Australia may be on the other side of the world, but Elizabeth O’Malley is discovering that her new home is not quite as different as she expected
Given it’s now just over two months since I arrived in Canberra, Australia, I guess this is a good opportunity to assess how things are going. Just before I left, in an effort to be reassuring my mum said: “If anything, anything, goes wrong, remember we’re only thirty hours away,” as if offering to collect me from a party down the road.
I don’t think I could physically be further away from home, yet things don’t feel so different. It’d probably be more weird if I went to somewhere in Europe or America. Sure, the birds are exotic looking, and there’s different lingo and it barely ever rains here, but the basics are still the same. People here have the same sense of humour and the same love of drink and wear the same clothes. There’s no food I miss from home too much, although chocolate here tastes different because it’s added with something to stop it from melting, which has ruined Malteasers forever. Even the law classes, although harder here, feel the same. It’s nice to have things feeling a little bit familiar when so far away.
It was the change of venue, rather than the change of continent, that proved the biggest adjustment. Since I live within a commutable distance of UCD, it never made sense for me to move out. Obviously the commute from Dublin to Canberra is a little bit unreasonable so this move has meant living away from home for the first time.
Just as I expected, it’s awesome. Apart from the freedom and the proximity to class so you can have longer lie-ins, living on campus provides me with an extra social scene. My residence, Burton and Garran Hall, has the biggest percentage of exchange students on campus which meant that when I first arrived it was a good way to get to know new people, especially since our semester one is semester two over here so all the Australians were already settled in. There’s a shared kitchen, apparently the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere, which always has people around to talk to and have dinner with. There’s also a bar and lounge with pool tables, table tennis and foosball.
There’s always something on during the week: sports, language classes, choir, coffee evenings, and the breakfast club are regular events. Each week has something different too, from the musical, to Random Acts of Kindness Week, academic dinners where you get to talk to your professors over a three course meal, the B&G ball and ‘Prom Gone Wrong’, which has been my favourite event so far.
The cost of living here requires some getting used to. To put things in perspective, when I bought a sandwich and drink on arrival it came to $11 (€9). Pop Tarts are $12. Even ‘cheap’ shops like Target and Big W are prohibitively expensive when it comes to buying clothes. Yet, when I first complained to Australians about how expensive their country, they simply responded: “You should try living in Sydney.”
The only thing that’s inexpensive here is drink, at least if you’re willing to slum it. Goon, or boxed wine, is a traditional student drink if only because it’s $9 (€7) for four and a half litres of the stuff. Add in some mixer and it doesn’t even taste awful. On the other end of the scale, 70cl of vodka is $45 (€36). My standard drink on a night out, a cider, is $7 in cheaper places and $14 elsewhere. Understandably, you’re probably more likely to find me drinking goon from my plastic cup in the kitchen than buying drinks in a bar.
I feel like I’ve done some of the things I was supposed to. On the train from Sydney to Canberra, I spotted a group of kangaroos. I’ve tried Vegemite and it’s just as disgusting as I imagined. I learned that the Australian word for scoring is pashing. I’ve fallen in love with Tim Tams; Australian biscuits that taste like Penguin bars but better. I’ve been called Sheila by a bouncer. On my visit to Sydney, I saw the Opera House and Harbour Bridge and tasted my first macaroon from Zumbos, a chain of bakeries by the Australian equivalent of Gordon Ramsey. I think I’ll leave trying kangaroo meat and shrimp on the Barbie for another while yet: I still have the rest of the year to fill with new experiences.
Ask anyone who goes for a year abroad and most will agree that the first month is hard. You miss home a lot, you have to start from scratch making friends and buy lots of things like kitchenware. You have to adjust to a different culture and the time difference. It’s been a challenge, but I’m so glad I came out and I’m looking forward to all the amazing things I’ve yet to experience.