Studying Abroad in Sydney: What Classes Are Like

Sep 27, 2016 9:00:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

CAPAStudyAbroad_Sydney_Fall2016_Matthew_Benczkowski_Square_Profile.jpgMatthew Benczkowski is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2016, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A molecular biology major at the University of Pittsburgh, he is studying abroad in Sydney this semester.

In this week's post, Matthew talks about the academic side of study abroad, what he's learned so far, the field trips he's taken and how using CAPA's Globally Networked Learning system has allowed him to collaborate on projects with CAPA Florence and CAPA Dublin students.


“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” – Pearl Buck

Australia is a very historical place, so when traveling to Australia, learning about its history is crucial to understanding its behaviors and policies. In Australia, I am taking five classes, "Asian, Pacific and Australian Literature", "Analyzing the Global City: Sydney", "Aboriginal History", "Analysis of Policy Issues in Australia", and "Representation and Identity in Australian Cinema". Each class is between 2.5 hours and 3.5 hours. All of my professors are Australian professionals in each of their respective areas. I am also in a Pitt class taught by Professor Ralph Bangs from Pitt.

To start off, the teaching style does not vary too greatly from that in the US, and it is very hard to make a solid comparison because some of my classes at Pitt had almost 400 people in them, whereas here I have a maximum of 18 people. One thing I have noticed is that presentations by students are a huge part of the normal lecture. So far I have been assigned six or seven presentations between my classes which range from 15 minutes to as long as we can make it (probably around 45 minutes!). This is very different from back home, even in the smaller classes. Another thing is that tests are not very common here. Some classes may have a midterm and a final, but most classes have papers that act as the final grades. As Prof. Bangs taught us, most classes in Australian colleges do not have tests but only papers; consequently, they tend to have very low attendance rates.

One of the biggest differences I have noticed is that the professors are very generous and very open to extrapolating details. No matter what class, questions are more than appreciated and more than answered. The professors have been so helpful in divulging information of topics as they can. In the US, I believe that professors assume that students have a prior knowledge to what is being taught, so they often skimp on details. However, in Australia, the professors will ask us if we know anything about the topics they are teaching (it is very rare that we do…) so they understand that we don’t have any prior knowledge, and they go into deeper than basic teaching.

I would love to thank the CAPA staff and professors for their generosity as I have gone on several field trips, all free of charge. My first field trip was to Marrickville with Dr. Kay Donovan. There, she took as all around showing us the history and immigration factors around Marrickville. We had the opportunity to do some creative writing along the way, while learning about Aboriginal culture, natural history, and nationalism.

Photo: Dr. Donovan explaining the saying, "Respect, Unity, Peace"

I also took a trip to the Sydney Museum with Dr. Julia Miller’s class, where we got to see influencing factors to Australia; imports from every country around the world. We also saw the replicas of the First Fleet, and learned about the interactions with the British and the Aborigines in the country’s earliest years. There were also exhibits on the growth of Sydney as a global city, its architecture, and inhabitants.


In Dr. Miller’s other class, we had an awesome opportunity to go to Susannah House, a very old and historically significant settlement in The Rocks. There we got private tours of the apartments which were kept in the conditions in which they were inhabited. Each apartment seen showed a different time period, ranging from 1844 to the mid-1950s. We got to see the progression of living standards in Sydney, from no sewage or heat to electricity and running water. The houses remain intact with the original paint, furniture and artifacts from each time period.

In Dr. Bangs’ class, we have had three guest speakers talking about various policy issues. We have gone to the University of Sydney, as well as having the professors come to our class. Most interestingly, we had Salvatore Babones who was a Pitt professor, come in and talk about global policies, and Dr. Damian Oliver who was an expert on fair work policies.

Photo: Dr. Oliver giving his speech in Dr. Bangs' class

One of the most unique opportunities I have received here is the ability to work with students across the globe through CAPA's Globally Networked Learning system. For example, I am working with a girl in Florence on writing a short movie script including the tropes from both Italian and Australian films. I am also doing a collaborative project with CAPA students from Florence and Dublin on how multiculturalism affects the environment around us, and how it has impacted each respective city. This not only integrates us with our immediate community, but other CAPA global cities as well.

Overall, my schooling in Sydney has been very beneficial to me. The professors go in to depth when they are teaching, expanding on their ideas and lectures, making it very easy to learn. From my other blog posts, it may seem that it is all fun and no work, but I promise there is plenty of work! Because these classes are relatively small, everyone is bonding, whether by sitting next to each other in class, or being paired up in a presentation together. I would not trade this experience up for the world. Every day brings new excitement or adventure; there is always something to look forward to.


‘Til next time!

Matt Benczkowski

Thanks Matthew!

Matthew's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned. 

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Topics: Sydney, Australia, Official Bloggers and Vloggers, Academics Abroad