The fit and the fat 


When I first arrived in Sydney I was overwhelmed by the amount of fast food restaurants. I was expecting a more healthy way of life instead of all these take a way places. Especially in the shopping streets, on every corner you can get a burger, pizza or a fish and chips meal. Also near the beach there are a lot of fast food restaurants, chocolate stores and coffee bars with lots of cakes and cookies.

When you order one of Australia’s popular dishes, like a chicken schnitzel menu, you only get a schnitzel with fries and gravy. Vegetables (veggies) are not included in the price!

I walked to university the other day, at around 9.30 am and I saw people eating hamburgers and fries. Incredible! Why would you want to eat something like that in the morning?

I found out Australia belongs to the group of countries with the highest obesity rates in the world. In New South Wales, the state I’m living in, they even modified the air rescue planes of the famous flying doctors service. Now the planes can transport a person with a maximum weight of 260 kilos instead of 140 kilos.

On the other hand, Australia is known as a sportive country. Along the beach there are heaps of people running. Here in Bondi, many people are running up and down the hills along the coast, even if it is 40 degrees with a scorching sun and along the walking path in Bondi there is an outside gym where you can do exercises.

These Australians are the adventurous ones. They go surfing after work and biking in the weekends. They make trips into the mountains to have a full weekend of walking, canyoning or a canoeing trip. These people eat healthy and try to spend as much time as possible outside. There are also multiple places where you can get healthy take away food.

I found out that there are two types of Australians:

1.the fat ones; those who start eating fast food in the morning and don’t move at all; and

2.the fit ones: those people are active, sportive and always outside.

There is almost nothing in the middle of those types. Australia is a country of extremes; it is up to you which way of living you choose.

The Bushfire Crisis


In Holland it’s all about the economic crisis. In Australia there is this economic crisis as well. It is as bad as it is in Europe, only the Australians are not worried about it. They have another problem to deal with: “The Bushfire Crisis”.

I have been living in Sydney for a week now and the bushfire crisis is everywhere. It is on the front page of every newspaper and it is in the headlines on television. They call it “The largest natural disaster in our state’s history and Australia’s history.”

Every year there are bushfires in Australia because of the dry weather. This year however, the fires in the state of Victoria have destroyed entire rural towns in the area north of Melbourne. Because of the high temperatures, drought, dry bush and changing wind directions the bushfires became worse than normal, even though the police believe some of the fires were started deliberately.

The death toll from the bush fires has climbed to 189, and is still rising. More than 5000 people have been rendered homeless. On the news you see people crying because they have lost a family member or their home. You hear heartbreaking or remarkable stories from people who survived the fires. I have heard the story of a mother who survived because she was hiding in a wombat burrow with her kids. There were also stories of people who thought they would die and had called their kids to say goodbye and eventually lived. 

Falling temperatures and lighter winds the last few days have helped the fire brigades to bring some of the fires under control, however there are still more than thirty large fires burning and there is still danger. The next days it is going to be warmer so they fear the worst.

All the people in Australia are very sympathetic with the victims. The Red Cross is in every commercial break to raise money for the victims. In every store in Sydney there is a box for spare change for all the people who have lost their homes. In Chinatown there was a parade last Saturday with Chinese dragons to raise money for all the bushfire victims.

Curiously, in New South Wales, the state I am living in, people are having to deal with too much water and floodings. Here are victims too. It will be raining here for at least another week. Can’t they send some rain to Victoria?

Ozzie-lesson 1


A friend of mine taught me a lesson in Australian conversation yesterday. He said that I needed to learn some typical Australian sayings before my arrival. I practiced these skills today while my friend would examine me in the evening. So I tried to express my last day in Holland in Ozzie-English, with the following as a result.

Today I was flat out like a lizard drinking. I went to some family, I had dinner with my friends and I booked a hostel. Not everything is already arranged. My bag is still empty and I have to do my laundry. My room looks like a dog’s breakfast and I feel like I’m someone who couldn’t organize a pissup in a brewery. I’m still scared and I hope this doesn’t go down like a lead balloon. I’m going away for almost six months! That’s not two shakes of a lamb’s tail. The unknown is what makes it so scary. I don’t know the people from a bar of soap over there. I hope the shit doesn’t hit the fan out there. Maybe the people are like a kangaroo loose in the top paddock or like a stubby short of a six-pack. No, I am weaker than a sun-burned snowflake. It’s going to be as scarce as a hen’s teeth! I’m totally ready for it. Within 24 hours I am a Sydney sider. Bring it on! 

Below you can find the translation of this Ozzie-English.

Today I was very busy. I went to my family, I had dinner with my friends and I booked a hostel. Not everything is already arranged. My bag is still empty and I have to do my laundry. My room is a big mess and I feel unorganized and knotty. I’m still scared and I hope this is not going to be a huge failure. I’m going away for six months! That’s not a short time. The unknown is that what makes it so scary. I don’t know anyone over there. I hope I’m not going to get into any trouble. Maybe the people over there are mad or stupid. No, I’m weak and snooty. It’s going to be very special, a once in a lifetime experience! I’m totally ready for it. Within 24 hours I am an inhabitant of Sydney. Bring it on!

Ozzie lesson 1: succeeded. Now it’s time to take theory into practice.

Cheers! ?

Mixed feelings


Hi! My name is Saskia Willig. I am 23 years old and currently studying Dutch law (Master Privaatrecht and Master Strafrecht) at Erasmus University, but in a few days I will be leaving for Sydney to study there!

Fourteen days before my departure: I am leaving all the people I love behind, for a period of almost six months. Why did I want to do this? I have a nice life now. I have a good and flexible job, lovely friends, and a lot of co-curricular activities and hobbies. Above that, I have two little brothers of three and seven years old and I am building a good relationship with them. I see them twice a month and when they see me they run into my arms. Will they recognize me when I come back?

These days it is all about Sydney. People around me ask me all the time: “Are you ready to go to Sydney? Is everything arranged? When do you leave? Do you already have a room?” The answer is: NO!  I don’t have a room, I have not prepared everything and I still do not know which subjects I can apply for at the university. I am feeling a bit stressed out at this moment, and I have some hesitations. It must be because I don’t know what to expect. I am leaving my comfortable environment and certainties of life for a completely new and different environment. I have never been away for this long in my life. I need to remind myself that it was me who wanted to do this and that I have always dreamt about this. Studying abroad is supposed to be fun, however for now I am just scared. When I am in Sydney, I am sure it will be fantastic! Right?

One and a half years ago I started to prepare for my exchange. I felt my study time was not complete without one semester abroad. I have always wanted to go to Australia, especially to Sydney, as I have heard a lot of good stories about this city. Also, the subjects will be taught in English. This is the chance to improve my English skills, while enjoying a pleasant climate and the great atmosphere of this country. A few months ago my application forms for my exchange at the University of Technology in Sydney were approved. I applied for a visa and booked my ticket to Down Under. I am so excited, I am going to Sydney! Wohoo!

Other columns Saskia

Ozzie lesson 2: The dangers Down Under


There are some things you need to know about Australia before you go and travel in this beautiful country. For one you need to be aware of a lot of dangerous animals and other natural dangers.

In my blog I wrote about the bushfires in Australia. Every year there are multiple bushfires in this dry country. People lose their homes or die because of these fires. You need to be careful and have a look on the fire department’s website to see if there is a fire danger before going on a trip or going traveling.

At the same time, there can be lots of rain. This can be as disastrous for homes. Also, people drown regularly in the subsequent floods. You must keep an eye on the news and weather forecasts before planning a trip.

Flooding can be even more dangerous in the northern parts of Australia during the rainy season, because this is also the habitat of crocodiles. A couple of people were eaten by a crocodile two months ago when there was a flooding in their town. Normally there are signs when you are in the area of the crocodiles. You need to pay attention to these signs and follow your own instinct.

The danger I have to deal with at the moment is sharks. Almost every week there is a shark attack at the beaches around Sydney. Most of the attacked are surfers. With helicopters and nets the authorities try to keep the sharks away from the beaches. This does not always work and leads to seriously injured people. The only thing you can do to limit the danger is to stay in between the flags when you go swimming and only go in the water between sunrise and sunset. After dark the sharks are more aggressive; it’s their ‘feeding time’ then.

Besides these obvious dangers, I should mention something you don’t think about when speaking of dangers: THE SUN. The result for this danger is the multiple skin cancer clinics near the beaches. Always use SPF 30+ and don’t stay in the sun for too long. This can be a real lifesaver!

Interestingly, there are many more dangers Down Under: poisonous snakes, aggressive spiders and poisonous jellyfishes, but all these dangers are no match for the sheer beauty of this the country. Go to Australia, enjoy it, prepare, and take care! ‘No Worries!’

Erasmus versus UTS 


I represented Erasmus University at the exchange fair at the University of Technology Sydney last week. This fair was meant for Australian students who want to do an exchange program overseas. There were also Australians who studied a semester at a university in the Netherlands. I asked them what they liked most about their experience in the Netherlands. They all gave me the same answer: “You don’t have to think about anything. The university organizes everything for you.”

To hear this was a relief, to be honest, because prior to arriving here, I did not get any detailed information about the subjects, only a broad explanation. I heard about the way of teaching, the number of hours, the way of examination (essay or exam) on the first day of class.

I wanted to enroll for several different courses when I applied for the study-abroad program. These turned out not to be taught in the (Ozzie) autumn term. I sent the exchange student service center tons of e-mails to arrange other subjects. After two months I finally found three subjects that I could do.

I arrived in Australia on 6 February, because the ‘orientation period’ was compulsory and would start on 9 February. When I arrived at UTS, they gave me a booklet with a program for the upcoming two weeks. After spending a long time reading trying to find out the system of the booklet, (there was no schedule at all), I found out that there was only one day of compulsory class which would take place a week later.

But the university did organize a party for the exchange students in the Sydney Opera House last week. I needed to have a ticket to enter this party, which would be sold at the International Office at the university until 5pm that day. I arrived at UTS at 4pm to get these tickets. They had already sent the tickets to the Opera House. I had to get them there instead.

These are just small things that are a bit annoying. But I am having a good time studying at UTS anyway. That’s maybe because I know after a few months I will go back to my own, well-organized and efficient country. Or is it just the contagious, relaxed, ‘no worries’ mentality in this country?

Erasmus versus UTS 2


During my whole study period in the Netherlands, I hurried to class. I didn’t want to be late. The lecturers hate it when you are late and sometimes they won’t let you in. I was very surprised to see here at UTS that students come and go whenever they want. Even if they are more than an hour late, they still have the nerve to walk in. The teacher does not seem to care.

There is less distance between teachers and students. The teacher is there to help you. When you speak to him or her you just use their first name and they always reply to your emails within a day. A week ago I sent an email to my lecturer about an essay topic. She said my topic was a good one, and after that she gave me some tips and names of books where I could find some information about my topic. I didn’t ask for that.

Some classes take more than three hours in the schedule. In the beginning I was shocked about that. I thought that I would never survive three hours of listening to one subject. But it turned out that the teacher decides when there will be a break in between. Normally you have a break for at least half an hour. Most classes end earlier as well.

During class almost every student has a cell phone that rings at least two times. If that happens, you just walk away and answer it. The teacher is fine with that.

If you didn’t catch enough sleep during the night you can just go to the library. There are tons of people sleeping there on the couches. If you are still tired after your nap in the library, just hope the lecturer will show a movie during the next class, that’s a perfect time for another powernap.

Another strange thing about the library is that it isn’t a quiet place. It is more like a school canteen with computers and couches. Everyone is chatting and cell phones are ringing constantly. At Erasmus University it needs to be quiet to study.

Sometimes it is hard to study in another country. You need to get used to the different study habits, but after a nap on the comfortable couches in the library and with some help from the lecturers you’ll manage to adapt very quickly!

Australian nanny

Because I have run out of money already, I found a job as a nanny for a family in Sydney a few weeks ago, for three weeks in a row. I have to take care of a two-year old girl and a seven month old baby. They pay me a lot for only taking care of their children and a little bit of household, I thought.

I just finished the first week and it was extremely hard! On the first day the mom gave me the ‘manual’ before she left. In it was a map with important addresses and play yards, an explanation of their daily routine and a part with safety-issues. She explained that her daughter often runs off and that I even needed to keep the window in her room closed, because otherwise she would escape. I started to get a bit worried. Is this normal behavior?

The whole house is a mess, so the first day was a disaster. I couldn’t find anything. It took me fifteen minutes to get the baby dressed. It was difficult to find clothes that would fit him in the messy closet. The mom gave me the car keys, but I have no idea which car they have and where it is. For dinner I ‘just had to put something on the barbie’. Ok. How does this thing work?

During the day the baby was crying all the time, because he’s teething. Meanwhile the oldest one had a few tantrums, because she didn’t get what she wanted. When you put her in her room to calm her down, she starts throwing everything around. Changing the baby’s diaper is a disaster as well. When you take off his nappies, he starts to urinate everywhere!

The oldest one is attacking the cat constantly, jumping on it. The cat doesn’t seem to mind, because during dinner time he gets his revenge. When the girl is locked in her highchair the cat starts scratching her. She cries: ‘Sorry cattie, sorry cattie’, and starts feeding the cat her dinner. If I’m lucky she doesn’t throw her food on the floor or not everything ends up on top of the cat.

Around 7 pm, they are finally in bed. That’s the moment the cat enters the building. He climbs in and jumps on the laundry that I had just folded. In this house even the cat needs to be entertained!

Fortunately I don’t have to do this every day. In two weeks I’m finished already and I can go travelling with the money I earned. There is one thing I know for sure now: NO CHILDREN FOR ME, EVER!

Stay or go?

I remember my first column. I wrote it two weeks before I went to Australia. I was scared and I was not sure if I wanted to go. Five months seemed so long and what if I didn’t like it or if there was no one that I could get along with? Now, almost four months later, I don’t regret going to Sydney. In fact, there is a new problem. I don’t think I want to go home after this semester!

Of course, sometimes I really miss Holland. They don’t have proper bread here or nice yoghurt. The bread is too sweet and tastes different and the yoghurt is too thick and really expensive. Kroketten, ‘normal’ mayonnaise and salty liquorice are scarce here. Most importantly, I miss my family and friends. Sometimes I miss the long summer days back home, because here, after 5 pm it is dark. But there are many other things that I just love about living where I live now!

Normally in the Netherlands, I’m always busy and I never take time for myself. I don’t have the peace in mind for that. Since I have been here, I don’t have to do all the things I did back home, as I have no obligations here besides going to my classes one day a week, so I have a lot of time for myself and I allow myself to take this time and not always have to do something. Back home my agenda was full for at least the upcoming three weeks. Here I don’t plan and every day is full of spontaneous and unexpected activities. The people here are more relaxed and this affects me.

The warm climate in Sydney is another example. Even the winter in Sydney is sunny and comparable to spring in the Netherlands, only with shorter days. Every day I visit the beach at least once!

Besides these reasons, there is another argument for me to stay. I have the feeling I am not finished here yet. The last weeks I felt that I have finally got used to the life, atmosphere and the Australian habits. I’m starting to feel at home in my apartment. I feel I’ve just started here!

For now, I haven’t made up my mind yet on whether I will stay or go at the end of the semester. I will give myself two more weeks to make my decision. To be continued……