Australia: The 411
The Down Low on Down Under
Lately I've been getting several people asking me what exactly I've been doing the last five months and how exactly I've been doing it. I realize this blog post is probably long overdue, and I apologize.
As many of you already know, I am living in Sydney, Australia and have been here for roughly five months now (wow time flies!). I am here on a student exchange program through the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington. I previously studied abroad in Italy, which fired my urge to travel and inspired me to take an even bigger leap: an exchange program. Essentially, I "transferred" schools for a semester. I attended the University of Sydney, where I took business classes equivalent to those offered at UW, which will then transfer to my transcript back home. The program is completely independent in the sense that I came here alone, without the guide of a UW staff member. I just finished my finals and I am now enjoying the insanely lovely Australian summer before returning back home to Seattle for Christmas.
It's been an unreal experience that my boyfriend, Cj, came with me. Because the program is so independent, Cj and I treated it as the chance for the two of us to move to Australia for six months while he worked and I studied. It's been a huge step for the both of us since, not only is it the first time either of us would move out from our parents and live completely on our own, but it is also the first time we’ve lived together as a couple, and we’re doing it HALF WAY AROUND THE WORLD.
So far I hope that covers what we're doing. Now the more important part: How are we doing it.
As far as visas go, I am on a student (temporary) (class TU) Non-awarded Sector (subclass 575) visa which I applied for through the Australian government website. Cj applied for a holiday working visa, which granted him a year in Australia in which he could only work for a single company for six months. Expecting it to be hard process, he applied a few months before we were due to leave but he was granted it the very next day! He did not have a job set up before going, or an employer sponsoring him to come over, so we were pretty surprised at show easy it was for him to get his visa. He applied through the same site I did for my student visa. Each one cost roughly $400.
I'm sure many of you are also wondering financially how we made it happen and how we've been surviving. Money is a HUGE part of traveling and it's probably the main reason why more of us aren't packing our bags and heading on the next flight to paradise. If you know me at all, and you know my family situation and where I come from, you've probably been scratching your head wondering how the heck I've been able to travel the amount I have been. If you don't know, I come from a very broken and delicate family, with little to no income. That's honestly and truly where God, hard work, and the generous hearts of others have come in. Through school, I receive grants and loans, which cover all my tuition, and leave me with a significant amount of cushion money for living and food. I also received a grant/loan from one of my mom's incredibly generous friends, Darol Tuttle. Without his help I honestly don’t think I’d be here. So thank you Darol!! Cj and I both worked full time and part time jobs before leaving, which allowed us to each save around $3000 (after paying for flights, visas, and other pre-travel expenses).
Flight costs can be a big entry barrier traveling to Australia. We booked our flights two months before leaving and booked a one-way. At the time, direct flights to Sydney were around $900. We found buying a flight to Hawaii for $300 and then Hawaii to Sydney for $400 would be $200 cheaper and would allow us a much needed rest in between flying. We booked Jetstar originally, which is definitely one of the cheaper airlines, however it got delayed and we luckily got upgraded to a Quantas flight, which was by far the most enjoyable airline I’ve ever flown with.
Once in Sydney, reality hit us. We blew through a few thousand dollars within the first month, hopping hotel to hotel, eating out, and trying to find an affordable apartment that would suit us. There are plenty of shared living options (you can find people renting out rooms on flatmates or gumtree), which are way more affordable and I would highly recommend to anyone traveling alone. The reason Cj and I didn’t lock down on a place to live before leaving was because we wanted to explore the area first, make sure it was close to my school, good places to work close by, and the place would be enjoyable for 6 months. If you have a good amount of money to support you for the first few months without a job then I’d recommend what we did, because we eventually found a place in the most perfect location and that we’re both very happy with. We live in a unit just off Harris Street in Ultimo, a five-minute walk to Darling Harbor and 10 minutes to CBD and my school. We pay $410 a week (it horrendous, we know) for a studio and we found it on a real estate site.
Once we found a place to live, which took a month, Cj began applying for jobs. It can be difficult finding one due to the visa conditions (most big companies want people who can stay longer than six months) so keep that in mind when applying. There are TONS of café or nanny positions that are more casual and pay under the table.
As far as food, we’ve budgeted $100 a week for grocery shopping. They have an amazingly cheap grocery outlet called Aldi, which is originally from Europe I think (totally a guess) and you can get pretty much all your food from there. There is also The Reject Shop, which offer discounted home supplies that were unsuitable to be sold in other retailers (but trust me you cant tell the difference) and is where Cj and I get most of our bathroom, kitchen, and grooming goods.
Eating out can get very pricey. Tipping is not a thing here (which I wish someone would have told us before coming here because we struggled with this the first few weeks). For almost anywhere, I’d budget about $20 per person for a single meal and $6 for a drink. Buying food is my biggest weakness so yes we have eaten out a lot but it’s almost impossible not to with the amount of great restaurants in Sydney.
Keep in mind; the exchange rate between USD and AUD is about .75 right now so if you come with a lot of American money it will go a long way. For instance, I paid for our rent with the American money I left with, so $410 a week in AUD was really only $307 USD a week. Thank God for favorable exchange rates!
I hope this has helped clear things up and given you some insight into exactly what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. If you’re interested in knowing anything more in deeper details feel free to message or email me and I’d love to answer what I can.
And to anyone considering doing an exchange through school, or simply wishing to move to Australia for a few months to work, all I can say is life’s short and in the words of a true Australian, “give it a go!”