Studying abroad is a junior year rite of passage for many Amherst students. I check in with Gabby Edzie ‘17, an English major at the college who began her study abroad journey in August. She engages with both fellow American students and Australians while spending her fall semester at the University of Sydney. She shares her insights about choosing a program and a location, navigating Australia’s slower pace of life, dealing with time differences and catching on to Australian slang.
Q: What city are you studying in, and what program are you doing? How did you choose where you wanted to spend your semester?
A: I’m studying abroad in Sydney, Australia through the Arcadia University program. It actually took me quite a while to decide on an abroad program, and in the end I was deciding among Cape Town, Rome and Sydney.
My favorite memory of traveling is when I went to South Africa, but I wanted to go somewhere I’d never been to, so I decided against Cape Town. Europe is obviously an awesome place to study, because it’s so easy to travel around to different countries, but I ended up wanting to go somewhere that I otherwise might never make it to, so I ended up on the other side of the world. I also kept in mind how I could leave my comfort zone. I have quite a few friends that chose countries in Europe, including Italy, and I wanted to be somewhere where I barely knew anyone — where I’d have to meet new people. Also, the beaches aren’t horrible.
Q: Do you speak the native language of your host country? What has the language transition been like?
A: I wish I could say yes, but the Australian accent is practically a foreign language. It’s been cool picking up on Australian slang, but I’d be lying if I said it sounds equally as charming in an American accent. The American hard “r” sound at the end of “cheers” is enough to ruin any happy hour. Besides imitating me in a southern accent (I’m from Massachusetts) the Australians are really helpful with teaching their lingo. I was quick to figure out that instead of “what’s up” or “how are you,” Aussies always ask “how ya goin?” I was also quick to figure out that I shouldn’t respond “I’m walking.”
Q: What is your living situation like?
A: Most Australian university students live at home. Those who live on campus live in really beautiful buildings that are referred to as “colleges.” The colleges are like the eating clubs you’d find at some American schools. There are also some apartments near the university and a place called the “Sydney University Village,” which is suite style living that houses some Australian students and quite a few international students. I live in the village, and it’s been very conducive to meeting an array of fun people. It’s kind of like living in the social dorms, minus the stale beer smell.
Q: How do you spend your days in your host city? Is your school schedule busy, or do you have time to explore?
A: I actually lucked out and only have class from Monday to Wednesday, so I have a ton of free time. I’m a 15-minute bus ride from the city, which makes day trips really easy. It’s just starting to warm up here, so I’m spending more and more days at the beach.
Q: What kind of classes are you taking?
A: I’m an English major, so I’m taking one English class that focuses on classic American literature, a history class that’s an introduction to indigenous Australia, an art/film history course that looks at the modernist period and a class called “Sex, Race, Rock in the USA.” That last one has been really interesting, especially because I’m the only American in the class — it’s funny to hear Australian students speak about American ideals, and it’s even funnier when they turn and look to me for confirmation. Whenever we split into groups to discuss the present topic, my partners disregard the class conversation to ask me about gun control, religion and Twinkies.
Q: Do you have a favorite place to go to in your host city, like a neighborhood or a square you particularly like?
A: There’s a neighborhood called “Surry Hills,” which is awesome. It’s a pretty artsy area, so there are tons of cool galleries and cafés. I did an art tour with my program last week, which was great. We visited the gallery of the Australian artist Brett Whiteley. His work was really avant-garde and explored some interesting concepts. The gallery also had the late artist’s untouched workspace, including the albums he was listening to at the time and a wall of quotes and phone numbers. There’s also a gallery called “the White Rabbit Gallery,” which features contemporary Chinese artists. The newest exhibition, “Paradise Bitch,” was unreal — there was a room filled just with smoke and lasers.
Q: What is your favorite Australian meal? What kind of cuisine do you eat in your host country?
A: A lot of the food I’ve found here is what you’d find in the U.S., just with different names and more meat. It seems random, but there is a lot food voted “world’s best” in Australia. Aside from 100 Thai restaurants, my street has this year’s world’s best gelato, which is incredible.
The voted world’s best pizza is also a flight away in Melbourne, so unfortunately I might be increasing my carbon footprint quite a bit while I’m here. I think one of the hardest parts of being abroad has been coming to terms with the fact that a hot dog is just a sausage on a piece of bread, and Domino’s closes at 9:45 p.m. and its pizza tastes like cardboard.
Q: Have you encountered difficulties in adjusting to a new culture? What’s different about your host country than what you experience in the U.S.?
A: It sounds ridiculous but it’s actually kind of hard to adjust to how easygoing everyone is, especially as a speed-walker. Australia is also a pretty expensive place to live in. In terms of keeping in touch with my family and friends back in the U.S., the drastic time change has also been rough. I’m writing this at 7 p.m. and it’s 5 a.m. at home. Also, spiders.
Q: Are there other Amherst students participating in your program or studying in your host city? What has that been like?
A: There are two other Amherst students in my program, which has been great. I wasn’t very close to them at Amherst, and it’s been really cool getting to know them here. Having them around is also super comforting, like a part of Amherst is here with me.
Q: Have you had the opportunity to travel to other cities or countries? Describe that experience.
A: I started off in Melbourne, which I liked a lot — it feels more European than Sydney. I’m headed to Byron Bay this weekend, which has more of a hippie vibe to it, and in two weeks, I’m taking off for a trip around the east coast.
Q: Why would you recommend your program, or studying abroad in general, to younger Amherst students?
A: Australians are extremely friendly and they genuinely want to make sure you’re having a good time. I’ve been granted a lot of opportunities to get to know them, as I’m attending an Australian university, rather than an abroad program with solely Americans.
All the cities in Australia have a different, unique vibe, so there’s also a place for everyone. The proximity to amazing countries like Thailand and New Zealand is great, too. Sydney also has a really cool music scene, which is obvious pretty much everywhere you go. You’d have to hunt through obscure blogs in the U.S. to find the songs they play in the grocery store down the street. And most importantly, Australia is the place to go to if you love adventure; three out of four of my friends have already jumped out of a plane.
Q: What do you miss about Amherst? What’s different between your life abroad and your Amherst experience?
A: I’m at a huge university, so it’s hard not to miss the small community of Amherst. That’s actually been accentuated a lot by other American students. Amherst students complain a lot about the social life on campus, but stories of other American universities and colleges have been a reminder of how lucky I am to go to a school where I not only recognize, but also have the opportunities to know nearly everyone.
This interview has been edited and condensed.