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Student Reflections

Culture Shock, or lack thereof

Simran Israni
March 30, 2020
A bird's eye view of the Austrialian skyline.

When you think of Australia, a few things might come to mind: cute things (koalas, kangaroos), scary things (spiders, crocodiles), unfamiliar slang (the arvo? Maccas?), weird foods (vegemite), and more. Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got to Sydney. It turns out that so far, I have experienced more of a “culture glide” than culture shock. 

The unexpected things that have actually taken some getting used to are mostly mundane. Specifically, crossing the road and dealing with money. Cars drive on the left here, which means in order to cross the street you have to look right for vehicles coming towards you. Many times, I’ve looked to the left out of habit and almost been run over! Australian dollars are much easier to deal with than U.S. dollars once you get used to them, since the bills are all different colours and shapes. However, Australians use dollar coins and two-dollar coins, and the coins get progressively smaller as their values get larger, which is quite confusing at first! Most credit card payment systems in Australia are tap-only, so people are often surprised when I let them know I have to insert my card’s chip. Overall, it turns out that paying for things is easier here—especially since tax and tips are included in the price of goods and services.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past couple weeks, it’s that a university campus is a university campus. Just like at Northeastern (but with better weather), students go to class, study at cafes, picnic on the grass, and work part-time jobs. One difference is that many more people live at home or around the city and commute longer distances to get to campus. Luckily, Sydney has an efficient bus and train system that is super user-friendly. 

As for classes, I have found it interesting to be studying in Australia because the focus is shifted to this side of the world. In my international marketing course, I’m pretty sure we even use the same textbook as Northeastern, but all of the examples given in the book have an Australia/Asia-Pacific theme. Similarly, in my course “Oceans, Coasts, and Climate Change,” our case studies involve the Great Barrier Reef and Tahiti, whereas at Northeastern we might use examples from our own coast. 

Globalization and social media have caused teenagers and young adults all over the world to be more similar than ever. True to the study abroad stereotype, most of my close friends are actually American! But Australian uni students I’ve befriended share similar pop culture references and music tastes to me, and I have rarely had problems making jokes or relating to people here. I joined some clubs and societies to make some Australian friends—the chocolate society, the bushwalking society, and an a cappella choir—and everyone has been so friendly, with plenty of questions about Boston and America in general. The weirdest Australian-English words I’ve come across are actually within the music field. For some reason, they call quarter notes “crochets” (I think because they look like crochet hooks) and eighth notes “quavers.” 

Sydney is an extremely welcoming city, and it’s also very global. Because it’s near the coast, with easy access to the harbour and beaches, it has a laid-back vibe, not unlike my hometown of San Diego! It has been full of happy surprises… mostly of the gastronomic variety, like an absolute wealth of Asian food, ice cream, and plenty of Instagram-worthy cafes. Sydney perfectly blends the busy, bustling energy of a city with the contented harmony of a coastal town. 

I wouldn’t say that I “fit in” to Sydney as a local would. But I feel comfortable here, which I didn’t fully expect. In a funny way, I’m almost disappointed by that—isn’t the point of studying abroad to kick yourself out of your comfort zone? Here, there’s no great challenge of a language barrier, or seemingly insurmountable cultural differences. But there are nuances to life here that I have certainly enjoyed exploring. I have no doubt that I will emerge from this experience with a host of new perspectives, and I’m so excited to continue adjusting to the rhythm of life here in Sydney.