Final Goodbye to England

I’ve been putting off writing this last entry for a few weeks now. At first I told myself it was because I wanted to relax; get used to being back in the country. Now however, I’ve realised it’s because this is the last chapter in what was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

When I was fourteen I knew without a doubt that I wanted to study overseas. I wanted to travel, experience another culture and make lifelong friends. That is something I can now say I’ve achieved. But with that achievement comes a sense of loss. Because now that I’m home the travel is over, my friends are in another country and the culture I’d come to know and love is a 23-hour plane ride away.

In previous posts I’ve talked about why I chose England, what the differences are, what the university is like and about my travels. What I haven’t mentioned is why England is the number 1 choice for a study abroad experience. So, with my last blog I’ll let you all in on a few things.

My main reason for choosing the United Kingdom was because of the history. I’m a grade A nerd who needed a fix of culture that was over 300 years old (sorry Australia) and that’s exactly what I got. From Westminster palace, to Stonehenge; a Jack the Ripper tour to hundreds of castles. There’s something special about being in a country with so much history. There was always a historical landmark to see or celebration to be a part of. I walked along the same paths as some true historical icons and I’ll always love the UK for giving me that opportunity.

My second reason? It’s. So. Damn. Close. To. Everywhere. I organised a trip to Edinburgh with some friends before I left. These British girls had lived in England their entire life but had never made the 5 hour train trip to Scotland. To an Australian, the concept was ridiculous. A 4 hour plane journey got me to Norway and 5 hours to Greece. As far as a central hub goes, the UK is the perfect place for the prospective travel to base themselves.

Third reason? Weather. Not once did my oh so pale skin fry in the sun in the six months I was living in England. There was rain and clouds for the majority of the time… which is maybe not so great for a gal with frizzy hair, but hey, you get used to it. Even when there was sun and my flatmates were walking around in singlets and shorts (no thongs in sight) I was happily rugged up and exposing none of my pastiness to the sun. PLUS my childhood dream of seeing snow was also fulfilled so really, the UK is a sun/heat averse person’s dream.

The fourth? The people. Yes the brusqueness of Londoners is difficult to adjust to at first but once you get used to it… or move down south like I did, the people of England really are the greatest. Everything is solved by tea (or toaster waffles). Greetings are a ‘you alright?’ and the students are just like being back at home. So, if you want exchange without a huge culture shock… England all the way.

My final reason is purely dedicated to my flatmates. Without them my time in England wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enjoyable. They were there for the fun times and when things got hard. They were there to party or watch a scary movie. They were my second family and without a doubt the number one reason I’ll be returning to the UK as soon as I can. So if your reasons to come to the UK aren’t travel, or weather or history, or even a slightly similar culture – come because I promise the friends you make will be friends you have for a lifetime.

For my final post. Goodbye England.

 

‘Crisps’ or ‘Chips’?

One of the first things I remember being told about exchange is that assimilating into another culture can be hard. “It’s England,” I thought. “It can’t be that hard.” If I was to study in Italy or France, a country whose first language wasn’t English; that would be hard.  Now I’ll just get this out of the road and say it. I was wrong. It wasn’t ‘hard’ per say, but it was a lot different than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I love England. I love the perpetual cold and rainy days, the history, the Victorian architecture. But there are a few things that confused the hell out of me and here they are.

The people.
I now have many British friends, some of whom are from London. I have no problems getting along with these people – love ‘em to bits. But when I first walked through the streets of London I wasn’t met by friendly smiles, or people willing to help out the lost tourist. Instead they were steely eyed and hell bent on getting from A to B without disruption. At first it made me think ‘Oh god, why did I choose this country’ BUT I got used to it, it’s not bad it’s just different and that’s okay. Besides, now I know my way around I’m just another person on the escalator getting frustrated when some doesn’t stand on the right (this is a must: overtaking on the left, standing on the right).

Food.
You’d think being fairly similar countries the food in England wouldn’t be all too different from the food in Australia. For the most part that’s true but imagine my shock and disgust to open a blue packet of crisps (chips, I mean chips) to find not original, but salt and vinegar and that’s not the half of it. Cinnamon on donuts? Nope, sugar, sugar and more sugar. A bit of chicken salt on my chips? Ha, no. Pasito soft drink? Silly Australian, no again. Okay, I’m probably exaggerating slightly, the food is edible but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting down the days until I can buy a pie.

Obvious disapproval of being mislead by the blue packaging.

Language.
Yes we may both speak English but to say I haven’t had a few issues in communicating simply isn’t true. Among the few:
Pants. Get used to asking for ‘trousers’ when shopping or be prepared to have the awkward ‘ah actually I was looking for thermal trousers, not literal heated underwear’ conversation,’ you’ve been warned.
Capsicum.
My first Subway encounter went a little like this: “I’ll have the green capsicum too thanks”

Subway employee,”uh… the what?”

“Capsicum, the green stuff?”

Friend, “Emma. That’s pepper.”

*Sighs internally*

Orange squash.
Sadly I learned the hard way that this is in no way orange juice or at a stretch, soft drink. It’s cordial. It took drinking a full glass of the stuff to realise that. Safe to say the flat mates have no let me live it down.

And of course we have the obvious, thongs.
On multiple occasions I’ve gotten the ‘that’s way too much information Emma’ look when saying, “I’m just going to put my thongs on before we go.”

My point here is that YES England is an English speaking country, YES it’s very similar to home and YES it really doesn’t take that long to settle in. BUT there are some things (plenty more that I haven’t talked about here) that are simply going to confuse the hell out of you or make you feel uncomfortable so don’t be surprised or feel stupid when it happens. It takes a while and debates like ‘crisps’ or ‘chips’ still happen but I’ve finally managed to stop myself before blurting out ‘capsicum’ at Subway. Adapting is key. Enjoy England.

Life in Exeter

To most people, the prospect of living and studying in England isn’t really a challenge and in many ways it’s not. The culture is similar, the language is the same and university assessment is fairly alike. Until you get to a new country however, you have no idea what you’re in for. So… what’s it really like to live in Exeter, England?

Exeter? It’s a uni town. No hour long journeys to get to an 8.30am lecture or city protests blocking your way into campus. It has everything you need to get through uni; shops, clubs, scenery by the Quay and even Deliveroo. It’s a 3hour train from London making it the perfect place to study on the cheap but also close enough to the the big city to make weekend trips away achievable.

Day trip to London, Camden Town

The uni? From the outside it’s like being back at QUT. There’s never enough seats in the library, the food court is a nightmare and getting to the other end of campus is too far for a couch potato like me. What’s different though is the culture. QUT has societies and clubs but they aren’t a big part of student life. At the University of Exeter however, almost every student is a member of at least two societies. There’s a new social on every week and the students thrive on this sense of community. This is definitely something I’d love to bring back home to QUT.

Teaching? Assessment? Less contact hours is something I was pleasantly surprised by. Alongside a completely different teaching timetable. Weeks 1 to 11 are spent teaching, we then have a month break (which has just finished), followed by a month of exams. Assessment is fairly standard but only needing a passing mark of 40% is quite deceiving. Students rarely receive anything over a 65% and getting a 1st (equivalent to a QUT 7) is almost unheard of. So to say it was a shock when I got my first piece of assessment back is an understatement.

My flat? Thank God for uni accommodation; gone are the days when I have to get up early to make it to class on time. My flat overlooks the campus and all classes are a 5-minute walk away. The communal areas are cleaned 3 times a week and I have a bigger room than I did back home (winning).

View of Streatham Campus from my flat window

My flat mates? We have 4 English students, 1 Welsh, 1 Spanish, 1 French and 1 Australian. Living with so many people might seem like a struggle to some, but the only space we share is the kitchen/dining area. It has been the best opportunity I’ve had to meet people and make friends; living on campus is by far the best option when studying abroad.

Choosing Exeter for my study abroad experience is by far one of the best choices I’ve made. With only a month and a half left here I’m devastated at how fast the time is going. It’s made my time in England a home away from home PLUS J.K. Rowling studied here so would I come back? Definitely.

Travel: Before or After?

Whilst semester one at QUT is yet to start, here at The University of Exeter my fifth week has begun. I’ve been abroad for almost 3 months now, so how has this side of the world treated me so far?

Before I arrived in Exeter I spent a month doing the typical Aussie thing and took a Topdeck Tour around Europe, and what do you know?  Around 3/4 of the group were Australian. Doing a tour before or after my exchange was something I mulled over for quite a long time, but from the moment I got on a bus with a group of strangers I knew I’d made the right call doing it beforehand. My tour group became a second family. You can’t spend 18 days in close quarters with the same group of people and not become close. Together we travelled to 8 different countries and saw parts of the world older than Australia itself.

On my travels I saw the Colosseum in Rome, cruised the canals in Venice and reached Jungfrau, the top of Europe, in Switzerland. This tour enabled me to see parts of the world I wouldn’t necessarily have seen by myself. I climbed the never-ending stairs of the Arc De Triumph, ate snails and avoided Haggis like the plague and explored the nightlife in Edinburgh.

Canal Cruise, Venice

 

Hogmanay Torch Procession, Edinburgh

But it wasn’t simply the sights that had me amazed on the trip. My Trip Leader (don’t ever call them a tour guide), somehow had all of Europe’s history stored in his head. So on the long drives between countries he shared his knowledge and I learnt more on those bus trips than 2 years of high school history could ever teach me.

Because of this trip and with a great deal of help from our Trip Leader I learnt how to integrate myself into other cultures. In most countries I was taught the basics, hello, goodbye and thank-you, other than that however I was on my own. It forced me, along with the help of my new-found friends, to figure out our own way home on public transport in Rome or a walking route in Florence. I learnt the awkwardness of a checkout exchange when the only English the server knew was chocolate and I learnt to become more street-wise in Paris. Being forced into these situations made me so much more aware and appreciative of other cultures, which in turn made me more confident in my abilities to travel alone and study abroad.

Navigating the trains in Paris

The streets of Florence, and its beautiful Cathedral

My trip across Europe will definitely be a highlight of my exchange. It enabled me to see the places I wanted to go back to (almost everywhere) and was the perfect way to become accustomed to different cultures before settling down in England. I felt more excited than ever to start my exchange and even made some friends along the way. So if you’re stuck on the before or after question when it comes to travelling, the answer is before. But, who knows, you could end up doing both!

My incredible tour group in Amsterdam