren’t able to process the new landscape, Streeton and McCubbin knew of nothing else. Plenty of other Heidelberg artists were born in England and moved to Australia when they were quite young. It seems like knowing the area inside and out is the most important aspect in creating a realistic landscape, but I can imagine that having something to compare it to makes it sound out that much more. The harsh sunlight for example, may not be obvious to someone who spent seventeen years in dim light. But the most interesting aspect of the Heidelberg School in my opinion is how it contributes to Australian national identity. The Heidelberg School is a major part of the Australian Bush Myth, which involves a back-to-nature, tough, egalitarian, ideal that is synonymous with Australian attitude even today. The artists at this time rejected city living and escaped to the bush where they romanticized the empty, rugged terrain. In addition to the Heidelberg School were other writers who talked about their time alone in the bush. In many ways, the bush myth, as well as the art, pointed out all the ways in which Australia was different from England helping form Australia’s own identity and values.
Australians are friendly people. Although there are unfriendly people in Sydney, most have been extremely kind. Waiters, cashiers, cab drivers, even people at the airport, are some of the friendliest I have encountered. They are curious about where you come from and what you are doing in Australia, and they do not mind taking a little break to get to know you. So it was a little surprising to me when I went to a music festival, or a bar for the first time, and no one had any interest in making small talk. My freshman year it was really difficult to meet Parisians, but I knew that going in. I heard the French were unfriendly so I did not expect much, and while I was there, I learned that most Parisians have a few lifelong friends, instead of the American way of having many circles of friends, ranging from acquaintances to practically siblings. I never thought that I would be able to find similarities between Australians and the French, but in terms of friendship building, they are much more similar to each other.
After being abroad, I have realized that most friendships in the US start completely by chance. You meet through mutual friends or in a class or you both go to the same grocery store, one, seemingly meaningless similarity provides a bond that Americans hold on to. The easiest place to make friends is at music festivals in the US. These may not be longlasting, life-changing friendships, but there is some sort of mutual understanding that you both share something in common, and in that moment, you feel a closeness. I have learned that like the French, Australians are not amused by these similarities. Nor are they willing to strike up conversation over something as random as liking the same band or asking the time.
Dean MacCannell’s article discusses the “back region” versus the “front region”. I deeply want to make a true, local friend because I believe that is how you get to know a place. Talking to the man who makes my tea every morning is great, but those surface level conversations are not so appealing anymore. I want to discuss Australian politics and race with an Australian who is not my professor and who is unafraid to be incredibly honest. These kinds of conversations can only happen with people you trust. Australians are incredibly friendly, and if I were a tourist who was only here for a couple weeks, I would buy the stereotype that Australians are the friendliest people in the world. But because I would have no interest in actually developing a friendship, I would never get to see the “back region” of Australian friendliness. I intended to write this post explaining how I never would see the “back region” of Australian behavior, but the fact that I have been able to understand how friendships form and operate here in a way proves that I have indeed passed the “front region” of social life.
Part of my fascination with Australia is the historical similarities it shares with the United States. The US and Australia were both colonized by the British Empire despite the fact that there was already a complex civilization, thousands of years old in place. I thought I knew a decent amount about the relationship between Native Americans and colonists, and how it changed in the last two hundred years. I knew a little about the treaties and massacres that led to the death of thousands and irreparable destruction of culture. I knew about reservations and the horrible conditions within them that lead to high rates of alcoholism and low rates of literacy. But after being in Australia for just one month, I realized how little I know about Native Americans. Now, I feel more confident discussing Australian-Aboriginal history and relations.
On my first day of orientation someone mentioned Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, by Doris Pilkington as a pivotal text that helped explain Australia’s policies on Aboriginals in the early 1900s and the effects they had on families. I flew through the book. The writing was simple, yet informative, but the story is a standout. Doris tells her mother’s story of following a fence for over 700 miles back to her home in Jigalong after she, her sister, and her cousin were taken from their family by the government and put in a settlement for “half-caste” children. I had briefly heard of the Stolen Generation before reading this book, and the idea of the government stealing children from their families was absolutely disturbing, but the book explained the policies and ideologies behind the horror. Half-caste means half white, and the government thought that if they took half-castes and taught them English and Australian customs, they would eventually assimilate completely into Anglo-Australian society. Aboriginal people would no longer be a problem because they would be wiped out. Each state had a Chief Protector of Aborigines, someone who was supposed to learn the languages and help protect their rights. Instead, these protectors ordered removal of thousands of children from their families in order to assimilate them into white society. One part of the book explains how the girls’ grandfather rubbed their bodies in black charcoal to darken their skin and protect them from the policies. It is shocking to me how it was not a secret that the government was doing this, aboriginal people knew and did everything they could to fight it. But ultimately, they couldn’t. The most upsetting part is when Doris explains the result of the kidnapping of Molly, Daisy, and Gracie. “The two frightened and miserable girls began to cry, silently at first, then uncontrollably; their grief made worse by the lamentations of their loved ones and the visions of them sitting on the ground in their camp letting their tears mix with the red blood that flowed from the cuts on their heads. This reaction to their children’s abduction showed that the family were now in mourning. They were grieving for their abducted children and their relief would come only when the tears ceased to fall, and that will be a long time yet,” (Pilkington Garimara, 44).
I don’t want to give away the ending of the book because I highly recommend it, but I’m sure it goes without saying that their lives were negatively impacted after being taken. Some returned home, others did not, but regardless, their lives were put on pause and altered completely. And the relationship will never be the same because of it. In 2007, Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister, apologized to Indigenous people for a number of atrocities, including the Stolen Generation. The apology was welcomed by some, and deemed empty by others. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence shows just one example of how an apology, while symbolic, is not enough to repair the damages.