Before Martyn finishes off his semester in Sydney, he shares some tips and words of wisdom from the perspective of a current student abroad. Look at some of the best ways to prepare for an upcoming semester overseas and how to get a sense of the culture abroad!
As my time in Sydney comes to a close I figured that it’d be beneficial to look back and see what worked and didn’t work in terms of my pre-departure planning in hindsight. I know that the next generation of study abroad students for Spring 2019 are probably just getting started in terms of planning for their semester abroad, so let’s run down the beneficial pieces of knowledge that I found the most helpful during my semester in Sydney. Know, this is just what I have found works for me, everyone is different, and everyone has their own ways of preparing to travel.
Don’t Over-Research Your Trip
I can't even explain the difference between this picture of the Taronga Zoo and the actual sight in person.
Other than reading the Culture Smartbook provided to me by my university, I did little to no research about Sydney before this semester. This was half intentional on my part and half a product of my own laziness. Disregarding my laziness, I didn’t look too hard at specific events or aspects of Sydney because I wanted my first experience to be as close to an actual first experience as possible. I feel that often when traveling, you can become too involved in researching what you want to do that by the time you end up doing or seeing something, it already feels too familiar. That spark of newness is gone because you already cut and turned the experience or sight inside and out through preemptive research.
Another great thing not to research is the type of foods you will eat.
Try new things and discover local favorites on your own (it doesn't hurt to check Yelp for quality, though.
Make no mistake, I'm not advocating willful ignorance while studying abroad. I wish I had done more research in terms of general day-to-day life. I wish I had known that Coles and Aldi were the prominent places to go for groceries, or where to get a decent haircut or a thousand other little things that would have made the semester easier. But I’m glad I didn’t look at a single picture of the Coogee-Bondi Walk or the Blue Mountains because seeing those breathtaking sights in real life for the first time are truly eye-opening experiences that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Get A Sense of The Culture In A Way That Works For You
This point basically contradicts everything I just wrote but bear with me. It’s important to get a sense of the culture of the place you’re planning to travel to. But different people consume and learn culture in a variety of different ways. It’s up to you to find those outlets that give you digestible glimpses and experiences into that culture. For me, I often find that comedy gives me the best sense of what a place is like. I feel that hearing about something in an outlandish style through comedy or satire prepares you for it’s slightly more nuanced and baseline real-world existence. For living in Sydney I would suggest watching the shows Please Like Me, Nanette and Kath & Kim.
Art, like this mural at Bondi, is also a great way to take in the culture around you.
Another great way—and this is in no way self-promotion—is to read about first-hand experiences such as blogs. I became a CAPA blogger because of how much the CAPA blogs prepared me for my semester abroad, and I would suggest going through CAPA’s database of bloggers and finding one whose style fits your tastes.
Be Smart About Clothing
I've worn this shirt a total of 108 times this semester.
I’ve worn the same striped shirt about 50 times this semester. I used to love this shirt and now just the sight of stripes gives me motion sickness. Sometimes I still dream about the flannels that I abandoned at home. I also have to do laundry close to every week because I didn’t bring enough clothes to exercise in (yeah, I exercise because my metabolism is dwindling as I age, what about it?) and I don’t want to give up precious capital in my suitcase for workout clothes that I buy here. Think about what you need in your regular life when you’re packing your clothes and also know that more often than not, you’re going to have to pick clothing that you’re happy to wear frequently for the majority of a semester.
Not to congratulate myself too much but I think that my pre-departure planning worked out pretty well. I think it worked out so well because I really tried to tailor it to how I live my life and didn’t let external expectations disillusion me to preparing in a way that didn’t sit well with me. Just prepare the way that works for you and take everything in stride. Before you know it, your semester is going fly by, and then like some people you’ll sit there in your suite at 2:32am and wonder where exactly time went.
Martyn Megaloudis is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2018, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Marketing major at the University of Pittsburgh, he is studying abroad in Sydney this semester.
Martyn's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned.