As a Leeds Beckett student I have the opportunity to study abroad for a semester at Western Sydney University (WSU), Australia. I arrived three days ago into Parramatta, a huge suburb of Sydney, pretty much the size of Leeds itself. I’m going to to live in university accommodation and study International Relations on WSU’s Parramatta campus.
After two weeks enjoying the mountains and lakes of New Zealand, touching down in Sydney has come as a bit of a shock. In upcoming posts I will write about Sydney but for now I will tell you about my experience of arriving, settling in, and orientation day.
I was picked up at the airport by the university’s minibus driver, who told me about the different students that come through the international programme and their fears about deadly animals. I have to say this is a slight concern of mine. You hear horror stories of pythons slithering out of the toilet and spiders falling on people’s head as they sleep, but Alan reassured me these are very few and far between. It wasn’t as hot as I expected it to be, but it was still around 26 degrees, muggy and overcast. Lugging my 29.5kg suitcase (30kg was my max allowance) around wasn’t easy.
On arrival at my accommodation I was greeted by a friendly receptionist who talked me through all the guidelines, rules, contract terms and living tips of the accommodation village. I was given an arrival pack similar to the boxes given to you at Leeds halls, but more extensive. It contained spaghetti, toilet roll, juice, cheese crackers, noodles and chocolate (essential after a long journey, or a short journey, or actually no journey, chocolate’s just essential).
So I found my apartment, scanned my card across the pad and who should be sitting on the sofa but my course mate and 2nd year house-mate, Will. I mean this wasn’t a huge surprise because we had organised the trip together, but having someone you know to experience these things with makes the whole trip less daunting and more exciting. Travelling alone is a fantastic experience, but building a life on the other side of the world is a whole lot easier when there’s someone there you already know and like. Will had been here 10 days already, had explored the area, scouted out the best supermarkets and bought in the essentials. I have met 5 of 6 my flat mates now, the other three being 2 Norwegian girls and one Canadian girl, also on study abroad programmes. The final flatmate remains a mystery as is so often the case in university halls. Watch this space.
So after a long joint food shop at Aldi, stocking up on the basics (primarily hummus), we passed the WSU campus and from a distance it looked very smart and modern. This impression was confirmed yesterday at the international orientation. This was a day of stalls and talks, similar to an open day, given to all international students. There were 77 nationalities represented there. The talk was focused on making the most our of our time in Sydney, getting involved in trips, clubs and activities. After seeing what was on offer, I needed little encouragement. There was of course lots of freebees, free lunch, free pens, food vouchers, sweets, Frisbees etc – classic Freshers Fair items which we made the most of. I perhaps took more than my fair share of Fredos (called Caramello Koalas here). There was plenty of stalls offering help, mental health support, legal, financial, health and travel support and I felt certain that I will find someone to talk to if ever I have a problem here in Australia.
One interesting thing was that at the beginning of the talks an acknowledgement was made to the Dharug aboriginal tribe, the original owners of the land on which the campus was built. It seems it is customary when welcoming visitors to Australia to make an ‘acknowledgement of country’, to honour and recognise the traditional owners of the land and to ‘pay respects to the Elders, past and present’. This struck me pretty powerful and though obviously doesn’t solve or improve the colonial history it is at least an attempt to recognise any wrongs done to the aboriginal people and serves as a humbling reminder of whose land we walk now.
Look out for my next blog in which I will write about my first week exploring Sydney, starting classes, surf lessons, and trying not to get lost in this huge city!