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How IFSA Made My Abroad Experience Unforgettable

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Cultural immersion, beautiful natural sights, exotic animals (kangaroos!), and breathtaking live entertainment are just a few of the ways I can recap my experience abroad in Sydney, Australia. In addition to the amazing sights and adventures I took part in, I also made some of the closest bonds with people I will never forget. If it were not for the IFSA program, my experience abroad would simply not have been the same. We went on a variety of excursions that not only were incredibly fun but also allowed me to really integrate myself into the Australian culture. On top of everything, the staff was absolutely amazing. I became friends with one of the IFSA leaders, Fiona Pearson, who was super friendly and really went out of her way to make sure we got the most out of the experience. Here’s a summary of some of the activities we did through IFSA and unforgettable memories I have:

Blue Mountains

I’ve never been a big hiker or outdoorsy kind of a person, but this trip definitely changed my perspective on that. Coming into my abroad experience, I had envisioned Australia to be either entirely composed of beaches or entirely rocky over in the outback. I had never heard of the Blue Mountains, but they turned out to be simply stunning. We hiked around with our guide and even rode a nearly vertical train up the mountainside. Our guide demonstrated a whistle that the Aborigines people would do to communicate over the stretch of multiple miles. The unique sound echoed through the mountains. We all got a shot at trying to mimic the sound, which I wasn’t quite the best at but at least I tried! After coming across a deadly Funnel Web Spider’s web on our hike, I finally got a taste of the scary critters everyone warned me about. After that encounter I was about ready to leave, but if I had the chance, I would go back in a heartbeat.

Harbor Cruise

 I ended up actually doing a lot of Harbor Cruises considering I went twice with IFSA and a couple times through my uni (Australian lingo) as well, but the first time was definitely the best. We sailed around beautiful blue water and were surrounded by the Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and even an amusement park known as Luna Park. As we sailed, I had the chance to meet new people in the program and learned there were people there not only from all over the U.S. but also from India and England. I came to Sydney with one of my close friends, Yung Lyden, and our adventures abroad only strengthened our friendship. (There is a picture of Yung Lyden and I cruising below). It was always amazing to see the Opera House from the cruise, but it was on my bucket list to see a show there. Fortunately, Fiona took us to see a performance of Barbu at the Opera House with IFSA and I’m incredibly glad we got the chance to. The venue was beautiful, and the show was extremely exciting. Barbu was risqué to say the least. The show included high flying stunts and honestly just a lot of oddly dressed men. I had no idea what to expect when I came in, but I was impressed at the professionalism of the performers and enthusiasm from the crowd representing people from all over the world. All in all, an experience I’ll remember.

Waradah Aboriginal Educational Centre

One thing I very much noticed in Australia was that they honor and respect the Aborigines people and culture. I feel that, in America, Native Americans are often not included in the conversation. While we learn about them in elementary school, we see no other traces of their culture around the country. Australians on the other hand make an active effort to keep Aborigines culture alive. Everywhere there is an Australian flag flying, there is also an Aborigines flag accompanying it. At our formal dining events at college, the speaker would always open up with a tribute to the Aborigines people thanking them for giving us all the opportunity to hose events on their land. I had not experienced anything similar in the U.S. even once. During IFSA orientation, we visited the Waradah Aborginal Educational Centre and had the chance to see Aborigines dance and song. The dances were primarily centered around nature and involved honoring the various animals in Australia. In addition to the cultural dances, we got to paint our own boomerangs!

Country Life Weekend

Country Life Weekend was by far my favorite IFSA-sponsored event and overall one of the best weekends I had abroad. Going in, I did not know what to expect. Going to stay with a random host family on a farm in Bathurst, Australia did not necessarily sound like the most fun way I could be spending my weekend. Bathurst is not a well-known area in Australia and is not quite known as a tourist site. Coming from the busy city of Sydney to the quiet countryside of Bathurst was actually quite relaxing. I also had never stayed with a host family before, so I was a bit nervous going in. My hosts ended up being incredibly welcoming and treated us to amazing meals. I genuinely think I gained at least 10 pounds in that one weekend. We did a farm tour, bushwalking, star gazing, made our own brick oven pizzas, and even saw wild kangaroos! It was intriguing to see rural life in Australia, and I generally got the sense that these people lived relatively simpler lives yet managed to find their own fun. The community was super tight knit and seemed to have a strong emphasis on maintaining family values and culture.
All in all, my time in Sydney was incredible. The experiences I had through IFSA were not only unique but experiences I will never forget. Through my various excursions, I was able to immerse myself in an entirely new culture. I was able to see life in both the city and rural Australia. I knew absolutely nothing about Aborigines culture heading in and came out with some cool knowledge. Thanks to IFSA, I was able to experience Australia in different ways and managed to gain some insight and cool memories along the ride.
Ali Makhdoom is a student at Vanderbilt University and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia in spring 2017.