So, here I am. FINALLY getting around to writing my first blog, almost 3 months into my adventure. I have managed to find some time to sit down and reflect on the beginning of this crazy chapter in my life.
A little about me.
My name is Menna. I am an English language student at Swansea and I am embarking on a year abroad in Sydney, Australia. Back home in Swansea I live at home and commute to university, I am always busy doing something or other in my daily life and I absolutely love to spend time with my friends, my family and I can’t forget my beloved dogs, Trinny and Trundle. I wanted to provide you with a little about me so you know who I am and who you will be reading about in my continued blog posts.
The year abroad as an idea.
I decided on a year abroad when choosing my degree, but it was one of those things I never expected to happen. Approaching Christmas in the second year of uni this somewhat small idea of mine became real. I remember attending a meeting where I was provided with all the facts and information I needed and I remember leaving that meeting more scared than excited. I got to my car and cried, the reality of what seemed like a dream that would never come true was, in fact, coming true. I suddenly felt fearful, things I had not even considered about what moving away would entail were brought to my attention, not to mention the fact that I had suddenly realized I was moving to the other side of the world. No biggie at all. When doing something like this there are a lot of things to consider, I had to weigh up what was more important. Christmas, New years eve and my 21st (a reason to have a massive party) with my family OR having the experience of a lifetime. I chose Australia, and boy am I glad I did. If you’re reading this blog and have the idea in mind of possibly venturing out and doing something like this, remember there are always going to be moments of fear and moments of doubt where you will consider if you can or can’t do it. You need to think what you want from an experience such as this and what you will gain from it. With saying that, if you decide it is not for you and you aren’t willing to proceed that is ok too. Some things aren’t for everyone!
The year abroad, it’s happening.
Sat waiting for my final second-year exam I decided to have a quick look of my emails to take my mind off what was about to be a grueling two hours ahead, low and behold there was an email from UNSW, the University of New South Wales, confirming my place at their university. Let’s just say trying to focus for them two hours was a real struggle, all I could think about was sitting on Bondi beach with a nice cold drink! So, it was happening. I was moving to Australia. After overcoming the excitement and breaking the news to everyone, putting that all so important post on facebook to tell the world and make it even more official I had to pull myself together and get all the important paperwork done. There was a flight to book, a visa to apply for and all the other bits of important ‘adulty’ stuff to sort. Not to mention finding a way to get the wardrobe of a girl who works in fashion retail fitting into a suitcase with a luggage allowance of 30Kg!!! As moving day drew closer I was told that I, unfortunately, was not given on-campus accommodation at UNSW due to a fault in my accommodation application, my stress levels were at a whole new high. I was moving to Australia and had nowhere to live. With the help of the UNSW, a lot of searching and late night emailing due to the time difference I managed to find a place to stay with a lovely lady who provided rooms for students. Within the 6 weeks I had to prepare it seemed all was under control, my visa was approved, I found the perfect flight and I had found a place to call home when I got to Oz. Ready. Set. GO!
July the 13th, THE big day. Passport, check. Visa, check. Health insurance, check. Any and every form of documentation needed to get me from the UK to Australia, CHECK. My flight wasn’t until 9.45pm, therefore that meant a morning of tears and goodbyes. I am not going to lie to you, it was hard. I had thought about these moments over and over, I had even considered if I was going to get cold feet at that very last moment and not get on the plane. I said my goodbyes at my dad’s house and cried for a little bit of the journey to Heathrow. During the car journey, my dad popped the big question to his girlfriend of 8 years making it an even more special day than it was meant to be. I managed to hold myself together a reasonable amount until I got to the Quantas check-in desk at the airport, that was it I was in floods of tears. I was actually about to go through with this, I was more scared of the flight than anything. The only kind of traveling I had done alone was a 2-hour flight to Ibiza and even then I was with 3 other girls. I had a little cry, checked my stuff in, I had taken the obligatory picture under the “Departures” sign and went on to sit with my family in a little coffee shop situated just before the entrance to security in the airport. This moment was precious to me. My whole family sat together and it was going to be a long time before I saw them again. The time had come to put myself through security and into departures, I was so ready to do this. I shared one last teary goodbye hug with my family and off I went, no looking back. Once through security, I had to find the first place to settle with a nice alcoholic beverage to take the edge off my nerves. Kicking back waiting for my gate number to appear on the board in front of me I swigged away on a nice, cold, fruity Old Mout Cider and I remember thinking “Here we go.” As I have already mentioned the flight was a huge worry for me, but I can say now it was an absolute breeze. I slept the whole way to Abui Dhabi and I still can not believe how good the plane food was. I made it to Australia in one piece and I was greeted at the airport by the wonderful students who had offered to be part of the airport arrival service. As soon as I got off that plane I felt comfortable and like I was at home. I did not feel a single bit of doubt or worry as to what I had just done, I felt ready to take on the year with everything I had to offer. My first day continued with me fighting the jet lag, that would be one of my biggest bits of advice. Fight the jet lag!!! I was like a zombie by 7pm but it made getting into the new time zone a whole lot easier. Within a few days, I found myself in a good sleeping routine, going to bed at the same time I did when at home and waking up at a similar time also.
My first few weeks in Aus.
On my first real day, I woke up and went to meet a girl I had met on one of the UNSW facebook groups, a group designed to help fellow exchangers find new friends, her name is Shannon and I found myself to be lucky enough to click with her straight away. I was apprehensive catching a bus as this was something I wasn’t used to doing due to the fact that I drove myself pretty much everywhere whilst at home. Obviously, everything couldn’t go plain sailing, right? I managed to get the wrong bus and ended up back at the airport, this being in the complete opposite direction of my destination which was meant to be Coogee beach. All I can say is thank goodness for google maps, my friend Shannon and my somewhat sense of direction. Hopping off the bus after figuring out I was only getting further away from Shannon on the ‘share my location’ section of facebook I used my very small amount of common sense, I crossed the road and caught the next bus heading in the same direction that I had just come from, eventually finding my way to Coogee beach and completing the Coogee to Bondi walk whilst getting to know Shannon, someone I now consider to be a best friend and someone everyone else considers to be my twin. Who would have thought I would move to Australia and become best mates with my very own doppelganger. I have learned to laugh in these kinds of moments, and trust me there have been many. It is only normal to get lost when moving to a new area, let alone a place as big as Sydney. In my first week, I emailed the accommodation office at UNSW praying that someone somewhere across the campus had decided this wasn’t for them, meaning that their room would be available for someone else. I was lucky enough to have found this was the case and to then be offered a room at Basser College, a place that I now call home. Having this living in halls experience has been a dream as it is something I did not experience at Swansea. I remember my first day at Basser, I was terrified. As the food is catered I woke up and tried to make my way down to the dining hall, I remember I had absolutely no idea where to go, but I was lucky enough to find a friendly face, aka Ollie Bruer, in the corridor and he led the way. Not knowing if I would settle in a place like this, I can now say I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I have made the absolute best of friends with so many people within Basser College. My closest group of girl friends are the best, I remember my first encounter with a few. I was sent to the rooftop to meet all the new ‘fresh freshers’, I was made to introduce myself and I knew no one would understand this welsh accent of mine but I proceeded to do so anyway. The first person I found myself talking to was a little Canadian girl who was sat with her sunglasses on, holding her poor broken knuckle in a huge, bulky white cast (another tip of mine and definitely of Sara’s; do NOT try to kiss a moose’s head whilst stood on a bar stool after a few beers.) We look back and laugh now as I always remind her how I thought she did not like me at all, it turns out she was ridiculously hungover and obviously in a lot of pain. I can not imagine being on this year abroad without her. She is the girl I go to to check my make-up is ok, if my outfit looks right or if I just need a friend to chat too. Not to mention she is undoubtedly always by my side making sure I am not falling behind on drinking my pint just as fast as she is. Another first encounter that still makes me laugh now is my first encounter with Bronie. One evening I was on facetime to my mam and I had a knock at my bedroom door, when opening the door I was greeted with Bronie. She had come to knock my door to hear my accent, this at the start was so alien to me as I had never even thought about my being so different. I have met a whole bunch of great girls I could not imagine my exchange without now. So thank you Zoe for always being there, Nat for never missing an episode of The Greath British Bake off with me, Emma for providing me with contant laughs due to her lack of thinking before speaking, Michaela for providing the supply of amazingly delishious pastaries, Charlie for being absolutely great and of course Sara. I can’t forget to say thank you to Marlii, Jules and Bron for being the absolute best too (extra thanks to Marlii, I can’t imagine my weekday evenings without a cup of tea and ‘The Block” now.) You ladies really are all the best! I live on floor four and have found myself to be lucky enough to have great neighbors surrounding me. There is never a dull moment on floor four and I am grateful. I can’t seem to walk down the corridor without “hellooooooo Menna” being shouting at me from some direction (the extension on the hello is an imitation of my little welsh accent that the Aussies seem to think is funny to do). I have had great experiences, such as the chance to go and see a small theater production in a local pub, a chance to experience a harbor cruise at Sydney harbor, although I can confirm a bit of a bumpy boat ride and lots of free alcohol do not mix well. I had the chance to dress all fancy and attend Basser ball. Even the little things like experiencing Women’s Day, a day dedicated to hard working women, an event created this year by residents of Basser. These kinds of little events are the best for me as I really get the chance to see the college come together and I love it. This way of life is different to student life at Swansea and I am lucky to have the chance to experience both. During the first week of uni I managed to gain another solid group of friends and it just so happens we are all from the UK. It was by accident that I met Alice, Jamie, and Fran. What a lovely accident that was, they have grown to be such great friends and a huge part of my year abroad. Shannon then met Susanna, Savvas, and Freyja, and I met Patsie, and altogether we are a good little team and have formed friendships I hope will last us a lifetime. Although we are only 3 months in, we have already had some fun little adventures – we have been to surf camp and discovered that to surf is in fact not as easy as people make it look. We have been on a camping trip to a place called Central Coast where we all found ourselves being challenged by nature at some point or other, but nonetheless we still had fun. We have had some fun nights out exploring the city also. We really try to make the most of our time here and we definitely try to abuse the $2.50 cap for transport about New South Wales on a Sunday, resulting in ‘Sunday funday’.
As a whole, I am three months in and I have found this to be the hardest and greatest thing I have ever achieved. I’ve gone from living at home surrounded by the best family and friends, to moving to the other side of the world and suddenly having no one unless it is via a facetime call. I have challenged myself to be more open, to put myself out there and give anything and everything my all whilst out here in Australia. I have been challenged by the down days where I wish I could just nip home for the day and have a quick catch up with the family or a quick cwtch with the dogs and I have come out stronger. All these things I feel will better me as a person and they have changed my perspective on how I see home and how I see myself. I often find myself thinking how lucky I am to be doing this. My biggest bit of advice to someone who wants to do this but is worried about the homesickness would be to push through – homesickness is something that can be overcome. If you find youself getting a bit too consumed by the feelings of wanting to see your family, friends or pets, then get out and go explore. Take your mind off it by immersing yourself into what the country has to offer. I find if I feel a bit down I talk to my Aussie family, my amazing ‘Team’ of British friends who quite possibly are feeling the same way and I get out. Even if it is a half hour walk to Coogee (the nearest beach), or a little walk into Randwick town to pop into Coles for some grocerioes, I go make use of my time by remembering where I am and what I have come here for.