As I write this one, I’m just chillin at the barby in my budgy smuggler and singlet, taking in the footy with my mates over some cold stubbies…Okay no I’m not. That’s a total lie. I felt compelled to stuff all the Australian slang I know into one sentence and force you to search for translations on Google. I’m not sorry either.
For anyone who’s utterly confused by that intro, in my third year of undergrad, I went on exchange for a semester in Melbourne, Australia! When I wasn’t falling head over heels in love with Melbourne’s eclectic culture, I was traveling around as much as possible in hopes of becoming an expert on all things Australian.
To put it simply, Australia is a diverse, culturally rich and utterly enchanting place. I found myself trying to draw comparisons to other places I’ve been to, and now I’m of the opinion that doing this is simply an injustice to how uniquely incredible Australia really is. Even with hints of Toronto and New York in big cities like Melbourne and Sydney, and the mesmerizing parallels of their coasts to the Caribbean islands, the nuances of each individual city distinguish Australia from anything else on the map.
My first main adventure was along Melbourne’s Great Ocean Road. When you hear people talk about the endless stretch of blue water and naturally artistic terrain, you’d be crazy not to see it for yourself. I decided to see it in a rather unconventional way: driving along the coast in a van with 22 strangers and a dog, and ending the night in a teepee. Yes, a teepee. I don’t think I was ever much of a “camp-out-in-a-teepee-with-strangers” kinda guy, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Surfing (scoring a near 100% success rate at not standing up) along the Great Ocean Road and seeing the 12 Apostles live and direct left me with an even bigger thirst for adventure, so I decided to kick it up a notch. Next stop: The Great Barrier Reef. Needless to say, this was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. To fully milk all that Cairns had to offer, I mixed in a casual day of abseiling waterfalls and braving river rapids in the forest nbd (I’d repeat the “most amazing experience of my life” thing but I’m trying to cut down on the theatrics).
After Cairns, I carved out some time for the wondrous city of Sydney. A close rival to Melbourne in terms of popularity, I had a much clearer view of what I expected Sydney to be like based on world renowned attractions like Bondi Beach and the Opera House. With pure luck on my side, I made it to Sydney for Mardi Gras weekend and saw a city that had far more to offer than popular tourist spots- an effervescent culture like no other.
Now you may be wondering, was my entire exchange all about travelling and being a long-term, commitment-free tourist for 6 months? One of the highlights of my experience in Australia was being a student at the University of Melbourne. Coming from the best university in Canada, it only made sense that I went to Australia’s equivalent and let me tell you, it lived up to the hype. To kick things off, the Exchange Student Orientation basically set up the rest of my exchange by introducing me to lifelong friends who I am still regularly in touch with today. These were the people I basically did everything with, and may have never gotten the chance to meet them without a phenomenally planned ‘Welcome Program’.
Beyond that, the classes at Melbourne University blew my mind. I decided to go against the grain and take unique classes that weren’t offered in the same way, or at all, at UofT. These spanned from a study of the progression of Australian politics and culture to an in-depth analysis of the portrayal and treatment of ‘the body’ in TV and film. I had charismatic professors who showed such undeniable investment in their practice, and participated in weekly tutorials that felt like ‘think-tanks’ to unpack some of the most highly debated topics in gender and politics. Melbourne University gave me an uncensored taste of academia shaped by a totally foreign culture and I loved every minute of it.
To wrap this post up, the only negative I could take away from this experience was the genuine heartbreak that came with having to leave. In no time at all, Melbourne completely stole my heart with the promise not to keep it. Even though this juicy love affair between myself and this artsy, welcoming and harmoniously chaotic city was not meant to last, its impact on me certainly was. Every day of my life, I carry a bit of Melbourne with me and I can honestly say that I am a more mature, open-minded and overall better person because of it.
Intrigued? Curious? Want to find out how you can experience a semester or year abroad? With over 120 partner institutions in over 40 countries around the world, it’s possible to satisfy almost any student’s academic interests and travel desires. Contact the International Education Centre for more information on our exchange program and be sure to follow us on social media: Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.