Well. I hadn’t envisioned writing this last blog post on an evening train from London to Sheffield, powered by nothing other than Irn Brun and my intense hatred of the British rail system, but sometimes events take things out of your control. In the three weeks I’ve been back from Perth I’ve barely sat still. I was visited almost immediately by my boyfriend on arriving back in Exeter, and was due to spend a fairly chilled week with him walking on the moors and getting back into the swing of northern hemisphere life. Then on the Wednesday, five days after landing, I received a job offer from Southampton City Council to start the next Monday, which was incredible given my various failures to get internships, but also an incredibly sudden change in plans. Then on Thursday I received an email reminding me I had two tickets the next day to watch the Last Leg being filmed in London- it turned out I’d deleted their first email in a jet-lagged error on the Monday after my arrival. By Thursday night we were in Leicester (where my boyfriend lives) and on Friday in London, before driving back to Leicester after the (excellent) show so I could get the Saturday train back to Exeter before packing up my stuff and moving back to Southampton on the Sunday.
Since then I’ve been getting used to the 9 to 5 life (a challenge for someone used to an eight hour work week, not an eight hour work day) and cleaning my new student house. This probably means I haven’t really experienced the post year abroad blues of many of my contemporaries, not having to cope with the shock of arriving home from a busy foreign city and the life of the adventurous traveller to some sleepy home counties village where the closest thing to an adventure is braving the local High Street on a busy Sunday.
This train ride (now featuring an extortionately pricey brownie courtesy of the lady with the trolley) is my first real time to reflect on my year since my flight rumbled off the tarmac in Perth and I waved goodbye to my life in the Southern Hemisphere, the sound of Crowded House’s ‘Weather With You’ thrumming in my ears, narrating my last glimpses of the Western Australian coast as we jetted towards Kuala Lumpur.
I have brought the weather with me, as the 16 degrees and miserable rain of a Perth winter turns out to translate perfectly into the British summertime. There is also no solace to be had, given that rather than get better from the end of July the temperature is only going to Southward, with me being unable to go with it. My Dad remarked that I should be used to this, given I have spent 20 summers in Britain and only part of one in Australia (as I came home over Christmas), but this doesn’t really fly given that I got the taste of something far better.
I would go back to Australia in a heartbeat. I would happily finish my degree and get on the first flight to Sydney- a city I fell utterly in love with in only a four-day stay. If my year abroad in Australia has been the equivalent of the tasting menu at a Michelin starred restaurant, then I’d be happy to pay the price for the full banquet.
To break away from British life and to drop myself somewhere new and different, with a host of new opportunities and the chance at learning and experiencing new things has to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. It may not have been the cultural awakening that some year abroad students experience when they jet away to Beijing or Lima, or even Cologne, but it was enough for me. The Australian way of life has definitely had an effect on me. Since I’ve been back in the UK I’ve found myself far more willing to strike up a conversation with a stranger in a queue or on a train (though not this train as I hunch behind my laptop, The Fratellis blasting through my earphones) which was so commonplace in Australia, but I found very alien on my first arrival.
Though I won’t miss the sheer expense of living in Perth without a steady income, there’s no way that Southampton can compete for the quality of life I experienced there. The bike ride I now take to work through the common doesn’t quite have the same charm when I think back to cycling down Matilda Bay, or through Kings Park, with the sun beating down on my back. There’s no spontaneous beach afternoons to be had, and you can’t escape away to places that may as well be in a different country despite being only two hours from your door- unless you get the ferry out of Portsmouth to France, I suppose.
I had the obvious worries about making new friends before I left, but I shouldn’t have worried in the slightest. Some of the relationships I formed in Perth are ones that will last (I hope) for a very long time. There are too many people to list in this one post who I will very much miss, and who had such an impact on my life in Australia, but I will always treasure my Australian flag bearing messages from many of them, and may even endeavour to collect some more messages (and more stamps in my already quite full passport) by visiting them in their home countries.
Take it from me, it’s far from clichéd when people say their year abroad was the best year of their degree. It meant a year away from the people I love, it damn near bankrupted me in six months, and I will always wonder what would have been if I’d been brave enough to go for the full culture shock option, but if you gave me the forms again they’d be filled in and filed before the end of business hours. I signed up for this experience as a 17 year old at sixth form in Devon (it was part of my degree choice) and hadn’t even thought through the implications of taking a whole year out of my studies, and the effect that would have on my life in Southampton. I’m glad I didn’t think like that, else I may not have ticked that box and instead I’d have been filing through a graduation hall in a silly hat with all the rest of my classmates last week. Instead, I return to Southampton far more enthused than I would have been a year ago to finish my degree. I know now that wherever I go, for however long and however far away, that I will be able not just to cope, but be able to build a life, make new friends, and thrive in ways that the 17 year old who got anxiety sickness at the thought of going to house parties would never have imagined.