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By Zachary Brumback

While searching for a study abroad program, there are so many universities to choose from. Since I had always dreamed of visiting Australia, I was able to narrow the long list of potential universities. After researching various universities in Australia, I decided to apply to the University of Sydney (USYD). USYD was the first university to establish the study of politics and international relations in Australia and continues to be a world-leading institution in political science. Since I am a political science major, I believed that the university had the best curriculum and overall environment to help me achieve my study abroad goals.

Courses like International Organisations, Emotions and Public Policy, Media Politics and Political Communication, along with Youth and Digital Culture were perfect fits for my interests and complemented my academic growth. By taking these classes, I was able to stay on track with my political science curriculum and had the opportunity to learn about politics from a different cultural perspective. Studying abroad at USYD was an excellent, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore career options, hone my academic and professional skill set, and embrace the vibrant culture of Sydney. During the semester, I was able learn more about politics in Australia and the rest of the world through classes, while simultaneously developing long-lasting relationships with a peer-network that shared my passion. In addition, I had the opportunity to travel and explore the East Coast of Australia.

If you are unsure where you should study abroad, I highly recommend that you choose a region and then begin researching the various universities that best suit your personal and academic interests. Once you have selected a university, it is time to decide where you are going to live. Will you live on campus or off campus? In a dorm or an apartment? If you decide to study in Australia, I strongly encourage you to reside in an academic residential college.

If you are interested in learning more about living in a “college,” make sure to read my final blog entry regarding my time and unique experiences at St. Paul’s College. Till next time.

By Zachary Brumback

With less than a month left in Australia, my friends and I decided to attend the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. From October 18th-November 4th, the scenic beach walk between Bondi to Tamarama Beach serves as the largest free sculpture gallery in the world. With 100 sculptures on display, there is a piece for everyone to enjoy. If you end up studying abroad in Sydney, this event is a must “sea.” With that said, I recommend that you do not make the same mistake that I did and go on the last day.


On the following day, a friend and I travelled by bus, train, and ferry to reach the Hornby Lighthouse. Instead of getting off the bus at the nearest bus stop, a fellow passenger recommended that my friend and I walk along the scenic cliff walk. As a result, we exited the bus where she suggested. Little did we know that we were 2.5 miles away from our destination. As we neared our destination, we were completely caught off guard when there was an Australian Department of Defence base blocking our walking path. Since the base did not appear on Google Maps or SnapMap we had to ask a military officer at the gate for directions. Luckily, we just had to turn on another side road. Along the way, we ended up walking past a nude beach. As you can see our journey to an ordinary lighthouse was full of surprises.


Later that evening I attended a play performed by students residing at St. Paul’s College and the Women’s College at USYD. The play was titled The Bold, The Young, and The Murdered. In order to provide you with an overview of the performance, I have included the play’s summary. “The long-running soap opera The Bold and the Young is in its last days: its hunky hero has self-esteem issues, its villainous old man is more interested in soup, and its heroines are slightly psychopathic. The executive producer gives the squabbling cast an ultimatum: Complete one episode overnight or the show dies. But when the director ends up murdered, and other cast members start dropping like flies, it seems like his threat might actually come true. Can these misfits discover the murderer before the show is literally killed off?”


Since many of the performers are friends of mine, I was on the edge of my seat. Would one of my friends be murdered next or was one of them the killer? The production had the entire audience guessing who the culprit was until the final minute of the production. I never saw the ending coming; three actors conspired together and killed their cast members to advance their careers. Ironically, three of my friends were the murderers. If the three decide to pursue a career in acting, they will not have to “kill” anyone to succeed.

During STUVAC, a week-long break to “study” for exams, I decided to go with a friend of mine from Australia to the 360 Bar and Dining. The restaurant is located in the Sydney Tower Eye and is elevated a thousand feet above Sydney. While dining, the restaurant slowly revolves and provides customers with a 360-degree view of the city. On a clear day, individuals can see up to 60 miles away. Due to the spectacular view of the city, I highly recommend this to anyone studying abroad or just visiting Sydney.

By Zachary Brumback

With the semester coming to an end, I have successfully completed two of my four classes. Unlike my experience with classes at GW, USYD offers several classes consisting of only written assessments. As a result, I only have two exams this semester- International Organisations and Media Politics and Political Communication. Here at USYD, all students receive a week off from school to study for their upcoming finals. This break is known as STUVAC, which is an acronym for “Study Vacation.” My first final, International Organisations, is this coming Friday. My last final, Media Politics and Political Communication, is on Thursday, November 22nd.

As I prepare for my two finals, I thought it was most appropriate to blog about how Australia’s grading scale differs from the United States. Unlike the A-F scale, Australia uses HD-F. A High Distinction (HD) is a “mark” between an 85-100. A Distinction is a 75-84. A Credit is a 65-74, and a Pass is a 50-64. Although it seems that receiving a High Distinction would be fairly easy to obtain, I can confirm that it is not. For instance a HD converts to an A+ at GW. With that said a Distinction converts to an A, a Credit to a B, and a Pass to a C.

After turning in my first assignment, I was discouraged when I did not receive a HD. According to the Government Department at USYD, a student will only receive a 90 or higher if their assessment is deemed publishable in an academic journal. Therefore, a student is doing well if they receive Credits or Distinctions (a 65-84) on their assignments. Speaking from experience, it takes a while to get used to the “harsh” grading system.  So far I have only received three HDs on my assignments.

Also, when registering for classes in Australia it is important to remember that the number of credit hours differ from GW. Currently, I am taking 24 Australian Credits. When transfering my credits back to GW, this will count as 16 credit hours. In addition, it is important to remember that during your time abroad you are on a Pass/Fail grading scale. Therefore, students must receive a 50 or higher in all of their classes to receive credit. Also, prior to studying abroad and registering for classes, students should obtain course approvals from GW using the CATS system.

Since students are on a Pass/Fail scale, the grades received abroad do not factor into your GPA at GW. Due to this, I decided not to take electives while abroad. Instead, I registered for classes that are required for my degree that I deemed to be the hardest. As a result, I was under less pressure and could enjoy other elements of studying abroad. However, due to the academic rigor, I was unable to check-off everything on my Australian bucket list.  Although I was unable to check-off everything, I have had a wonderful time in Australia and have had a number of unforgettable adventures. Speaking of adventures, my next blog will consist of my most recent journeys around Sydney.

With an exam in less than four days I have to get back to studying. Till next time.

By Zachary Brumback

On Tuesday I traveled to the Bankstown Art Centre and attended the Bankstown Poetry Slam (BPS). When I arrived at the art center, I was amazed by the number of attendees who were already waiting outside the auditorium. I quickly made my way to the end of the queue and waited patiently for the doors to open. Upon entering the auditorium, I presented my ticket and made my way to one of the remaining seats. As I was waiting for the event to begin, I could feel the excitement resonating throughout the room.

With the dimming of the auditorium’s lights, the co-founder and host, Sara Mansour, took to the stage and welcomed everyone to the poetry slam. However, she was also the bearer of bad news. Due to the performances by two “world-class poets” (Joelle Taylor and Bill Moran), there was only room for fifteen other attendees to perform. As a result, five individuals were unable to perform their pieces. Following this announcement, Mansour reminded the audience that there was a three-minute time limit for each performance and that the selected performers would be judged on a scale ranging from “1-10” by five random members of the audience. As a result, five judges were randomly selected and given whiteboards and expo markers. With that said, Mansour introduced the first performer and exited the stage.

With the auditorium filled with over three hundred attendees, I was immediately impressed by each performer’s ability to recite their poetry with such poise. Their topics ranged from love to anger, happiness to sadness, and freedom to oppression. Many performers used their poetry to convey their personal political beliefs towards a number of ongoing issues. As a spectator, I was mesmerized by how the performers seemed to take on a new identity to complement their words and express their emotions.
Following their performance, the poets received a round of applause and were later scored by the five selected judges. According to Mansour, both the highest and lowest scores were omitted to prevent any bias. As a result, a facilitator from BPS averaged the three middle scores of each performer. After the poetry slam concluded, Mansour announced the first, second, and third place winners of the night’s slam. However, due to a tie, two individuals received second place. Also, the winner of the slam was granted the opportunity to perform in BPS’s Grand Slam later in the year and compete against other slam winners.

Whether one was a performer or just a member of the audience, each member in attendance was engaged in the experience and ultimately received support from each other that they can share with others. Although one may have only been a spectator, they were still able to learn from the event’s performers, reflect on their own experiences, and thus apply their newly acquired understanding and perspective to their poetry and life.

During the second half of the event, BPS hosted two “world-class poets” that presented a wide selection of their work. Through their performances, attendees were able to watch experienced performers and learn from them. In addition to hosting a variety of “world-class poets,” BPS hosts “Flip the Script” on the night before each monthly poetry slam, which serves as a form of mentorship to individuals under the age of twenty-six. Therefore, individuals have the opportunity to receive feedback from a mentor and can improve their piece before performing it the next night.
By attending the poetry slam, I was able to experience a real-life example of a participatory culture in the local community. By performing and expressing their emotions through poetry, individuals are under the impression that their message can resonate with their audience and may potentially help others going through difficult times. Following their performances, these individuals received instant gratification and felt a sense of belonging. Due to its welcoming environment, I was fortunate to engage in this unique event.

By Zachary Brumback

Day 7: After waking up at 5 a.m., our tour group took the ferry back to the mainland and boarded our tour bus. Following our two-hour drive, our group arrived at the Tully River. There, went white water rafting in groups of six and enjoyed a wonderful day in a tropical rainforest. Although forty-eight hours had passed since my injury, I was still super cautious and tried to keep my stitches dry. Luckily, I was only one of two individuals who did not fall out of the raft. After we reached the bottom of the river, our group boarded the tour bus for the last time. After another two-hour drive, we arrived in Cairns (our final destination), unloaded the bus, arrived at our rooms, and headed to dinner. Following dinner, we had an early night.

Day 8: Today, I made multiple leaps of faith. At 7 a.m., I boarded a bus with a number of individuals to go skydiving. Following an hour drive, we arrived at the airport and met our tandem instructors. The instructors suited each individual with a harness and together we later made our way to the plane. When boarding, I was the last individual on the plane. Therefore, I unknowingly volunteered to be the first group to jump. While we were ascending, a clock was counting down till it was “showtime.” Although I fully understood that I was about to jump out of a plane at 15,000 feet, I was surprised at how calm I was. When the clock hit zero, I quickly made my way to the door of the plane and before I knew it, I was freefalling towards the earth.

For most individuals, they probably would not push their luck a second time, especially in less than four hours. Following my skydive and trip back to the resort, our tour group headed to go bungee jumping in a tropical rainforest. Since I had just gone skydiving, I thought bungee jumping would be a breeze. However, I was greatly mistaken. After making my way up to the platform and looking down, I began to grow nervous. My anxiety kicked in when I waddled to the edge of the platform and received a countdown. Although I was nervous, I made another leap of faith and did not regret it.

Day 9: After jumping out of a plane and off of an elevated platform, it was time to jump into the Coral Sea and go scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef. Before it was my group’s turn to go scuba diving, we spent an hour snorkeling. Once we returned to the boat, my group and I received our gear and suited up. Before jumping in, I had always wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef up close. However, after I jumped in and began seeing the bubbles exiting my respirator, I panicked and returned to the surface. My instructor immediately came to the surface, and I told him that I did not think I could do it. He reassured me that I would be alright and informed me that one or more people in each group tend to panic, initially. Once I had calmed down, my instructor and I re-joined the group and began our descent to the seafloor. While I was at the bottom of the ocean, I saw a number of clownfish (Nemo), a turtle, a blue starfish, a shark, and various other breathtaking species. Once again, I stepped out of my comfort zone and I did not regret it.

Day 10: Following multiple action-packed days, it was time to catch up on our sleep and then explore Cairns on our own. At 1 p.m., our tour group boarded a double-decker party bus and headed to the Crystal Cascades. Once we had arrived at the rainforest, our group walked along a number of waterfalls in search of a location to go swimming in the fresh water. Once we had found our spot, we spent the afternoon swimming, sunbathing, and jumping off waterfalls. Following our time there, we boarded the party bus and headed to a group dinner followed by a farewell party.

Day 11: With our trip concluding, I packed my bags and checked out of my accommodation. Before heading to the airport, a few of my new friends and I enjoyed a lovely breakfast, together. After breakfast, we parted ways. Once I had arrived at the airport, with my two friends from USYD, we learned that our flight back to Sydney was delayed. Luckily, Qantas only delayed the flight by an hour.

Now that Mid-semester Break has concluded, I have less than two months left of my study abroad. As I begin to enter the second stretch of the semester, my remaining assessments range from 30-50% of my final grade. Spring Break is over, and it is time to hit the books.

By Zachary Brumback

It seems like yesterday I was arriving in Sydney, Australia; however, I have already completed half of my time abroad. With the temperature warming up, two of my friends and I decided to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. Since we wanted to explore Australia further, we decided to tour the East Coast for “Mid-semester Break.”

Day 1: Following our last class before break, my friends and I flew to Brisbane where we would meet our tour group the next day. Upon arrival, my friends and I explored Brisbane and stayed in an exquisite Airbnb with an infinity pool on the 92nd floor. Both the apartment and pool had fantastic views of the city.

Day 2: After a lovely stay in Brisbane, my friends and I traveled to the Roma Street Bus Station and met the other exchange students who were on our trip. With our bags stowed beneath the bus, our tour group headed to Noosa Beach where we received surf lessons from the locals. Let’s just say surfing is much more difficult than it looks. After several attempts, I was able to ride a wave and made my way to the shore. The thrill of finally succeeding at surfing is something that I will never be able to forget. Following our surf lessons, we headed to lunch and later traveled to our accommodation for the night.

Day 3: The next day, our tour group boarded modified 4wd buses and headed to Fraser Island. To get to the island, we had to take a thirty-minute ferry ride. When we arrived at Fraser Island, the buses drove along the beaches and dunes where we spotted two Dingos in their natural habitat. After an hour drive on the beach, we headed further off-road to Lake Makenzie. There, my newly acquired friends and I enjoyed swimming in the pristine crystal-clear water. Later, we boarded our tour bus and traveled twelve hours overnight to Airlie Beach.

Day 4: After our twelve-hour bus ride, the group boarded two speedboats that traveled at 60 km/h towards White Haven Beach. While on the boat, we observed the spectacular scenery of the Whitsunday Islands. Once we arrived at Whitsunday Island, we took pictures with the “Most Instagrammed Tree” in the world. And yes, I have already posted a photo of me with the tree on Instagram. We then hiked to various lookouts along the island, sailed to White Haven Beach, and went snorkeling. During our last stop, I had a little accident. I lost my footing and hit my chin on the metal railing of the boat. I busted my chin open and ended up in an immediate care center. The wound required two stitches. Although I may have ended up injuring myself, I had a blast with my new friends and exploring the Whitsunday Islands.

Day 5: A day after my injury, we headed back to the Wharf and boarded a private yacht. Due to my injury, I was instructed not to get my stitches wet for the next forty-eight hours. As a result, I remained on the ship while others jumped off and went swimming. Although I was unable to participate, I had a fantastic time sunbathing on the yacht. Also, I could not pass up the opportunity to represent my fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, on Spring Break. Following our stay in Airlie Beach, we boarded our tour bus and headed north to Townsville. After our four-hour bus ride, we grabbed our luggage, headed to a ferry, and traveled to Magnetic Island where we would be spending the next two nights.

Day 6: Throughout our trip, every hour was planned for us. However, this was the day where we could do whatever we pleased. As a result, a group of my friends and I rented a 4wd jeep and explored the island. Our first stop was the Fort Walk. On our walk, we saw Koalas sleeping in their natural habitat, World War II Bunkers, and the rest of the island from its tallest peak. Following our descent, my friends and I made our way to a local beachfront restaurant famous for their fish and chips. The food was impeccable. Once we had finished our lunch, we headed to the historic shipwreck that is just off the coast of Magnetic Island. During low tide, one is able to walk through shallow water to the shipwreck. During our walk, my friends and I discovered two starfish and a sand dollar. After exploring the wreck, we got back in our rental jeep and explored secluded beaches. Most notably, my friends and I ended our day by watching the sunset from West Point Beach.

Since my Mid-semester Break is only halfway over, I will summarize the second portion of my trip in my next blog post. Fingers crossed that I do not end up further injuring myself. Till next time.

By Zachary Brumback

After a few days of adapting to the new time zone, my newly acquired friends and I decided to begin exploring Australia. Before we could begin to travel long distances, we had to learn how to use Sydney’s public transportation system. As a student familiar with DC’s Metro, this was not a difficult task. Although the system resembled DC’s Metro, the fares are significantly cheaper and include bus, train, and ferry rides. If you are an exchange student in Australia, you are eligible to receive a concession Opal card that reduces the cost of travel in half. Also, the max anyone pays to travel on Sundays is $2 AUD. Therefore, it is economical to travel long distances and explore all that Australia has to offer every Sunday.

First on our Sunday travel list was the Blue Mountains National Park: home to scenic walking trails, waterfalls, exotic wildlife, and the “Three Sisters.” When Sunday arrived, the other exchange students and I made our way to the nearest train station. After arriving at our designated platform, we boarded the train towards the Blue Mountains and embarked on a two-hour scenic train ride. Once we arrived at Katoomba Station, we enjoyed a nice lunch at Subway and then strolled through the small town of Katoomba. Upon our arrival to the Blue Mountains, we were exposed to the breathtaking views of the blue-hazed valleys. Our trip consisted of hiking 16 kilometers (10 miles), taking hundreds of photos, and climbing approximately 20,000 steps. As the sun began to set, we quickly made our way back to Katoomba Station and embarked on our two-hour journey home. I could not believe that the trip there and back only cost $1.50 USD.

On the following Sunday, a few of the other exchange students and I took the bus to Coogee Beach. Since it is winter here, it is way too cold to wear a “Budgy Smuggler” (bathing suit) or swim in the ocean. As a result, my friends and I decided to walk to Bondi Beach via “Sydney’s Best Coastal Walk.” Along the walking path, are breathtaking views of Sydney’s beaches, bays, and cliffs. The walk takes approximately an hour and a half. Make sure to bring some friends, your camera, and sunscreen.

This past Sunday, my friends and I traveled to the Taronga Zoo. Our journey began as we caught a bus and headed to the end of the M30 transit line. While riding the bus, my friends asked if I had already purchased a ticket for the zoo. Prior to this moment, I was under the impression that our admission was free. I somehow managed to forget that unlike the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, most zoo’s charge for admittance. Once we arrived at our stop, we quickly made it to the zoo’s entrance and presented our tickets. As a student attending a local university, I was able to purchase a “Concession Ticket” and saved $10 AUD. At the zoo, I was able to see a multitude of species up close, while also being granted the opportunity to pet an anaconda and attend a choreographed bird show. In addition to the remarkable species, the Taronga Zoo offers a beautiful view of the Sydney Harbor. After a fun and eventful day, my friends and I took the “Sky Safari” (cable car) to reach the zoo’s exit and followed the signs to the ferry station. As you can see from the picture, the ferry ride provides a fantastic scenic view of the city.

By Zachary Brumback

On Saturday, July 14th, I would embark on a journey of a lifetime to Sydney, Australia,...

or so I thought. Before arriving at the airport, my plane to Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas (DFW), was

delayed by half an hour. At that time, I shrugged off the delayed notification and headed to the

airport. Upon arriving, I discovered that my flight had once again been delayed. After I learned

that, I began to question whether or not my four-hour layover at DFW would suffice. As I

patiently and nervously waited in the airport, my flight to Texas continued to be delayed due to

“mechanical problems.” However, American Airlines assured me that I would make my

connection at DFW. After the seventh delay, it was evident that I would not be able to make my

connection. Since I did not want to be stranded at DFW, American Airlines re-booked me for the

next day’s flight. As a result, I headed home and notified the university that my arrival would be

delayed by a day.

...continue reading "Expect the Unexpected"

By mariekevanhaaren

While Australia has beautiful beaches and interesting animals, they are not necessarily known for their cuisine. However, there are a few foods I tried while down under that seem to be classic Australian. My personal favorite was Tim Tams, a chocolate-coated biscuit that comes in many flavors: traditional chocolate, caramel, mint, white chocolate, etc. One unique way to eat them is by doing a “Tim Tam Slam”, which is biting off opposite corners of the cookie and sipping tea through the inner cream part.

Another very common food is vegemite! Most people outside of Australia hate it, as it’s a very strong, salty spread that you don’t want to eat very much of. I personally grew to like it; spreading a thin layer on toast with butter tastes really good!

Anzac cookies, also popular in Australia, originated in WWI when rations were scarce and biscuits had to be made from just golden syrup and oats. Now they include more typical cookie ingredients, like flour and sugar and butter, but these cookies still taste delicious!

A final Australian food that is fairly mediocre but definitely widespread: the meat pie! These are usually sold at footy or rugby games, similar to how Americans eat their hotdogs at baseball games. They are basically a small, single serve pie with a beef filling, and Aussies usually eat them with ketchup.

...continue reading "Aussie Food"

By mariekevanhaaren

When it’s raining in Melbourne (which seems to happen more than you’d expect), there are several great museums to visit and escape from the weather! My three favorites are the Melbourne Museum, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, and Old Melbourne Gaol.

The Melbourne Museum is located near the Royal Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens, just a few blocks east of University of Melbourne’s campus. It has several different permanent and rotating exhibits. One permanent exhibit that I like is about the state of Victoria’s aboriginal people; it has artwork and other cultural artifacts, and it has a lot of history about these first Bunjilaka peoples. The best part about the Melbourne Museum is that it’s free for students – so you can go as many times as you want without paying!

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image, or ACMI, is in Federation Square in the CBD, easily accessible by trams or walking. This museum is free for the permanent exhibits, while the rotating features require a ticket. I really liked the permanent exhibit, as it contains all kinds of digital culture pieces mostly pertaining to Australia. There are pieces on video games from the 70’s to now, Australian movies and Australian actors, and other innovative technology. It’s an interactive museum, so you can play games, watch films and touch items.

...continue reading "Museums in Melbourne"