Studying abroad in Sydney has put me the farthest I have ever been from home, be it New York City or the Pacific Northwest. Despite being so far away, there is something familiar about Sydney that closes the gap. Australians make a lot of comparisons between Australia and the United States, and Sydney does reminds me a lot of the West Coast. From the beach culture that draws everyone here in the first place to the growing industries in many fields, there is a lot about Sydney that combines the vibes of the West Coast with the cosmopolitanism of New York.
Every day begins at Urbanest, the only dorm available at NYU Sydney which is conveniently nestled in Sydney’s Haymarket — its Chinatown neighborhood. Funky colored windows and single rooms within a suite make it a nice place to crash after a long day. What’s unique about living in Urbanest is that NYU only occupies a fraction of the building. This provides NYU students with the opportunity to get to know people from other universities, be them international, or locals staying in the student accomodations.
NYU Sydney’s academic center, Science House, is located right in the heart of the Rocks — the oldest part of Sydney where just blocks away the First Fleet landed at the shore. Science House is actually a protected historic building, complete with old rippled glass windows and warm wooden interiors. The only drawback: it’s a good half-hour walk from Urbanest, making my Tuesday 9 a.m. class a little rough. You can take the train, but it takes a similar amount of time, though sometimes it’s worth the laziness.
There is a decent array of classes available at NYU Sydney, notably Psychology classes and courses that follow the pre-med track. Environmental Studies courses are very popular, especially with the current atmosphere in Australia regarding climate change and energy sources. Personally, I am on the Journalism track, combining the Environmental Journalism course with a number of classes that look at Australian life, culture and history, both colonial and Aboriginal. It is really fascinating how Aboriginal culture is so prevalent; acknowledgement of the people who originally occupied the land is a big part of being introduced to the areas of the city, and there are many campaigns for Aboriginal recognition in different social and political spheres.
When we aren’t in class, there’s a lot to do around the city. Sydney is surprisingly spread out, but public transportation makes it all rather accessible and puts the MTA to shame. The trains and buses here are extremely clean, almost always run on schedule and leave you a block or two from, if not right in front of, your destination. The famous beaches that extend from Bondi to Coogee are all about 30 minutes away, making them an easy getaway on the weekends or those weekdays when you don’t have class. Cafe culture is king here; think Bluestone Lane but better and much closer. Brunch is probably one of the few foods you could pin down as distinctly Australian, from avocado toast that has made its way across to the United States to flat whites and macchiatos. There’s no meal they do better here than a good brekkie.
Something that differs from my experience at NYU Paris last spring is the way that NYU Sydney sets up its excursions. The program organized a huge number of events throughout the semester that are open to the entirety of students here in the program, unlike the point system they have at the European sites. Everyone has the chance to do everything but must stay committed to the events they’ve signed up for or find someone to take their place. We’ve had excursions out to go hiking in the Blue Mountains, to volunteer in one of the national parks, to go to a soccer match and many more. Trips like hiking out in the Bush or experiencing the celebration of Mardi Gras the Australian way all give a distinct taste of what Sydney and Australian culture is about.
For a place that’s 10,000 miles away, I’m starting to feel at home here in Sydney. Being not too far from nature, getting to smell the ocean and hearing fewer sirens blaring through the streets is a nice change. The conveniences of New York are missing here, such as dollar pizza and everything bagels, but I’m always going to be able to come back to those. So for now, I’m soaking up the sun and drinking my iced coffee with a scoop of ice cream.
Email Anna Letson at [email protected]