Warning: gratuitous backstory (I’m not a very concise blog-writer, just a heads up. I’m working on it.)
Growing up I always considered myself a bit of an introverted home-bird. Not so much in that I was shy, but more in that I was the type to use “my Mum said I can’t, sorry!” as an excuse to get out of birthday party invites, and that I always looked forward to being back in my own bed after holidays, no matter how nice a time we’d had. As I’ve gotten older though, my outlook has shifted. Going to university 200 miles away from home and having to build everything from scratch; friendships, academic record, my meagre cooking skills, was a bit of a turning point I think. I had to adjust to Exeter being my home, and though it was hard going at first, I eventually did, and now honestly love it to bits. I started to realise that home, really, could be wherever in the world I decided to make it.
My keenness for travel however, despite always loving home, was a whole other ball game. I am in no doubt at all that I was very lucky growing up, with regular family holidays to North Wales, France and other European destinations, and a few incredible trips to Canada to visit my Mum’s sister living north of Vancouver. The most instrumental travel experience I’ve had however, was when I spent a year (2000-2001) living in Brisbane with my family when my Dad was offered a chance to work out there. I won’t lie, living in Australia as a kid was about as idyllic as it sounds. By the time I was 6 I was in Year 1 at a local Brisbane comprehensive with a strong Aussie accent. I knew the Australian National Anthem word for word, knew how to escape a bushfire and how to identify platypuses, and was used to spending weekends playing with Joeys in the park and building sandcastles on the Gold Coast. Aside from the fact I was constantly lathered in sun lotion to protect my wholly unprepared British skin, you probably wouldn’t have been able to pick me out as the European from my Kindergarten class.
Though I was so young, it’s possibly from the Aussie experience that I’ve latched onto a couple key things that have definitely stuck with me when it comes to my attitude to travelling:
- The best way to see a country is to live there.
- I’ve always hated feeling like a tourist. The socks-and-sandal Brit abroad stereotype doesn’t offend me so much as a fashion choice, but in that it instantly labels you an outsider. On family holidays we always end up in self-catered flats and cottages, as opposed to going for resorts with all the other holiday-makers, and the whole trying to really experience local life ‘properly’ is a trait from my parents I’ve definitely picked up. Living in Australia after several months we became part of the community; we were invited to Christmas lunches and on holidays with friends and lived our lives just like everyone else.
- Countries where English is the main language can still be wholly foreign.
- Having visited both, I can safely say that Canada and Australia are so different to the UK, have such different cultures- different supermarkets and domestic politics and outlooks on life, and yet it’s all completely accessible to the non-polyglots amongst us. Being able to speak only a smattering of A level French, I honestly think it’s incredible. The one time we went on an ill-fated family holiday to Spain, we felt the entire time that we were inconveniencing people with our severely limited Spanish, and that we couldn’t really get to know the country. Removing the language barrier if you’re not a natural born linguist just makes the whole immersion experience in another country all the easier.
When I realised then, aged about 16, that the option of studying abroad as a non-language student was a very real possibility to me, I was thrilled. I’d had the experience of living for a year in another country before, and though I was old enough to remember snippets of Australia, my brother and I always say that we wish we’d been able to appreciate it a bit more. A year abroad at university offered me a chance to do it all again, and really make the most of that experience. The more I researched, the more Australia and Canada and other English speaking options cropped up as options, and that sealed it for me. I had to study abroad.
With this a definite for me decided so early on, when I got to looking around universities in Year 12 study abroad options was constantly on my mind. Along with my liking the course and the city, a decent selection of linked universities abroad was a huge sticking point for me. I loved the options available at Leeds and put Durham down on my UCAS form largely because it was linked to my then dream location – UBC in Vancouver. In the end though, I chose Exeter because it ticked the boxes for both course and city, and had a fab display of Sydney at the Open Day. I even applied to the ‘study abroad’ course, despite being warned the grade requirements may be higher than the standard offer (they were, I was not impressed at the time.) ‘BA History with Study Abroad’ might not be the catchiest of degree titles, but I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.
Choosing to study abroad for me therefore, was never a question in any doubt. Having lived in Australia, and speaking to my parents since about the difficulty in making that decision, I knew that sometimes, taking the plunge and doing the slightly terrifying thing can be the best decision you ever make.