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.

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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.

So in 4 months I might be able to hug a koala bear. On the other hand, I could also be bitten by a deadly spider and die.

Back when I was in elementary school, I had big dreams.

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Today, I still have big dreams.

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Ok, well.

There’s more to it than that.

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Hmm.

I’m not helping my case.

Alright, fine. I’ve wanted to go on a long-term study abroad program for a while. When I went to Germany and Japan I felt as though it wasn’t long enough. It was like I had only started to get comfortable, know the culture, and make friends when I suddenly had to return to the USA.

On the classic exchange student graph

I had only really ever reached here:

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I never had culture shock, just culture surprises. I wasn’t around long enough to get homesick. And this might sound strange, but… I feel like I missed out on those. I want to learn how to adapt. I want to take the challenge of being in a new place and a new culture. I want to go through the shock, the depression, and the uncomfortable adjustment.

And, I want to beat it. And have a smashing good time.

But that’s just me.

I’m cheating a little. Australia’s an English-speaking country, which already makes the adjustment 10 times easier. I couldn’t help it, though– as I researched programs through Northeastern, Australia seemed to be one of the only nations actually offering biology courses to international students.

So, last October, I declared to my parents that I was going to apply to the University of Sydney. (I was actually hoping to go that fall, but I postponed it when my German host sister decided to visit America.) I went to my study abroad office. I called my academic advisor. I checked the USydney website. And I submitted my application.

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And I waited.

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Finally, a couple weeks ago, I opened up my e-mail at work…

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I was accepted! University of Sydney accepted me for their “winter” semester (our summer time) running from July to November! Whoa geez. I guess I’m going to Australia!

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I still have things to do before it can actually happen, though. I have to find my own housing in a city on the other side of the world. I need to apply for my absurdly priced $600 visa. I have to book that $1,000 one-way ticket to Sydney. Did I mention that Sydney’s one of the most expensive cities in the world?

But, yeah. I thought I’d just let you know.

Coming soon in Vy’s life: Platypi, potoroos, and poisonous things!