Like many people on exchange this year, I didn’t get the send off I had anticipated. In our pre-covid fantasies we imagined a month of BBQs on the beach, sunset hikes and cocktails at those bars we just hadn’t got round to visiting yet.
The reality couldn’t have been more different.
PHASE 1: MOVING OUT
To begin with Australia wasn’t too badly affected by the virus. While the UK infection rates were rocketing, Melbourne was yet to record a fatality. But we couldn’t predict what was round the corner and staying in Aus during a pandemic seemed risky, not to forget expensive.
With great hesitation, we ended the lease on our beautiful home and booked a flight back to the UK. Our decision to leave brought about a mad frenzy of selling furniture and rushed goodbyes. It wasn’t till we parted with our last pot plant, that we finally realised our time abroad had come to an end.
Well thats what we thought.
Only 45 minutes after we had gutted our ENTIRE house we received an email informing us that our flight had been cancelled and that unless we had a spare 10 grand lying around, we weren’t getting another one soon.
We were officially stuck in Melbourne with only Chinese leftovers, a legless table and a new family of mice for company.
PHASE 2: STRANDED
With no electricity and a rapidly deteriorating budget, things began to look pretty bleak. I made several attempts to contact the University of Melbourne in hope of securing temporary accommodation. Much to my dismay, our host university took no interest in our plea for help. Running out of options we were unbelievably grateful to receive a message from my Aussie course-mate. Having heard of our distress, she insisted we crashed at hers or at the very least used her wifi while we sought for solutions.
PHASE 3: LOCKDOWN IN AUS
After a much needed 2 days away from the family of mice, we were ready to launch our covid action plan! We had struck lucky with an incredibly cheap air bnb in the city centre as well as a new flight home in a fortnights time.
Making the most of a ‘bad’ situation we spent the next 2 weeks relaxing in our apartment, playing boardgames, ordering breakfast, holding makeshift spa nights and learning Spanish. Overtime the supermarkets restocked and we found ourselves with a plentiful supply of loo roll and watercolours. Shockingly, lockdown in a swanky inner city apartment wasn’t all that bad!
PHASE 4: TAKE OFF
In the days leading up to our flight we constantly refreshed our inboxes expecting to see a dreaded cancellation email. To our disbelief, no email appeared. In a groundhog day like manner, we repacked, put on our face masks and headed to the airport.
Our airport experience was anything but normal. Firstly, our flight was 25 hours long but we weren’t allowed to leave the plane during our stop over. Instead we waited for 2 hours in the dark while cleaners; dressed as futuristic spacemen, sterilised every surface. Making matters more bizarre, no hot food could be served. With nothing better to do, we spent the last tedious stretch of our journey reminiscing and scoffing our faces with endless supplies of kitkats.
PHASE 5: REFLECTIONS
So it mightn’t have been the perfect ending to the perfect time abroad.
But I can certainly say that for the amazing people I met, the incredible places I saw and the unforgettable memories I made, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
No matter the day there’s always plenty of things to do around Melbourne’s campus from free BBQs and live music, to cosy study spots and farmer markets – the list is endless! So if your wanting to make your day at uni a little less studious and a whole lot more enjoyable, here’s a quick guide to my N.1 spots on campus.
Unlike the other Universities in Australia, Melbourne’s midterm break is a gruelling nine weeks into the academic term. By this point you will defo want a holiday, so take that time to plan a great trip away!
Time has soared by since I first set foot in Melbourne. Now 8 weeks into the Aussie dream (and loving every second of it) I’ve put together 5 life hacks that made settling into this fantastic city a lot less daunting!
Hands down one of the best parts of going on an exchange is the opportunity to explore around the town or city you’re studying in. Travelling throughout the semester on short weekend breaks really gives you a feel for the country. These are quite general but if you’d like something more specific shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
So, you’ve managed to secure a place with the University of Melbourne. That’s great. On top of that, you’ve just flown over 10,000 miles, enjoyed and are just about ready to collapse from jet lag. In spite of all of that, things are looking pretty good, you should feel proud of yourself for getting so far (I know that I’m excited for you). BUT before we can kick off your dream exchange, we need to get you a base for the next few months, a place you can kick back and relax in between your Australian adventures.
*This guide is aimed at those who are planning on finding accommodation after reaching Australia*
By Anna Powell (University of Melbourne, Australia)
I thought that returning to uni after a whole year away would be tough. This year counts for 67% of my final degree (a little different to last year’s pass or fail requirement!) and over the summer I watched loads of my friends graduate from Manchester. I’ve been a little concerned about adjusting from a pass or fail year to my crucial final year as well as wondering what would remain of my social life back in Manchester. Despite my concerns, returning to Manchester has been fine, great even!
There are far more people around than I had expected; it turns out that a surprising number of people did a year abroad and quite a few are doing a masters year. This is nice as, although a lot of friends have graduated, I’ve grown closer to other people who are still around. Also, those of us who have been abroad from Psychology have already made contact and have been sitting together in lectures. It’s been good not to feel like the newbie on a course where everyone else has had classes together for two years. I’ve loved hearing about where everyone has been, from America to Canada to Australia, what our experiences were like and how they differed.
Although the academic year has only just begun, I already sense a change of attitude in the people around me as everyone has developed a really strong work ethic. Because most people are either final year or masters students, partying has been seconded to working hard, which feels like a good environment to be in. For me, I feel like my year abroad has made me a lot more driven. After seeing many friends graduate and be launched into the real world, I’ve seen the importance of working as hard as possible in my final year, as well as continuing to beef up my CV in preparation for job applications. Being away has given me a bit of a breather from the intensity of my degree, so that I’ve returned feeling refreshed and ready to take on final year. Fingers crossed all goes well!
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.
By Anna Powell (University of Melbourne, Australia)
During the Easter break I was lucky to have my parents visiting Australia. After a very stressful few weeks of deadlines, my mum, dad, sister, boyfriend and I flew out to Western Australia to enjoy two weeks of snorkelling on one of the most spectacular coral reefs on the planet, Ningaloo.
After a 6 hour flight (Australia is so big!) we arrived at the smallest airport I’ve ever been to, Learmonth, near Exmouth. Apart from boasting the new addition of a cafe, it was literally a room with arrivals at one end and departures at the other. We hired a car and made our way across the baked landscape to the town of Exmouth, one of the very few settlements in that part of Western Australia. Its population is about 2000 and the place relies heavily on tourism.
We spent our days in Exmouth exploring the almost deserted coastline; the snorkelling was really incredible. We couldn’t believe that all it took was to wade out a few meters and dive down and you’d find yourself surrounded by colourful fish darting around impressive coral formations, as well the occasional sea turtle or stingray. My dad reckoned he saw a small shark too, but I wasn’t too jealous of that!
As well as Exmouth we stayed in Coral Bay, and this is where I did encounter a shark, in fact the biggest of all sharks, the whale shark. The Ningaloo Reef is lucky enough to be the home of migrating whale sharks; an opportunity we were not willing to miss. The day we went whale sharking was undoubtedly the best day of our whole trip and an experience I’ll remember forever. However, it didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped!
The day of our trip was extremely rough day at sea. Despite glorious blue skies, the sea was choppy and churning from a huge swell, which meant spotting a whale shark was extremely difficult for the airborne spotter pilot (a guy in a plane covering vast distances to locate whale sharks and then direct boats like ours to their location). Despite the tricky conditions, an hour or so into our voyage we received word from the pilot that a whale shark had been spotted. Whilst racing across the ocean, our group were eagerly trying to get ready for our dive – not easy on a boat rolling from side to side whilst 20 people are frantically trying to put on flippers, dunk their snorkel masks in anti-fog solution, sit on the deck and recall all the instructions we’d been given: ”How many meters do I have to be away from the shark? What did they say the distress signal was again?…”
Once we were ready we had to sit and wait on the deck. Another group had beaten us to it and were already swimming with the shark. We sat and waited and waited and waited. After quite a while of patiently sitting in our snorkel masks, the group became a little restless. Eventually, our crew informed us that the whale shark had dived. We’d been waiting for it to resurface but unfortunately, it didn’t look like it was going to be back anytime soon. Disheartened, we peeled off our snorkel masks and wetsuits and instead of jumping into the water to swim with an ocean giant as anticipated, lunch was served. We were encouraged not to lose hope, but as the day wore on and the tally of sea-sickness sufferers grew ever larger, the positive mood on the boat dwindled. Our crew tried in earnest to keep the positive feeling going, but as the end of the day neared, the chances of us seeing a whale shark became quite unlikely.
It was just as we were about to return to land that we got a call from the spotter pilot. Unbelievably, he’d been on his way back to land when he’d spotted another whale shark, however, due to flying for hours on end, he’d run out of fuel and so had no choice but to land. Thankfully, he’d had just enough time to tell our crew the location. Before we knew it we were again racing across the ocean at full pelt whilst clambering around, getting ready to enter the water. Until this point I’d been flat out on the floor of the boat trying to fight the inevitable waves of nausea that come with spending an entire day on a rocky ocean. With news of the sighting however, I, like the rest of the group, was eager to be ready in time. It wasn’t long before we came to a halt and were receiving urgent instructions on what we needed to do in the moments that would follow. We were lined at the back of the boat, one of the crew members jumped in to locate the shark and then signalled for us to join her.
Because of the choppy sea, as I stood close to the edge and was instructed to jump in, it was a big drop into the water and when I hit it, it took a while to compose myself and find the group. As I turned to see them swimming away from me I saw it. I couldn’t help an “oh god” escape through my snorkel. The whale shark was 5 metres long (actually quite a small one, they can be 12 metres!) and it was swimming towards me with its famous mouth stretched into a wide oval.
Before I knew it we were hauling ourselves onto the boat gasping for air. I was surprised at how tiring it was to keep up! Luckily that wasn’t it, and we were able to do another 3 dives with the shark. It was incredible being in the huge swell of the ocean with the creature. If I popped my head above the water I was surrounded by towering waves and could just about see a huge dorsal fin slicing through them ahead of me; amazing! A very memorable moment was when I was waiting to get back onto the boat when a shadow beneath me caught my attention. Another, unidentifiable shark was swimming at a greater depth. I shouted in shock, “There’s another shark!!” and was promptly directed to get out of the water and calm down. I later found out that despite rarely attacking humans, unlike the whale whark this shark, a bronze whaler, is regarded as dangerous. I’d been so absorbed by the whale shark I’d had no idea we had other company!
After our final dive we headed back to land just as the sun was setting, a very happy group. I couldn’t believe that half an hour before I’d been in the open ocean with a giant. It was truly incredible. I would recommend the experience to anyone. Although expensive (around $400), it was 100% worth it and already I want to do it again, but when, I don’t know!