Saturday, June 11, 2011


As study abroad students, the faculty at the University of Sydney encouraged us to promote studying abroad to the Australian students. Since it is near the end of the semester, the Australian students that opted to study abroad are making preparations to depart for their destinations. The international student office sent out an email the study abroad and exchange students to ask for help at an Aussie pre-departure question and answer session. We would have the opportunity to talk to the Australian students and answer their questions about our home country and University. None of the Australian students are confirmed to attend UCI in the fall (bummer!), but there are students heading to UCLA, UCB, UCSB, UCSD, UCSC, and UCD. Almost every UC!! I was surprised that there weren’t any volunteers to speak to the Australian students from any of the UC host institutions. The study abroad coordinators sent me an email asking if I would come to answer general questions about the UC system and California even though nobody will be going to UCI. I was thrilled and excited because I love helping other students. I feel that it is the least I can do, considering that every Australian I have come into contact with has been so genuinely helpful when I have had questions!

After afternoon tea, the study abroad volunteers and prospective Australian study abroad students were directed to specific rooms for each country. Most of the countries were assigned to small classrooms; however, all of the students that are going to the US were sent to a large lecture theater! There are Aussies heading to Universities all over the US. I had a group of about 10 students that will being heading to different UC’s. It was so fun answering their questions about transportation, accommodation, the quarter system, and places to try and visit in California. It is definitely a mind-opening experience to answer questions about the everyday aspects of my life in America, considering that I think of these aspects as the “norm.” It was really fun to discuss attending a UC with people who have never been to the United States; their faces reflected their interest and their wonderment about the differences I find between Sydney Uni and attending UCI.

In retrospect, I know that I was exactly the same way when I would talk about Australia before I came. All of the information that seems normal or obvious to a native is a gold mine of useful tips about a different culture to the person that is about to go see for themselves. One of the students actually thought that I was an Australian returnee, and asked how I had such a prominent American accent after I returned from just one semester abroad in the States! I replied, “I am American!” Everybody kind of laughed, and then said that they had figured. However, I thought that it was an honor to be considered an Australian peer. I do not think I will ever get used to the fact that people think I have an accent. I do not think that I have an accent, I am just American; YOU have an accent, you are Australian. However, the opinion is reciprocal.

Overall, the question and answer session was a success. The hour flew by so fast! I had a lot of fun meeting Aussies that are looking forward to experiencing studying abroad in the US. My study abroad experience in their home country has been so rewarding. I wish them the best of luck in their academic endeavors and hope that they will have an enjoyable and truly fulfilling experience in the US.

Now, my goal is to recruit an Aussie to come to UCI…

Study Vacation and Marking Conversions

In the land of Aussie institutions they have the most marvelous invention…It is called a study vacation, or “STU VAC” for short. Basically, it is a week after the last week of classes that enables students to study before exams commence. Why in the world doesn’t UCI have a student vacation? I think that the concept is brilliant, and it allows the students that have more than one exam to spend time to thoroughly prepare. Exams take place over a two week period, and the schedule and seating charts are released on the Uni website in May.

However, the fact that I just had my last week of classes is amazing to me! I clearly remember my first week. Where has the time gone? Week 13 has come and gone and now it is time to study full force for my Legal Profession exam (which is worth 100% of my final mark for the course…). I really enjoyed all of my classes and I actually miss attending them. Three out of my four courses do not have a final exam during the exam period; instead, I had in-class tests and papers due to account for my final mark. It is quite nice only having to prepare for one exam! Especially because my exam is about the Australian legal profession, which is completely different than the US legal system.

In regards to grading at the University of Sydney, they have a different grading scale than UC. First of all, grades are called “marks.” Secondly, the University marks are out of a 100 point scale, but they do not use letter grades such as A, B, C, etc. Sydney Uni marks are in categories including High Distinction (HD), Distinction (D), Credit (CR), Pass (P), and Fail (F). For the University of Sydney, the conversion to UC grades is generally as follows…

***The first number is the points/percentage from Sydney Uni
Next, is the Australia mark
Last, is the UC grade

>85 = HD = A+
80-84 = D = A
75-79 = D = A-
70-74 = CR = B+
65-69 = CR = B
60-64 = P = B-
55-59 = P = C+
50-54 = P = C
45-49 = F = C-
40-44 = F = D
<40 = F = F

So do not fret if you receive a 75! That is an A- at UC! It is often difficult to receive a HD. A majority of the class receives a CR. I have used this chart throughout the semester to convert my marks to the UC grades that will appear on my transcript.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

VIVID Sydney: "A Festival of Lights, Music, and Ideas"

For two weeks, Sydney is hosting the third annual VIVID Sydney light festival at Circular Quay and around The Rocks. The VIVID festival consists of over 40 light installations that attract thousands of families, street performers, and people with tripods to capture and experience the magnificent energy and lights that illuminate Sydney starting at 6 p.m. VIVID Sydney is the largest festival of light in the southern hemisphere and its goal is to promote creativity, celebrate ingenuity and innovation, and most of all, to inspire! Some of the installations are interactive such as “painting” the side of the Museum of Contemporary Art or clapping to make “firefly” lights in the trees light up.
However, one of the main attractions is watching the sails of the Opera House light up with projections that fit perfectly over the structure. Some of the projections are very geometric and conjured up thoughts within me of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album art.

The VIVID festival was so much fun to walk around that I went two nights to try and see everything. The first night I went, there was a street performer that managed to swallow a whole balloon (the long kind that are used to make balloon animals)! Let’s just say, that he did not manage to take it out again even after the crowd asked him to…

Even the Aboriginals that play the didgeridoo and dance at Circular Quay participated in the festival by having neon lights project on their performances.
My personal favorite aspect of the festival was watching the light show that was projected onto the Customs House. It was simply captivating, and I could not take my eyes off of the show! The Customs House projections reminded me of “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland around Christmas-time, when there are moving projections and music that cover the building. The projections did different special effects that looked like the Customs House was filling up with water or sand or that the whole building was inhaling and exhaling by rocking back and forth. I am amazed at the time and endless calculations that the creators must have spent making the projections align perfectly with the ends of the building and every column, step, and even the clock that is part of the building’s architecture!
In front of the Customs House was an ice sculpture polar bear that was left all day and night to represent the melting of glaciers and global warming. The polar bear demonstration was provided by WWF. The first time I saw the polar bear it looked like a polar bear. The second time I saw the sculpture, after only two days, the face had completely melted to show a skeleton that was underneath.
I am so happy that I was able to experience the VIVID Sydney festival. The best part was the atmosphere and seeing the famous buildings and structures that I have become accustomed to in a whole new light…literally! It was also an added bonus that the festival is FREE; all you have to do is walk around Circular Quay and The Rocks and let your mind and imagination absorb the positive energy!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Ultimate IMAX Experience

Here is a fun fact: Sydney is home to the largest IMAX screen in the world! On a rainy day, a movie is always a nice way to get out of the house and do something fun, yet stay dry while you are in the theater. In the handy Sydney City Guide I picked up at the airport, there was a voucher for 20% off a showing at the IMAX Theater in Darling Harbour. Because there is only one screen, there are a limited number of showings per day and only a few movies available to watch. When I went, there were two options for the day: Hubble 3-D and Born To Be Wild. I decided on Born To Be Wild, which features elephants and orangutans and is narrated by none other than Morgan Freeman. I went to the IMAX Theater at 10:00 am and the next showing of Born To Be Wild was not until 2:15 pm! However, I was excited about being able to experience the largest IMAX screen in the world and to see the adorable elephants and orangutans in 3-D.
Of course, to see a movie in an Australia theater is quite expensive compared to the movie prices in the US. An IMAX 3-D movie is even more pricey! However, I had the 20% off voucher and they gave me a student discount after showing my ID card! I ended up paying $13.60, but that is much better than the standard price of $19.50. The movie itself was only 50 minutes long. However, full length features are even more expensive: an adult ticket costs $28.50.

One little random fact about me is that I have a little obsession with elephants. They represent wisdom, they bring good luck, and they are so cute! I was actually gifted a sponsorship of an orphaned elephant in Nairobi, Kenya by my boyfriend and his family. The sponsorship is done through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. With a one-time donation of $50 you can foster an orphaned elephant of your choice and receive monthly updates about the elephant’s progress and rehabilitation in order to successfully transition back into the wild. You also receive a wonderful watercolor painted by Angela Sheldrick each month. You can find more information about the program here. It is a very worthy cause!
To my pleasant surprise, the elephants that were featured in the Born To Be Wild movie were from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust! I was so excited, I could barely contain myself. I was able to watch what the program does and see the elephants that I am helping with my sponsorship! It is truly amazing and touching how these majestic creatures form close bonds with the keepers and the other orphaned elephants. The orangutan program was also very heartwarming and fun to watch. However, I favor the elephants…
The movie was fantastic, I did not want it to end! I had a wonderful time and the 3-D experience was better than any 3-D movie I have ever watched! The IMAX Theater in Darling Harbour is worth a visit. Also, if you are an elephant, orangutan or animal lover, go to see Born To Be Wild! Plus, you have to admit that Morgan Freeman has the best narrating voice ever...

Check out the trailer for Born To Be Wild:

Thai! Thai! Thai!

One of the most common foods that you will find around Sydney is Thai noodles and curries. I had never experienced Thai food before I came to Sydney and now I have become addicted! I crave Thai food all the time! It is the perfect blend of noodles, vegetables, and chicken or beef (rice too, if you order curry). There are many different places you can go to get Thai and the prices range from $5-15 AUD. On Glebe Point Road there is a place that is open only for dinner; they have noodles and curry options and everything is $5! The name of it is simple and to the point: “Thai $5.” It is definitely not a fancy place, but sometimes the “whole in the wall” places are the best! Also, in Newtown, many Thai restaurants have $6.50 lunch specials. If you want to sit down and enjoy a nice Thai meal in a fancier restaurant, the prices can range from $10-$15. However, I would rather have the $5 Thai, when it tastes exactly the same for half or a third of the price! Many of Thai places offer eat-in or take away. Overall, I definitely recommend experiencing the Thai noodles and curries that Sydney has to offer. You may discover a new favorite dish!

Monday, May 23, 2011

“Sweet Dreams are Made of Teas” – @ T2

When you are in Sydney you definitely need to take a stroll through the Queen Victoria Building! (It is called QVB for short.) QVB is a huge shopping mall that has a vast variety of shops, boutiques, and restaurants. You could compare it to your favorite shopping mall combined with South Coast Plaza, because it has some of the really expensive shops as well. You can browse the store directory here.
One day as I was walking through, I came across a little shop called T2. It was very busy and it had a wonderful aroma as you walk by which caught my attention. It is a tea shop that features every possible kind of tea that you could imagine! From white, green, and black teas to herbal, organic, and honeybush flavors, you are bound to find a tea just right for you. In the shop, there are little cups spread out on the tables that are full of the herbs labeled with the type of tea they make. When you look into the cups you will find flowers, herbs, dried fruit, and leaves. Trying to smell all of the different teas is like trying to find a perfume you like. T2 also has samples! They have samples of both hot teas and cold teas; I opted to try the Strawberries and Cream iced tea. It was absolutely delightful!
T2 also has a large selection of teapots and cups that you can purchase. Some of them are very intricate and they are totally adorable! Just looking at them makes you want to start a teapot collection (at least it gave me that urge). I have noticed that since I have been in Sydney I have grown quite fond of tea. After all, the International Student Orientation hosted a morning tea!

All in all, I highly recommend a visit to the QVB. If you go, make sure to take some time to smell the teas that are available at T2!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle at a Whole New Level!

Since I have been in Australia, I have noticed that Australians live a much more conservative lifestyle, conservative in respect to energy use and waste management. For example, when you use the toilet, you do not just simply flush, instead you have two options, to half flush or fully flush (you can probably guess which is used for what).
Furthermore, when I was looking for the laundry machine, I only found a washer, no dryer. When I asked my Australian flatmate about drying clothes, he said that you hang them to dry. I asked if there were dryers and he said, “Dryers are such a waste of energy and they ruin your clothes.” He seemed so shocked that I would even ask such a question. Who needs a dryer anyway? Instead, in the backyard is a rotating hanger that looks like a canopy without the fabric for shade. However, I did find out that the Darlington House next to the terraced houses where I live has dryers. Nevertheless, there are only two in the whole building and they are not on every floor. Laundry is expensive, each washing and drying cycle costs $2.00.
When you go to restaurants in Sydney they will ask “Eat in or take away?” If you opt for take away, you won’t be given your food in a Styrofoam box, instead, they give you microwave safe plastic containers that resemble Glad-ware. You can wash them and re-use them if you have leftovers or if you make lunch and take it to school. Very environmentally friendly and convenient!
Also, public transport is common and used regularly by individuals from every walk of life: from students to the elderly, businessmen and women on their way to work, or mom’s and kids on their way home from the grocery store. Public transportation does not have a negative stigma and it is employed by everyone and is very easy to use! You can take a train or a bus to pretty much any destination!

Additionally, plastic bags are almost obsolete. Many people regularly bring their canvas shopping bags and many stores charge 5 to 20 cents per bag to reduce waste! I have also noticed that there is not a recycling place where you can take your cans and bottles to get your CRV back, at least not in Sydney. Instead, people recycle and separate their cans and bottles and put them in the designated bin, just for the sake of recycling. They do not need a motivational mechanism to recycle; instead, it is just an inherent and automatic civic duty. There are bins throughout the city that are designated for trash, bottles, and cans.
Overall, I am impressed by the environmental awareness that I have witnessed while I have been living in Sydney. Maybe the US should consider utilizing some of the environmentally friendly strategies that Australia employs!