Hannah: Leaving Leeds, My final Month and Reflecting on My Exchange Experience

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….

It’s officially 2020, 1st of January, and your exams are in two weeks.

Nothing like the New Year to bring you back to reality, but that is what it’s like studying on this side of the world. I never realised that I took the six-week Christmas break for granted until I found myself cramming in a Laidlaw Library cubicle just as the new decade had begun. Gone are the Christmas Markets and celebratory trips across the country, instead Cafe Nero is your new home. If anything, exam season widened my palette. I finally stepped into the UK’s favourite establishment: Greggs. I will be careful here, because if you say more than two bad words about Greggs you will be forced out of the country. It is the land of sausage rolls and very plain whitebread sandwiches, and the only establishment to dominate the news cycle because of the not-so-terrible introduction of the Vegan Sausage Roll. Mind you, not the best place for a pre-exam snack if you don’t want to roll your bloated body to the exam room (I know, take my visa away). As I take a breather from exams, Christmas, and the sense that everything is coming to an end, I will reflect on the highs and lows of the past month (Greggs experience included):

6am journeys to Oxford are worth it. Not the 6am part, but Oxford, definitely. 

If I were to rank my favourite places in the UK, Oxford wins hands down. As soon as I pulled into the train station I couldn’t help but say, ‘This is cool’. Eloquent first words in the land of academia. To continue this academic theme, I visited a library with a special chamber designed for the Monarch, because even the monarch wasn’t trusted with taking books out of the library. We all know monarchs are notorious for overdue library fines like the best of us. In all seriousness, the Bodlein Library is incredible. Nevermind that Harry Potter was filmed there; it’s place in the School of Divinity was established in 1602, and it’s founding batch of books started in 1327 with the first purpose built library in Oxford. A trip to Oxford wouldn’t be complete without a trip to one of the colleges, so of course Christ Church College with an alumni list ranging from Lewis Carroll to Albert Einstein’s brief time in Christ Church. Other noteworthy sights was the beautiful St Mary the Virgin, Iffley, boasting its establishment in 1086. And of course, some minimal stalking around C.S. Lewis’s former home, his own back garden or real life Narnia, and his local church (the church cat followed me for ten minutes, so really the highlight of my visit). Did I take a 6am train and had to be at the station at 5:30? Yes. What is worth it? As long as the train passengers didn’t mind me snoring my way to Oxford, I had a fabulous time. I cannot stress enough that Oxford is a MUST if you end up in the UK.

Finally living my Downton Abbey fantasy

On my birthday, my friend decided to take me on a surprise adventure. Usually, I would be worried if I found myself on a half-hour road trip through the Peak District, with harsh rock faces, away from city comforts. Soon, we pulled into the grounds at Chatsworth House, home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. All I cared about was that it was the filming location of Pride and Prejudice (2005), but I’m sure it’s 312-year history was also very important. Nothing like a good manor house in the middle of the Derbyshire countryside to make you feel truly enraptured by Britain. It’s the stereotypical Downton Abbey fantasy New Zealanders can’t help but get a glimpse of. It was truly beautiful, so very British.

Reflecting on my time in Leeds

Even though I loved and explored the wonders of Oxford and lived it up with the Duke and Duchess at Chatsworth, when I arrived back in Leeds I had a weird sense of returning home. I pulled out of the city centre and passed the University’s Parkinson building, then passed The Library pub with surprisingly good pancakes.I looked out at Hyde Park and their bare winter trees, passing streets where so many of my friends live. I smiled as I passed Hyde Park pub and the Hyde Park Bookclub, two very good pubs only a short work away from my accommodation. 10/10 would recommend seeing live music at the Bookclub. As we pulled up Cumberland Road into Devonshire Hall, I was reminded that at least I wouldn’t miss walking up this hill. This exchange has been an experience of very high-highs and very low-lows, but I have come away in love with Leeds, in love with the UK, and in love with the opportunities this experience has given. I will miss this place, but I’m also looking forward to bringing this new and improved Hannah back to New Zealand. 

…The fact that I can do a pretty convincing Yorkshire accent now doesn’t hurt too!

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