March, 2010

G’day from Sydney, Australia

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

G’day mates! Well, it has been over almost two months since I arrived here in Sydney on the 7th of February 2010, and what an amazing adventure I continue to experience. But first things first, an informal introduction about myself before delving into the juicy details that involve the “abroad” aspect of my “study abroad”/exchange. My name is Ray Phua, and I am a senior at the Foster School of Business concentrating in Finance. A year ago, I applied through the Global Business Center to do a semester exchange abroad. And kazaam! – A year later, I am sitting at University of Sydney’s own Fisher Library writing this blog post.

Because USyd is on a semester schedule, classes began here on March 1, 2010. Fortunately for me, winter quarter at UW does not end until mid-March, meaning I had from mid-December until mid-February when USyd Orientation started to do WHATEVER I WANTED. What a great feeling. So, for five weeks starting on December 29, 2009, I had the opportunity to travel all over Europe. I hit the major cities, such as London, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Cologne, Gerolstein (where you can see Gerolstein Mineral Water in US grocery stores), Rome, Venice, and Paris – to name a few. But those are for another post.

Ray with Aussies and International Friends at Chinese New Years Parade

Ray with Aussies and International Friends at Chinese New Years Parade

Let’s talk Sydney. There is an explosion of culture here. Within the first month of being here, there were many huge parades, such as the Chinese New Year Lunar Festival Parade, and the Mardi Gras Parade. Thousands of people lined the streets, cheering on floats, costumes, and much more. High energy, period. I live near the main city, “downtown” if you will, but here, it’s called Sydney CBD (or Central Business District). It is very common for local Australians to commute to class from the main city or even from suburbs over an hour away, especially since USyd can only accommodate a small percentage of its student body on-campus. These are through the Sydney University Village, and “Colleges” which are a combination of dorms/the Greek system in the USA. However, admission is competitive for these options, and I have lived off-campus in Seattle for a while. So naturally, I found an apartment off-campus. APARTMENT HUNTING for many, including myself, was stressful. Some found it easy. Nevertheless, during orientation, we had a show of hands of students who had not found housing yet, with school to start in two weeks. Over 50% were “homeless” and still in temporary accommodation. It took me about a week, but I absolutely love my accommodation. Let’s just say that I have not seen a cockroach or spider in my house or room yet, which is rare here from what I’ve heard. Cockroaches are everywhere. Like squirrels in trashbins at UW. Don’t expect to have a single-room, studio apartment unless you are here for 6-months, since a lot of agencies require a minimum of 6 months lease. The better option is to share a room or have your room in a shared flat with several bedrooms.

Other perks about Sydney so far: the beaches! I live a 5-minute walk away from the bus that takes me directly to Bondi Beach, Bronte Beach, and Coogee Beach.

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach

AMAZING place to study. Who can complain about being on a beach in February? The warm-sun, the smell of saltwater, and the cooling breeze. Just be sure to wear plenty of 30+ SPF sunscreen, since there is a hole in the Ozone here, meaning you can get an intense sunburn REALLY FAST. Also, the accent and the colloquial terms are entertaining. Quick lesson from what I’ve heard: tucker (pronounced “tuckah”) = food, heaps = lots, cheers = thank you, stoked = very pleased, and goon = BOXED WINE, equivalent to Franzia, heh.  Australians basically avoid too many syllables, so they like to shorten words and names. The public transportation here, different from the opinions of Australians who I met while traveling in Europe, is actually well organized. I can get anywhere via bus, ferry, or underground train. Exchange students also get a “travel concession”, meaning we get roughly 50% off all travel fares which is awesome. Another great getaway that is in the city? The Royal Botannical Gardens — a

Ray & the Sydney Opera House

Ray & the Sydney Opera House

huge area full of trees, animals, flowers, and BATS. HUNDREDS, if not THOUSANDS, of BATS. It is fun to go there during the day when all of the bats are upside down sleeping or making heaps of strange noises. Then, around 6 pm in the evening, you can see hundreds of them flying across the city to another park. I asked some locals why this is, and part of it has to do with the different fruits/food at different locations. Or maybe Batman lives at the other park?

The nightlife here is always bustling. Unlike Seattle, bars do not close at 2 AM. New South Wales law dictates that for some bars, if not all bars, there are “lock-out periods”, during which no one is allowed entry into a bar between the hours of 2 AM and 5 AM. You can leave, but you cannot get back in. Nevertheless, the action on a typical weekend will last until 4 AM or later. Fun times.

All in all, Sydney is an amazing city with plenty of activities to do. It is the ideal place for anyone to break out of their shell, to meet plenty of local Aussies and international students, and to do crazy adventures. In fact, next week is a week-long Easter holiday. Starting tomorrow night, a local Aussie I met in my German class (aka Amelia), and German tutor/instructor, and I will be driving from Sydney to Melbourne along the Southeastern coast! I am so excited!

So, next post, I hope to share with you all the amazing sights from Sydney to Melbourne, as well as talk more about Syndey Uni in specific, since it is quite different from Foster. Until then…


Sydney Harbour

Sydney Harbour

Welcome to Manchester!

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Packing, London 182Hi all- My name is Maggie, and I’m in my third year at UW.  I’m studying Finance and participating in the CISB program while minoring in French.  So far I’ve spent 2 months here in Manchester and have no complaints—I’ve met great people, taken some amazing trips, and am in classes I enjoy.  There are about 85 other students in the business exchange program here from all over the world and the international society did a great job of having group activities arranged for us so that we could meet everyone.   It’s also nice that there are several other people from the program in every one of my classes, making it seem a lot smaller than it actually is (U of Manchester is roughly the same size as UW).

One of the hardest things about being outside of the States, for me, has been the lack of American sports.  I’m a huge fan of basketball and American football, so not having any games available to watch has been quite a tough pill to swallow.  A group of us did manage to find an Australian bar that was showing the Superbowl, however, the commentary was by Brits…Amsterdam, Cardiff, Liverpool 118 Just not the same.   We’ve also gotten student tickets to both a Man City and Man U game, and I was front row for Man City.  We were probably 10 rows from the top at Man  U, but it was still an awesome experience.  One of the other students has been a Liverpool fan since he was a kid so he got a few of us Liverpool tickets last Monday and it was one of the best sporting atmospheres I’ve ever experienced.  And most importantly, I’ve managed to find streaming video of the NCAA tournament so I can watch our Dawgs roll into the Sweet 16!  This past weekend in Prague I met up with 2 friends from back at the UW, and we watched the Huskies beat New Mexico together—it almost felt like home!

So far my main trips have been to Amsterdam and Prague, but this is the last week before Easter break and we get a 3-week long vacation before heading back to start studying for exams.  I’m traveling with my roommate who is from Western Ontario’s business school and we’re going to be hitting Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy and Greece for our break.  Sounds like an adventure and I can hardly wait the 36 more hours until we are free of school and on the road!


Monday, March 15th, 2010

In every country there is a learning curve, and this post will attempt to explain my experience with Chile’s learning curve thus far.

At this moment, I am sitting in a computer lab on campus, enjoying the internet for the first time since my last blog post.  As I write this, I am constantly hitting wrong keys and putting accidental accent marks of various sorts on letters, as this key board is very different than what I am used to.  I am still making a few mistakes here and there, but as I type more, I find that it is becoming easier and easier to avoid those wrong keys.  However I am not completely free from typos yet, as it takes more than just a day to erase years of practiced hand-placement on a keyboard.

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

One thing I have found problematic here is finding my way around new parts of the city.  It is not the public transportation’s fault–if nothing else, the metro has been an absolute lifesaver.  The problem, I believe, lies in the Chileans’ ability (or lack thereof) to give good directions.  Those who do know how to point me in the right direction tend to give poor explanations, such as “it is on that corner,” said while waving in a vague direction, meaning my destination could lie at any one of six different “corners.”  Thanks.

And then there are those who don’t know the answer to my queries for directions.  However, as I have learned, it is cultural to just give an answer, albeit absolutely false, instead of admiting that you don’t know your way around your own city.  This has lead me down many an incorrect road.  I realized today, after having to ask 5 different people how to get to a certain building downtown, that there must be a way to tell who actually knows where they are sending me and who is just being “polite.”  My mission: figure out the difference; the small variations in intonation between those who know what they are saying and those who do not.  I am sure I will still be given lots of incorrect information as I continue to navigate the city, but with experience, it should become easier to find my way flawlessly across this unfamilliar city, this strange keyboard.

The literature class I am taking here gives assigned readings every week, and to get the readings one must go to a little photocopy shop on campus where all the classes’ readings can be purchased.  Last week I bought the readings for my lit class, intending to complete them this weekend.  Yesterday, I opened up the readings only to find that they were about Greek cultural history.  Quick check against the syllabus: suspicions confirmed.  The photocopy center had given me the wrong thing.  So today, despite not having any classes, I trekked my way down to campus to pick up the correct readings.  I had to wait in line for an hour just to get to the front of the line.  When I finally got my readings, I checked to make sure they were the real thing as I walked away.  Wrong again.  Turning around, I fought my way to the front to inform the guy behind the counter of the mistake.  Long story short, I had to wait another half hour just for him to correct the mistake.

Lesson?  Always check to make sure your photocopies are correct on the spot. One fewer typo to make as I go about my business every day here in Santiago.

I could go on and on with examples of how I have been slowly learning how things operate here in Chile, but they all tend to have the same moral at the end of the story.  Learning how to live in another culture takes time.  Now that I have been here going on three weeks, I have at least gotten to the point where I understand that the learning curve exists, and although I have learned a lot in the last few weeks, I have a long way to go.  I still find myself getting frustrated by Chileans’ horrible directions, as well as their overall lack of promptness and efficiency, but I have learned enough now to feel confident in my ability to figure out the rest.  But like typing on this godforsaken keyboard, I know it will take lots of practice before I am typo free here in Chile.

Living la Vida Loca

Monday, March 8th, 2010

I know it’s a lame title, but I couldn’t possibly keep a blog in Latin America without using it at least once.

After a weekend of searching, I am pleased to say that I have found a place to live!  It is located in Providencia, the area of town that was far and away my first choice.  The apartment is close to a metro station, and lots of nightlife.  The apartment itself is pretty nice–OK by U.S. standards, but way better than some of the other apartments I’ve seen here.  My room has access to an outdoor terrace where I can watch people walk by down below and get some semi-fresh air.  I will post pictures one I get a chance to move in, which will probably be tomorrow.

In the meantime, here is a brief update on my activities so far:

Barrio Bella Vista. AKA, where the action's at.

Barrio Bella Vista. AKA, where the action's at.

A few nights ago I went out to experience Chilean nightlife at its best–in the neighborhood called Bella Vista.  Bella Vista is probably one of, if not the hub of activity here in Santiago.  To give you an idea, it is a neighborhood that consists solely of brightly-painted bars, discotecas and restaurants. Every weekend it is absolutely packed with people and interesting things to do. I went with a couple exchange friends, where we promptly met a large group of other Americans from Notre Dame (woot woot!) who are also here as exchange students.  We all decided to navigate the craziness together, finally settling upon a discoteca in which to enter.  To give you an idea of how Chilean nightlife works, our group of about ten people went into this club, and in doing so probably doubled the number of people inside.  That was at 2am.  The clubs here don’t even get busy until 3am or later.  Quite a different schedule than I’m used to all the way around, but I’m not complaining.

Since then, I have spent approximately 8 hours walking around Santiago looking at various apartments, following leads, etc.  Today was the lucky day, as this morning we finally found the right place.  And the best part?  It’s 5 minutes away from Bella Vista.

Today was the first day of classes for the PUC.  I didn’t have any classes today, but tomorrow the locura really begins (as if it hadn’t already).  I found choosing classes to take quite the challenge.  There’s no shortage of interesting classes, the only problem is that I’ve already taken the equivalent for most of them.  The classes I have left to take are either not offered here, or are classes that I don’t want to attempt due to their intensly quantative nature.  (Taking classes in a different language is a challenge, taking math and science classes in a different language torture.) After hours spent studying the course catelog, I think I have finally settled upon a few classes to take.  I am nervous, as I still feel that people here speak lightning fast and with lots of vocab I’m not familliar with.  But I guess that’s all part of the experience, eh?

Luckily this week is only three days long–two for me, since I didn’t have class today.  The reason is because a new president is assuming office on Thursday, so everyone here just decided to take Thursday and Friday off.  No complaints here.  I don’t think I could have chosen a more interesting time to be in Chile if I tried. Go figure…for once, I feel like I’m exactly in the center of the action, all the way around.