Danielle Zabielski is a Communications student at Saint Joseph’s University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Melbourne in Australia in 2016. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.
When you hear “Australia,” what’s the first thing that springs to mind? For some, it’d be kangaroos, koalas, or any number of horrifying creepy-crawlies. Others would say “shrimp* on the barbie” or Vegemite. A few others might mention the iconic Sydney Opera House.
But the true Australia is so much more than these standard stereotypes. Still, whenever I’d tell someone that I’d be studying down under, I was almost immediately met with a mention of one of these common points or something similar. Now, to be fair, I didn’t quite know what to expect here, either, prior to arriving. In the past month and a half, though, I’ve learned and discovered a great deal about Australia—and most of what I’ve encountered directly counters the clichés!
*Australians don’t use the word shrimp. If you really want to sound authentic, use “prawn.” (Believe me, I learned that one the hard way.)
1. “Australia is so exotic. It must always be sunny and warm!”
People often automatically think it’s always tropical in Australia—and in some places, like Queensland, it pretty much is. But Australia has incredibly diverse weather patterns, and Melbourne is a prime example of that. Famed for having “four seasons in one day,” Melbourne and its unpredictable skies can dish up a freezing torrential downpour one second and brightly shining sun the next.
I’ve learned and discovered a great deal about Australia—and most of what I’ve encountered directly counters the clichés.
Some of my IFSA friends were a bit shocked to find out just how dubious the weather could be. I’d talked to some friends here beforehand to find out what I should pack for a Melbourne winter. (Australia’s seasons are opposite of those in the USA, so coming here in July was right in the middle of winter.) Realistically, nothing could’ve prepare us for the ever-changing forecast—except perhaps packing some serious rain gear!
2. “If you’re studying in Australia, then you must be staying in Sydney. Where else is there?”
Although Sydney might be the most well-known Australian city, I’d personally argue that Melbourne has more character and charm. Its eclectic atmosphere and friendly citizens give Melbourne a homey feel amidst the backdrop of a bustling big city. In terms of academics, the University of Melbourne is a spectacular school. UniMelb is ranked #1 in Australia and #33 in the world. In the world!
But Melbourne isn’t the only place to study. IFSA-Butler has a plethora of programs to fit every personality type at universities across Australia. There are universities near Perth in Western Australia, in Melbourne down south in Victoria, in Sydney to the east in New South Wales, and more.
3. “Every animal and insect in Australia is trying to kill you!”
Contrary to what you may see on Buzzfeed, animals and bugs in Australia are—while often dangerous—not an everyday sight. In fact, I haven’t seen any spiders, snakes, or sharks so far, even when hiking through the Dandenongs and the Blue Mountains. Granted, Melbourne is more so a concrete jungle than an actual jungle, so I can’t really speak for the scary creature populations in Australia’s more remote locations. If you’re considering studying in an Australian city, though, don’t let the fear of cobras or critters deter you.
4. “Australia doesn’t have a distinct culture of its own.”
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Although similar to the USA, Australia has its own unique lifestyle—and it’s not only slang words and quirky foods (Vegemite, anyone?). Some students choose to study in Europe over Australia because they feel Europe has a richer culture; but Australia’s culture is equally as rich, just in a different way.
Australians are laid-back, with an ideal work-life balance and a penchant for spending time outdoors. It’s tough to put into words, but the pace of the days just seems slower and less stressful. Even at uni, where academic standards are high, people seem to enjoy their days instead of rushing around from one building to the next.
Additionally, Aboriginal culture is extant in Australia, particularly in an outspoken city like Melbourne. I’m currently enrolled in a subject called Indigenous Art and Changing the Nation, which focuses on the history of Aboriginal maltreatment and the power of art in speaking out against that maltreatment. Activist art can be found all around Melbourne, from the graffiti on laneway walls to the abstract pieces in the National Gallery of Victoria.
5. “Does everyone really go around saying ‘G’day mate’ all the time?”
You’ll hear “mate” pretty frequently, but not so much “g’day.” You will, however, hear a lot of the following:
- “get keen”: get excited, get ready
- “get around it”: go to something, support a cause
- “footy”: Australian Rules Football
- “I reckon”: I believe, I think
- “cheers”: thank you
- “she’ll be right”: everything will be fine, don’t worry
…and much more.
Once you get here, it becomes clear that the image many people might have of Australia is one-dimensional and simplified compared to the actual multi-faceted country. As with any foreign culture, you can never fully know what it’s like until you’re immersed in it.
So, what are you waiting for? The land down under awaits!