By Anna Powell (University of Melbourne, Australia).
I know that everybody says it, but I can’t believe how fast this year has gone. It’s been over a year now since I was saying goodbye to friends and family and boarding a flight to Australia, feeling somewhat unprepared and apprehensive about what to expect when I would land over 10,000 miles away from home.
I remember my arrival as a whirlwind of activity. Melbourne Welcome Week was intense; I stayed at Trinity College with other exchange students from across the world and we were shown the city by local students. It was such a great few days, but after it had finished I didn’t have a plan. I’d expected to meet potential housemates during the week, however nearly all the friends I made had already arranged their accommodation prior to departure.
I moved myself into a hostel and shortly after, uni began. This was a really stressful time, as I was juggling finding a house, familiarising myself with the city, starting my classes as well as trying to catch up with my friends from Melbourne Welcome, who were now spread right across the city. After such a busy week, the lack of social contact was hard for me. All of a sudden, I had a lot of time to think about my situation and I began to miss home horribly. Whilst in my dingy hostel, I’d hear about all my friends and family from Manchester and home who were on summer holidays, going to festivals and most importantly, together! Meanwhile, I was feeling sorry for myself in a drizzly version of Australia I hadn’t envisaged when setting off. Even worse, I discovered that my Gran had fallen ill. I’m incredibly close to my Gran and before I’d left I had worried about her how her health would be during my year away, so hearing the unexpected news that she was in hospital and awaiting heart surgery made things 100 times harder. All I wanted was to be at home.
Luckily, things soon picked up. I got an offer to move in with a group of Brazilians that I’d met during Melbourne Welcome Week and I jumped at the opportunity, and having my own room felt amazing after my time in the hostel. My Gran’s surgery was successful and I began to hear news of her feeling better than ever, which helped me to relax and actually enjoy life in Melbourne without feeling anxious and guilty for not being at home. The Exchange Society put loads of social events on for us and I was enjoying my classes, so soon I’d cheered up considerably.
Still, life in Melbourne took some getting used to. It was strange not living in a student area like Fallowfield in Manchester. A lot of local students live at home in Melbourne and so there is no particular student area. Where I was living was a mixture of families, a care home and apartments for young professionals and so it had a very different dynamic compared to Manchester, there was certainly not a house party on every street! Furthermore, going out in Melbourne is extremely expensive and so I found myself going out far less than usual. But soon, I began to adjust to Melbourne living, going to laneway bars, brunch and coffee, great Asian food, live music events, all balanced with working hard at uni – I found the students at Melbourne very hard working compared to Manchester. It felt like I was really living in the city of Melbourne and experiencing it for what it is, as opposed to living in the student bubble of Fallowfield and my time there being a blur of partying and cramming for exams.
By the time I left for Christmas, I had fully settled in and was sad to see many of my close friends leave for home – they were only doing one semester in Melbourne. At the same time however, I was really excited to spend Christmas at home with my family, followed by a two-month trip around South East Asia, so leaving wasn’t too hard. I won’t go on too much about my time in Asia, there’s too much to say! But my friend Ruth and I had a blast travelling through north Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, before flying back to Melbourne just in time for the start of uni.
Returning to Melbourne felt like I was coming home. It was so amazing to see my boyfriend Anthony after three months apart (he’s one of the local students that showed us around during Melbourne Welcome) and the city felt so familiar and welcoming – quite a contrast to when I first arrived in Melbourne. Rather than the start of term being a mad scramble to make friends, find a house and get to know the city, I instantly felt settled and I vowed that I’d make the most of my final months, which I knew were going to fly by. It was great to get to know the new batch of exchange students, but I also had a solid base of friends from my first semester and so didn’t feel pressured to forge any friendships for the sake of not being alone.
After a great semester of challenging study and incredible trips around Victoria and to Western Australia, my final few weeks were soon upon me. During this period, I remember finding it unbelievable that soon it would all be over and that my new home and the life I had made there would be merely a fond memory. I found it frustrating that there were so many things I still wanted to do, but the ever-present threat of deadlines and exams meant that I could no longer jet off to a corner of Australia like I had grown used to. Instead, Anthony and I planned a trip to Sydney and the Blue Mountains for after exams, the last chance I’d get to travel before returning home.
The gap between the end of exams and our trip was hard for me. Many of the people that had made my year abroad left for home one by one. Gradually, the Melbourne I’d known for a year was becoming more and more unfamiliar. The trip to Sydney gave me a chance to get out of the city and have a breather. We spent a fantastic week sightseeing in Sydney and exploring the beautiful Blue Mountains in a campervan (despite it getting to freezing at night when we were camping!). When I returned I found it much easier to start saying goodbye to Melbourne. Nearly all my friends had left now, so there were no more drawn-out goodbyes. I spent my last few days pottering around the city and appreciating every last minute.
It was obviously really hard to leave Anthony, but my journey home was much easier than I expected. I began to think about what was waiting for me at the other end: friends, family, home and a British summer (I was leaving winter in Melbourne). Being at home again was like breathing a sigh of relief, I hadn’t realised the effect that awaiting my departure had been having on me. It was comforting to be back in a stable, familiar environment, where I knew nothing was going to change dramatically for a while.
It’s a massive cliché, but nothing has changed at home. I’ve slipped back into this life as if I’d never left it, but I feel different in myself. This year has been so good for me. I feel more confident, I know that I can land in a country with nothing but my suitcase and a scribbled address of a friend of a friend and make a life for myself. I feel more mature, I studied harder in this pass or fail year than I ever did in Manchester. I’m excited and motivated for my final year in Manchester; this year exploring Melbourne has made me want to explore Manchester in the same way. I can’t wait to have my international friends to visit and to visit them over the coming years. Finally, I’m excited for what continent, country, city I’ll be calling home next, as being abroad for a year has only made me want to see more.