Having now been back in NZ for just over a week (and thoroughly enjoying the sunshine), it’s time for a reflections post. It’s very strange to think everyone I met is currently well into their second semester while I’m now on holiday. To end the series of blog posts, I wanted to reflect over my favourite aspects of the exchange.
My highlights include –
Making friends with such a diverse range of people. Being in smaller classes meant that I was immediately placed with people who had similar interests to me, but the societies and events held by the universities meant that I was introduced to people who I would otherwise never have encountered. The smaller campus meant I was able to connect better and more quickly with people, something I really appreciated. I am still in touch with all my friends from overseas, whom I look forward to seeing again in the future when I return to visit family as well.
Becoming familiar with a new country. I had visited England before and have family over there, but now both Cornwall and London are very familiar to me, which I love because it will make settling over there easier next time, because I would love some day to return and work over there. It’s such a great opportunity to explore other countries in doing this exchange, and not only gives great experiences for the present, but gives a great opportunity to build foundations for future experiences, in either the same place or even different places.
Experiencing a different culture. Cornwall is a staunchly independent county and you can tell from the unique history of the place, including the mines and how being coastal affects the lifestyle of the citizens, and most importantly the signature cream teas and pasties. Living in a town with multiple beaches felt very similar to home and drew people of a similar calibre, all who like to be by the sea and surrounded by beautiful countryside. The more rural and distinctively traditional environment made for a very different culture to the big cities, which I loved because it felt more open, and the environment was just as much part of the experience as the people were.
Having the chance to be part of societies – both horse riding and choir. Again these activities allowed me to meet more people. In choir, I chose to sing in the alto section, something I’ve never tried before, to sing in a church which I’ve also never done and also to perform outside in the town centre on stage for a Christmas lights festival – to be a part of the university and the local community. Horse riding was also a chance to mix with university students and locals in a different way, a break from campus learning more about something that I’m interested in as equally as I am to what I’m studying. It made the exchange more well-rounded for me.
Having spend most of my time lately catching up with friends and describing all of the adventures from the past few months, I’ve attempted to come up with a way of explaining when asked ‘So how was it?’, a simple enough question but one that never fails to make my mind instantly go blank. I usually start with ‘The best and craziest experience of my life’, which sounds cheesy to essentially rehearse what is also a cheesy line, but it makes for a good starting point and encompasses the trip without intense detail. Because it was definitely one of the best experiences – getting for once to experience a country on my own terms, and crazy because it in no way compared to anything I’ve ever done before. But as I’ve also discussed in earlier posts, it was also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. No one can underestimate leaving your family and friends and everything you know behind, to face the unknown places and people. But there is a certain charm revealed to you pretty early on when you notice that people this far away also drive cars, drink coffee, are keen for a good laugh and want to make friends too. So overall, I would recommend travel to absolutely everyone, and that my experience overseas was made all the better because I had the secure knowledge that I was going over to study in another university, which had a routine very similar to that of being home. I know even now, preparing to go into my final year of my degree that this exchange will remain the highlight of my experience at Auckland University, for it has allowed me to live a life on the other side of the world that I would never have had access to otherwise, and proven to me that I am capable of living independently and setting up a life for myself both for and outside of academia, and that the world isn’t such a huge and daunting place after all.
Even now, anytime I am apprehensive towards my ability of doing something ‘serious’ or scary, instantly I remind myself that I went on an exchange, went overseas knowing no one, and returned on the other side of the experience so happy that I had pushed myself to achieve that and learned to love a place previously unknown to me.
I hope that this post, as well as the others, has provided you with an insight into the exchange experience, and encouraged you to investigate it further and hopefully inspires you to go on your own trip! I would like to thank the 360 team for providing such a fantastic opportunity for the UoA students – I am very grateful to have had the experience and to have been given the opportunity to write about it.