By Mary Zuccarello, SFS 2019
It is one of my first weeks in Sydney, Australia. After purchasing books for my courses at Sydney Uni, I meet up with Alex, a friend from Georgetown, at a coffee shop on Newtown’s King Street. The café is filled with all sorts of people, from schoolchildren to businessmen in suits to barefoot beach bums sitting and chatting over mugs of coffee. Breakfast is an all-day affair in the land of oz, so I order avocado toast with a poached egg and a flat white. In my time down under, I became addicted to flat whites; Alex, on the other hand, somehow became a fan of vegemite, the notoriously bitter and salty spread that Aussies seem to love. The barista, noticing my accent, asks me where I’m from, and we end up in a five-minute conversation. These impromptu conversations with strangers would become quite common throughout my abroad experience. Coffee in hand, we sit down at one of many tables and start talking about our experiences thus far.
Alex and I both reflect on the change of pace. Of course, as Georgetown students we are accustomed to having overloaded Google calendars, packed to the brim with club meetings and internships on top of our never-ending classwork. Here, we’ve been able to unwind a bit. Some days are spent at Bondi or Manly Beach, while others are reserved for exploring the city’s diverse neighborhoods, trying new restaurants, or checking out weekend markets. We’ve found that on Sundays, instead of cramming in the library, students head to a beachside pavilion, called ‘pav,’ to drink a beer and catch up—sometimes with live music playing in the background. The locals we’ve met seem noticeably more relaxed and less stressed than city-dwelling Americans. Often, they’re more than happy to strike up conversations with strangers.
Flash forward to my last weeks in Sydney. The Australian café by now has become, in my mind, a microcosm of the friendly, self-demeaning, slightly awkward, warm, welcoming, and easy-going culture of this giant island country. The café, like many of Sydney’s ‘hotels,’ or neighborhood bars, welcomes an eclectic mix of people of all ages. At the café, the servers are usually friendly, and a quick chat is to be expected. I found this to be the case in classes at Sydney Uni. Although I initially knew no one, it was easy to meet my classmates who would sit next to me and strike up a conversation about any number of topics, ranging from their upcoming holiday to how awful it is to deal with a sick cat. At the café, I could sit for as long as I wanted--no one would shoo me out. This seemed to go right along with the easy-going pace that characterized life in Sydney. An afternoon spent reading on the beach was not a waste of time or even considered a luxury; it was just a part of living.
In Australia, I learned to be present, seek out the most incredible sunsets, explore with abandon, and shed a layer of shyness. The cafés seemed to welcome this sort of behavior. Now, whenever I reflect on my time abroad, I will always remember the quirky, warm, and welcoming Australian café culture, beckoning me to slow down, open myself up to the world, and live in the moment.