Reflections – What I Learned about Australia and Myself

Landing at Kingsford Smith Airport around midnight and checking into my accommodation at UNSW Village was over four months ago now, but it feels like just four days ago. Unfortunately, my time Down Under has come to a close. Hence, it’s time to reflect on my incredible experiences and unforgettable memories that have shaped my study away. I will always look back fondly at my time in Sydney, and I will long to return to the vibrant and diverse city I was fortunate to call home.

Discovering Sydney and Australia:

Sydney, as I’ve come to know, is a truly diverse city – a melting pot where people from all corners of the globe converge. It didn’t come as a surprise to me that 49% of the city’s residents were born outside of Australia, and 69% had one or both parents born overseas. Walking through the bustling streets, there is a place for every language, culture, and cuisine, making Sydney a truly global and multicultural city.

Moving outside of Sydney, it has struck me how vast Australia is, and hence how empty most of the country is. As the world’s largest island, Australia’s landmass is nearly the same size as continental U.S.A. but with under 10% of the population. This is difficult to envisage when in the busy, crowded urban areas of Sydney, but the opportunity to drive outside of the city allowed me to marvel at the enormity of Australia’s geography and begin to grasp the barrenness of much of the country’s landscape, such as in the Outback region.

A road with a kangaroo sign on it
You may spot the odd kangaroo in rural Australia!

Moreover, the cultural shift was not just geographical. I noticed that Australians embraced an outdoorsy way of life and adopted an early-to-bed and early-to-rise lifestyle. Whether it was going for leisurely runs or surfing at dawn, the emphasis on physical activity outside of working hours became a part of my routine. Becoming an early riser allowed me to appreciate the serene beauty of Sydney’s mornings and foster a sense of connection with the local lifestyle.

A beach with waves and clouds
Going for a morning surf or run was a habit I enjoyed in Sydney.

Recognizing the balance between planning and spontaneity:

As a planning-oriented person, this semester taught me the delicate art of balancing planning and spontaneity. While planning was crucial to achieving some of my travel goals, such as booking flights and accommodation in advance on my trip to see the Great Barrier Reef, some of my most memorable moments arose from spontaneous decisions. Stopping during a hike to witness a breathtaking view or deciding in the moment to cook dinner on an outdoor BBQ by the beach instead of on-campus were the moments that added a touch of serendipity to my study away experience. As I return to Amherst, I plan to implement this newfound flexibility into my life, recognizing that some of the most enriching experiences come from embracing the spontaneity of the moment.

A group of people standing around a table with food on it
There are free outdoor grills all around Australia.

My thoughts for Amherst students considering study away:

Given my experience, I would wholeheartedly recommend the study away experience to Amherst students, especially in Sydney. Despite the challenges of navigating a new culture and being far from family and friends, the benefits for me of getting to explore new places, immerse myself in a new country, and study at a different institution far outweighed the difficulties.

A key contributor to my time away was the people I met. I spent time with many fellow study away students who were outgoing and ready for an adventure to make the most of some experiences we would perhaps never have again. In addition, the Australians I met were not just locals but enthusiastic guides, and they generously shared their insider knowledge to ensure I saw the best of Sydney.

Looking ahead:

I now prepare to return to Amherst with mixed emotions. On one hand, I am looking forward to reuniting with the friends, teammates, and staff at Amherst that I haven’t seen for months, and I’m excited to set foot on Amherst’s beautiful campus again. On the other, I will dearly miss Sydney, the lifestyle I had there, and the wonderful people I met. Heading into a cold and snowy New England January, I will also miss Sydney’s warm weather!

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