Chapter Two: The Honeymoon Ends

I had never imagined that a global pandemic will happen when I went abroad for exchange. I thought once I got to Australia, all the troubles would be left behind and a whole new life would be ready to begin. However, not even after one month, I am stuck in my room, flipping through the album on my phone and lamenting that the amazing month I had has ended!

Some highlights in my wonderful first month:

  1. Two trips to Sydney

Sydney is an amazing city. It is so diverse and gives visitors different feelings. I went to Sydney twice last month. My expression may not be accurate, but I will try to convey what I felt when I visited those places by using other cities to analogise. 

Westfield shopping centre – New York, crowed, lots of big brands

Darling Harbour – the water, building and Ferris wheel are just like the view around River Thames

Opera house – magnificent and breath-taking, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco could be used to illustrate

Beach – made in Australia, nowhere else to see

2. Commencement dinner at uni accommodation

I chose Wright Hall as my accommodation simply because it is the only one with flexible (16 meals) catering, and the choice turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made. They had so many activities going on before the Covid-19 and in the first two weeks, I felt I would never get time to study. One of the most exciting and biggest events during the year was the commencement dinner for the whole hall. It is organised once per year in March when the academic year starts. (A similar event called Valete dinner happens in November when the semester ends.) On that day, everyone dressed up properly. Dinner started from 6pm until 10pm or later. People living in different blocks in the hall gathered at 5ish, took pictures, chatted, and used vouchers to get drinks. Then we came to the dining hall to have a proper dinner, which contained starters, main meals and dessert. Some alumni came to visit, staff announced the list of students who achieved extraordinary results in the past year and student representatives gave speeches. Hall residents were arranged randomly to different tables and had a chance to talk to someone new. After dinner, students could either go back or join the disco at the balcony. It was an awesome night.

3. Breath-taking view at Mountain Ainslie Canberra

Mount Ainslie is just a 20 minutes drive from ANU campus. It has a reputation for being the best spot to see the view of Canberra. We managed to get there before sunset and encountered an amazing night view. The unexpected beauty that I came across that night was the starry sky above the mountain. Even though stargazing wasn’t new for me, this remote mountain which stays away from the city’s light pollution surprised us with a sky full of stars.

4. Canberra Balloon Spectacular

The Canberra Balloon Festival is an annual event that takes place at the lawns of the old Parliament House. People gathered at the lawns before 6am and witnessed balloons taking off. It was exciting to see how the staff lit up fire and inflated big balloons. It costs more than $300 to take a hot balloon trip, but it is free and absolutely worth it to just stand by and watch. Those balloons are in different shapes including animals and cartoon characters. Whether the balloons will take off on that day depends on the weather condition. The official website updates their decision at dawn. That means whoever wants to see the balloons needs to wake up early on the right morning. 

Chapter One: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Australian National University

Going on exchange while the Coronavirus is spreading in the world isn’t a fun thing. I did not want to start the blog with the virus, however, without all the troubles prior to the beginning of my semester abroad, the story will not be completed. 

After taking the final exam at Manchester, I took a flight the next day back to China, planning to stay home for seven days during Chinese New Year and then embark on a journey to Australia. However, it was at that time that the Coronavirus outbreak started in China. On the 1stof February, after I checked in at the airport and started shopping in the duty-free area, my friends texted me that Scott Morrison has set a travel ban for visitors from China. “Are you kidding me?” I walked to the airport departure board and saw flights to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane… all cancelled! 

sdr

As you can imagine what happened next, the airport turned into a huge mess. People queuing for luggage, staff unloading and distributing them to the passengers. Each individual was wearing a mask, pushing through the crowd to get their luggage. I felt like even a healthy person could get sick or be affected under that circumstance. I finally got home with all my luggage, tired like a horse. 

sdr

It was a Saturday night, I sent emails to anyone who I thought may help. I kept telling myself to calm down, wait at least until Monday to see what they will reply. However,  I also worried that with one more day of hesitation, Britain will shut their door. Friends at uni texted me: “Hey, Ziqi. You can still come back to Manchester. Don’t have to gap.” Was this it? Were all my efforts for exchange ended up in this way? It was one of the most difficult weeks in my life. I was desperate: checked news, checked email boxes, texted Australian oversea students in China…

After struggling for one week, I weighted different options and decided to go to Thailand with two other girls for 14 days of isolation. It was my third time going to Thailand. Upon leaving there, I promised myself to never visit Thailand again. 

Hope is an important thing. Once there is hope, you will feel much better. In the flat we rented, we cooked, watched movies, chatted, and counted the 14 days down. It is true that plans can never keep up with changes. Just as I first planned to get to ANU campus early and mix up with all other students, I have now undergone an unexpected two-week vacation and missed O-week.