Mathew Ramsay is an official CAPA blogger/vlogger for summer 2016, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World, sometimes including short video snippets. A political science major and economics minor at Morehouse College, he is studying abroad in Sydney this term.
In this week's post, Matthew shares his experience of orientation and arriving in Australia.
When you disembark off an airplane and hustle through the airport to collect your baggage, very few things are going through your mind except for the necessary maneuvers to navigate through the countless corridors and crowds of people. The taxi ride to the Urbanest Student Apartments was a much welcomed mental vacation from the stresses of travel. It was amusing to observe the inverse traffic flow and lack of American-made cars on the road. It was precisely 8am, the traffic was heavy, and I was in Australia! My taxi driver was from Bangladesh; a friendly man but not very conversational. We briefly discussed the Uber vs taxi companies controversy, but even on this subject his engagement was limited. Upon arrival to my housing accommodation I was greeted by the gleaming smiles of Ms. Tamara and Andrew who will be our CAPA coordinators for the duration of the summer.
Andrew handed me my arrival package which was neatly organized in a CAPA labeled folder. He concisely gave myself and two fellow students who had arrived at the same time a run-down of the folder's contents and directed us to settle in the lobby with our luggage put off to the side. The Urbanest staff was preparing our rooms and would periodically call a pair of three students and guide them upstairs to their assigned apartments. Meanwhile, all of us who had arrived were introducing ourselves to each other; exchanging names and asking “what school are you from?”, “how was your flight?” and other inquires of similar likeness. Names and replies bounced back and forth across the well-furnished lobby. Granted, in the next few days we would ask each other these same questions two or three times again as a result of the sheer volume of new faces!
Around noon that day most, if not all, students were situated in their new accommodations and we met as a whole group in the courtyard of the Urbanest complex. Ms. Tracy commenced a luncheon and introduced herself as the director for the Sydney program. We met fellow CAPA staff and ate some much needed sustenance. The food was good and although it was a comfortable 70 degrees the sun shone with an intensity one could only find in Australia. After orientation with Ms. Tracy, we split into four groups labeled one through four and went on a neighborhood walking tour. The tour itself was brief but overwhelming. This was my first venture into the streets of Sydney and I quickly lost my sense of direction and to my horror our tour guide notified the group that he would be “dropping us off at the local supermarket” and it was up to us to find our way back to Urbanest. After blocks of streamlining though sidewalk traffic and the occasional dive from the left side of the walkway to the right side (it’s become apparent to me that no one knows which direction foot traffic is supposed to flow in Sydney) we arrived at Broadway; a massive four level indoor mall with countless varieties of stores and merchandise.
After picking up some essentials and foodstuff I made my way back to Urbanest Apartments with relative ease. The rest of the first day of orientation was free game and by midnight I found myself with three new best friends sitting at an outrageously expensive bar under the Sydney Opera House looking at the infamous Harbor Bridge to our right and the priceless view of the Sydney skyline to our left.
My internal clock, battered from the 14 plus flight hours, woke me up around 4am and I made my way down the hall to our common area and opened up a copy of The Sydney Morning Herald which I had picked up from Broadway earlier that day. The front page consisted of a story on the end of the El Niño weather pattern and other such trivialities seemingly unimportant. My eyes gravitated toward the bottom of the page on a story about a major black hole (budget deficit) in the federal government. The article seemed to imply that due to mismanagement by the finance mister who was aligned with the Collation, many of the Labor party’s budget allocations were not accounted for. Just in the first few paragraphs of the article I found myself tripping over unfamiliar terms and words. However, I found it comforting that even across the world one could find a liberal journalist ripping into the shady practices of public officials. I ended up back in bed within the hour and was soon soundly asleep.
The next morning, I made my way to the new CAPA center three blocks from Urbanest for orientation at 9am. The building was old yet majestic. It had a brownish-maroon coloring to it, stained glass windows decorated the interior and the bathroom was a scene from the 1950s with a metal string as the flushing mechanism. Andrew and Tamara ran through their respective PowerPoint presentations, giving us some common sense advice and an outlay of the semester to come. We were introduced to Dr. Julia who was in charge of academic affairs. Despite her small stature she commanded the room of 50+ students for the remaining two and a half hours of orientation and in-between remarks she would slide in the occasional joke displaying the dry Aussie humor I’ve already started to adore.
On day three of orientation, I found myself with four other CAPA students running around every crook and cranny of Sydney on a scavenger hunt. We rolled through the Central Business District, walked around Ultimo and scrambled from Circular Quay to the finish line in Darling Harbour. After the competition ended we embarked on a beautiful, exhilarating lunch cruise through the Harbour and down the coastline to Botany Bay and back up. The views were splendid. Each one of us was excited.
And I believe it finally dawned on me that I was in… Australia!