Top Tips for Studying Abroad in Sydney

Oct 19, 2015 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Julia Economou

Julia Economou

Meet Julia, a CAPA study abroad alumna who spent spring semester 2015 in Sydney, taking classes and interning with a public relations agency. Her internship experience helped her secure another one when she returned to the States. Below, Julia shares her top tips for exploring Sydney and doing so on a budget, what aspects of the city went beyond her expectations and the changes she's seen in herself since her time overseas came to an end. 

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CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself. 
JULIA ECONOMOU: My name is Julia. I studied abroad in the beautiful Sydney, Australia. I attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a double major in journalism and communication as well as a minor in film studies. I love to golf, go to the gym, and of course travel! I have also visited Sicily through a journalism class at UMass.

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CW: What were your first impressions of Sydney? What did you discover that went beyond your expectations or stereotypes that exist of the city while you were exploring?
JE: Before I arrived in Sydney, I was in this mindset that everyone was going to be tan, blonde, and surfers. When I got there, I was pleasantly surprised.

I took a cross cultural communication class that taught me a lot about the culture in Australia as well as the different areas within the city. For example, we took a field trip to Chinatown and explored the Chinese culture. It never occurred to me that there would be such a large Chinese population within Sydney. Another example of this was when we visited Melbourne. There is a huge Greek population there (the second largest Greek population after Athens!). It’s amazing how similar Australia is to America in the “melting pot” sense.

Another first impression I had was that Sydney was HOT. Do not forget to bring sunscreen! After coming from the New England winter, I was burnt after a half an hour in the sun.

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CW: Share your best packing tips with us: Is there anything you wish you would have brought but didn't? Anything you wish you hadn't packed? If you had one piece of advice for incoming students, what would it be?
JE: DO NOT OVER-PACK!!! That’s the best tip I can give. I only brought one big suitcase and two carry-on bags and that was still too much. A lot of my friends brought three big suitcases and it is just a big hassle to bring around. HOWEVER, don’t forget that you are probably going to be bringing souvenirs and trinkets back with you so make sure you have some extra space. One thing that I did was bring a folded up duffel bag for weekend trips and used that for ALL my Australia souvenirs. If your bag weighs too much you WILL get fined. They are very strict about that in Australia and don’t forget they weigh in kilos. I wish I had packed more internship-oriented clothing and less casual clothing. I didn’t wear half of the things I brought. Also, because I went in the spring, it got colder towards the end of the trip. I wish I had packed some more sweatshirts and long sleeves.

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CW: Tell us a bit about your internship in Sydney, your duties and accomplishments. What skills have you learned or developed? How will this experience help you in your future career?
JE: I could talk about my internship experience for hours if you’d let me so I’ll try not to take up too much time! I interned at a public relations agency (DEC PR). It was in the center of Sydney and was my favorite part about my study abroad experience. I was always up-to-date with the news going on in Australia (which you have to be in the PR industry) and I managed two of DECs client’s social media platforms. It was a bit of a challenge at first because both clients were in the technology field (which as you can tell by my major I do not have much knowledge in) and I had to create interesting content for their audience. I learned so much about the wifi and software business just by doing research at DEC. I love everyone I worked with and was so sad when I had to say goodbye.

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CW: Explain a day in the life of a CAPA intern.
JE: I took on 3 classes as well as my 20-hour a week internship. I had classes Mondays and Tuesdays and my internship Wednesday-Friday. I did more than 20 hours a week because I really enjoyed going, but it wasn’t required of me. In terms of classes, I took "Intercultural Communications" (AMAZING class), "Advertising and Promotion" and "International Marketing". I’d wake up at about 7 a.m. every morning and would take the bus over to ACU campus. Tuesdays were my easiest day (only one class and then I had the rest of the afternoon to myself). The "Learning Through Internships" class was once a month and we would get together with the professors and discuss our internships and what we need to accomplish before the end of the semester. We had discussion posts due every week and assignments we had to finish. A lot of the readings we were assigned were very interesting and made us reflect on our internships. My internship was eight hours a day and I would do a lot of different tasks. Once, I got into the swing of things, I would be doing the same things during the week. For example, on Wednesdays, I would work on the social media calendar for two clients and on Thursdays, I would clip coverage for Rolls Royce.

CW: Define CAPA's My Global Education events in your own words. Which My Global Education event was most memorable for you and why? How did your participation in this event change your understanding of the city?
JE: One of my favorite events was the Sydney Opera House tour. CAPA gave us a great opportunity to see the Opera House from a different side. It is an amazing piece of architecture and we got a brief history lesson about how this iconic building came about. The tour was no more than an hour and it really cool to see not only the large theatres, but the smaller ones located in the belly of the building.

Glebe Markets was also an awesome My Global Education activity. For college students studying abroad in a place like Sydney, life can be expensive. The Glebe Markets allowed us to purchase little items for low prices (perfect for college students!). My roommates and I went on a Saturday and spent the whole morning there. So many people gather at these markets. This was not a required activity, but more of a recommended one.

The most memorable event for me was the Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park. We got to see all the different animals native to Australia and interact with them on a more “personal” level. Make sure you get a selfie with a kangaroo or emu! We also learned more about the Aboriginal people and how they used the land to survive (we even got to snack on some termites!).

CW: What are your thoughts on traveling while you're studying abroad? Any advice for incoming students on how best to spend their free time?
JE: For me, I didn’t do any traveling outside of the country, which I think is better. I wanted to explore the country I was living in and not miss any part of Australia. For the first month, I stayed in the Sydney area getting to know the city and seeing what there was to see. On spring break, I traveled all up the coast with a group of people and saw all the iconic landmarks that Australia has to offer. I also did some traveling on Easter break. My advice with this is to get to know Sydney first and do some research on what you really want to see. I am so happy I got to travel all throughout the country like I did. Always look at different excursions you can join. My spring break trip was a planned excursion trip with almost everything included which made it so much more relaxing and enjoyable. There are also little day-trip excursions around the city, and outside the city.

CW: Share a few of your favorite places that students can enjoy in Sydney when they're on a budget and a handful of your best tips for spending wisely.
JE: If you are really into shopping then the Glebe markets are a huge bonus for bargain hunting. There are a lot of beach walks you can go on that are absolutely FREE. My favorite was the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. It was a couple miles with some breathtakingly gorgeous views. It’s amazing what you can take in just by walking around the area with your camera.

As far as money, I calculated how much I could spend on groceries and essentials and the rest I used for other activities. I always wrote down how much money I spent each day. It’s also important to remember that a lot of the time with bank cards, they charge you a fee for using it abroad. What I did was take out a good amount of money from the ATM each week and try to use the cash I carried rather than my actual card. 

CW: Where are the places you've carved out as "Your Sydney" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that are most meaningful for you? What is special about them?
JE: One of the places I went to almost every single day was a little café located right outside of my internship site. It was a hole-in-the-wall café that had a roof over the top but no walls (which a lot of places had because of the nice weather). It is a family-owned Italian café. I went there every day during the week; I went there so much they knew my name and order by heart. I’d sit there before it was time to go to my internship and do a lot of people watching. It was one of the places I’ll never forget. These people cared so much about their customers and everybody loved it.

Something I was surprised to see in Australia was the lack of chain restaurants. They had McDonalds and Subway, but most people seemed to gravitate toward “mom and pop” shops instead. It was nice to see. It’s going to those hole-in-the-wall places where you can really get a sense for what the Australian culture is like. There are hidden gems everywhere; you just have to go exploring to find them!

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CW: What personal and professional changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? 
JE: My internship experience drastically affected my life in a positive way. This was my first internship and it taught me a lot about myself. Because of this internship, I got another awesome summer internship at EMC. If I hadn't had this abroad experience, I don’t think I would have been given as much responsibility during my summer internship. I think it’s extremely unique to say that you had an internship abroad and it shows future employers that you are diverse and cultured in a way not everyone can say they are. DEC made me more independent and more confident in myself. They helped me when I needed help, and even though I may not have gotten tasks right on the first try, they never made me feel stupid about not getting it and built up my self confidence. It gave me the tools I needed to assert myself into the real world of full-time employment (which is what I needed for my 40-hour-per-week internship this summer!).

Thanks Julia!

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Topics: CAPA Alumni, Interviews, Sydney, Australia