Bath Spa University, England (Semester 1, 2016)
Going on exchange is a chance to see the world and at first I found that England, apart from the weather, was no different to Australia. It took a mere twelve months for the United Kingdom to change my mind, to convince me that there was more to it beyond cloudy skies and posh accents. I now present to you my findings, my discoveries of the most quintessential ingredients that make up Britain.
- Double deckers are ridiculous forms of transport.
There is nothing sillier than two double-decker buses facing off on the narrow road leading to Bath Spa University. Nothing more tense than them sliding past with inches between them, two tiers of students anxiously watching the debacle. Staying in a residence hall meant that my only connection to town was via this long and winding road, and this was altogether far too much effort. Why leave campus when all I needed – friends, food, and (ugh) class – was within walking distance. In Australia we’re used to commuting into uni but in Bath I could leave for class minutes before it started. The university is much smaller than QUT but that was a good thing for me – it meant my classes were small and focused groups, and it meant that you formed close connections with people who had the same interests. Living on campus and having my friends within easy reach is one of the things I’ll miss the most from my exchange experience (and I admit, the double deckers were pretty adorable too).
- Europe is a stone’s throw (almost literally).
We’ve learned to balk at the idea of booking flights, knowing that a vacation’s feasibility hangs on the whimsy of Jetstar and Virgin. Well worry no more – once you get over the initial flights to England you’re treated to flights cheaper than Australian intercontinental travel. Travelling Europe is appealing because vastly different cultures are close together in a small space, so you get a high concentration of ‘culture’ for a relatively small amount of money. More bang for your buck. It’s common for Australian travellers to string these countries together, embarking on months-long journeys so they’re not wasting the flight over, but living in Europe removes that worry. Exchange gives you the chance to take your time with travel, to not worry so much about increasing your ‘countries visited’ tally. Europe is also the perfect playground for beginner solo travellers (which I was and still am), so go get lost.
- Quaint rhymes with England (figuratively speaking).
Ah, England. Not an unfamiliar country. We’ve seen ‘Love Actually’, we’ve seen ‘Harry Potter’, we’re pretty sure we know exactly what England’s about. You know, it’s not that far off. London’s cool and all, but in my year in the UK I grew to adore the tiny towns that dot the countryside. Bath is the culmination of the English dream to me, the dream of retiring to a town with easy access to scones and spas. The buildings are stone, the roofs are thatch, and there are sheep on my campus. I never would have thought of Brisbane as a big city until coming to England, but now ensconced in town-living I realised what I’ve been missing. A friend in Oxford showed me one of the colleges of Oxford University, with two distinct stone walls. The first one, the inner one, was built in the 1200s, and the outer one was built in the 1600s. We stood between the two and were struck by the fact that our country was younger than the difference between them. I ruined this moment somewhat by smacking the 1200s wall, but it was a reminder that England is old, almost unfathomably old, and that there’s so much history to discover for yourself.
I can talk about my experience on exchange and everything I learned, but that doesn’t cover what’s possible. Every exchange is different because everybody is trying to answer a question they’re asking themselves. I don’t know if I found that answer while I was abroad, but I’ve gotten a whole lot closer. If you have a question, if there’s something you need to find out about yourself, then exchange is the time to ask it.