You’ve heard about it — that giant island with beautiful beaches, the Outback, tons of sunshine, surfing, and shrimp on the barbie. Forget what you’ve learned from Crocodile Dundee and the Outback Steakhouse — those Americanized versions of Australia are a weak comparison to the real thing.
For starters, it’s “prawn,” not “shrimp,” and you’re more likely to find sausages, burgers, or chicken (or even fish or octopus) on an Australian barbecue. And Aussies are not all surfer babes — the diversity of Australia’s population usually comes as a surprise to anyone who’s never visited. Equally interesting is the country’s rich history, with civilizations having lived there for more than 40,000 years.
The wide range of ecosystems, landscape, plant, and animal life in Oz goes way beyond “beaches and bush,” making study abroad in Australia a truly educational experience every minute. Geology, anthropology, archaeology, natural resources, botany, oceanography, and zoology majors especially find studying in Australia to be one of the best educational and career decisions they ever made.
Of course, the bit about stunning beaches and great surf is true. But venture away from the shoreline in Queensland and New South Wales, and you’ll find rainforests with trees over 70 meters tall. Travel to South Australia and you’ll find rolling hills and great treks, along with copious vineyards. In northeastern Victoria you’ll find incredible mountain views, even some with snow. Western Australia boasts a wealth of natural resources, including coal, zinc, and gold, making it one of several major mining locations in Australia.
They speak English. Can it be that different? Yer, mate! Aussies definitely have their own language. Differences in the way they speak extend far beyond the accent. Australians like to abbreviate, particularly with a y or an -ies on the end: sunnies, trackies, boardies, brekie, bikkies, bikey, footie, esky, pokies, stubbies, sparky, freshie … (translation: sunglasses, sweatpants, board shorts, breakfast, biscuits, motorcycle rider, Australian National football, picnic cooler, poker machines, beer bottles, electrician, freshwater crocodile.) Common terms in the U.S. mean something completely different in Australia. Biscuits are cookies, flip-flops are thongs, chips are fries, a bench is a countertop, and full-stop is used in the context of punctuation (a period), and declared to emphasize a point.
It may seem weird to lump “humans” in with the natural attractions of Oz, but the Aussies may be your favorite thing about studying abroad in Australia (I know it was mine). Strangers are often overwhelmingly welcoming, helpful, and non-judgmental. Navigating public transport in a different country can be intimidating at first, and in Australia, the locals were happy to offer assistance to international travelers. Australians have an innate appreciation for humor and sarcasm. It is worth knowing ahead of time that they like to tease and poke fun — prepare to get some good-natured flack, and prepare to give it right back to them, and you’ll fit in just fine.
Australians believe in the concept of a healthy work/life balance. They live for spending quality time with friends and family, and they appreciate punctuality, sincerity, and honesty. Aussies are passionate about sports, and with so much to see and do, they enjoy living active, adventurous lifestyles.
If you’re seeking the heat, it’s to the Northern Territory you go. Alice Springs is home to Ayer’s Rock. The massive red sandstone rock formation is considered sacred to the Aboriginal people of the area, who call it Uluru, “rock island.” One of the world’s largest monoliths, it’s the centerpiece of a land dotted with ancient paintings, caves, springs, and water holes.
Destinations such as Kangaroo Island and Tasmania provide breathtaking natural vistas. The Tasmanian Trail is a famous challenge for cyclists and adventurers, who explore the exquisite scenery of Tasmania via a 430-km. route around the state’s circumference. A trip to Australia is incomplete without a visit to the Outback. It sets the scene for sheep farms, for old mining towns like Broken Hill and Silverton, and is an absolutely brilliant star-gazing spot. Amid the scenery from the famous Mad Max films, there’s a museum dedicated to the film’s production. Take a camel ride, visit an underground mine, and join your mates around a campfire to watch the moon rise from behind giant hills in the black sky.
Let’s face it — if you’re studying abroad in Australia, you’ll want to hit the beaches. The variety of ocean views throughout Oz is an integral part of the continent’s indisputable beauty. Let’s start with … drumroll, please … the natural Wonder of the World, viewable from outer space, largest single structure made from living organisms, World Heritage Site … ladies and gentlemen, the Great Barrier Reef! Divers, prepare to have your minds blown. Then there are the Whitsunday Islands, also located off the Queensland coast — they’re 74 submerged mountaintops. They can be appreciated from a zooming, zig-zagging ocean rafting tour. On some days, your raft guide can take you flying through patches of rain clouds for a refreshing spray and then swerve right back into the hot sun.
Whitehaven Beach is on one of the islands, known for its pure white silica sand. Another island here, Fraser Island, is notoriously home to a large dingo population and beautiful vegetation. As the island is covered with sand dunes, the best way to get around is via 4-wheel-drive buses. It makes for a bumpy but exciting ride, and the glass clear waters surrounding the beaches are a sight for the bucket list.
Australia has several lively ports and harbors well worth a visit: Darling Harbor, home of the Sydney Opera House; Port Douglas, just north of Cairns; Victor Harbour, renowned for whale-watching tours; Port Lincoln, where you can dive with sharks; and the Melbourne Docklands, always active with cultural events, unique shops, carnival rides, and restaurants.
Studying in Australia offers a variety of world-renowned universities, which encourage global diversity and recruit faculty from all around the world. Students on a year or semester abroad in Australia typically have a class structure consisting of lectures and tutorials. The lectures are generally large, sometimes with multiple professors, and can last up to two hours (but not every day). Tutorials are smaller classes that supplement the lectures, letting students and teachers interact on a more direct level.
Australian institutions foster independent learning. There are not often small quizzes and regular assignments to keep the class on track; rather, there may be two or three major assignments and an exam. In some courses there may be only one major test or assignment, called a “hurdle” exam, upon which most, or all, of your grade is based. This can sound intimidating to students used to smaller classes and individual attention, but it is always beneficial to experience a different learning environment. Professors are generally supportive and will meet individually with students during office hours.
Because universities are quite large in Australia, they have heaps of activities and clubs. This is a great way to make friends and meet people from all over the world, as people come far and wide to study abroad in Australia.
In a country with immigrants and students from many different countries, it is exciting to be able to meet so many international people, but do make sure you also get to know the locals. When in Australia, do as the Aussies do!