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Annie Echols '21 with a kangaroo at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in Tasmania.

‘Upside Down in the Down Under’ Annie Echols '21 explores some surprising similarities between Sydney and Lexington while in Australia for the Internship and Study Semester in Asia Pacific program.

I will be forever grateful to W&L, the Williams School, and Global Academic Ventures for this unbelievable opportunity.

~Annie Echols ’21

Taronga-Zoo-view-of-the-entire-Sydney-Harbour-scaled-400x600 'Upside Down in the Down Under'View of the Sydney Harbour from the Taronga Zoo (Annie Echols ’21)

When I first arrived in Sydney, I felt like I was experiencing a real-life opposite day. It was 90 degrees in January, everyone drove on the “wrong” side of the road, and I was surrounded by towering buildings. I couldn’t have been farther from Lexington, or so I thought. While the hustle and bustle of Sydney is quite different from sleepy Lexington, I’ve found some surprising similarities in the past seven weeks.

I’ve become a regular at the local equivalent of Pronto, a corner coffee shop called Fork & Grind, that makes the perfect chai latte. I stop there every day on my way to class for a coffee and breakfast sandwich, sometimes even going back for lunch. They have a great outside area where local university students can be found studying, which really gives it the small-town feel I found myself craving.

Another striking likeness is the academic scene. I was pleasantly surprised when I entered my first class to find that there were only 10 students enrolled in the course. Being in such a small class that required a Washington and Lee level of participation made me feel right at home. Much like my professors at W&L, my instructors here make a point to get to know us personally and learn about our interests outside of class. One exception is that the academic personnel here insist that we refer to them by their first name, rather than a professor. A tremendous benefit of the small class sizes and genuinely caring instructors is the flexibility I have been awarded. My instructors allowed me to tweak my class schedules so that I could travel as much as possible. Some of the highlights have been bungee jumping in New Zealand, surfing in Byron Bay, and driving on the opposite side of the road in Tasmania!

Perhaps the most welcomed bonus is our central location. My classmates and I live in a neighborhood called Pyrmont, which is close to popular Darling Harbour. I never could have imagined that Sydney would feel as small and walkable as Lexington, but it’s been very easy to navigate. We’re a 15-minute walk to class, a 20-minute walk to the Central Business District (CBD), and a 30-minute walk to Circular Quay, where the iconic Opera House is located. We’re also a 45-minute bus or ferry ride from some of the most beautiful beaches in the world; tubing down the Maury River back home in Lexington doesn’t quite compare.

Byron-Bay-scaled-400x600 'Upside Down in the Down Under'Sam Smiley ’21, Annie Echols ’21 and Foster Friedman ’21 (Byron Bay, Australia)

Having never lived in a city, I was worried that I wouldn’t see enough nature, especially because of how close W&L is to the Blue Ridge Mountains. While Australia’s Blue Mountains are nearby, the Royal Botanical Gardens have given me a necessary dose of greenery, and an incredible view of the Sydney Harbour. The international Sydney Airport is also about 45 minutes away by car or train, and has given us access to some of the most amazing natural beauty in just a two-hour plane ride! The views from the summit of Tasmania’s kunanyi (Mount Wellington) or Skyline Queenstown in New Zealand make House Mountain look like a hill.

Before I left for Australia, my family and friends expressed concerns about the uncontrolled wildfires, some even asked me if I still wanted to go. The air quality was hazardous, communities were destroyed, and massive wildlife populations were being wiped out by the day. While this may seem like a game-changer to some, I believe this devastating situation made my time here much more meaningful. I witnessed an entire country unite in a time of great crisis. The hotel where we’re staying offered free housing to those affected, Serena Williams donated the money from her first win in three years to relief efforts, and I saw many social media posts offering free water and places to stay. I got to see the best of Sydney in a time of unfathomable tragedy.

As I sit and reminisce about my time here, I’m in serious disbelief that we only have a week left. While the friendships I’ve made and the things I’ve seen and experienced have made it feel like a lifetime, I’m certain I could spend an eternity here and it would be impossible for me to delve into everything this wondrous country offers. I will be forever grateful to W&L, the Williams School, and Global Academic Ventures for this unbelievable opportunity. I’m anxiously anticipating my time in Cairns for spring break followed by Singapore where I’ll be interning; however, there is no doubt that I will feel nostalgic for this “opposite city.”