It feels like a lifetime since I returned home from my semester abroad to Tasmania, Australia, and another lifetime since I first travelled out there. Lockdown and the global pandemic has given me an opportunity to reflect on my time away, as well as return over my photos, videos and journal entries from whilst I was away.
When I look back now on my first semester-abroad journal entry, I’m amazed to see how far I have come. I look back on it fondly, and think I wasn’t alone with how I felt… Through it all, I would find that it was TOTALLY more than worth it. It would end up being a part of my time at uni that I will always hold immensely dear.
I write this as I’m sat on the plane, travelling further and further from my friends, my family and my home uni. Away from everything familiar to me. This would be both the furthest and longest I had ever travelled away from home, and to say there were butterflies in my stomach would be an understatement.
It all started 4 years ago, when I first looked into studying at the University of Southampton. I read online about the opportunity to study abroad. Reinforced by an open day speech delivered by Anthony Jensen and Simon Boxall to a packed lecture theatre of excited A-Level students. Even more so when I saw a list of exotic locations I could head out to, to study for 6 months!
4 years of hard work, research (where did I want to go and study/live for 6 months?!) and dreaming, all boiled down to now… My belongings in the hold of the plane and me sat in the window seat flying away from everything I knew.
Looking back, the last 4 months at home (since finding out where I was off to study) have been chaotic with organisation, end of semester exams – its been non-stop visas, forms, flight organisation, forms, student enrolment, forms, module choices, forms, accomodation application and YES, MORE FORMS. Balancing it all with my continued studies and sorting out the semester abroad was a challenge, especially with my early semester start (mid-July). But I got through it all – with only a minor scare that I wasn’t going to have my visa on time!
My destination?! Tasmania! To study at the University of Tasmania (UTAS). And no – I’m not going to Africa – not Tanzania – TASMANIA, the island state of Australia and as south as you can possibly go in Australia. Between us and the Antarctic is a blue abyss of the Southern Ocean. On reflection, I didn’t exactly go super close to home, in fact, I don’t think it was really possible for me to go any further from home without falling off the edge of the planet. The proximity to Antarctica and Tasmania’s historical link to the South Pole and her surrounding waters results in UTAS being a prime Uni for an aspiring polar marine biologist – Good thing that’s me!
I’ve said a lot of goodbyes this past month, some were easier than others. I’ve discovered the Irish do it right, quick and easy. Despite that, trying to say goodbye to your family until mid-January next year (7 months away) isn’t actually the easiest thing. Actually. It’s not easy. At all.
Mum and dad picked me up from a marine biology field trip in Plymouth on the 8th July and we popped over to my sister and brother in law’s to spend my last night in the UK together. Dinner was exceptional and the cheesecake was hands down the best I’ve ever had. I was overwhelmed to see the nursery coming along, the jellyfish teddy I crocheted on pride position in the windowsill, (no one would think Aunty Mads is a marine biologist). The next time I would return to this room my little nephew would be living in it, a new member to our family.
After being able to eat dinner outside thanks to the current heatwave, we moved into the warm kitchen, tidying up dinner, then sitting around to chat, catch up, have a cheeky tea as a nightcap and chatting about everything and anything late into the night. Relaxed and habitual, the long distance between us all and the busy adult lives, result in us treasuring the time we have together. Reclining into the kitchen chair I looked around my sister and brother-in-law’s cosy and homely kitchen, listening to the conversation going on – probably about babies – and I realised that I was going to miss this. Miss the familiarity and the cosiness, the warmth of the kitchen, dark of the outside, the random conversations and the ignorance of the hours passing by.
The next day (my leaving day) I was awoken by a Bernese Mountain Dog bounding onto my bed and licking my face until I was conscious. My sister was listening to classical music in the kitchen, with the smell of coffee in the air – she was making brunch for us.
After an incredibly yummy brunch, we packed into the car and mum and dad took me to Heathrow! (softly plays “Heathrow” in the background by Catfish and the Bottlemen). The drive passed by with casual conversation and it wasn’t until we arrived at the airport and the planes started passing over me that I started to panic.
No but seriously. What was I doing? What was I thinking? 7 months on the other side of the world? You have got to be kidding me. Why. Why do I do things like this? How did I ever thing this would be a good idea? I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t be doing this. This was all too much.
The panic began to grow as we passed the barbed wires, carparks, planes, signs and other general features of airports. And all I could think about was the family and friends I was leaving behind and the planes taking off regularly one after the other. In a few hours I’d be on one of those.
Why had I done this – why did I think this was a good idea? I didn’t know ANYONE in Australia, I had never been that far from home, I was the only student from UoS to be going to UTAS. I had to make a life for myself, somehow. Feed myself?! How was I going to do that?! Did they have normal stores or food in Aus?! And come ON the SPIDERS?! And the SNAKES!
In fact, once I was in the airport I felt better – I checked my bag in, and then started running out of time so said goodbye to mum and dad. Mum and dad were by far the hardest goodbyes to say. But we did them, and all of a sudden my panic turned into determination.
I had signed up for this. There was no turning back.
So now, I sit on the plane, and I’m tired. I tried being nice and making conversation with the people next to me, but they weren’t interested in chatting, so my headphones are in listening to my music and watching the miles fly by (literally) and the start of this new chapter commence.