Layla in Australia: First Impressions

Hello from Sydney! Sorry about how long it’s been since I’ve updated. I’ve been so busy falling in love with Australia that I forgot to update this blog! I’ll try and detail some of my first impressions about Sydney here (although at this point, I’ve been here for about three and a half weeks).

Many people who are thinking about traveling to Australia fixate on the length of the flight. While it is undoubtedly long, it’s not unbearable. I was lucky enough to have a nonstop flight (the world’s longest!) to Sydney from where I live in the States, Dallas, which definitely helped cut down on the travel time. Between the movie, two meals, six episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, and sleeping, the 17 hours passed by more quickly than I had expected.

I’ve often thought over the past fourteen years what it would be feel like to finally arrive back in Australia and see it from the plane. Before selecting my seat, I carefully researched the best position to catch a glimpse of Sydney from the air… but neglected to consider the fact that I would be landing around six o’clock in the morning. In the middle of winter. Needless to say, it was pitch black when we arrived in Sydney,  and my 17 hours spent in the window seat was for nothing. Even then, the lights of Sydney that I could see and the sensation of being on solid ground again combined for a wave of emotion, a mix of nostalgia and excitement. Once off the plane, I was immediately struck by the weather — apparently it was the coldest stretch in Sydney in years! Though jarringly different from the 100-degree days I had left behind in Texas, I quickly discovered it actually… wasn’t that cold. More than my massive suitcases, the thing that pegged me immediately as a foreigner was waiting on the outdoor platform for the train to my apartment in a short-sleeved T-shirt. Since then, every reference to the brutally cold winter by an Australian has just made me smile — by Richmond standards, this is nice spring weather!

The very welcoming signs in Sydney Airport made me very happy.

The very welcoming signs in Sydney Airport made me very happy.

I arrived in Sydney on a Friday and left early the next morning for my first trip, a weekend pre-orientation for exchange students up to the Hunter Valley and Port Stephens, which are a few hours north of the city. This trip was a whirlwind — in less than two days, we went to the Australian Reptile Park and got up close and personal with some furry locals, wine tasting, whale watching on a boat, and sandboarding down massive sand dunes.

Me with a kangaroo friend, 2015.

Me with a kangaroo friend, 2015.

Me with a kangaroo friend in 1999.  Guess I've changed a lot since then, but kangaroos are just as cute.

Me with a kangaroo friend in 1999. Guess I’ve changed a lot since then, but kangaroos are just as cute.

It was definitely a fun trip, but it made me even more resolutely sure of something I had been thinking about back in America. While it’s comfortable to make friends with other foreign students, I made a promise to myself to focus on cultivating friendships with Australian students. I can build friendships with other Americans at home, but the goal of my study abroad experience has always been to rediscover the place I left as a child. For me, the only way to do that is to really immerse myself into Australian culture and befriend Australians, not Americans who couldn’t name the Australian state Sydney is in. (Yes, that actually happened on the trip. For anyone studying abroad, please do some research about where you’re going beforehand! American ignorance abroad is a stereotype that’s hard enough to break when people aren’t reaffirming it.)

I spent the rest of the week before classes began discovering Sydney — just taking off in a random direction from my flat in Redfern, a suburb a bit more than two miles from Circular Quay, which is the part of Sydney’s downtown (what the locals call the CBD or central business district) that most people associate with the city, and exploring whatever area I find myself in. What I’ve noticed so far is that “Sydney” is a bit hard to define. The CBD is a very small area, and even the “city of Sydney” which is the umbrella for the CBD and the inner suburbs is still much smaller than I imagined, with a population roughly similar to the city of Richmond. Only when adding in the massive metropolitan area, which stretches about an hour in every direction, can you appreciate the full population of the city. Nevertheless, I remember exploring Sydney’s Haymarket, Sydney’s Chinatown, during my first week in the city and feeling the energy from the crowd as I walked down Sydney’s major street, George Street. Normally I feel a little overwhelmed and claustrophobic in a big crowd, but for some reason, it just felt lively and freeing. I realized then how much I already loved being in Sydney.

The classic touristy picture from Circular Quay of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Surprisingly haven't been here in the daytime yet.

The classic touristy picture from Circular Quay of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Surprisingly haven’t been here in the daytime yet.

I especially love Sydney’s compactness and ease of public transport. Coming from America, it’s amusing to listen to Sydneysiders complain about their public transport — at least it exists! It’s a fairly quick walk from where I live to most of the inner suburbs or the CBD, and I can easily find a train or bus to wherever I want to go. Where I grew up in New Jersey, the closest train station that would take me on an hour-long train ride to Manhattan was a half an hour drive away! This ease of travel has made it simple for me to explore Sydney, especially the quirky neighborhoods of Surry Hills, Glebe, and Newtown. Every day, I fall more in love with the city, and every so often I’ll turn around and see a view like the ones below that just reminds me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to be here. I can’t wait to discover more of this amazing city, and finally venture to the famous beaches when it gets a little warmer!

The Sydney skyline from Victoria Park, the park that borders my university.

The Sydney skyline from Victoria Park, the park that borders my university.

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