Koala bears or physics lecture? I think we all know what I chose.

Every time I told my friends that I was going to Australia, they would say:

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Or if they were feeling particularly creative,

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After all, they’re Australia’s national icons, right? Yet a month had gone by and I had not yet seen a kangaroo or a koala. Thankfully, I had booked a trip to the Sydney Wild Life Zoo, where some international kids and I would be eating breakfast among the koalas.

Therefore, a friend and I woke up at the crack of dawn and hopped a bus to Darling Harbour. Neither of us had slept much the night before, so we were pretty tired when we entered the zoo.

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One of the zookeepers graciously gave us a tour of the zoo. The zoo is quite small, mind you– it’s located in downtown Sydney, after all– but there was enough to keep me awake.

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One dangerous snake!

Two dangerous snakes!

Two dangerous snakes!

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Three dangerous snakes!

Australian wild life is no joke! Check out this crocodile, Rex:

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Seriously, this guy is not to be trifled with.

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Yowza. Heck, even this fine bird…

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…is hazardous!

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Oh, Australia. It’s okay, though. This country has plenty of adorableness to make up for it!

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Tasmanian Devil!



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At the end of our tour, we reached a rooftop cafe surrounded by trees and koalas. Here, we ate our breakfast with these guys staring at us the whole time:

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Koalas actually sleep for 20 hours a day! We got lucky and arrived right when the koalas were being fed, so we were able to see them while they were awake.

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Though, after eating, they went right back to sleep.

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It was really a lovely experience. We had a nice breakfast, got to see the koalas (but not pet them– having tourists handle koalas is outlawed in New South Wales, apparently) and even got our photo taken with one. Around 9, I decided to head out. I had a 10AM lecture that I wanted to catch. I grabbed my friend.

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We headed back towards the entrance, taking our time looking at all the animals again.

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We reached the entrance.

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So we went through the zoo for a third time.

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After a little bit of wandering, we managed to find the exit, which was located at the end of a long series of pathways.

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And we got to the exit…

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Back we went through the zoo for a fourth time.

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And, for the fourth time, we went past the crocodile…

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The kangaroos…

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The various lizards and reptiles…

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…and through the nocturnal exhibit, down the series of hallways, through the gift shop, and finally, the exit.

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So maybe I missed my physics lecture. But hey, just this once– I think it’s totally worth it.

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For sure.

University of Sydney is kicking my booty.

I’m a study abroad student. I’m only going to be in Australia for one semester. And for most one-semester students, there’s a common theme:

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However, Northeastern does not allow me to take all my classes pass/fail. No, every single class I take here will count towards my GPA– and this is a worrying thought.

You see, when you’re not some study abroad student paying out the wazoo to go to school in Australia, the University of Sydney is actually very competitive. USyd falls within the top 50 unis in the world (as opposed to Northeastern, which is still trying to break the top 50 in the USA) and is number 3 in Australia.

So, the school is more competitive, and the students are resultantly smart. But I’m smart too! Right?

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Australian uni culture, as far as I’ve seen, is a little different from the USA. For one, it’s much more independent. Here, kids are expected to sort of figure things out on their own. Great emphasis is placed on the final exam. Professors do not have office hours. And the load is heavier. As a biology major, I’ve found that every single class in bio has a lab, meaning that science kids usually have 4 labs in a single semester. In the States, I’ve been warned not to take more than two.

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And those labs, or as they’re sometimes called, “practicals.” I come from a school where I’m used to it being like this: 

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Here, all my labs are like this: 

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Of course, I might learn more if the university doesn’t hold my hand. On the other hand, I’m totally lost. After I did my first evolutionary genetics lab sans guidance or explanation, I got my grade back:

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And this was after I harassed the lab TA.

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Oh, no.

So far, I’ve been saved by my lab partners, who are usually Australians who actually know what’s happening. Actually, it’s really shocked me at how much they know. You see, I’m used to this: 

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All the students I’ve met here, on the other hand, have been like this: 

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Perhaps I’ve been encountering an odd breed of students, but all the kids I’ve met really love their respective subjects. They often mention truly wanting to learn, and how they aim for the knowledge rather than the grade. As someone who’s hated every course I’ve taken, this concept is foreign to me. I’m impressed, to be honest.

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And I’m also dead. The grading system at the University of Sydney is a little different from the USA. While US unis will often hand out A’s, the University of Sydney grades everything on a bell curve.

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Since I’m surrounded by this incredible population of passionate students, there’s no way I’m reaching that top 3 percent of kids. I’ll be surprised if I get “credit.” Shoot. How am I supposed to keep the minimum 3.5 GPA I need to retain my scholarship?

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So maybe I’m not so screwed after all?

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Ok, ok, I kid. I’m still super-worried about my classes. But, instead of this: 

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I’ve downgraded to this: 

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It’s an improvement.

It’s winter? Time to wear shorts and t-shirts.

My mom was very concerned when I declared that I wanted to go to Australia. She actually tried to talk me out of going this semester. Not because she didn’t support me studying abroad, but because of the time I chose to go.

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Indeed, it is winter here down under. I wasn’t too worried, though. After all, what could be worse than winter in Boston?

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And all my worries vanished when I Googled the average temperatures for Sydney in July.

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Indeed, the website was serious. When I exited the Sydney airport, carrying all my luggage, I was met by a surprise:

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Though Australian weather isn’t as perfect as rumored. The temperature does drop rapidly as soon as the sun sets. The weather can fluctuate throughout the day. So, basically, I feel right at home.

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To top it off, this winter has been unseasonably warm. For the past week, I’ve been enjoying temperatures in the mid-70’s. (That’s around 23 degrees Celsius, for all you non-US people.) Not all of Australia is like this, though. Last weekend, I traveled to Canberra, Australia’s capital. Canberra is inland about 3 hours southwest of Sydney, and known to be a bit chillier.

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And was it colder? You bet it was! Why, the daytime reached a horrifying temperature of 66 degrees!

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I often express my amazement to native Australians, who usually try to prove to me that Australia’s not as nice as I think.

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So pack me up, baby. I’m moving to Australia!

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Contrary to popular belief, Australia is not full of surfer bronze gods.

Whenever I told my fellow Americans that I was going to Australia, they always reacted in two ways. The first reaction was about the guys:

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The other was about Australia’s fine fauna:

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You know your friends are good ones when they post this shizzle on your Facebook.

You know your friends are good friends when they post this shizzle on your Facebook.

Now that I’m in Australia, I can see these stereotypes for myself. Or not. Because honestly…

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And what of the poisonous animals? Perhaps it’s because I’ve been in the city, but I haven’t seen anything scary so far. Though I have taken a shine to all the unusual birds around Sydney.

The Australian White Ibis, or as I like to call it, the Garbage Bird. As exotic as they look, they're actually a pest.

The Australian White Ibis, or as I like to call it, the Garbage Bird. As exotic as they look, they’re actually a pest.

I'm tempted to make a Finding Nemo reference.

I’m tempted to make a Finding Nemo reference.

An Australian Magpie!

An Australian Magpie!

Though as I pass judgement on Australia, people have passed judgement on me. I’m an American, you see, and I’m living in a residential college for international students. I find it highly entertaining to hear other countries’ stereotypes about the USA.

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Granted, it’s partly our fault that we have such a great rep.

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As I’ve tried to explain my country, I’ve run into some roadblocks. America is a big place. My understanding of the US is probably totally different from someone who lives, in, say, Texas, or California, or Kansas. I can only give biased opinions.

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Well, I do my best.

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I’m a born ambassador, that’s for sure.

I feel like a freshman again.

I successfully survived the first week of schooling here at the University of Sydney. Survive does not equal aced, though.

You see, the University of Sydney is a big place. The main campus is spread across two suburbs , Camperdown and Darlington. This is because the school caters to about 50,000 students, quite a bit more than Northeastern’s humble 13,000.

In fact, the typical Australian university (or, “uni,” as they like to abbreviate it here) is a bit different from American unis. We can observe one such difference from a sampling of my conversations with USyd students:

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In the US, college is almost equated to independence. Kids graduate high school and move out, often to schools hours away. In Australia, it’s much more typical for kids to live at home and commute to their local university. A daily commute of an hour or more is normal.

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But I digress. The University of Sydney is huge, and its campus is suitably large as well. And since I have a terrible sense of direction, this did not bode well for my first day of classes.

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The campus is so big that asking for directions from students might not result in success.

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Or faculty members, for that matter.

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Luckily for me, Australians are laid-back. They’re rather famous for it. So my professor didn’t care when I burst into his class…

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…20 minutes after it started.

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And that’s how I showed up to my first class 40 minutes late.

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Dayum, USyd. You big! 

Perhaps USyd’s large size also has to do with its age. The University of Sydney is the oldest uni in Australia and is resultantly home to the oldest buildings in Australia, which Asian tourists love to come and photograph. Like me.

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So, when was this grand university established?

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As fond as I am of Northeastern’s campus, it’s pretty neat to go to a school that looks like the set of Harry Potter. There’s even a Quidditch team!

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This will be an interesting semester.