Jack in NZ: It’s Always Sunny in Dunedin

August 9, 2016

“If we want to know what American normality is – what Americans want to regard as normal – we can trust television”—David Foster Wallace

“Let’s just plop them in front of the TV. I was raised in front of the TV and I turned out TV.” – Homer Simpson

“I don’t think I believe in ‘deep down’. I think that all you are is just the things that you do.” – Diane, Bojack Horseman

broadcast tower

Now I don’t recommend anyone drop out of school to join Netflix University (though tuition is considerably cheaper), but there’s a lot to be learned in a great deal of T.V. programming.

A few examples: Jon Stewart taught an entire generation of young adults that politics could be interesting, that it’s acceptable (even necessary) to call BS when it matters, and that relentless reason can prevail in the face of stupidity. Or consider The Wire: HBO’s crime drama used nuanced characters and a remarkable storyline to shed light on the personal side of drug prohibition and the relationship between police and the communities they serve. And what about Breaking Bad? Walter White forced us to examine our morals, he made us question what we would do if backed into a similar corner, and he ultimately reminded us to cherish our loved-ones.

I could go on.

The point is, when you plop down in a comfy chair to mainline a few hours of entertainment via the occipital lobe, you’re not just watching a bunch of colorful images flash by at 25 frames per second, you’re absorbing ideas, and the extent to which you do this is directly related to how closely you pay attention. If you want to really learn, you have to engage. You have to sit down and watch on a regular basis. You have to catch up when you miss segments.

This makes T.V. shows a lot like college courses.

And just as the first few episodes of a show give the viewer enough information to decide to keep their eyes glued to the boob tube or to log out of Netflix, the first few classes provide the college student with a decent impression of the course.

So here are my reviews of the University of Otago’s 2nd-semester programming:

Environmental Chemistry: This class belongs on HGTV. Very late at night. Guaranteed to bore all but the most enthusiastic viewer, sections of Environmental Chemistry are as about stimulating as watching beige paint dry. One can only hear ‘biogeochemical cycles’ so many times before tuning into a different program. The host is an inoffensive, well-dressed man who is primarily concerned with relaying PowerPoint information on the underlying chemical processes of the dispersal of various minerals in ocean water. I almost fell asleep writing the end of that sentence. That being said, the course is incredibly practical and is likely to impart fundamental information to the dedicated viewer, if they can stay awake through the entire 50-minute segment. Final verdict: Two thumbs way neutral. Enroll if you need it.

rainy view

Conservation Biology Lab: A nature-themed mockumentary set on an Otago peninsula overlook, this lab features the will-they-or-wont-they relationship between an American yellow-eyed penguin researcher, a local Department of Conservation ranger, and the 20 endangered birds they watch over. This week’s episode featured the daring repair of a penguin leg wound by our DoC ranger, and the consequent swooning of the researcher. In addition to awkward, hyper-realistic dialogue, the program treats viewers to wide-angle mountain shots, footage of craggy beaches, and effortless steady-cam recordings through sheep farms (the camera work is so immersive you can almost smell the sheep crap!). The cinematography and hilarious script make the 45 minutes of bus seat reel on either end of programming worth sitting through. Two thumbs way up, take this class!

night time view

Conservation Biology: This class is on too early in the morning for any young adult to watch consistently. Fortunately, episode summaries are available online and give morning-averse enrollees the basic gist. Dedicated fans that tune in regularly are rewarded with compelling (if incredibly depressing) plots about the condition of the environment. Taught by a rotating cast of knowledgeable hosts, this class is Otago’s NOVA: if more people could be bothered to watch it, the world would be a better place. However, this reviewer believes it would be a breach of journalistic ethics to pass judgment on a program he’s only seen twice. Review: N/A.

view from the roof

Creative Non-Fiction Tutorial: an eccentric host and diverse cast of contestants make this tutorial fit for Bravo. The earnest performance and genuine humor of host Paul Tankard make seemingly-dull program segments like ‘Let’s Outline All the Different Sources Consulted in Chapter 11 of Stiff by Marry Roach, I Found 25, See How Many You Find’ (or as some refer to it: LOATDSCIC11OSBMRIF25SHMYF) shine. This show promises to build toward an exciting climax as each student completes different challenges each week while working toward a final project. The only thing that could spice up CN-FT would be a weekly elimination round. Two thumbs way up, take this class!

melting snow

Creative Non-fiction: Long-winded dramatic monologs and Spartan use of technology make this class a treat for the writing aficionado. The verbose and enthusiastic Australian lead performs for an enrapt audience, providing advice for budding writers with sprinklings of endearing anecdotes from his bushy-bearded mouth. The Joy of Painting meets Hamlet. Take this class.

Environmental Chemistry lab: Fear not University of Otago Masochist Society, have we got a show for you! If you love the sound of a clock endlessly ticking amid keyboard clickclackery, the incessant flare of fluorescent lighting and computer screens, and the belaboring of basic statistics to the point of insanity, you will love 204 labs! To boot, it’s only on during Friday afternoons from 2-6! And get this: You get to watch other people driving home to have fun out of the meager classroom window while you clickclack away in Microsoft excel! Perhaps this is some sort of edgy, artistic, post-Lynchian program designed to make the viewer uncomfortable, to push their buttons, and to anger and confuse. If that’s the case, it succeeds on all fronts. Alas, it’s mandatory! Going to this lab feels like that one scene from A Clockwork Orange. Without any Beethoven. Two thumbs way down.

from the clouds

Overall, the University of Otago network offers great programming in a style totally different from its American counterparts, and if you keep your eyes glued to the screen, you’ll certainly learn something.

Just make sure to go outside and play in between shows.

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Jack in NZ: Email

August 1, 2016

“I had had an adventure, tasted forbidden fruit, and everything that followed in my life – the food, the long and often stupid and self-destructive chase for the next thing, whether it was drugs or sex or some other new sensation – would all stem from this moment.” – Anthony Bourdain on eating his first oyster

“We’re the first culture in the world that puts 1,500 miles on average under each morsel of food” – Joel Salatin

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.” – Proust

“’I do work,’ said Frederick ‘I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.’” – Frederick by Leo Lionni

“Drink your tea” – Eastern Towhee

To: Parents

Cc: Sister

Subject: Re: Feeling like a Kiwi yet?

Message:

Unfortunately the weather this week is pretty lame, so I’m staying around Dunedin. I’m planning on doing a local hike and catching up on work and reading/writing.

So Much to See

Penguin colony was pretty neat, saw about 20 birds (~1% of the world’s population, pretty crazy), and the surrounding area was beautiful. It was a secluded spot, protected by farmland on all sides, difficult to get to without some sort of Department of Conservation/farmer connection.

Jack in New Zealand

I’ve resolved to feed myself from the farmers market as much as possible, got a good-sized and reasonably-priced haul yesterday, including some lamb chops, ground venison, whole walnuts, and a winter savory (a thyme relative) plant. Also went to an Indian grocery store and bought some whole star anise/cardamom pods/garam masala and cheap peanuts. The owner was there and we chatted about India (he was a Sikh from Delhi) for a minute.

Otherwise, I’ve just been doing work around here. I haven’t been going to my biology or chemistry lectures because they post them online, but I do sit down for a few hours each day to take notes/do homework etc. Working at home is pretty nice, I get to stick to a sleep schedule and snack throughout the morning, also no running back and forth between my house and campus. Chemistry is very dry (and the labs are soul-sucking, I almost wish I took the upper-level section), biology is much more interesting. My writing class is very enjoyable. I’m narrowing in on a topic for my major project (something related to the philosophy of farming/food, looking at it from scientific/social/spiritual/artistic viewpoints). More stuff about classes will be in the next blog.

A friendly reminder from the local ethernet port

I’ve also been making progress in Modernist Cuisine (the massive 2500pg (only 2319 to go!) cooking tome by a former Microsoft CTO) and On Writing by Steven King, and paging through Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, which is incredibly entertaining. I’ve been trying to sit down and write for an hour every day, but it’s been kind of hard to make it a habit, sometimes it flows and other times it doesn’t (I’ve noticed word output is generally proportional to my caffeine intake, though quality varies (I’m gradually learning that editing is a useful skill to cultivate)). The blog should be submitted by tomorrow, but it seems to take a few days before the abroad office publishes. I’m decently happy with this one. It’s a little funnier and lighter than the previous two. Sticking to the ‘ideally weekly’ schedule the office has set (but not enforced (so far)) is going to be difficult. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better for my sanity to put out something I’m happy with every two weeks than it is to rush to get something done that I’ll cringe at later, possible stipend reduction be damned (though as I continue to cultivate the writing habit I think it will get easier to churn out good quality stuff more frequently).

I’ve recently binged a bunch of Joe Rogan’s podcasts. He hosts a great talk show and has had guests like Russell Brand, Sam Harris, Eddie Huang, etc. on to chat about interesting things. My kiwi-host is a big fan of him and is a neuroscience student. He lent me one of Sam Harris’ books and we’ve had some interesting talks about, as Dewey Finn would say “your head, and your mind, and your brain too”, as well as nutrition and exercise (he’s a big weight lifter).

I’ve been running more regularly (5/7 nights this week), and I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of things. I’ve also been meditating regularly and highly recommend it (along with exercise) for everyone. I’ve been doing 15-20 mins a day and it’s been great for stress reduction, mood, general appreciation of things. Here’s a good video if you are interested in trying it:

Dan Harris has a pretty interesting story on how he came to start meditating. He had a panic attack on Good Morning America as a result of cocaine/ecstasy abuse related to anxiety/depression issues. He subsequently took time off to research happiness and discovered mindfulness meditation, and wrote a book about it called ’10% happier’ (which I have not gotten the chance to read yet). He had an interview on the Colbert Report that was pretty good.

The social scene around here has also been pretty fun. I went out to a party on Thursday with some new friends I met through a Richmond friend (his flat complex is the place to be), and I met a fun Kiwi girl who I saw again on Saturday night (don’t worry Mom, haven’t fallen in love yet (with a girl, at least (the country may be a different story))). I’ve been hanging out more with one of my flat mates who’s fun and likes to cook. I went to a coffeeshop after my farmers market visit on Saturday with her and some Richmond friends. We ate chocolate chip pancakes that were as delicious as they were overpriced and drank flat whites.

I’ve also picked up a book on hydroponics and intend to get a setup going soon (no fish allowed in flats, but I don’t pay for the electricity so I can get some grow lights). My fern is on its last legs, one day it was fine, the next it was withering, gave it some water and put it closer to the sun and it’s perked up a little (though I don’t have high hopes). The other plant is still hanging on. I’ve also purchased a pretty sweet-looking cactus. It’s about three feet tall and has badass spines. It is difficult to kill, so hopefully it won’t be joining the fern.

Cactus

Overall things are going very well. I’m cultivating a fun and productive routine, taking care of myself, and enjoying the outdoors (whether I like it or not (last night’s jog through the botanical garden had an unfortunate sleet interlude)). I’m hoping to get a car or some other form of transport lined up to do more weekend traveling. I think spring break will be the next big opportunity, and I may go with some friends to the Abel Tasman track in the northern part of the South Island. I also don’t have to hurry to see things as much as I thought. I’ve got about 5 weeks of time during the finals period with only two finals to take (writing project is due before the period starts and counts as my final (and it’s also going to be fun to write)), so I’ll have a large stretch of uninterrupted time to travel while the weather is nice.

New Zealand

Hope things are going well at home. I wish I had saved up more summer memories (I think I appreciate Fredrick the more I meditate), still cold and damp here.

Lots of love and safe travels,

Jack


Colleen in Singapore: Student Life at SMU

November 5, 2015

Hi everyone! Although I have been posting a lot about my travels while abroad, I promise that yes, classes, group meetings, projects, and exams are very much prevalent in my day-to-day life here in Singapore. That’s why this post will be dedicated to my experience thus far at Singapore Management University.

 

IMG_1172

SMU’s campus is smack in the middle of the city. Campus is made up of six schools: School of Accountancy, School of Business, School of Economics, School of Information Systems, School of Law, and School of Social Sciences. There is also an administration building and a library on campus.

 

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The layout of SMU classrooms is quite similar to Richmond. While students are graded on participation, classes are more lecture-based than discussion-based. Each class is three hours and fifteen minutes, which does take some getting used to. Luckily, teachers give fifteen minute breaks in the middle of class. My biggest class size is 45 students.

The layout of SMU classrooms is quite similar to Richmond. While students are graded on participation, classes are more lecture-based than discussion-based. Each class is three hours and fifteen minutes, which does take some getting used to. Luckily, teachers give fifteen minute breaks in the middle of class. My biggest class size is 45 students.

 

All of SMU's Buildings, with the exception of the administration building, are connected by an underground walkway. This makes getting around campus a breeze, especially on those hot Singaporean afternoons. The underground walkway is also connected to the MRT station, so getting to school is as quick as three stops on the metro.

All of SMU’s Buildings, with the exception of the administration building, are connected by an underground walkway. This makes getting around campus a breeze, especially on those hot Singaporean afternoons. The underground walkway is also connected to the MRT station, so getting to school is as quick as three stops on the metro.

 

SMU has a rigorous academic schedule, one that is similar to Richmond. However, grades are heavily rooted in midterms and final exams, as there is not much homework assigned. Right now, the semester is coming to an end, and the work load is definitely picking up. The last week of classes consists of many group presentations, and the following week will be final exams. I really can’t believe that my time here at SMU is coming to a close!

 

A panorama of SMU's campus. This photo was taken from Wikipedia.

A panorama of SMU’s campus. This photo was taken from Wikipedia.

 


Dan in Argentina: Putting the Study in Study Abroad

October 26, 2015
To my Auntie Donna who always jokes there's no way I go to classes because I have so much fun abroad, here's proof on the contrary. Well, I guess all this proves is that I've stood in front of the school... but trust me, I've entered the building as well. The University Torcuato di Tella was founded in 1991 and recently moved to this building in March 2013. The very modern building with cement floors and big glass doors and windows stays (aesthetically) true to its industrial roots as an automobile factory.

To my Auntie Donna, who always jokes there’s no way I go to classes because I have so much fun abroad, here’s proof on the contrary. Well, I guess all this proves is that I’ve stood in front of the school… but trust me, I’ve entered the building as well. The University Torcuato di Tella was founded in 1991 and recently moved to this building in March 2013. The very modern building with cement floors and big glass doors and windows stays (aesthetically) true to its industrial roots as an automobile factory.

 

Di Tella, as students commonly shorten the University's name, is known for its business and architecture programs. All located under the roof of one main building, other programs of study include political science, law, history and international studies. The school has about 1,200 undergraduate students. I, along with the other Richmond students here, am in direct exchange with di Tella and UR which means students from Buenos Aires are currently in Virginia studying on our campus.

Di Tella, as students commonly shorten the University’s name, is known for its business and architecture programs. All located under the roof of one main building, other programs of study include political science, law, history and international studies. The school has about 1,200 undergraduate students. I, along with the other Richmond students here, am in direct exchange with di Tella and UR which means students from Buenos Aires are currently in Virginia studying on our campus.

 

This is what almost every classroom at di Tella looks like: very simple with concrete floors, white tables, white walls, a projection screen and one of those cool sliding whiteboard things. This is the room in which I have my Argentine Literature class. I am also taking a Latin American Cinema course and a class called Dictatorships and Militancy in the Southern Cone (Argentina, Chile and Uruguay) During the 1960's and 70's. I have enjoyed all of them so far.

This is what almost every classroom at di Tella looks like: very simple with concrete floors, white tables, white walls, a projection screen and one of those cool sliding whiteboard things. This is the room in which I have my Argentine Literature class. I am also taking a Latin American Cinema course and a class called Dictatorships and Militancy in the Southern Cone (Argentina, Chile and Uruguay) During the 1960’s and 70’s. I have enjoyed all of them so far.

 

Getting ready for class today, I decided to have a little photoshoot. These are the materials I have for my Dictatorships class. We recently read the popular Rodolfo Fogwill novel "Los Pichiciegos." It is about a fictional group of Argentine military deserters during the Malvinas War, better known as the Falkland Islands War, between Argentina and the United Kingdom in 1983. Although a good read, I enjoy our other readings more which regard the history and the current memory of the topic. It is interesting to study how history is presented and how people remember these negative and sometimes traumatic events.

Getting ready for class today, I decided to have a little photoshoot. These are the materials I have for my Dictatorships class. We recently read the popular Rodolfo Fogwill novel “Los Pichiciegos.” It is about a fictional group of Argentine military deserters during the Malvinas War, better known as the Falkland Islands War, between Argentina and the United Kingdom in 1983. Although a good read, I enjoy our other readings more which regard the history and the current memory of the topic. It is interesting to study how history is presented and how people remember these negative and sometimes traumatic events.

 


Layla in Australia: A Day in the Life

October 15, 2015

Today I received a reminder on my phone telling me to renew my travel notification for my bank. My bank only lets you notify them that you’ll be traveling abroad for 90 days at a time, which means this notification means I’ve been in Australia for just about 3 months. Needless to say, I didn’t realize how long it’s been! I’m just over halfway through my time abroad, and in 3 more months I’ll be starting the spring semester back at Richmond. To say I’ve settled here in Australia is an understatement – I feel just as home here as I do in the United States, if not more. To use some of my Australian slang that I’ve picked up, I’m really not keen to come home… in fact, I still haven’t booked my return flight to the States. Here, I’m going to describe a typical day for me here in Sydney, and hopefully show why I love it so much.

9 AM, any given Thursday: Wake up… after hitting the snooze button on my phone about three or four times. While I was never a breakfast person in America, the lack of a meal plan and a dining hall on campus means that buying lunch is expensive. Instead, I typically eat a bowl of Weet-Bix, a classic Australian cereal, for breakfast and bring a granola bar and some fruit for lunch. After getting ready, playing around on my phone, and eating breakfast, I make the ten- to fifteen-minute walk up the road to uni.

11 AM: Macroeconomics lecture. While it’s tough to keep focused for the entire two hour lecture, the material is interesting enough to stay awake and the ten-minute break in the middle helps. The professor tends to show how what we’ve learned about in class applies to the Australian economy, so I get to learn about not only general macroeconomics but Australian policies as well.

1 PM: With lecture over, I cave to my biggest weakness: coffee. I don’t really drink coffee at home – I’ve never liked the taste. I did drink caramel macchiatos while studying for the MCAT, but mostly the appeal was the caramel sauce. The coffee was just the bitter obstacle that I drank quickly so I could indulge in caramelly goodness. However, Australia is known for its delicious coffee, and I decided that I couldn’t come here and without trying a flat white, the classic Australian coffee drink that’s like a less foamy cappuccino. Needless to say – I had one, and I was hooked. Coffee here is so good that I don’t even need sugar to make it palatable like I do in America. My guilty pleasure at uni is a flat white and a croissant from the café in the New Law Annexe.

 

A flat white from the coffee shop where I first tried Australian coffee, Campos in Newtown.

A flat white from the coffee shop where I first tried Australian coffee, Campos in Newtown.

 

 

For the first half of the semester, I had four hours of gruelling chemistry lab directly after my economics lecture. This lab, which I had multiple times a week, was the bane of my existence, endlessly frustrating me with my inexplicable failures in it. But luckily, as of a few weeks ago, the lab has ended and I can finally go to quidditch trainings! Trainings on Thursdays are 3-5 PM in Victoria Park, the park bordering the USYD campus. I’ll generally do a little study after my coffee break and then head to training, where we run drills, play scrimmages, and play netball. Netball is a sport that’s pretty popular in Commonwealth countries but almost unheard of in America. It’s similar to basketball, but one major difference is that you can’t run with the ball. Needless to say, I often forget this rule, so netball isn’t my favorite. Practice usually has about fifteen people present.

5 PM: After practice, the quidditch team heads to the pub! Generally we start at the Forest Lodge Hotel (affectionately nicknamed the “flodge”) just north of campus in the suburb of Glebe for dinner and then head to the neighboring Roxbury Hotel for trivia at 7:30. Weirdly, pubs are called hotels here… as are hotels. That was definitely confusing at first!

 

Me and a handful of quidditch mates at the Roxbury hotel. This was actually taken after my very first training at USYD. I'm in the purple jacket, and pictured clockwise are my friends: Kat, Cameron, Lachlan, Laurel, Nat, Tom, Lachlan, and Paul. Usually our table is two or three times the size!

Me and a handful of quidditch mates at the Roxbury hotel. This was actually taken after my very first training at USYD. I’m in the purple jacket, and pictured clockwise are my friends: Kat, Cameron, Lachlan, Laurel, Nat, Tom, Lachlan, and Paul. Usually our table is two or three times the size!

Since Australian universities are mostly commuter schools, the focus of social life is off-campus, typically at pubs. On-campus or house parties are almost unheard of, except for students who live in colleges (which are akin to American fraternities, and generally only for students who don’t live in the metropolitan area.) Since there are no communal dining halls, dorms, or apartments for students to socialize in after classes, pubs fulfil that role. Speaking sociologically, drinking is much more of a focus in daily life at university here than it seems to be in America, even accounting for the lowered drinking age.  ‘Mateship’ is one of the cornerstones of Australian culture, and buying drinks for your mates and having them reciprocate is one of the ways that it is expressed.

Typically, my friends and I will stay at the pub until it closes, around midnight, with some people filtering out earlier to catch public transport home. Usually then we will split up to go home, or if we’re still feeling sociable, some will come over to the apartment complex where my friend Sam and I live, Urbanest. It has a TV room on the ground floor filled with couches that is typically empty by the time we get there, and is great for late-night hangouts. Once everyone goes home, all I have to do is take the elevator up four floors and I’m home.

Hopefully this post has given you a little insight on what it’s like to be a university student in Australia. My life isn’t glamorous by any means, but it’s definitely fun. While I’m not jetting off to a new country every weekend like many study abroad students, I think that by immersing myself into Australian culture, I’ve gained a much deeper appreciation for where I am studying abroad. I think for a lot of study abroad students, between all of the traveling and lack of deep connections with local students, their host country becomes interchangeable with any other place. Not to say that traveling often or being friends with other exchange students is bad, but I think that by making local friends and really getting to know Sydney on a deeper level, my study abroad experience has been infinitely richer. I can’t even fathom how much it would have lacked without my Australian friends – they have made this experience what it has been so far for me, and I will miss them terribly when I go back to America.


Colleen in Singapore: Settled in Singy

August 19, 2015
apartment view

View from our apartment in Little India

baby sculpture

Giant Baby Sculpture, Gardens by the Bay

Exploring Merlion Park

Exploring Merlion Park

 

public transportation

The MRT is extremely efficient and makes getting around a breeze.

First week in Singapore (Singy as we call it) is under the belt! I’m extremely impressed with Singapore. It’s safe, clean, organized, has incredible architecture, vibrant culture, friendly locals and of course, delicious food (I’ll have to do a separate post just on the food here- it’s that good.) Dare I say that I love this city more than the mouth-watering garlic naan Nicole and I feasted on the other day.

 

TIPS:

If you’re planning on buying a SIM card while you’re in Singapore, it’s probably best to do it upon arrival at the airport. I tried to go to cell stores in Singy and a lot of them were sold out. 7-11 ended up having them. You can also buy your E-Z link pass (pass for the subway) at 7-11.

I also suggest bringing an old phone to use as your Singaporean phone, that way you don’t have to keep on switching out the SIM cards on your American phone.

You can either buy a converter here or bring one- they have plenty of cheap ones here.

Bring sunblock- it’s kind of pricy here.

Don’t bring a lot of stuff! You should be able to fit everything in one suitcase + a carry on. There’s a mall on practically every corner in Singapore, so I would save your shopping for here anyways.

If your course for SMU has a prerequisite you haven’t taken, email your professor and make sure you can still take the class.

Since SMU classes meet once a week, it’s easy to make your classes on two consecutive days. This gives you ample time to travel.

I really love my apartment and where I live (Little India) but make sure you’re content with the location of your apartment. You don’t want to be too far away from the all the action. If you have any questions about good locations, feel free to ask!


Layla in Australia: Uni Life

August 18, 2015

As I’m now getting into week 4 of classes (it’s absolutely incredible how fast time is flying!), I thought now would be a great time to talk about uni life here in Sydney and how it compares to Richmond. A quick aside: the word “uni”! Australians are all about abbreviations, as seen in this video we watched at orientation at USYD. And yes, it’s USYD — I haven’t heard students use the full name of “University of Sydney,” just USYD.

Thanks to a particularly stressful junior year and the maximum number of AP credits, I’ve just about finished my major, minor, and general education requirements at Richmond. This meant I got to select any classes I thought seemed interesting (and had good class times!) to take in Australia. Like Richmond, the normal course load is four classes. My four are introductory macroeconomics, introduction to computer programming, synthetic medicinal chemistry, and a course on Australian political history and ideas of nationhood.

Every class here has two components: a lecture and either a tutorial or a practical. Lectures are held in enormous lecture halls and consist of the instructor presenting on material for either an hour twice a week or two hours once a week. At first, the size of lectures was completely overwhelming — the largest class I’ve ever had at Richmond was about 35 students. I walked into my upper level chemistry class on the first day in awe at the hall with about 100 students, and commented on it to the girl next to me. She gave me a weird look and said, “Really? This is about a quarter of the normal lecture size.” Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten more used to these large classes. It’s a lot more intimidating to ask a question in a lecture here than it is in the intimate classrooms at Richmond, but questions are not discouraged by any means. Lectures here are also recorded, so if I ever felt like I missed something in lecture, I can always go on Blackboard and re-watch the lecture.

The other parts of classes are probably more familiar to Richmond students. Tutorials (“tutes”) are once a week and essentially discussion groups with a graduate student and about 20 fellow students. The small size, mandatory attendance, and personalized attention remind me a lot of Richmond classes. Practicals (“pracs”) are the equivalent to tutes for more scientific classes like my computer science or chemistry units, and are just like labs at Richmond.

The last major difference between coursework here and in America is the number of assignments. For example, there’s only one assessment in my chemistry course — the final exam, which is worth two-thirds of the grade (“mark”). The other third of the mark comes from three labs in the practical. This means there’s little incentive to learn the material throughout the semester, compared to Richmond, where I typically have three tests during the semester in addition to the final and other assignments like homework. The responsibility for planning and learning is put directly in the hands of the students.

Getting away from academics, probably the biggest difference between uni life in Sydney and college in the States is the social life. Most students at USYD commute from home, sometimes up to three hours roundtrip, instead of living on-campus like at Richmond. This means after classes are over for the day, the campus can seem deserted. An Australian I met in my chem prac told me that his favorite parts of his exchange spent at the University of North Carolina were the school spirit and college sports, two things that are distinctly lacking in Australian universities due to the commuter atmosphere. The “Sydney University” sweatshirts embody that — they’re mostly worn by international students, not Australians.  Yes, I did get one, and I wear it proudly. No shame.

One thing that does remind me of Richmond -- this spider! I saw it painted in the middle of a busy sidewalk on campus and had to take possibly the world's most awkward selfie with it. Again, no shame.

One thing that does remind me of Richmond — this spider! I saw it painted in the middle of a busy sidewalk on campus and had to take possibly the world’s most awkward selfie with it. Again, no shame.

To integrate myself more into the campus life that does exist, I’ve joined a few societies, which are the equivalent to our clubs. I played quidditch my first two years at Richmond, so I decided to join the Quidditch Society here at USYD. This is turning out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made since coming to Sydney. Being part of a team gives you an instant group of friends (or mates as they’re called here!) and also opportunities to travel — for example, in a few weeks I’m going to the Australian capital, Canberra, for a tournament. Every week I look forward to the practices and the classic Aussie tradition of going to the pub afterwards with my mates, for a few drinks, dinner, trivia, and card games.

While university in Australia is definitely different to college in the US, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad. I’ve really enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone and adapting to a different sort of university experience. The independence here can be overwhelming – from the anonymity of lectures, the lack of incentive to study throughout the semester, to the ability to avoid interacting on campus. So far, I’ve tried avoid the common pitfalls and keep up with my studies. We’ll see how successful I am as the first assessments come due! Next week I have a five page paper for my history class due… as a chemistry major who hasn’t taken a true writing-intensive course besides French since FYS, I’m a little nervous. But challenging myself is exactly what I came to Australia for, so I think I’m up for the task.

The main building on campus, called the Quadrangle. This marks another difference to Richmond -- while some buildings on campus are just as gorgeous as the Quadrangle and any building at Richmond, the architecture is ridiculously heterogeneous. I won't disgrace your computer screens with a picture of the hideous monstrosity that is the chemistry building.

The main building on campus, called the Quadrangle. This marks another difference to Richmond — while some buildings on campus are just as gorgeous as the Quadrangle and any building at Richmond, the architecture is ridiculously heterogeneous. I won’t disgrace your computer screens with a picture of the hideous monstrosity that is the chemistry building.


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