How time flies!!!
It feels like yesterday I was packing up my life into two suit cases to travel across the world to study in Sydney, Australia. I can’t believe it is already over! My exchange was filled with so many amazing memories, and although I plan on writing more extensive posts on certain events, I thought it would be cool to do a recap of some of my favorite memories while on exchange!
Before we get into it, I would just like to give a shout out to my girl Bianca for going on this journey with me. I don’t think I could’ve done it without you. We started our adventure not being extremely close, but by the end I’m glad to call you one of my best friends. I love you!
#1 THE ARRIVAL
After three flights and 18+ hours of traveling, Bianca and I finally arrived in Sydney, Australia! Our host university arranged free transportation from the airport to our accommodation. On that bus ride, we met our first friend – Tia! Bianca and I lived in a duplex located about 20 minutes from campus, but public transportation was super accessible as the train station was only a 2 minute walk from the house. We spent the weekend getting the necessities for our room, grocery shopping and deep cleaning the entire house before orientation started on the following Monday!
#2 ORIENTATION WEEK
Macquarie University’s Orientation Week was a week long event with different ceremonies, presentations and information booths for new and international students. We met a lot of people, mostly other exchange students. The craziest part was how many people we met from universities close to Rutgers University back home! We met a group of girls from Monmouth University, another student from Rutgers University and a boy who grew up in a town 20 minutes away from RU. How crazy is it we had to go across the world to meet people so close?
I wrote an extensive blog post about Orientation Week and all the things we did, check it out here.
#3 EXPLORING SYDNEY FOR THE FIRST TIME
I knew seeing Sydney’s famous landmarks, like the Opera House and the Darling Harbour Bridge, in person for the first time was going to be surreal, but surreal was an understatement. I kept thinking to myself “I’m in freaking Australia!” because of how magical it was to see the places I’ve only seen in pictures in real life.
#4 THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
One of the first places we visited outside of Sydney was the famous Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains have a plethora of Aboriginal history attached to them and many stories relate to the extravagant rock formations along the valley’s rim. Before going to The Blue Mountains, our travel agency had us stop at Featherdale Wildlife Park and I got to take a photo with a koala. I wrote an extensive blog post about our first little adventure here, so be sure to check it out. The pictures are absolutely stunning.
#5 STANFORD VS. RICE AS MQU CHEERLEADERS
I never would’ve guessed I’d ever reprise my role as a cheerleader, but most definitely not in Australia. I stopped cheering the end of high school and decided not to cheer in college as to not overwhelm myself with my double major’s workload. But Bianca and I decided to tryout for MQU’s team to make friends while doing something we loved! We made the team! The first event Bianca and I got participate in with them was to cheer at the Stanford vs. RICE season-opener that was held in Sydney. I’ve never been on the sideline of a college football game before. I kept thinking how crazy expensive it is to having a view like this back home in the states. Back home I am the last person people to ask for football tips, but Bianca and I felt like professionals as we explained the entirety of the game to our new friends! Check out my blog post about the day and see more pictures here.
#6 THE FESTIVAL OF WINDS
Every year The Festival of Winds takes place at Bondi Beach. Kites of all shapes and sizes fill the sky and food trucks overtake the streets with a variety ranging from Thai to American. It was extraordinary to have the opportunity to partake in an Australia tradition and explore Bondi Beach with my friends. Read and look at more pictures on my blog post about the day here.
#7 SEMESTER BREAK IN NEW ZEALAND
I promised myself before I went to Australia I’d make my best effort to visit New Zealand while on exchange. Not only was I able to visit New Zealand, but I was able to road trip around the South Island of the country with my new friends. We visited Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, Dunedin, Queenstown, Christchurch and the Milford Sound. New Zealand is like a postcard came to life everywhere you look. I completely fell in love with the country and plan on living there one day. I can’t wait to share more pictures and write more advice blog posts about traveling New Zealand as a student on a budget!
#8 SKYDIVING IN QUEENSTOWN
Definitely the most memorable part about my trip to New Zealand was skydiving in Queenstown. Queenstown was my favorite place we got to visit in New Zealand. To fly out of an airplane 9,000 miles off the ground, I couldn’t believe I lived to tell the tale! Skydiving is officially crossed off my bucketlist and I’ll most definitely never forget that view.
#9 A WILD ADVENTURE IN TASMANIA
After New Zealand and a layover in Melbourne, I arrived in Tasmania for the second week of my semester break. My friend Tia, Fernanda, and I took an organized tour around the island with about 30 other people from all over the world. We met a family of Malaysians, a German man, some Brits, a women from Amsterdam, as well as two American couples. This trip was full of unpredictable moments, like staying overnight in a town of 35 people and having the craziest tour guide! Some of these stories are even too crazy for the internet… maybe one day I’ll have to share! I don’t know if I’ll ever return to Tasmania, but I am happy I got a see a state that is rarely visited by tourists visiting Australia.
#10 THE NOODLE MARKETS
Noodles, yum! A few weekends a year, Sydney hosts a noodle market. This market has crazy twists on traditional noodles, including ramen hamburger buns and ramen ice cream cones! So happy I got to try some great food!
#11 THE WATSON’S BAY CIDER FESTIVAL
Although I did write a blog post on my awesome experience at the Watson’s Bay Cider Festival, I want to reiterate how cool it was to learn more and try a variety of different types of ciders! I had never experienced a drink like cider before coming to Australia and it turned out to be my favorite, as I am not really a big beer drinker. It’s been fun to search for different types of ciders since I’ve been back in America!
#12 YACHTING AND ROOF TOP HANGOUTS IN BONDI BEACH
A relaxing day at Manly Beach quickly turned into a wild adventure when my friends and I caught the attention of some boys on a yacht. Yes… I know…. probably not a good idea to go on a boat with a bunch of strangers, but we trusted the belief that Australians are super friendly! The boys on the boat ended up being Australians around our age. They took us on a couple boat rides around the Sydney Harbour after that and we even ended up meeting on the rooftop of their apartment complex for a couple drinks. I enjoyed being around native Australians and learning more about their culture. It was then that I felt I was getting the most out of my experience, instead of being surrounded by other exchange students.
#13 VENTURING THE OUTBACK
However, I got the true Australian experience when I traveled seven hours inland to my housemate, Connor’s, grandparent’s farm! I did not expect for their home to be so in the middle of nowhere, but it was so in the middle of no where that the nearest town to their farm was about forty minutes away! They live mostly off the crop they grow and livestock they own, but they make a few occasional trips to town to get what they can’t grow. They are able to run their farm so efficiently with the help of their Woofers. Woofers are (mostly) foreigners who come to Australia on a work visa to work in exchange for accommodation. I found the concept quite eye opening and I would definitely consider doing it myself somewhere else one day. Also, Connor and I got to meet the first horse his grandparent’s have EVER owned on the farm. He didn’t have a name, so I decided to name him Trevor. Why? I don’t know, I just felt like he was a Trevor. He was a little nippy and aggressive, but he was beautiful and that made up for it. We had no service the entire weekend and it was lovely to escape from the world for a little bit and be surrounded by family before finals.
#14 BECOMING AN INTERNATIONAL CHAMPION IN MELBOURNE
The end of the cheer season left off on a high note when we traveled to Melbourne for cheer nationals. Not only did I have the opportunity to cheer along side amazing human beings, I got to win a first place trophy against seven other teams with them! The MQU cheer program was started from nothing years back, as it was one of the first big college cheer programs in the country of Australia. They’re a team to be reckoned with and are only going to get better and better. I’m happy I gave up my Monday and Thursday nights to bring my team to a first place victory.
#15 WINE TASTING IN THE HUNTER VALLEY
I returned from Melbourne to the arms of my mom and aunt in Sydney! The last two weeks of my semester abroad were to be spent showing my loved ones the life I created for myself across the world. I took my family and my housemate Connor to Australia’s famous Hunter Valley wine region. We spent the day tasting wines and learning about the history of this unique place. It was also a million degrees out! Besides that, I learned a lot about the production of wine and definitely found some wines I’d like to explore in the future. This day was one of my last days before I left Sydney to travel up the coast and eventually leave Australia. It was lovely to spend time with Connor before I left as he was such an amazing friend to me my entire semester abroad. I am missing him a lot!
#16 BYRON BAY
The first stop on our trip up the coast of Australia was Byron Bay. Byron Bay is a notorious surfing destination, famously known for the Cape Byron Lighthouse. We stayed at the Byron at Byron Resort and Spa in the middle of the lush rainforest near Tallow Beach. While in Byron Bay, we traveled to the Crystal Castle and saw one of the world’s largest stones of amethyst. We also got to see some magnificent water falls and listen to some wonderful live music. I absolutely loved Byron Bay for its relaxed, nonchalant and peaceful vibe. Everyone walked around with their shoes off too! How much more relaxed could you be?
#17 HAMILTON ISLAND
My mom and I agreed that Hamilton Island was like Hawaii on steroids. Hamilton Island is located in the Whitsunday Islands, commonly travel to for its close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. This small island is entirely navigable by golf-cart and is swarmed with Cockatoos, spotted with kangaroos, and the beaches that are lined with corals. The staff of the island were extremely nice, most being foreigners on a work visas. This gave us the opportunity to relate and hear many different kinds of stories from people all over the world! While we were snorkeling and paddle boarding on the beaches, I got to swim with two large sea turtles in the clearest waters. The turtles weren’t scared of humans at all and let us follow them as they ate food off the sea floor. The sunrises and sunsets were breathtaking. I can’t wait to go back.
#18 SNORKELING THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
While at Hamilton Island, we took a two hour catamaran cruise to Bait Reef where we got to snorkel along the coral structures and swim with a wide variety of tropical fish at the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, I did not get to scuba dive, but we did get to take a ride on a mini jet ski to areas the rest of our tour couldn’t go too! The entire time I kept thinking “I’m at the Great Barrier Reef.” I grew up loving Disney’s Nemo and would have never imagined I’d be in the exact place the movie references. I felt like a little kid again. It was the experience of a lifetime, and hopefully one day I could study it as an Environmental Scientist.
#19 WHITEHAVEN BEACH
A goal of mine when I found out we were visiting Hamilton Island was to visit the world famous Whitehaven Beach. It is a pristine, award winning beach known for its silicon-like sand that feels like you’re walking on a cloud. The water was so clear and the water was the perfect lukewarm temperature. Our day at the beach would’ve been more perfect if there wasn’t so many tourists. But beggers can’t be choosers!
#20 I GOT TO HOLD A KOALA
I thought I peaked when I got to take a picture with a koala my first two weeks in Australia. BUT THEN I got to hold a koala while on Hamilton Island. My mom thought the little guy we got to hold smelt terrible… I thought he smelt like the delicious eucalyptus leaves they ate. It was thrilling! I can’t believe I got to hold a koala in Australia!! I PEAKED!
My time on exchange was EXTRAordinary. There was many challenges I had to overcome– including homesickness and culture shock. Living abroad helped me grow as an individual, in the classroom and beyond. Before I left HOME, I admit I was worried I would not be able to handle being so far away from family. I did the first semester of my freshman year of college across the country at San Diego State University and couldn’t handle it. Since then, I’ve avidly worked on becoming a stronger and more independent person. I thought 5 months on exchange in Australia would be another relapse. However, it was because of my experience at SDSU that I was prepared for my time in Australia. I knew what I wanted to gain from the experience and I did it. I gained confidence in myself to leave the security of home, I met new friends and made relationships with people from all around the world, I successfully planned my travels and executed them without the guidance of my parents, and I came to terms with saying no to things I didn’t want to do no matter how minuscule they were.
My recommendation if you’re considering to study abroad is do it. Never let fear of the unknown consume your life and just do it. I had the most amazing time and wish I could go back. One day, I will.
Thank you for reading. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or contact me separately.