Think far. Now think further, and you will find yourself in Australia. Marta Olifson, 23, decided to move to Sydney for her 5 months exchange, a place far from her lifestyle and family in Milan, where she is studying law at Bocconi University. “I thought I had one chance, I might as well ‘give it a burl’, as they say here. Although I could also have learned English in the United States or the UK, these places didn’t inspire me as much. Plus they are accessible whenever I want, while Australia is a once-in-a-lifetime experience” Marta says about her peculiar choice, which she does not regret one bit.
Marta lives in Coogee, a suburb 30 minutes off Sydney on the seaside – and that beautiful sea is what she sees every morning when she wakes up. As we talk on Skype, she shows me the spectacular view from her flat through the webcam, and I can understand how it can make her “fall in love with that place”. Thankfully, due to the year round mild weather, she and her friends are able to enjoy the beach after classes at the University of New South Wales, as it is a popular spot for both the natives and the students. “For someone from Milan like me, it’s crazy to be able to go the beach everyday – it’s paradise”, the 23 year old says.
About her settling in, Marta says she was first advised to stay in a hostel where she would eventually meet people to look for a flat with, and so she did. That is the same group of friends Marta has now, as it is easy for exchange students to bond since they are all looking for new friendships and experiences. Unfortunately because of this Marta was not able to interact as much with the “Aussies”, however she totally embraced their lifestyle and attitude: “they are so relaxed, all smiling, and so polite! When you get off the bus here you have to thank the driver. That is unheard of in Milan… and ‘no worries, mate’ is the answer to everything”. As this place seemed too good to be true, with its Cali lifestyle and beautiful scenery, I asked Marta about some drawbacks of it. “First of all everything closes too early”, she says, “people eat dinner at 5pm, so all restaurants close around 10pm. So even when you go out with friends, we start at 8pm by meeting at someone’s house, then we go clubbing in Sydney at 10:30. It’s strange, after 1:30 they don’t let you in – no matter what. Everyone follows the rules here, and that is also something new to me, coming from Italy”.
Marta took this opportunity to travel around Australia, however she wasn’t impressed by the few big cities but rather by the magnificent out back scenery which is unique to this country. She visited Melbourne, which is older than Sydney relatively to the Australian standards, and all the famous sightseeing spots – the amazing Outback nature and the whitest beaches. “Unlike in Italy, here tourism is created. For example a couple of weeks ago there was the Vivid Festival in Sydney, a show of lights on the famous Opera House”, a nice view, but nothing to do with Italy’s inherited historical monuments. When I asked her of the perception people have of Italy there, she obviously replied with “Wow…The food!”. However Marta did not give herself time to miss anything as she wanted to enjoy every moment of her stay, and because of her American and Mexican flat-mates she is now a fan of peanut butter and tortillas.
Regarding her Jewish life, Marta has found that most of the American exchange students were Jewish, although not very religious. She was lucky enough to meet an Aussie Jew while on vacation with her friends in Croatia last summer. “It’s actually a funny story”, the Milan native says, “this guy was going around talking Hebrew to girls, so I answered back in Hebrew, without thinking. We then started chatting and when he found out I was going to Sydney for an exchange program, he invited me to stay with his family for Shabbat. And that is where I spent most of my Shabbatot”, and that is one further proof of the open minded, friendly attitude Marta has found in Australia.
It’s two days prior to her departure, and Marta is already dreading the so called “post-Australia depression”. However she still has a nice, 21 hour flight before returning to Milan and miss this marvelous, laid-back country.
*Shirly Piperno is a fashion styling and communication student at Istituto Marangoni, London.
Simone Somekh, student at Bar-Ilan University and freelance writer for the Jewish Italian press, contributed reporting.