Living Like a Local

By Jamie Chapman (University of Sydney, Australia)

So, while Sydney is experiencing what’s being called the ‘storm of the century’ (really, it’s just a little taster of Manchester weather), it’s as good a time as any for an update on how things are going out here. It’s week 7 of term, assignments are piling on, and we’re slowly approaching the bitterly cold Australian winter with temperatures plummeting to as low as 15 degrees Celsius. Maybe one day I’ll be able to use that beanie hat…

Here in Sydney we’ve just had the week-long mid-semester break. Whilst it’s not quite as long as the three weeks we get at Manchester, exams are still a way off so there’s not so much pressure to revise. Upon hearing this, my dad thought that this sounded like the perfect excuse for a little holiday down-under, so a mere 23-hour flight later, featuring a soundtrack of faulty headphones and screaming

The weather here is never dull, really...
The weather here is never dull, really…

babies, I met up with him in the middle of Sydney to show him a glimpse of my incredible experience abroad. Unfortunately, the overly dramatic Australian weather didn’t quite have the same idea, with a week of sunshine, storms, and me getting caught on a boat in the Harbour wearing nothing more than shorts and a t-shirt in the torrential rain! It definitely wasn’t a week to forget about though, with a day out sailing around the Sydney headlands, a trip up to the stunning Blue Mountains, and a week of living the student highlife and having my meals paid for. Not too bad!

I suppose that now, after six weeks or so of teaching, it’s a good idea to take a look at some of the main differences between university life at Sydney and Manchester. While for the most part, classes are structured pretty similarly, with a 2-hour lecture per module and weekly tutorials, it’s the small things that really make you realise that you’re studying in a new environment. Assessment tends to be more evenly spread out across the semester, as opposed to bundled together into exams at the end of term – for one of my modules, the bulk of the grade is based on small weekly assignments. The great thing about this is, I’m only going to be left with a single one-hour exam when it comes to exams in June. Another difference is the importance of in-class participation – for another of my modules, 20% of the grade is for tutorial participation. As long as I say one thing each week, that’s 20% in the bag – last week, my only participation was discussing the ‘Australian image’ in popular culture and explaining the Foster’s ads on British TV. Turns out the beer doesn’t even exist over here!

You wouldn't believe it if I told you there was a torrential storm half an hour before this photo!
You wouldn’t believe it if I told you there was a torrential storm half an hour before this photo!
AFL refs think they're in a Clint Eastwood film
AFL refs think they’re in a Clint Eastwood film

In addition to academic differences, there are also some things that Sydneysiders do or say that are just a little bit alien to the average Brit. I went to my first AFL game (Australian rules football) on Saturday, Australia’s most popular sport, to see the Sydney Swans – one of the top teams in the league. Despite being called football, the game is played on a cricket oval, the ball looks like an American football, is carried like a rugby ball, there are 4 goal posts at either end of the field, and the umpires look like they’re in a Wild West shootout whenever a goal is scored. It’s baffling to me. Aussies also have a weird habit of shortening nearly all of their words – afternoon is arvo, car registration is rego, and McDonald’s is Maccas. I even overheard a woman call Aldi, ‘Aldos’, which isn’t even any shorter.

Yesterday was the Sydney Abroad Fair, for all of the USYD students that are interested in taking a semester abroad next year. Despite the fact that an impromptu storm meant that the Fair had to be relocated at the last minute, causing a bunch of hassle and some pretty damp UoM handbooks, it was great to see the potential interest that a lot of Australian students have in studying in the UK, and at the University of Manchester in particular. It also let me really reflect on how different life is here compared to back home, and to chat with some Sydney students that have done exchanges in the UK in the past. I hope that some of those students end up taking the leap to  study in Manchester, and I’m sure they’ll absolutely love it (as long as we don’t tell them about the weather).

The Blue Mountains - Australia's own (and much greener) Grand Canyon
The Blue Mountains – Australia’s own (and much greener) Grand Canyon

Before I finish off this post, I’ll briefly mention some of the things I’ve got planned for the next few weeks. In May I’ll be involved in the Vivid Festival – an annual festival of light shows and live music gigs around the city, most well-known for the colourful installations on the outside of the Sydney Opera House. This year, the festival is coming to the main Quadrangle building of the University of Sydney, and I’ll be part of a group of students composing the music for a visual installation. Exciting times! Next month I’ll also be playing a gig with the University’s Big Band, and possibly taking a trip up the east coast to go sailing at the Whitsunday Islands. There had better not be any storms for that…

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