Wait—They Don’t Call It That Here

I’ve come to learn that disappointment is often the result of unmet expectations. So, I figured it would be best to have few and simple expectations throughout this study abroad experience. After I attended my first class, however, I quickly realized a subconscious expectation I made.

As the professor began speaking, there was a slight barrier between us. I could not fully understand some of what she was saying. It wasn’t completely her accent that had my mind scrambling to piece it all together. It was the language. The words she chose and her pronunciations of them, contradicted what my ear expected to hear.

If you’re questioning whether or not they speak English here, the short answer is yes. Tell me though—can you make sense of this sentence:

“Make room please, prams coming aboard,” the bus driver shouted.

Lessons in Linguistics

Ironically enough, this class was a course on language and communication. One of the first concepts we discussed were the different dialects of language. Americans and Australians may share the English language, but we have very different dialects. Word choices and their pronunciations differ in many ways. The word, pram, is just one of countless examples. The first time I heard it, I thought it was odd that room needed to be made for shrimp. But after a woman climbed aboard with a stroller in tow, I realized, pram is a stroller. Prawns are shrimp.

After getting over the initial shock of dialectal differences, nervousness set in. If I didn’t always understand what was being said, how would I be successful in this course? Would people even be able to understand me when I spoke?

In reality, I was overthinking. A piece of advice my Mom provided at the airport before my departure, resurfaced. “Jasmine, don’t go there thinking you know everything,” she said. That’s just it though…I was very much aware that I didn’t know everything. With that awareness also came a sense of inadequacy.  Not knowing can lead to a range of different emotions—feeling lost, scared, or even ashamed for not being as prepared for the unexpected.

Another day, another discussion on language variances

Lesson Learned #3—Human language is universal. It is not limited to one individual’s experience, but it is one part of humanity that connects us all.

“When he had gone only a short distance, he realized that one of them had spoken Arabic and the other Spanish. And they had understood each other perfectly well. There must be a language that doesn’t depend on words, the boy thought.” – Santiago

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

It’s worth repeating that UNSW is a global university. A quick scan of my linguistics class shows how students have come from all over the world. For many, English is their second, third, or even fourth language. International students whose first language was not English, inspire me on a daily basis. They learn, connect and thrive despite language barriers. Here was yet another gentle reminder—it’s not called study abroad incidentally. This is a learning experience, so there must be space set aside to learn. I did not come to Oz expecting to learn a new language, but I now find myself trying to learn a new word each day.

What I initially found shocking will now make for a little trivia that you can use to test your own knowledge of Aussie talk.


Fergus is headed to Wooly’s to pick up some ingredients for dinner tonight. He tosses a bag of onions, capsicum, and potatoes into the ________________ before heading over to the checkout line .

  1. What is the American version of a capsicum?
  2. What does Fergus use to hold his groceries?
    • Basket
    • Trolley
    • Dumby
    • Nappy

Keep reading and see if you can find the right answers along the way!

In the spirit of leaving space for learning, I’ve also learned to see academia from a much different point-of-view. In the classroom setting, many students are disconnected from technology and are actively listening and engaging in discussion. In a lecture hall of 40 students, only eight had their laptops on their desk, three were actively using them to take notes, and the remaining five had them out but closed.  Students give their undivided attention to the lecturer, and if notes are taken, they are written. Concepts taught in lecture are reinforced in “tut”, short for tutorial; which is very similar to Drexel’s recitations.

It’s pretty exciting and sometimes funny to notice the differences in both university culture and Sydney culture compared to my former sense of normalcy. Now, I even have an entire folder on my phone dedicated to my Aussie-specific apps that help with survival. Uni-verse and Moodle help me stay abreast of on-campus activities and upcoming assignment deadlines. During my first weeks, Lost On Campus was extremely useful for finding specific buildings. NextThere is probably the app I use most so that I know when the next bus, train, or ferry is heading toward my destination.

In America, a mall is typically where people go to shop for clothing. Sometimes we use it to refer to walkways, like “The Mall on Washington”, however, it is more common to hear the former. Here at UNSW, not only is the latter purpose used to describe the footpath between lower campus and upper campus, but the pronunciation certainly differs. Check out how to say mall like an Aussie—featuring my good friend Gen!

Language, places, and faces may differ, but each day is just another chance to embrace the unexpected.

Quick Trivia Answers: capsicum (peppers); Fergus tossed his items into a trolley (shopping cart); Other terms featured in this post: rubbish (trash); footpath (sidewalk); candy floss french toast (cotton candy)