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March 2017

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Beaches, surfing, sunshine…that’s Australia, right?

My must-do thing in Australia has always been surfing. This is the country where you are supposed to carry a surfboard under your arm and run to the ocean to catch some waves. This is the place where no one gives you mean looks if you rush to the bus with your surfboard while your swimwear is still dripping water and feet are covered in sand. There is no leaving Australia before one has tried surfing.

After the heat records this summer it started raining. Now it has been raining almost a month. That is not the best beach weather but a few clouds will not stop surfers.

I went to a surf camp to 7 mile beach outside the Sydney right after arriving Australia. It was a weekend full of surfing and meeting new people. It was also weekend full of rain. Damp wetsuit and grey beach were not inviting at all, but I had decided to surf so I walked into the cold ocean with my board. It really does not matter whether it rains or not when you are in the water. Waves are still there, the board carries you just the same and there is plenty of saltwater to be swallowed. I fell a many times but I also had moments of success. This is fun!

Last Sunday we had a gorgeous sunny day in Sydney. Because of the poor weather, people pack their towel and sunscreen and rush to the beach as soon as there is a sunny day in the sight. I joined the many and took a ferry to Manly. I had woken up to find a message inviting me to go surfing with a few friends. This time the water was warm and the waves nice and steady. Surfing had not gotten easier but the ocean was less terrifying. Beach was busy and ice cream melted faster that I was able to eat it. Sounds like Australia.

I will definitely go again. Little rain doesn’t matter if the weather is fine otherwise. You can have a fun time surfing whether it ends in shivering from the cold or reddening from the sunburn. Surfboards can be hired from popular beaches and there are lifeguards around. There are also surf schools offering lessons for beginners. Go with a friend, give it a try and have a great day.

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Have you visited any countries during the past ten years?
Visa application form asks to list all the countries, the purpose for the visit and the entry and exit dates. Excuse me! How can I possibly remember things that happened 10 years ago? Or the entry dates for all the 11 countries where I stopped by when I was travelling in 2014?

Australia is famous for its strict surveillance of who, when and why crosses its borders. Not an immigrant. Just a student visiting for a half a year. After spending hours on end filling in the pages of the online application I was still confused. I didn't know when I could enter the country if I got the visa. Neither did I know if I should provide my insurance details when I got them. Was I doing everything wrong? Then an email arrived saying that I had been granted a visa. And it's valid until August.

When I got off the plane in Sydney, I was still afraid that someone would say that I wasn't allowed to enter the country. But the officer smiled and stamped the passport.

I had no place to live in by the time I arrived in Sydney. I didn't want to arrange my accommodation through the university although that would have been the easy option. I thought that arranging my own accommodation would give me more say to where I would live and what I would pay for it. It did, but it also added extra stress to the process. I finally managed to get a half a room in a reasonable priced flat near campus.

After sorting out the accommodation getting an Australian phone number and opening a new bank account were next in line. Local phone number is quite convenient if you wish to keep in touch with new acquaintances. And the cheapest deals are just $10/month. Bank account, on the other hand, might not be essential for a short visit, but it doesn't cost anything for students. So why not? It all helps with getting adjusted to the life in Sydney.

I admit that the process leading to an exchange semester in Australia was daunting. So much paperwork and worries. Apply for the programme, apply for the university, apply for the visa, fill in papers for the home university, fill in papers for the host university, arrange insurance, change insurance details, buy flights, submit this and submit that. It was an extra commitment added to the normal life of studying, working, moving, sorting out life in general etc. Luckily the exchange coordinators in home and host universities were (and are) willing to help with everything. I am not the first person coming to the University of Sydney to study even though it sometimes feels like that. Others have had the same problems before so seeking help from those who know more about the process is smart.

Just before I left home, a family friend worded out the big question: “Is it worth all that?”
I think I'll have to wait until the end of the exchange to give a full answer but for now I'll just say: yes. I made it through the piles of paper and it looks a lot brighter on this side.

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