The greatest disappointment I’ve faced in Sydney thus far has been the lack of exoticity. The city is so similar to metropolitan areas that I’ve lived in before––the wide expanse of Los Angeles, the tropical breeze of Hawaii, the bustling streets of New York––but something always feels off. The city is foreign, but not quite different enough from places that I already know, to make every moment feel special. It’s a weird paradox: while I am not taken aback by my new home enough to feel overwhelmed or confused by this novel country, I am also not completely comfortable with it yet either, leaving me in a constant state of disorientation. The amount of times I’ve walked through the streets feeling as if I was in some sort of stimulation or Black Mirror episode has left me with a strange sense of disconnection to the new land.
I know I should feel grateful that there is no language barrier frustrating me along the way, but sometimes I wish things were a little more out of my comfort zone. I feel caught in an awkward limbo between searching for the familiar, recognizable American parallels, and likewise, attempting to distance myself from such. The result of this phenomenon is that the small cultural gaps are widened into gorges. Australian vernacular starts to sound like an annoyingly different language––while not hard to understand, simply unrelatable. Slang words make me feel incompetent, as if my hearing is flawed or I’m in a time lag from a past era. I hear the same language, but cannot comprehend.
The added challenge of learning a completely new language immediately romanticizes any journey; without the risk or excitement of translation (and the possibility of getting lost in it) traveling is made easier and yet less thrilling. A few years ago, I spent the summer in Sevilla, Spain in a language immersion/homestay program. The family that I lived with spoke no English whatsoever, so I was forced to rely on my less-than-perfect Spanish in order to communicate. Yes, this meant accidentally eating cow tongue in my bocadillo and letting Peluso the pet bunny rabbit wander out of his designated area, but it was an unforgettable, incredible experience. Talking to my host family meant making real eye contact, hand gestures, mediocre illustrations, laughter, and a range of facial expressions I didn’t even know I could make. By the time summer was over, I had boosted my broken Spanish to fairly fluent, and developed an appreciation for authentic human communication and connection.
Now, here I am in Sydney, kept comfortable in the English speaking world without much to lose. Asking for directions is easy, befriending locals is a blast, and navigating the city is a breeze. While this makes my life much simpler than it would’ve been had I been in…say, Paris or Shanghai, I miss the romantic chaos that comes with being lost in translation. Part of the allure of leaving home to travel the world is the escape from normalcy. So, traveling to the opposite side of the globe simply to follow near-identical patterns of living as back home does not always feel like some life changing adventure. Thus, my goal over the course of the next few months is to break outside of the superficial layer of Australian culture and delve into the historical and societal differences that make the nation unique. Despite the surface level similarities between the United States and Australia, crucial cultural aspects differentiate the two countries––I want to find out what they are.