Postcards from Abroad: Sydney


It wasn’t until I was already on board the plane an hour or so and the screen ahead of me displayed the day’s travel route that it hit just how far away I was going. Before that all I had considered was the attractive lack of a language barrier, the beautiful beaches and the possibility of wearing shorts to class that Sydney offered. I was travelling further than anyone in my family had ever been before, for a distinctly longer period of time than any journey I had ever attempted. Suddenly I was flying over the Middle East, sitting through endless hours of outdated television series wondering whether I (and the two suitcases filled with my finest worldly possessions) would ever make it.

Upon arrival at my new home in the early hours of a Monday morning – an hour that would resemble a deserted graveyard back home – Australian students swanned around my building dressed in suits and fancy dresses, ready to attend a welcome breakfast, having previously been out for their daily run/swim/bungee jump. I’ve been here more than three weeks now and it still bewilders me how they can regularly do all that after a night of partying until late. I see only one viable explanation: Australians must be vampires.

My house has its own social program similar to that of Trinity Halls. An added advantage of this is that three times a semester we get to dress up in our finery and throw a graduation robe over us (to make us look intellectual). We then have a formal dinner in the Great Hall, sitting at long tables in our houses, and listen to a speech from the College President while we get drunk on unlimited free alcohol, pretending to be in Hogwarts. The house even held an event for St. Patrick’s Day, the tagline being “There are two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were. Let’s live the dream for a night!”

The college itself is ranked within the top 50 universities worldwide which led me to imagine an education system which offered a more varied style of learning. I regret to admit that I was sadly disappointed. Class is pretty much the same over here. The lecturers drone on, the eager kids sit at the front and the feeling you get when you finish class early is just as euphoric.

In the way societies in UCD continuously give out free condoms, societies at UNSW rake out hot dogs from the ‘barbie’ (the jury is still out as to whether they can actually be classified as hot dogs though, as in my eyes they’re nothing more than cheap stick-shaped meat wrapped in a slice of bread). But seriously, barbeques are everywhere – from the roof of my building, to public parks and beaches, to transportable ones set up around campus on a regular basis. The Aussies certainly live up to the stereotype on that one.

The sense of style here certainly exceeds my expectations, from the floaty dresses and off the shoulder tops, to the guys too cool for shoes who strut around barefoot in a vain effort to pull off their long, shaggy, sun kissed hair that probably hasn’t been washed in weeks – unless you count sea water. Heading to the beach after class is actually a thing. Big waves, hot sun and pretty rock pools make for a great way to forget about the stresses of the plentiful assignments due.

Another cultural difference is the magnitude of dinosaur-like Australian White Ibis birds which flounce around Oz like the pigeons of Ireland. However when I confidently pointed this opinion out to my friends I was immediately made aware of the flock of regular pigeons standing in front of me, which was bad timing.

And then there is the charm of Sydney itself, possibly the most expensive city in the world. The cost of living certainly takes some getting used to, a factor I had not taken into consideration before my arrival. With not a Lidl or a Primark in site, I am quickly learning to value quality over quantity. While the Opera House and Sydney Harbour bridge do live up to their iconic beauty, the hidden gem of the city has got to be Surrey Hills, home to vintage shops, luxurious boutiques and trendy cafés and bars. My favourite thus far was a rather idyllic French café where the waitresses spoke French and wore berets, and we sat, mid-morning, sipping our ice mochas feeling very grown up and ‘wanderlustful’.

After just under a month I’m slowly but surely getting used to my skin constantly being a varying form of sticky from sunscreen and undeniably sweat (in my defence, it is 25-30 degrees the majority of the time). But so far I’ve beaten the harsh sunburn to which my poor Irish skin is so susceptible. With garlands of mini Irish flags, photos of my nearest and dearest and an impressive array of sunglasses decorating my room, it is starting to feel a lot like home. While I’ve still yet to hold a koala, take a selfie with a kangaroo, run from a snake or encounter a life threatening spider upon flushing the toilet, I have merely begun to dip my toes into the Australian dream and there is so much more I have to discover. Hooroo mate!