Since I returned from Australia everyone keeps asking ‘So what’s university like in Australia? Is it really different?’ and to tell the truth, no. It is, on the whole, very similar to studying in the UK. However, the more I thought about it, the more subtle differences came to mind. The biggest difference between the UK and Australia is that in the UK the majority of people live away from home in university owned halls of residence or private rented accommodation, it is only the minority who study from home. In Australia this is reversed. Almost everyone I met lived at home and commuted into uni. This meant that there were fewer accommodation options offered by the university themselves, with private student accommodation the equivalent of halls. This difference was most noticeable in my accommodation itself. I chose to live in Urbanest, a privately owned student accommodation located a 7 minute walk away from uni. The building was filled to the brim with international and exchange students – it seemed that every other person I met was English! In my whole four months of living in Urbanest, I only met two Aussies who actually lived in the building. This wasn’t something I expected when I moved to Australia, so it was a slight disappointment to learn that I wouldn’t be living with any cool Aussies! However, this just meant that we had to make more of an effort talking to the local students in tutorials which made them much more interesting.
Another difference I noticed was in the way degrees work. Most of the students take double degrees, and they have a major and a minor, a difference I still haven’t got my head around! A further difference with the Australian degrees is that, unless they choose to do an extra year, the Australian students don’t come out with Honours degrees. Before I went to Adelaide I didn’t really understand what the ‘Hons’ part of my degree meant, I certainly didn’t realise that it means an English ‘BA Hons’ is technically better than an Australian ‘BA’. A more subtle difference is in the teaching style of the lecturers. Although English lecturers and tutors are by no means strict, the Australians were especially chilled. It seemed you could get an extension on your essay for anything (one person I know got an extension simply because he was an exchange student) and lots of the Aussie students handed in essays late with only very small, if any, repercussions at all! The university itself was quite different to Southampton. Although the University of Southampton could be said to have a certain.. charm, the University of Adelaide is beautiful. It helps that even in the height of winter (and in Adelaide it does get cold I promise you!) the skies (largely) remain blue, and in summer sitting on the Barr Smith lawns is glorious.
More generally, life in Australia is quite different to the UK. The main difference I noticed is the general cost of living over there. The only way I can describe the price of grocery shopping is like permanently shopping in Waitrose when you’re in the equivalent of a Morrisons. Fruit and vegetables are so expensive compared to the UK, and prices vary almost daily. After a while you get used to it, and it makes sense when considering the size of Australia as a country, how far away from anything it is, and the generous national minimum wage of almost $18 an hour. Although very easy to live there, there are some home comforts my British friends and I missed while living in Australia, the biggest of which was squash.. as in the stuff you add to water to make it tasty. If you are a squash drinker like I am, I thoroughly recommend bringing some of those highly concentrated, small bottles of squash with you, I promise you will be the most popular person in your accommodation! We also missed proper chocolate. Although Cadbury’s does exist in Australia (in fact they have some special Australian products such as Cherry Ripe bars… weird!), they have to use a special milk product so the chocolate doesn’t melt as easily which makes the chocolate taste not as good. Mars and Nestle products are better but nothing matches the taste of proper English Cadbury and Galaxy bars! We also missed the most useful website in the world, Amazon! How Australia get by without it I have no idea but there was many a time when I went to order something I suddenly thought I needed, only to realise amazon was not available to me.
One big thing I feel I should mention is the weather. Before I landed in Australia I was aware that it was winter for them, but I just thought it wouldn’t actually be cold, it just felt cold to them since they were so used to the 40+ degree weather in Summer. I was beyond wrong. Southern Australia gets COLD! It didn’t help that we were living in Adelaide’s coldest winter in 50 years, experiencing a storm that wiped out the whole of the South Australian State power for hours. Another odd thing was the irregularity of the weather. In September and October, the weather would vary greatly from day to day, one day it would be over 30 degrees and the next it would be 12! During these warm days we made sure to make the most of the weather, going on hikes, to the beach and studying on the terrace. Although it did eventually make it to the constantly beautiful weather I expected, it took until mid November to get there which was the biggest surprise of my whole trip.
Hope this prepares you for any differences you may encounter in Australia!