City Discovery: Sydney – Australia’s Cultural Capital

Updated on January 26, 2016

Australia Day (January 26th) is the official national day of Australia (like the 4th of July in the United States). It marks the anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet of British ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales in 1788. Sydney, coincidentally, was the site of the first British colony in Australia, which was set up after their arrival in 1788. The iconic city is Australia’s largest and most recognized, containing approximately 20% of the country’s population with over 4 million people. As the cultural capital of the Australia, “Sydneysiders” reflect extremely diverse and multicultural backgrounds.

Sydney’s unique juxtaposition of rugged Pacific coastline alongside its exquisite harbor, its ancient aboriginal history that stands just as tall as its modern skyline, and its relaxed attitude coupled with its in-your-face fashion combine to make a destination that beckons to just about anyone. Days can be spent soaking in the picturesque beaches, followed by nights exploring the ultra-hip and exciting districts of the city – all with a distinct flare that makes them unlike the other. As Australia’s transportation hub, traveling to other parts of the county is easy, making Sydney an ideal base for travelers.



Intercultural experiences highlight exposure with the local culture, promoting a multilateral exchange of ideas, language and opinions.

As part of the ISA Sydney experience, students spend four days in Byron Bay for their Bridging Cultures Program. Byron Bay, which is often referred to as the quintessential Australian beachside town, offers its visitors balmy days, endless beaches, reliable surf breaks, delicious food, and an exciting nightlife. The town exudes a vibe of surf culture and relaxation, and the locals are dedicated to preserving its essential small-town soul. Guided by ISA staff, students begin their adventure abroad with the opportunity to participate in true-blue Aussie pastimes; surfing, sea kayaking, bush walking and venturing to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Take a trip to the Noodle Market. With all of the sounds, smells and colors that make up the Asian dominated marketplace, combined with the hype and vibe of an outdoor festival, the Night Noodle Markets are a must try for any foodie. This activity, organized by ISA on-site staff, will help students to better understand the diverse cultures that can be found in Sydney. Here, students will be encouraged to sample dishes that characterize local cuisine as well as engage in discussion about cultural impressions they may have had before arriving in Sydney.



ISA excursions and cultural activities highlight historical parts of the local culture to help students better understand their new environment.

Discover the historic district known as The Rocks, containing several nuances of Sydney’s past – cobblestone streets, cozy cafés, and some of the oldest pubs in the country. As the strip of land where European settlers chose to step ashore in 1788, The Rocks is essentially the birthplace of modern Sydney. Over the last 200 or so years, this precinct has evolved from a rowdy settlement of convicts, sailors and soldiers, to a thriving district that boasts a range of iconic and contemporary attractions. After visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art of The Rocks Discovery Museum, stop by the ISA office to say hello to the staff and grab a bite at one of the mouth-watering stalls in The Rocks Foodies Market.

Plan a trip to Sydney’s most iconic structure, the Sydney Opera House. Since its completion in 1973 it has attracted worldwide acclaim for its design and construction, enhanced by its location on Bennelong Point within a superb harbor setting. This multi-venue performing arts center, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers something for every performance connoisseur, from Sydney’s Dance Company to Opera Australia to galleries of Australian Aboriginal Art.


Sociopolitical discovery highlights social and political activities or experiences.

The National Museum of Australia offers visitors exhibits and galleries dedicated to “Defining Moments in Australian History” that highlight eras such as Indigenous History and Life, British Settlement, World War I and Contemporary Multiculturalism. Visit several of Sydney’s museums to gain a better sense of historical and cultural knowledge of the city.

Explore the Hyde Park Barracks, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is one of the most significant convict sites in the world. As a popular stop near the ISA Sydney office and an ISA staff guided cultural activity, the Hyde Park Barracks and Museum has served as a crossroads for tens of thousands of people while playing a central role in the world’s largest and longest-running system of convict transportation. Here, visitors can sink into a convict hammock, search the databases for convict ancestors, and see the many treasures that were ironically saved by rats.



Professional experiences provide exposure to professional development opportunities during an ISA program.

Participate in an internship while taking courses at the University of Sydney or the International College of Management Sydney. Both universities’ semester long program provides the opportunity to undertake a part-time, supervised work placement in an array of professional fields. The internship offers the full benefit of a semester abroad experience, while allowing the student to immerse themselves in the unique Australian cultures and gain valuable work experience in an international setting. The study-intern option provides opportunities to students to work collaboratively and develop interest, aptitudes and abilities in a business, government, non-profit or community organization environment.

The Global Leadership Program at Macquarie University helps students to build their international knowledge and professional skills during during their study abroad experience. ISA students are able to take advantage of all the program has to offer while engaging with like-minded Australian and international students. The program includes a Consular and Cultural Series of events, a Global Leadership Symposia, and trips to Canberra, among others. Potential topics that students take on are; Cross-Cultural Understanding, Climate Change, Intervention and the Struggle for Aboriginal Rights in Australia, Sustainable Leadership in Business, and Career Mapping, to name a few.

Photo by Liza Littlefield, GlobaLinks/ISA Alum


Environmental experiences expose students to different environmental aspects of the host country.

Explore the world’s second oldest national park on an ISA excursion to Royal National Park. Affectionately known as “Nasho” or “the Royal” by locals, the park features unique heritage attractions, along with fascinating plants, birds and animals. Royal National Park is the perfect setting for bushwalking, cycling, surfing, and picnicking. Led by ISA staff, students can attend an Aboriginal cultural workshop to satisfy those culture buffs, or pick something more in touch with nature like water canoeing or a coastal walk at Wattamolla.

Participate in the ISA organized excursion to the Blue Mountains, a national treasure of awe inspiring beauty and scale. This rugged region of New South Wales encompasses steep cliffs, eucalyptus forests, waterfalls, and quaint Australian villages.  On this excursion, students will explore some of the most ancient open caves in the world, view the famous Three Sisters sandstone rock formation, and take in New South Wales’ largest forested wilderness.

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The ISA City Discovery Series aims to showcase each ISA location by highlighting the five parts of the Discovery Compass: Intercultural, Historical, Sociopolitical, Professional and Environmental. The Discovery Compass aims to help students have the best possible study abroad experience by helping them to gain a better understanding of the local environment, customs and people through a variety of experiences.

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.