Culture Shock in Sydney

Krishang Nair, ‘25,  is a Behavioral Economics major studying at UNSW Sydney this Fall 2023. 

Experiencing culture shock is something I had been warned about several times prior to my traveling to Sydney, and each time, I would silently brush it off and scoff. Having moved countries every few years as a child, change in the form of culture shock was very prevalent in my early years. With that prevalence came a sense of familiarity with the feeling of being an outsider, however, that feeling would eventually subside. Soon enough, I would become used to the behaviors and practices of the locals in the place where I was staying. Having had all that practice with adapting to new environments as a kid, I was sure not much could surprise me in Australia, especially because English is the first language for locals here. 

Contrary to what I believed, as soon as I arrived, I found myself consistently caught off guard or out of place in several situations. Firstly, the habit I am constantly guilty of is walking on the right-hand side of the sidewalk. While this is the norm in the U.S. and most of the rest of the world, in a few countries previously ruled by the British, their influence carries on in many forms, one being that locals drive and walk on the left side of the road. During my first couple of days, while exploring the city and the harbor, I was constantly walking into people and I found myself wondering “Why is everyone walking on the wrong side of the street?” Since that day I’ve made it a rule of thumb to never ask why everyone else is wrong without questioning myself as well. The same goes for escalators. In Australia, people are encouraged to stand on the left side of the escalator so those in a hurry can move freely on the right side. The opposite is true in the U.S. and once again, caused quite a bit of confusion on my first few days. 

Now, I understand that just switching which side of the street I walk on is not the craziest culture shock anyone has ever experienced, it is one that I struggled with due to the muscle memory of walking on the right for nearly my whole life. The truth is muscle memory is tough to retrain but with a conscious effort, it is not impossible. I’ve lived in Sydney for about six weeks now, and I’ve finally gotten used to walking on the left side. Now I can look forward to another eight weeks of smooth sailing in Sydney and then presumably running into people in the street for six weeks in Philly. Can’t wait!