Canberra: The Australian Capital

G’day, everyone. My name is Grant, and I’m a junior finance major studying abroad at Australian National University in Canberra, the capital of Australia. I’ll be writing this strictly with future BBA abroad students in mind, and since I know I won’t be able to cover everything in this blog, if you have any further questions, feel free to ask them in the comments.

I should begin by explaining the on-campus dorm life here. It’s much different than in the US, in that people apply to the “colleges” (dorms) here instead of the university itself. If a student is accepted to the dorm of his/her choice, they are simultaneously enrolled at the university (but you don’t have to worry about this process as an exchange student). They’ll live with anywhere from 250-500 students, where meals are catered for an hour at each mealtime and tons of activities are planned for everyone there. During orientation week, for eight full days, everyone is introduced to each other through a multitude of activities. I’ll highlight a few of the biggest ones:

1. Toga Party. This was actually put on by a neighboring dorm but was open to everyone at the university. They sold over 2,500 tickets, and at a school with 8,000 undergrads, that’s a pretty good number. It’s held annually, and everyone here highly recommended buying a ticket for it, so my fellow McCombs exchange student (Miles) and I attended.

Miles and I

2. Beach Trip. Everyone at the dorm had the option of buying a ticket to take a bus out to Bateman’s Bay, about a 2-3 hour drive from campus. There were about 50-60 of us there and we spent the day in the ocean, on the beach, and eating barbecue. It was a really fun time and a great opportunity to meet a lot of kids in the dorm.

View from the beach at Bateman’s Bay

3. Recovery Day. On the Sunday before classes began, the dorm held a huge breakfast in our courtyard with bacon, eggs, pancakes, and fruit, with the intent for us to relax and recover from all the activities that had been going on for the past few days. They also had a few other low-key things going on, and also randomly brought in a mechanical bull for some of us to ride.

As for the school part of my abroad experience: the class system here is a bit different than in the US. You spend the same amount of time on campus but not as much in lectures. A typical class will have one two-hour lecture during the week at a time you cannot choose, with a 1-hour tutorial (where you’re in a group of about 20 with a TA) at a time you can choose. Lectures are not mandatory to attend, because they are recorded online, but students are still strongly encouraged to go. Tutorials, however, are taken very seriously and do require your attendance. Since I’ve only been in classes for a couple weeks now, I don’t have much of an opinion on this system, but it seems to work out pretty well once you’re used to it.

Last weekend, Miles and I both had our birthdays so we figured we’d travel up to Sydney for the weekend with some other exchange students from around the world. If you study abroad at all in Australia, you’ll have to visit Sydney at some point, just because of all of the cool tourist spots. Travelling there was incredibly easy- there is a bus station just a short walk from campus with Greyhound and Murray’s buses (we took Murray’s, I’d recommend them) running to and from Sydney. We arrived early Friday at our hostel in King’s Cross. By the way, when you travel in Australia, hostels are by far the best way to go in terms of accommodation, assuming you’re not travelling with your family- then a hotel might be better (see http://www.hostelworld.com for ratings). King’s Cross is known to have great nightlife, and is also the city’s “red light district.” It was interesting to say the least. Once we took a couple trains and a bus (public transportation is pretty cheap), we spent most of the day at Bondi Beach (pronounced bond-eye), the beach that most people actually from Sydney don’t like because of all the tourists… Regardless, it was a gorgeous beach and we all had a great time there. We finished the day off at a few of the local bars at King’s Cross, which was also a lot of fun.

Bondi Beach

On Saturday, we basically did the exact same thing as Friday, except we took a ferry across the Sydney Harbour and went to Manly Beach for the day, the more-preferred choice of the locals. We got an awesome view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House from the ferry, and the beach was awesome once again. The weather was great out there, and apparently in Sydney the beaches are a year-round attraction, so we might be up there once it gets cold down in Canberra. (Sidenote- you can rent surfboards at either Manly or Bondi beaches for $15/hr or $25 for 2 hours. Pretty good deal, I’m hoping if I go back the waves will be big enough to give that a shot.) After we’d been in the sun a while, we ate at a pub near Manly Beach and took an evening ferry back across the harbour, which provided a great view, but was a bit marred by clouds.

The Sydney Opera House from our ferry

Sunday, we closed out our weekend with an actual trip to the Sydney Opera House and the surrounding botanical gardens. We took plenty of those tourist pictures and enjoyed the architectural masterpiece as well as the well-kept botanical gardens. If you’re ever in Sydney, I would highly recommend hitting all of those spots we hit (King’s Cross being optional). It was an amazing weekend!

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