Tuesday, 5 March 2013

New places, new faces - my first weeks in Down Under

Hey there, how's it going folks?

I've been in Australia for exactly two weeks now and I just can't believe how time flies!

In the meantime, I have found a new home, made friends with people from all over the world, experienced the Australian university spirit during Orientation Week, had my first lectures and so much more - but one thing at a time...

The spartan hostel life of sharing a room with 5 other people was soon forgotten when I finally moved in with Roberta and her daughter Raphi in Newtown. Having a room of my own, being able to enjoy some privacy away from nonstop conversations and skyping without anyone interrupting seemed like pure luxury... On the other hand, in a family home with pets, there's always someone there waiting for you when you get back from an exhausting day. And that's probably the first thing I will miss when I get back home to Germany. Stella is such an adorable dog - even if she's lazy or naughty sometimes - and honestly, I will miss the cat on my lap at the breakfast table.

Roberta and Raphi also made it very easy for me to settle in. Whether it be conversations about uni, the surroundings or even the neighbours or just having dinner together - my new place to stay started to feel like home within the first couple of days! The bus stop to university and to downtown Sydney is just a 2 minute walk from the front door, there are plenty of parks in the area that just wait to be explored with Stella and the variety of little shops, stores and restaurants on King Street is incredible! Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Turkish and African restaurants, a Chocolate Bar (note the playing with words!), self-made fashion and jewellery, convenience stores, a crêperie - you name it! Newtown really seems like a small universe of its own, overshadowed by cosmopolitan Sydney. It is just a 20-minute bus ride to the city from here and just 10 minutes to "Sydney Uni" (the local abbreviation for "The University of Sydney" as opposed to "UTS" ["University of Technology Sydney"] or "UNSW" ["University of New South Wales"]).

The Quadrangle, View of the University's Main Entrance

The Quad Lawns

Panoramic View of the Main Entrance Gate

Castle, School of Wizardry or University?

Busy day on campus - Sydney Uni has about 50,000 students!

Victoria Park near Sydney Uni

If you take a closer look at this educational institution, you might find that it resembles a certain (fictional) school of wizardry. But besides the fact that you can play Quidditch at Sydney Uni, there's not too much magic about being taught here, of which more later.

The week before lectures start is traditionally called "O-week" - "Orientation week", basically just like in Germany. At a second glance, however, one must conclude that nothing but the term bears a certain coincidental analogy. O-week at Sydney Uni is like a huge fair - dozens of student societies and clubs tout for the first year students' attention. Well supplied with free drinks, giveaways, brochures and a smile on my face, I joined various clubs, societies and groups such as the Linguistics Society, the French Society, the German Club, the Scandinavian Society, the Atheist Society (paying tribute to the many Christian societies that have their prim and proper ways of talking you into something), the Unimates Group (gathering both International and Domestic Students in one club) and the Photography Society that offers free workshops, teaching you how to take the best pictures. Oh and trust me - in Sydney, you want everything that says "free" on the invitation!

"Morning Tea" - French croissants, pastries, juice and sparkling wine for free! =)

Parallely, the Faculties held so-called "Welcome Events" in which they welcomed a particular group to Sydney Uni (International students, Postgraduate students, Arts & Social Sciences students and so forth). They urged us not to forget about our social life, the life outside the classroom even though our primary purpose was certainly to pursue an academic career here. I think many of us - including me - had a different thought in mind: "How am I going to motivate myself to actually study with all this awesome weather, the tempting beaches and the many things that I could do instead of going to class?" But when it came to our first lectures, that thought vanished into thin air in the fraction of a second.

The requirements and standards for passing a course are very high and I have no idea how on earth I am going to get through this. Four classes per week sounds doable. However, different from the classes in Germany, a weekly time of 6-8 hours per unit is expected and considered normal. Each class has at least two assignments whose volume can range from a simple 500 word summary that accounts for 5% of your grade to a 5,000 word analysis that may represent your entire grade! Different from papers in Germany, these assignments are not completed during semester break but have to be handed in at least 4 weeks prior to the end of the semester. I guess that makes 20,000 words worth of writing in 4 months - and we haven't even got around to the content of the lectures! Speaking of content... each seminar or lecture requires at least one book and/or reader that students need to purchase. And since the required material is usually the most recent available, students pay $300 easily. For books, per semester and additionally to the horrendous tuition fees. Luckily, I have already met plenty of classmates - or should I say fellows in misery - that will most probably encounter the same problems as me. Roughly 85% of my classmates are of Asian origin (mostly Chinese) and less than 1% is actually Australian. I guess this will be a very international year then. The people I am sitting next to in class, however, come from Saudi Arabia, France and the USA.

My timetable contains the following lectures: "Register and Genre in English", "Functional Grammar", "Media Discourse" and "World Englishes", the first two being core (i.e. compulsory) units, the others being elective units from a pool of units to choose from. 

My timetable

And if it hadn't been for some serious misplanning in the allocation of lecture times (that caused clashes between lectures for nearly everyone!), I would actually have been able to take subjects that interest me. NB: just because you pay thousands of dollars doesn't mean you actually get to do something you're interested in! And that's where Sydney Uni went from magic to muggle world again.

A glimmer of light (quite literally!) was our visit to the Mardi Gras Parade, an annual parade organised by the LGBT community of Sydney and surrounding areas. The whole city was turned upside down as brightly dressed participants of the parade went past the cheering crowd - I've never seen anything as colourful, glittery, flamboyant and positively odd in my life. As we couldn't see much from our spot in the crowds, we went towards a large screen to at least catch a glimpse of what was happening - but take a look yourself (sorry for the bad quality - as I said, it was on a big screen):

So much for now - the next lecture is waiting for me tomorrow.
I hope all is well - wherever you may be - and stay tuned!


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