When you decide to go on exchange, you decide to change your life. When I decided to go on exchange to University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, I was so excited! But when it came down to the day I left, I was scared, nervous and afraid. I had been on my year abroad in Italy, I had made new and wonderful friends and I didn’t know what I would experience in a new country.
I got on my plane and immediately ordered champagne. When I arrived in London, I was so anxious. To stay for 6 months studying meant I had to apply for a student visitor visa at the airport (that means they could accept or reject me on the border). I had, quite unnecessarily, a massive folder packed full of documents- birth certificates, bank statements, official letters, emails, everything really. As the queue for non-eu citizens slowly stepped forward, my heart beated faster and faster. Double, triple, quadruply checking, obsessively, that I had every document with me. There were some distressed students in front who had been rejected a visa. One officer approached a boy and, closing the tape to the UK border, said; ‘You have been rejected a visa. Wait here.” And so sweat dripped from my forehead as I began to prepare myself for rejection. I finally got to the counter where a smiling lady asked for my documents and passport. She let me through without any hassle. I was so relieved, I did a happy dance in an elevator, where I’m sure some security officer had a good giggle.
It was a short trip into London from Heathrow and then a wait at Liverpool station- it was like going on the Hogwart’s express!!
When I arrived in Norwich, everyone was so friendly! The cab driver gave me an historic tour of the city. The teachers and students who greeted me were so kind. Keep in mind I had just come from Italy so I had two MASSIVE bags and three little bags of stuff- shopping in Europe is amazing!! This really cute Croatian boy took my bags up the stairs and showed me to my room. I got inside and as soon as he left, I did another happy dance. I was in England. I was about to start studying film, theatre and writing – passions that Italy couldn’t fulfil. But I was still so confused. One minute I was happily singing, the next I had fallen to the ground sobbing- ridiculous! This is because I was afraid. I had worked so hard to get to this point, but no longer knew what to do. I didn’t know anything, about the uni, the people, nothing!!
The next day it was grey. I was exhausted from traveling and unpacking and I had to get up early for cultural sessions. These were invaluable as British culture, although similar, is different to Australian. For instance, when you greet someone they’ll say “you alright?” The first time I heard someone ask me that, I thought “Oh god, do I not look alright? Why wouldn’t I be alright? I’m fine. Aren’t I? Do I have to tell them my life story?” But they just mean “how are you?”
Their politeness, although stereotypical, is 100% accurate 60% of the time. I’ve even found myself apologizing or asking long winded, unnecessary questions like “If it wouldn’t be such trouble, would you mind so much if you could please…” Ridiculous and hilarious.
Another interesting note about British culture, is they will suss you out and analyze your accent, where you come from and what your background is based on this accent. They will, within the first three sentences say “Australian?”, once you say yes, they smile and feel more comfortable. It’s the most bizarre process to watch, but where you come from is important. In Norwich you mix with people from all over England and hear the most bizarre accents!
Exchange is a unique and personal experience. Everyone comes over for different reasons. I came over to learn more about cultures, to get involved in the artistic companies, and that is what I have done. In the short space of a month, I have travelled, gotten a short story published in the uni newspaper which was then read on radio, I have written a play which is currently in rehearsals, I have been involved in sports societies and have made such fantastic friends- people I never thought I would or could meet.
I live on campus- which is fantastic. I am lucky that all my housemates and I get along so well. We do everything together- shopping, cooking, laundry, even go to gym sessions. One of the most memorable moments for me in the flat so far was when my short story had just been published in the paper. I told my housemates and they all got a copy of the paper. That night everyone sat around our dinner table while one of my flatmates, Eleanor, read my story aloud. It was such a special moment to share with people I have not known for very long, but who I care about very much.
Exchange holds such amazing possibilities. What begins with nothing, perhaps fear and nervousness, if you apply yourself and are observant, you can find and make things happen.
Exchange gives you possibilities you never thought were available.