It’s the night before I leave Krakow and finish up my exchange experience. Obviously it’s time for a quick reflection.
I didn’t enjoy the university aspect of exchange much, I’ll be honest. I got through two subjects without reading a single academic article or piece of writing – I managed to write entire presentations and exams using Wikipedia and lecture notes alone. And to me, that is a complete joke and should never happen. Other classes I didn’t even bother turning up to because they were boring, because no one did the readings, because no one took attendance and it wasn’t mandatory and I didn’t feel obliged to sit through two hours of an old, fat jolly man enjoying the sound of his own voice while really teaching nothing we couldn’t really in a Norman Davies book.
And because I didn’t get the classes I’d organised to enrol in before I left Australia, my timetable ended up being five days a week, with the one class that attendance was taken for – Polish – being on Mondays and Fridays. No weekends away for me, really, I just skipped a couple of classes here and there but at the end of the day, I had to study and I had to pass. And again, it wasn’t terribly fun and sometimes I feel like I almost wasted my time here because I’ve only been to 6 countries, including Poland.
But 6 countries is still a lot more than a lot of other 20-year-olds I know at home have seen. How many 20-year-old Aussies can say they’ve hiked up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, have best friends in Hungary and Slovenia, touched the Berlin Wall, seen Manchester United play at Old Trafford, enjoyed the charm of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan or – more to the point – managed to stumble through four months of living in a still somewhat developing post-communist country where they didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language and had never been to before?
Not a bad effort, in my books. I wouldn’t come back to Poland to study again, and I don’t know if I’d come here to work in anything other than an EU-sponsored or funded job because organisation and bureaucracy is terrible here. But I hope there’s an infinite amount of visits to this incredible city in my future.
Been a while since the last blog, I think I was ranting about my Brazilian VISA experience, which worked out thank goodness. I did go to Brazil for winter break and had a wonderful time with my best friend and her family, that is definitely something I will not forget any time soon. Back at UMass Amherst now and I have four-ish months left of my experience here and I’m starting to miss home, everything about home, my friends and family and the feeling that I really belong. As soon as I got back to UMass and class started again it was evident that this semester was going to be different from the last. I had close friends leave to continue their adventures and other friends let me down when I needed them. I had tried so hard to make this the best experience I could that I wanted America to be my home. But it’s not my home, it’s not the place where people love and care for me and help me through tough times, Australia is and I had forgotten that. Thankfully my sister is arriving for a visit later this week and I’m going to have two crazy busy weekends ahead of me, one in Boston and one in New York City. Then later in March my parents are arriving to visit me and have a little American experience of their own.
I don’t want to seem like I regret going on exchange, I don’t at all but I do have to admit I was a little bit too cocky about how I would cope over here. Bad shit happens everywhere, no matter who you are or where you are and exchange isn’t going to be all fun times and happiness, especially not for 9 months straight. So my best advice for pending and current exchange students is don’t forget where you are from, don’t get caught up in a swirl of new things and forget about home because eventually you have to go back home and it should feel good.
Even though I have only been home for a month, it seems like a lifetime since I left the University of Connecticut on a very, very cold day. Summing up a week is hard enough, so 5 months is all but impossible! Instead, I will write about some of the things that I learnt that stuck with me.
Firstly, there were the little things that were different to Australia that I simply did not think of, but made a lot of difference. Driving on the opposite side, not a problem, but crossing roads defiantly did! The first night my 2 friends and I arrived in LA, we decided to walk down to Dennys (best restaurant ever). After standing at the traffic lights, having a chat, for AGES, we were soon embarrassed to discover that in LA the ‘walk’ signal doesn’t make a noise, so we had missed about 3 goes, because we weren’t paying attention! It may seem insignificant, but I can still clearly remember it, 6 months on! Being a western country, I had naively assumed that everything would be the same as in Australia. Boy, was I wrong. And don’t even get me started on tipping! 5 months later, and I’m still not 100% sure of the proper way to do it.
Next up, adapting. While for the first couple of days I felt like a fish out of water, by the end of my stay, I was an unofficial American. I adapted really quickly to all the little things that would make my life easier. With limited funds and no one but yourself looking out for you, you have to! I also started saying ‘bunch’ instead of ‘heaps’ and ‘chug’ instead of ‘skull’, just to make my life easier when the Americans had no idea what I was saying.
I cannot write about my stay in America without mentioning School Spirit. At UConn, there is a slogan written all over the place ‘Student today, Husky forever’, and that is how I feel. Long after leaving there, I will still be a Husky, and I have all the merchandise to go with it! On any given day, half the students would be wearing UConn clothing, on game day, this would go up to 99%. The basketballers were famous around College, people would literally go up to them and ask for photos. The Co-Op sold UConn branded EVERYTHING, from Christmas decorations to dog collars to baby clothes. UConn wasn’t just our school, it was our life.
By the end of my trip, I was feeling homesick, and I was ready to go home. After 1 week back in Australia but, I was already missing everything about the place that had been my home for the last 5 months, and the best 5 months of my life. Exchange was the best thing I have ever done, and the experience will stay with me for life.
My semester abroad is now coming to end, with exactly 14days left until I have to get on that long haul flight back to OZ.
Its exam time here in Bath. Which I am finding quite odd. Classes finished about 5 days before christmas, students are given 3 weeks off and then into exams. If I was to be continuing on for another semester, I would only have a one week break before starting the next semester. I much prefer our univeristy system, it just seems to make more sense! (although the 3 week break over christmas did allow for ample travel time! Spain was gorgeous!)
I spent the christmas town hopping, 3 or so days in different towns around the UK with friends from uni and also friends who were on exchange in Australia last year. A cold christmas felt a tad odd, although it did feel more ‘ traditionally christmas’ or what christmas seems like in all the films anyway! But it felt pretty weird without my family and friends and the beach! although we did manage to get in some snow cricket on christmas day just for my benefit.
Having exams right before I finish my semester abroad has made it incredibly hard to see everyone before I fly out. But making sure I see everyone has made me realise just how many amazing people I’ve met over here. From england, europe, and even some new aussie mates. My english friends have taken me under their wing completely and where at the beginning of the semester I was introduced as “the token Aussie”.. I’ve now recieved “oz” instead of Erin as a nickname. My sports team were even going to see if they could get uni funding for me to come back to italy in april for their beach tour! (unfortunately its not going to happen 😦 ) I’ve managed to convince some friends from some of my classes to do placement in the southern hemisphere, with some scattered over Aus and a few in NZ, just gives me an excuse to go and see more of the world closer to home ( I have most definately got the travel bug!)
This 6 months has gone so fast, and yet at the same time it feels like so long ago that I was in Wollongong. Leaving Bath is going to be Bittersweet as i’m excited to go home, but also sad to leave. But yesterday when I packed up a box to send home (mainly consisting of a winter wardrobe) I thought about just how amazing this expereince has been.
Not only have I made friends from around the world and seen 16 countries,but i’ve seen snow for the first time, had a cold christmas, learnt how to cook, tried new sports, survived a long distance relationship and minus temperatures! I’ve even been able to reccomend places and travel spots to other people. I’ve had a snow day, town hopped the UK, met reletives on the other side of the world, experienced homesickness, stood on a frozen lake and represented my country as we lost the rugby and the ashes and loved every minute of it all! I’ve even started hearing english accents as normal and australian accents as incredibly odd! (when they pop up on tv or on the street)
When I was organising my exchange trip, I met another girl from Wollongong who was also coming to Bath, we even discoverd we have a lot of close friends back home. Having her here with me in Bath has been so wonderful. Not only did it give me a travel buddy, but also a cooking partner and someone to talk about home with. She was there when I had some family troubles, and also when we both had boy troubles back home it was great to have someone to talk to.
Obviously procrastination has kicked in at its best with this long post.. But a few photos from awesome times here.
Ultimate Frisbee Banter (post game fun with the other team, more important then the actual game itself :P), My frisbee team making it to nationals, First snow, SQUIRREL!, setting up the christmas tree, At the top of Barcelona, amazing friends from uni, standing on the frozen lake, making it to the uni for the very first time!
For those of you who are wondering if you can keep blogging once you go home – yes yes yes! there is so much you can share with us all once you get home – please keep it up. And if you get a little homesick for the places you have left behind, the blog might help you keep in touch.
For those of you staying on for a second semester – lucky you! It will be interesting to see how/whether your perceptions start to shift now you feel REALLY at home and comfortable in your no-longer-new environment
Thank you all for your great contributions this semester – it has been fantastic!
I feel terrible that this is my first entry here and its my last week on exchange. I think others can probably relate to this as well, but I am finding that it is only as I’m getting closer to leaving that I have the time to look back and really reflect on my experience on exchange.
I am meant to be studying but I thought I would just write to you quickly then do back to studying coz I thought this was worth sharing. I was just doing some study procrastination and looking at the uni website from home and it came up in the news feed that this girl from Alaska that is on exchange at Wollongong has won a prize from Austrade or somewhere for a video she made about her exchange experience in Australia (to promote Study in Australia). So I’ve just spent the last five or so minutes watching it and the end is just her talking about how she will miss everyone and how it will be so much harder leaving than it ever was coming. Then I just got incredibly sad. Not for her, obviously, and not coz the video is about home, but in terms of my own experience in Canada. I have less than a week before I leave, and a few of my friends have started to leave already. Its kind of surreal because it doesnt feel like its actually the end already. Many of my international friends are staying for the year, so they are going home for a couple of weeks for Christmas then coming back. So it feels strange saying goodbye knowing that some of us are leaving and some of us will be back next semester. I’m sitting in one of the U of A’s many libraries at the moment attempting to study for a final, and I asked the girl next to me a moment ago if she would mind watching my stuff while I went and grabbed my printing. And all she said was “for sure” and smiled, but to be honest, I felt really upset. What many of my friends and I have noticed her is that Canadians say “for sure” a lot more than they say “eh”. So I couldn’t help but smile as I walked over to get my printing. I love Canada.
It’s been four months now.
I’ve seen so much of this place. Made a lot of friends, a lot of memories, seen and done things I would never ever have imagined.
This is much like the story of every exchange student, I would imagine, but to me, it feels special.
As I find myself nearing the end of my stay here in Umeå, Sweden, I feel like a little reflection is in order:
Actually, I’ve spent more time on my various trips around Europe than here in Umeå. Just got back from a trip further north at 1am today. I’m writing this blog now rather than later since I’m leaving again for another trip around Europe in a couple of days. Tiredness is no longer a problem, just a fact of life.
So far I have visited a whole lot of Sweden, plus bits of other countries like Poland, Finland (twice), Norway (thrice), Russia, Italy, Switzerland, France and Monaco, with plans to see Spain and Germany as well as Italy and France again before I leave – in a month.
I’ve been roaming around with friends I made here, friends from just about every country in the world (in fact I’m convinced Sweden has more Germans than Swedes). I have a bunch of Swedish friends as well, of course, but they are not so interested in such touristy activities…
One thing that you notice when travelling with non-native English speakers is that many will call just about anywhere “home”. Instead of “let’s go back to the hotel where we are staying for one night”, it’s “let’s go home”. Of course I don’t feel at home in that hotel, it’s just the place we sleep. In this case I usually try to correct people (which some really appreciate, more than others).
There is one case, though, when I don’t feel that this is a mistake; When people say we are going “home” as we return to Umeå, then I am inclined to agree with them. I do feel like I’m coming home. This feels like home.
The snow; the cold; the sun that we never see, and the beautiful skies by which we know it is still there; this tiny little room; my curtains that I found in a dumpster – held open by a coathanger; riding my bike across the frozen lake; cooking my own food in my own shared kitchen; my housemates, about whom I know nothing, not even their names (as is the Swedish way); the times when I find myself thinking “$5 Australian, what’s that in crowns?”; the big dirty factory next door, whose smoky beacon guides me safely home from any place in town at any hour of night…
All of it. It’s home.