Guest Post By: Vincent Ung, a Junior studying Finance and Information Systems. He is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and he studied abroad through Foster Exchange at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia, during Spring Semester 2023.
After returning from studying abroad, people often asked me “what was your favorite thing you did?”. While I typically can’t pick one and usually just say there were a lot of little things, I’ve reflected back and compiled my top three favorites here. Hopefully, this can serve as a guide if you’re thinking about studying abroad or visiting Australia as well.
- Attending a Surf Camp
Surfing is a huge part of Australian culture and experiencing the waves of beautiful Aussie beaches was amazing. I had never surfed before but attending a 3-day surf camp was an unforgettable experience and one of the best things I experienced while abroad.
I heard about the surf camp through my exchange program coordinator at the University of Sydney (USYD). The exchange program had a partnership with Surf Camp Australia where they were able to allocate spots just for USYD exchange students at a discounted price—so I signed up.
The surf camp was at Seven Mile Beach (about a 2-hour drive from the university) and all transportation, housing, food, and equipment were provided. Since the camp was in a somewhat remote area, there was no cell service at the camp, and I believe this was one of the best aspects of it. It allowed everyone to disconnect for a few days and spend time just getting to know others. It allowed me to meet exchange students from around the world and from neighboring universities in Sydney as well. By the end of the camp, I was able to not only somewhat surf, but also met many amazing people I still keep in touch with. I felt like I got to experience Australia away from the city center and would recommend it to anyone visiting.
- Trying New Cafes and Gelato Shops
During the time of my exchange program, the currency exchange rate was at a record high as $1 USD converted to about $1.50 AUD. As items in Australia are priced at about the same as the US (such as coffee being about $5 AUD), it felt like I was getting a 33% discount everywhere I went. This afforded me the opportunity to try many local cafes and dessert shops.
Similar to Seattle, coffee culture is huge and one unique fact is that there’s no one dominant coffee chain in Australia (like Starbucks in the US). Many Australian prefer going to their local coffee shops or getting whatever is most convenient, so streets are lined with different local cafes. Australians also love flat whites unlike the syrups-based coffee drinks that we’re familiar with here in the US, so some cafes don’t offer any types of syrups at all. Through living in Australia for the first few weeks, I quickly became obsessed with flat whites. There was something special about Australian coffee that made me not even want the syrups anymore because that way I got to really taste the coffee. With the exchange rate, coffees were only about $3 USD which is unheard of in the US, and this allowed me to try many different cafes.
Another thing I loved was Australia’s selection of gelato shops. I feel like this is something that’s not widely talk about, but there were so many shops everywhere I went and many of them had unique flavors. One of the most famous and my favorite was a shop called Messina. It was the best gelato I’ve ever had as the favors were so unique. My favorite was a flavor called ‘Macadamia Crunch’ and near the end of my exchange I went about 2-3 times a week because I knew I wouldn’t be able to find it in the US. I would highly recommend it if you’re in Australia.
- Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef was by far one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in my life. It was like experiencing Nemo in real life. I did a guided snorkeling tour, and this allowed me to go beyond the designated snorkeling area to see even more unique creatures. I would highly recommend this because it allowed the guide to point out things I otherwise might not have noticed and allowed me to better understand what I was seeing. Afterwards, I still had plenty of free time to explore on my own in the designated areas and it was so fascinating to see a whole different world in the sea.
The reef is in Cairns (about a 3-hour flight from Sydney) so it does require some planning, but it is well worth it. There was also a lot to do in Cairns besides the Reef, such as walking through the city and exploring the nearby rainforests with many scenic trails and hikes. In my opinion it is certainly a MUST DO if you’re in Australia.