Study Abroad Column: Way Down Under

Tessa Ruff

Far away from the brisk fall of Upstate New York, I am sitting on the beach in Cairns, Australia, spending a week in Australia’s Tropical North during my spring break from the University of Sydney. Yes, you read that right, since I came all the way down here to the Southern Hemisphere, I’m getting another spring in 2016 rather than a fall – one of the main reasons I choose to study abroad in Sydney.

I always knew I wanted to study abroad. I did not know exactly where I wanted to go, but since I am from Minnesota and chose to go to school in Hamilton, I was drawn to Australia’s warmth. In thinking about what I wanted from my abroad experience, I decided against a Colgate-led program in favor of an approved program. The large city of Sydney appealed to me, as I thought I needed a break from a small school and town. Before leaving, my uncles joked that I was only going “to study the beach,” my dad made me watch the entirety of Animal Planet’s “Most Dangerous Place on Earth – Australia” and my siblings talked to me in terrible Australian accents. I was excited and nervous as I took off for the 20-hour journey down under.

Adjusting to Sydney was not easy. I had expected endless warm weather and time on the beach; when I arrived, it was the middle of the winter and I was wearing the two sweaters I brought on repeat, constantly hoping it would warm up soon. It was far from the swimming, tanning and surfing I imagined would take up all of my free time. The 14-hour time difference from my friends in New York and 15-hour time difference from my family in Minnesota left me a day ahead, constantly trying to figure out when I could talk to people. I felt very disconnected from my life at home, and I was wondering why I decided to do this in the first place.

But it was hard not to fall in love with Sydney. A big city with beach-town vibes, it is everything I could ask for. The food is incredible, the beaches are the best in the world and the people are friendly. The weather is getting better and better, and beaches like Bondi and Manly – two of the world’s most famous – are just a short trip away. I love that it is normal to drink boxed wine instead of liquor. I know the train system, I know where to get the best gelato and I have found the best restaurant for frozen margaritas.

I cannot say I have made many Australian friends. Actually, I cannot say that I have made any. Sydney Uni is largely a commuter school, so the actual Australians mostly just come to campus for their classes. But when I do talk to the Aussies, they are always interested in where I am from, willing to give me the local insight on the best beaches and always ask my thoughts on Donald Trump. I have made great friends from all over the United States, who are also studying abroad. One of my closest friends here is from Colgate, and we had never met until arriving in Australia.

I may not be in Europe, where I can hop on a train for the weekend to Paris or London or Scotland, but I have travelled to Melbourne and now Cairns, with trips planned to the Whitsundays, Tasmania and New Zealand. My trip to New Zealand will be my first ever solo trip, something I have anyways wanted to do.

I’m not going to say it isn’t still hard sometimes. I am over 10,000 miles away, and it can feel isolating. But instead of studying for midterms in Case, I am in one of the most beautiful places in the world, sitting on a beach in the Great Barrier Reef, where I have rappelled down waterfalls and snorkeled with clownfish, rainbow fish and even a few sting rays. I live in a place where an afternoon run can end at the iconic Opera House. And with a couple more weeks of classes and a little over a month before I head back to the States, I am starting to realize just how much I am going to miss this place – the people, the weather, the city and, most importantly, the Tim Tams.