My steps follow the path to the airport, a tiny building similar to petrol stations in the UK. Finally inside, I look around and see the smallest baggage line my eyes have ever witnessed. It’s empty but I can already hear the bags being thrown for us, passengers, to soon have our hands on them again. My eyes drift elsewhere and without any hassle at all I already see my airport pickup escort, a lady holding a paper sign with UTAS on it. She recognizes me as soon as our eyes meet. I must have looked like a lost and hopeful lamb. At least I hope so.
I grab my bag, a big green rucksack with just a bunch of clothes in it, and start my way to the car. And then it hits me, the air. It’s thick, moist and almost difficult to breathe. Apparently, it is never like this but rain was coming and the dampness of the air felt as if you could cut through it. Strange sounds reached my ears, crows that screeched like their out of breath (just like me), and unrecognizable songs of birds all new to me. A big smile crept on my face, let the adventure begin!
Those, my friends, were my first minutes in this green paradise called Tasmania. Now, having been here for almost a month I continue to be amazed by the pure beauty of this island. The colourful houses, which all look different and, surely, have their own personality. If any Estonians are reading this, imagine a “segasumasuvila” but in a bigger scale because this word keeps creeping into my mind whenever walking about in this strange city. The endless blue sky seems to go on for ages, sometimes half of it is in clouds with rain pouring down whereas the other half has blistering hot sun and not a sign of white puffs. The mountains around the city stand still as guards of the city watch, mighty, big and strong. They create an illusion of Hobart stretching on endlessly. However, mountains are also the reason why the city cannot grow wider as many European cities do, instead it keeps following the river Derwent in a narrow strip, making the ride to work almost an hour for the people living in the outskirts of town (which for this small town is a long time).
I’m Minna by the way, an Estonian studying in Southampton on an exchange semester in Tasmania. It’s funny when people ask me “Where are you from?” and instead of a simple “Bla bla” they get a complicated story of “Bla bla”. My plan for the blog is, firstly, to do it once per month so I could sum up my ups and downs for each month. Secondly, I will include some tips not only based on coming to Tas as an exchange student, but I will also (hopefully) link some thoughts with moving to the UK to study. Eventually, both of those experiences have made me integrate into a new environment on my own. Lastly, perhaps I’ll manage taking some fab photos which would motivate you to come and explore this actually-not-hidden beauty too.
So let’s get to it. My first month has been very diverse. It began with a 5-day field course for Field Botany (did you notice how I am a Zoology student, right?). We stayed in houses in a teeny tiny village called Maydena. The accommodation was nicer than the one I am staying at now! I even had a double bed all to myself. Oh the luxuries. Next to the house I was in, was an enclosure with alpacas in it. If you’ve ever heard an alpaca before, you know how much fun I had.
Our field course, however, took place in various destinations in the Mount Field National Park. A magnificent place! Everything I learned was new to me. Trees looked so similar from afar and as soon as you walked closer it was something totally different. I have to admit, my previous knowledge of Eucalyptus trees was that koalas ate them. That’s it. Little did I know of the hundreds of species out in the world. Now I can even ID them (on a good day) and know their Latin names. Also, you cannot believe how much spiky stuff they have here, and everything looks exactly the same! Coprosmas and Leptospermums and Cyathodes, mehhh… Luckily, even the local students were struggling so I didn’t feel too bad.
I also had a chance to see and, consequently, write a report on one of the most endangered Eucalyptus species in Australia. E. morrisbyi is an endemic species with only 2 natural populations left, which… well… are kinda dead. I also managed to walk into at least 7 massive spider webs while collecting data on the trees. Luckily, the webs are so strong that you bounce right back and don’t get bitten by the huge scary spider in the middle of it. It definitely didn’t make you feel paranoid as if 10 of them were crawling on you for the rest of the day. Not at all.
I could go on about the beauty of mountains and the views. The views, man! Let’s just agree that they are cool.
The student life here is a bit different (or more like a lot different) from the UK. It reminds me of Estonia, really. There are no major “Let’s go clubbing” events, which is quite refreshing. Of course there’re house parties and people go out for drinks but everything seems on a reasonable level. Or on a level that students are capable of being reasonable.
Lectures are 50 or more minutes, mostly double lectures with a 5-10 min break in between. The lecture rooms have actual leg space. Like seriously, praise the person who designed that! I also have labs for each module which take about 3 hours. All in all, a university is as a university is. There may be slight differences (which I am probably still discovering) but nothing major.
Oh, on our societies day, when you signed up to be a member to any club you got either free beer or cider. I could not imagine that in the UK. Also, they handed out food that they had made. Something else you’d not see in the UK.
Lastly, one of the important aspects you must think of when coming to study here is finding accommodation and thinking how much money are you willing to spend. When I moved to the UK I found a place in August before I moved in in September. Easy, no stress and also relatively cheap. Here, oh no buddy, oh no. Of course you can get university accommodation, which is still very pricey and the main reason why I didn’t choose it was the fact that if you want to use pages other than the uni website with wifi, then get your own. So there I was, in England in December looking for a place for February. And oh it was stressful. You mostly have to go through an application process that needs 9 pages of very personal details from you. Obviously, an exchange student coming for only 5 months wouldn’t be the first choice. I ended up finding a place called the Imperial Backpackers Hotel, little did I know that a great percentage of exchange students and even students coming to study in Tas from the mainland start exactly from here. I’ve now shared a room with 7 other ladies for the time being but, luckily, I have found a place and will move out soon. The advice that I can give is, if you want to stay in a house, come here, stay in a hostel and immediately search for houses so you can go and see what they are like etc. It worked for me, but it is still difficult. Especially on a budget because literally everything is expensive here. Grocery shopping is like “How many discount items can I find today”. Usually, quite many.
PS! The loveliest thing in UTAS is that they have several days when they make food for students and give it away for free!!! Sausages, veggie burgers, drinks etc. And some places have free cake days. Paradise!