Australian flag

Opening your home up to a strange subleaser is scary. Without having ever met the person with whom you’re going to be sharing a house for the next few months, how do you know whether they will clean up after themselves? How do you know whether your musical tastes will mesh? How do you know whether they will fit in with your friends, share your sleep habits, and be someone you actually want to spend time with? Plus, there’s always the nagging fear that they might be crazy, a klepto, or just plain kooky.

Of course, until said subleaser actually moves in, there’s no way to tell. So, it was with a great deal of trepidation – and the best motivation to finally install a lock on my bedroom door – that I greeted my house’s very own Australian exchange student/subleaser a few weeks ago. We had not met before she moved in, but had thoroughly Facebook stalked each other. From what I could tell, based on her profile, she seemed OK.

Little did I know, she was far from OK. She is, in fact, quite possibly one of the best roommates and friends I’ve had thus far in college. She’s funny, considerate, compassionate, and outgoing. And she’s just as obsessed as I am with keeping the house clean. Plus, she brought us a housewarming gift that consisted of two huge handles of vodka and enough beer to facilitate all the roommate bonding we could ever wish for. All in all, Madeline – or Maddy, as we call her – has been by far the most pleasant surprise of the new school year.

Fosters lager

One of the most interesting things about living with Maddy is hearing her take on everything from the upcoming presidential elections to the mating habits of the Isla Vista male. It’s been fascinating to listen to her perspective, and learn all about what makes Australian college life both very different from and very similar to our own. So, for this week’s column, I asked Maddy to share some of her observations. The following is what she had to say.

Despite my nation’s heritage as a country of convicts, intense drinkers of Fosters beer, and laid back attitudes, being an Australian student transitioning to a university housing area filled with young Americans who have been brought up in a different culture is rarely an enjoyable experience from the first day.

However, there is an exception; this being that the village that runs along the California coastline, seems to be completely, although unofficially controlled by the UCSB students that inhabit the area – the one and only Isla Vista.

The Australian culture has many different social behaviors from the American; one, specifically in relation to our drinking and our legal drinking age of 18, as well as the lack of stigma attached to young adults having a “a beer or two.” This makes drinking much less of a big deal for us after the age of 18.

Subsequently, it is truly fascinating to observe the residents of Isla Vista party with a determination and fortitude as though they were told they were to be deprived of alcohol for the rest of their college lives. However, logically speaking, if the most densely populated area within the United States is packed to the rim with young adults predominantly aged between 19 and 22, it makes perfect sense that this community is the next notch down from a permanent Spring Break.

With this being said, it must be noted that this once in a lifetime and unique experience of living in Isla Vista would not hold the allure that it does if that was all it had to offer. It only takes a short period of time for outsiders to experience the students’ sense of enthusiasm, individuality, and good humor. Personally, I have been noticing this trait on a regular basis, as certain groups of people choose to drive by my home while yelling, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” several times each day. However, it’s these attributes that prevent Isla Vista from being just another college community bursting with testosterone-filled boys. Though, I have noticed that this specific species of males remain a heavy population within the area.

While it has taken some students time to develop a comprehension of the unforeseen diversities between differing Western nations, the interest and enthusiasm in the topic that they have displayed has become a very welcoming experience. Specifically, I have noticed that the residents of Isla Vista are slowly appreciating traits specific to the culture I was bought up in. For example, my unconscious use of “colourful language” and actions such as my reference to flip flops as “thongs,” or bathing suits as “togs” and “cozies,” and most importantly my enthusiasm when describing how the game of Rugby union is equally as important as a game of Gridiron football. The zest with which people I meet ask me question after question has created an easy-going balance between our similar-yet-very-different cultures.

Rugby scrum

Common queries thus far have included being asked whether or not Australians believe all girls in California are followers/worshipers of Paris Hilton, as well as our perspective on George Bush and the war in Iraq. Though the most consistent inquiry of all involves someone asking me to produce my best impression of Steve Irwin, which is then closely followed by their best impression of the Crocodile Hunter himself. It must be said that their efforts to this point have been somewhat reminiscent of an American accent continually screaming, “Crikey! Look at that crock,” though the endeavors are appreciated.

Although, my favorite question asked throughout the duration of my time here so far has involved one particular member of the UCSB swim team who asked (multiple times), “So do you guys celebrate Christmas in Australia at all, due to the fact you don’t have white Christmases?” This was then followed by the question of, “And if so, does that mean Santa Claus visits in July, because that is when winter takes place Down Under?”

Nevertheless, no matter how comically silly the questions are, they have all contributed to the enjoyment of this trip that I have experienced thus far – and I think that this enjoyment has been largely founded on discovering and discussing the differences and similarities between American and Australian culture.


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