Returning back to Manchester

By Serena (university of Queensland, Australia)

So I’m finally back in Manchester after 15 months. I’ve had the most incredible experience but now it’s time to get back to reality. Although Manchester itself hasn’t really changed, being here just feels different. I think the main reason is that most of my friends have now graduated and moved away from Manchester, so I feel like its first year again where I don’t know anyone, especially since I’m back in halls. Going to lectures also feels strange since everybody else seems to know each other pretty well, whereas I don’t know anyone! I’m already slightly overwhelmed with the amount of work I have to do in final year. At UQ, the year was pass/fail so the workload was manageable, I’ve forgotten how to be organised!

Every time I log into Facebook I constantly see pictures of the beach/koalas/kangaroos and it makes me miss my home in Australia even more! I know one day I will go back to Australia, and possibly even live there permanently. Looking back at my year, I am so grateful for the opportunity and I can honestly say that it was better than I could have ever imagined it to be.

This is my final blog post so I will finish with some advice for anyone thinking about studying abroad. Firstly, make the most of your year because it goes by so quick. Take the opportunity to do as much travelling as you can. Secondly, push yourself out of your comfort zone; studying abroad is a scary thing, you have to force yourself to become more independent but this will benefit you in the long term.  Lastly, don’t over-plan everything.  Obviously it’s good to have a general idea of where you would like to go travelling, but leave your plans fairly flexible. You’ll end up discovering places that aren’t in the tourism books, and spontaneity can sometimes be brilliant. Sometimes if your trip is too structured, you end up missing out on things you discover last minute.

If you are considering going to UQ, I definitely recommend. From the campus, to the teaching to the societies, it really is an incredible university, in an amazing city!

Final Reflections

by Serena Graham (University of Queensland)

I can’t even believe it’s been over a year since I arrived in Australia. It has without a doubt been the best year of my life. I’ve met some incredible people from all around the world and I’ve done more travelling in the past year than I have ever done. I’m so sad that the year has come to an end but I am also looking forward to completing my degree!

Coming back to England felt strange. The flight home was slightly bittersweet because although I was excited to come home to see my family and friends, I was also very upset about leaving Australia for good! Despite it being summer  back in England it was colder than Brisbane’s winter, and I am not sure how I am going to cope as it gets closer to winter here. After spending the past year in sunny weather and high temperatures, it’s definitely going to be a shock to the system.

I can’t stop looking at my photos from the past year and I already feel slightly nostalgic. This probably sounds cliché but studying abroad has made me more mature as a person. I’m much more confident and have developed a strong passion for travelling; I’m already saving up for my next big trip!

For anyone reading this who is undecided about whether to go on a year abroad; I highly recommend it. I was hesitant at first since I had never been away on my own but I ended up settling in so quickly. Within just a few weeks Brisbane felt like home to me.

Semester 2 at UQ

By Serena Graham (The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)

By the start of semester 2, I was feeling much less of a tourist, and Brisbane felt more like home to me. I went into this semester feeling a lot more relaxed now that I already knew my way around, and it was a lot less scary than the start of semester 1. Time had flown so fast, I couldn’t believe that I only had four months left, so I tried to make the most of my remaining time down under. I scheduled my classes so that I was only in uni three days a week, which meant I could regularly go on trips for long weekends!

The first trip I went on was to Moreton Island. Although I had already been last semester I felt like I needed to go again since it was so much fun. We went with Quest (the International Society at UQ) and spent this weekend snorkelling round the shipwrecks, sandboarding, and visited the lakes.

My next adventure was my east coast trip! This is a must-do trip while you’re in Oz. We started by flying up to Townsville and then visited Magnetic Island for the day. Here they have wild wallabies all around the coast which are very friendly if you bring them food. Our next stop was Airlie Beach, which is a very popular place for backpackers and so there’s a lot more to do there. We took a kayaking trip from Airlie Beach and went around some of the Whitsunday Islands, where we also had the chance to snorkel on the amazing reefs. Then we took an overnight coach to Noosa, which is on the Sunshine Coast. Here I finally took some surfing lessons, and after about two hours of constantly falling off my surfboard, I finally caught a wave and managed to stand up! Noosa is also great for its walking trails and the views are spectacular. After Noosa we took a train back to Brissy, and after nearly two weeks of travelling hostel to hostel I was happy to see my bed again.

Regarding university, semester 2 was pretty similar to semester 1. I tried my best to choose modules that didn’t have clashing coursework deadlines, since I knew I was going to do a lot of travelling this semester. UQ is very similar to university in Manchester in the way that coursework and exams are carried out and marked. Each module has a tutorial group which is usually discussion-based, and all lectures are recorded and put on Blackboard.

Here are some photos of Moreton Island and my East Coast trip:

ect1 Kayaking around the Whitsundays  moreton 2 Moreton Island moreton Sandboarding – more scary than it looks!

magnetic island Baby wallaby (Magnetic island)

noosa Noosa Beach (Sunshine Coast)



Summer Holidays Down Under

By Serena Graham (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)

P.S. … This blog post is about my summer holidays in Oz (December 2014 – March 2015). I’ve been extremely busy in the past couple of months so I haven’t had the chance to upload it until now!

As the semesters in Australia start in March and July, I’ve had to do semester 2 first and then semester 1, which means I had a three month gap in between semesters. During this time, it was really hot and at times got to around 40 degrees. I seriously regretted choosing a house without air conditioning!

Over the holidays I did a bit of travelling. My parents visited me in Australia and we travelled up to Port Douglas, which is a really cute little town not far from Cairns. Port Douglas has lots of little shops, restaurants and bars that are all really nice and is also close to the Great Barrier Reef. So on Christmas day we decided to go on a snorkelling trip on the Reef, and got to see some turtles and an incredible variety of fish (a few people on the trip were lucky enough to see a couple of sharks). In Port Douglas there is also a wildlife sanctuary where you can see some kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and parrots. Unfortunately, during the summer months on the east coast of Australia it’s jellyfish season so you have to swim within the jellyfish nets and even then some jellyfish can slip through so you need to be careful (or wear a wetsuit). After spending about a week in Port Douglas we returned back to Brisbane and I spent a few days showing my parents around the city. As this was around Christmas time, there were various events on in the city centre such as parades, live music and shows.

After my parents left Australia I decided I needed to get a part-time job if I wanted to continue travelling. After over two months job-hunting I was finally able to get a weekend job in a Chinese restaurant in a nearby suburb. This job kept me busy for the rest of the holidays, and thanks to the generous minimum wage in Australia, I was able to book a few more trips over semester 2 – I’ll talk about these in my next blog!

Here are some pics I took over the summer holidays:

Port Douglas

DSC02354    DSC02423

My first semester at UQ

By Serena Graham (The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)

I wrote this blog just before Christmas but totally forgot to post it – sorry it’s late!

So it’s the end of my first semester here at UQ and it’s been amazing. Time has flown so fast I can’t believe I’m nearly half way through my year here. It’s summer now in Australia and temperatures have reached up to 40 degrees, which was quite unbearable. I’ve had such a busy few months, and have been lucky enough not to experience homesickness (thanks to Skype it’s so easy to get in touch with everyone back home!).

So here’s an update of everything I’ve done so far this semester:

QUEST trips: The International Society at UQ, QUEST is a great way to meet other exchange students, as well as local Aussies. They organise events, nights out, weekly pub visits and weekend trips away. In August, we went to Byron Bay, which is just a short coach ride away from Brisbane. It’s a beautiful place, but we were a bit unlucky with the weather as it pretty much rained the whole weekend. It’s a good place for surfing (but since it was winter here, the sea was just too cold for me!). Despite that, we managed to have a great time and went on a couple of nights out with our fellow Questies. The next trip we went on was to Morten Island, a beautiful sand island (third largest in the world) just off the coast of Brisbane. Here we went snorkelling around a shipwreck, and got to feed some fish. We also saw dolphins! The next day we went sandboarding which was a lot of fun.

Mid-semester break: We had a week off so me and 2 of my housemates decided we would take a trip to Sydney. It’s a much bigger and more touristy city than Brisbane and there’s loads to do there. In the first day we visited the opera house, Darling Harbour, the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Tower Eye. Later in the week we went to see the Blue Mountains and the views were spectacular.

At the end of the semester when our exams were over, me and my housemates decided to go travelling around New Zealand. We visited Queenstown, which is in the south island of New Zealand and has some of the most breath-taking views I have ever seen. We only stayed for three nights, but managed to see some kiwis, go stargazing, and take a tour of Milford Sound. From Queenstown we then flew to the north island to visit Auckland. We then did a coach trip to Matamata, to see Hobbiton (the movie set of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit). After New Zealand we flew straight to Fiji where we stayed on a small resort on Malolo Island for about a week. Despite having rain and storms almost every day, we managed to top up our tans and mostly just relaxed by the pool.

Next semester doesn’t start until March so I have some time to kill! My plan is to (hopefully) get a summer job so that I can save up for doing an east coast trip to visit Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday islands. I’ll keep you updated!


Hobbiton Movie Set, New Zealand
Hobbiton Movie Set, New Zealand
Opera House
Opera House
Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown, New Zealand

Arriving Down Under!

By Serena Graham (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia).

After all the waiting and anticipation I’m finally in Australia! I probably should have written this sooner but I’ve been so busy since I’ve been here, so here’s a recap of everything that’s happened so far.

My journey here consisted of 3 parts: Birmingham to Dubai, Dubai to Singapore, and Singapore to Brisbane. In total it took over 24 hours to get here and I am thankful that I won’t have to do this journey again for a whole year! It was very tiring and since I was travelling alone it seemed to last days. Luckily, the in-flight entertainment was pretty good so I was able to watch a few films to distract myself from the turbulence. For anyone who’s planning to visit Dubai airport: it is massive! I spent about 2 hours circling round the airport trying to find my departure gate, only to find out I actually had to get a train to the other side of the airport! On the last plane of my journey I happened to be sat next to two other exchange students so I made some friends before even arriving.

When I finally got to Brisbane airport, I had to wait another couple of hours because there was not enough room in the transfer bus for everyone to fit in. Luckily my mum had paid for me to stay in a hotel for my first two nights here so I had the chance to catch up on all the sleep I had missed. I then moved into a YHA hostel which was where a few other students from Manchester were staying. As far as hostels go it was pretty good – very clean, safe and the staff were extremely friendly and helpful. They even had a pool, although it was far too cold to use. I was sharing a room with 3 other girls, so it was quite hard to get some sleep (I’m pretty sure one of them was sleepwalking in the middle of the night!).

After meeting up with other UoM students, we went house hunting together. We loved the first house we viewed and moved in a couple days later. Unfortunately we had somehow failed to notice the various holes in the ceilings/walls and didn’t even acknowledge the fact that there was no oven! The house is in an ideal location, it’s a student area just minutes away from Indooroopilly shopping centre (I’m still unsure how to pronounce it- many of the towns in Brisbane originate from Australian Aboriginal language e.g. Toowong, Woolloongabba, Mount Coot-tha).

Once we had settled into our house, we decided to go to the Koala Sanctuary which isn’t far from where we live. I would definitely recommend going there; it had a wide range of animals, from lizards and snakes to wombats and kangaroos. I got to cuddle a koala and managed to get a selfie with a kangaroo!


We also visited Southbank, which is a beautiful place by the river, within walking distance from the city centre. There are various food and clothes markets there at  weekends and a great little man-made beach.

noodle market in Southbank
Noodle market in Southbank


Some advice for anyone planning to visit Australia: you will probably be warned about the ‘drop bears’. They look similar to koalas but are extremely dangerous and tend to attack by dropping down onto their victim from trees, targeting foreigners in particular. Don’t be as gullible as I was – they are completely fictitious and this is a common prank Australians play on tourists to scare them!