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Sydney Internship and Study Abroad Program: Robyn Cleary ’18

“What time is it…..wait, no, what day is it….and where the heck are we?” My experience with the first two weeks of the Sydney Internship and Study Abroad Program (SISAP) can be summed up in those three short questions. As my first two weeks abroad come to a close and I begin to settle down into Sydney student life, I am thankful for the opportunity to pause and reflect on the many adventures that have occurred these past two weeks.

My adventures in Australia officially began after surviving twenty-two and half hours in the air, and arriving to the Gilligan’s Hostel in Cairns, Australia. Cairns is an amazing tropical town – often referred to as the Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef – located in North Queensland. It was here that the eight Washington and Lee Students participating in the SISAP met up for orientation with the Global Academic Ventures (GAV) Team. While some of us would have preferred to go to bed straight away, to combat jet lag, the GAV team insisted we stay awake and suggested we explore Cairns.

Over the next few days, the eight of us got to go on a variety of unbelievable adventures. While the trip out to the Great Barrier Reef was choppy to say the least, the views of the Australian coastline and mountains were indescribable. “It looks like a scene out of Jurassic Park,” said Amanda Whalen ‘18. Once we arrived to our first of three scenic locations in the Great Barrier Reef, three W&L students – Caroline Holliday ‘18, Sam Taylor ‘18, and John Bozeman ‘18 – took the opportunity to scuba dive, while others, myself included, chose to snorkel. Our group saw all sorts of animals, from sea turtles to blacktip reef sharks, and my personal favorite – many species of parrot fish. The next day, we set out on another adventure to hike and swim in waterfalls in the Daintree Rainforest. As someone who is terrified of heights, the bumpy, curvy mountain road that our tour guide drove to our first site was nerve-wracking. That said, the drive was well worth it, as the views of the rainforest and the surrounding mountains were again indescribable. On noticing how high up into the mountains we were, Charlotte Braverman ’18 aptly remarked, “We’re literally driving in a cloud.” One of the highlights of this adventure, besides enjoying the beauty of the many waterfalls, was when we saw a platypus swimming in the wild.

Day four in Australia began our adventures in Sydney. While many of us were tired of traveling and lugging around suitcases, we were all very excited to check into our permanent accommodations. Set up apartment style, our apartments are super centralized, allowing for a ten-minute walk to the University of Sydney, a fifteen-minute walk to the mall – which includes many grocery stores, chemists, and a food court, and a twelve-minute walk to the train station. That same evening, we had dinner at Darling Harbor – where Josh Malm ‘18 took the opportunity to try Kangaroo for the first time – before traveling into downtown Sydney to experience the Mardi Gras parade. In Sydney, Mardi Gras hosts one of the largest LGBT pride parades in the world. I had an awesome time enjoying the many floats, and celebrating pride with the hundreds of thousands of people in attendance. On Day five, we took a tour of The Rocks – the most historic district in Sydney and where the first European settlers lived in Australia – as well as a tour of the University of Sydney.

As it is Australia’s oldest university, hosts the largest library in the Southern Hemisphere, and is called home by roughly 53,000 students, the University of Sydney in some ways shares many similarities with Washington and Lee, and in other ways is vastly different. The Monday of my first day of classes served as an overall humbling experience. I got lost for forty-five minutes simply trying to find where to pick up my student ID, but eventually through the help of some kind students, I made it to the International Student Lounge, where I was relieved to look around and see many other confused faces. While many students may complain about the lack of anonymity found on W&L’s campus, I already miss being able to recognize and chat with everyone on my way to class.

The University of Sydney structures their courses very differently from W&L – with students attending lectures with hundreds of students in large theatre style classrooms, and then attending tutorials, workshops, or laboratories with smaller groups of students lead by a tutor. During the first week of the term, no tutorials, workshops, or laboratories were hosted, so I can only provide my perspective on how lectures are run. In my Art History, Econometrics, and Cross-Cultural Management courses, a professor or guest lecturer would stand and speak for up to two hours on a specific topic. There was not much dialogue between students and lecturers, except for a few questions at the end. This is because more questions are answered in tutorials, workshops, or laboratories or online through blackboard question forums. This is a much different format from the lectures at W&L, in which most professors will often stop for questions and instigate open dialogues with students. Additionally, in my experience at W&L, the majority of professors set many assignments throughout the term which collectively are of equal weight to or outweigh the final exam’s grade. Based on my assigned syllabi and discussions with other SISAP W&L students, the University of Sydney places much more weight on final exam grades and expects students to undertake a lot more unsupervised and independent work. Both structures have their advantages and disadvantages, but it is a difference so significant, I thought it best to point out.

A unique aspect of the Sydney study abroad program not only allows students to find and experience Winter Internships in the US or elsewhere, but also to intern with Australian companies in Sydney. This past week, I officially started working with Stone and Chalk – a relatively new Sydney based non-profit fintech (financial services technology) hub that assists nearly one-hundred independent fintech startups to commercialize and scale up. I will be working with the Events Manager to assist with the logistical and administrative duties that arise from hosting a wide variety of events from Pitch Fests to Master Classes and everything in between. With only thirteen full-time employees, Stone and Chalk is a new and growing startup itself. I’m excited to be able to not only compare working in Australia versus working in the US, but also working for a smaller and rapidly developing company versus a larger and more well-developed company.

While I could write so much more about our experiences in Australia already, including our trip the Blue Mountains – specifically to see the Three Sisters – and riding the steepest passenger railway in the world (backwards and in the dark!), as well as our meet-up dinner with Professor Irani in Newtown, there will be many more blogs to come. I would love to talk about my experiences with anyone who is interested in studying abroad in Australia, and would highly recommend the trip to all accounting majors! If you would like to learn more about our adventures in real time, be sure to check out our facebook group, SISAP@W&L.

-Robyn Cleary ’18