Studying abroad has been a dream of mine since I was in high school. It was one of the reasons I selected UOW and something I’ve been working towards my entire university life. This January, my dream became very real as I embarked on the trip of a lifetime – to study in Leeds, England for six months.
As all trips do, this one started in an airport. I bid an emotional farewell to my family (even my dad shed a tear) and, for the first time ever, made my way solo through Sydney International Terminal. I was buzzed by the exciting concept of travelling on my own, and utterly elated to be on the brink of the unknown. In denim cutoffs and a striped t-shirt, I felt every bit the young expectant traveller, naive and unaware of the world at her fingertips.
I handled the first leg of my flight quite well, I like to think. Sydney to Singapore is not long by international flight standards any longer, only a mere 9 hours, and it passed quickly enough as I made good use of the entertainment options available to me. I pulled away from my screen at the end of the third successive movie (The Hitman’s Bodyguard, if you must know) and drank in the sights of a darkened Singapore awash with twinkling lights.
Only as I stepped off into Singapore’s Changi Airport did I began to feel the fatigue. Something about 9 hours of continuous screen time will do that to a person, I’d say. I was sore from sitting for so long, and my eyes were bloodshot all over. I was ready to crawl back into the plane and sleep for the next leg – Singapore to London, a huge 16 hours. Only I couldn’t. For some unspecified reason, the plane was being delayed by over an hour without warning, and we were left to entertain ourselves without a place to rest our heads.
After boarding the plane (at 1am Singapore time, you do the math) I was overjoyed to find myself with three consecutive seats to myself. It allowed me to fully recline, legs curled in the fetal position, and try and get some rest. And so I did. For almost 12 hours, three-quarters of the flight, I drifted in and out of a restless sleep until our arrival in London. My first glimpse of the city was as the sun was just breaking its way over the horizon, and the view out my tiny cabin window was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed before. Watching the rivulets of lights from cars travelling to work glowing and weaving beneath the cloud cover… it’s not a sight I’ll likely forget.
It almost distracted me from the fact that my lengthy delay in Singapore would impact on the final leg of my trip, the flight from London to Leeds. The timing had already been uncomfortably close, with little over an hour between flights; the delay meant that timing was now critical. As soon as my feet touched solid ground I sprinted through the terminal to Immigration with a speed I never knew I possessed! I had been just about to leap into line at the visa check-in when I saw a directory board, flashing the word CANCELLED in red.
Cancelled. It seemed my cardiovascular efforts had been in vain; due to bad weather, my flight to Leeds had been grounded. The kind lady at the information desk laid out my options for me:
- I could book for the afternoon flight to Leeds, only it was already full and I’d have to hope for a cancellation.
- I could stay overnight in London and be booked on the following day’s morning Leeds flight.
- I could book the next flight to Manchester and catch a train to Leeds from there.
This was the first time I felt doubt creeping in. I was utterly alone in a foreign country, and I had to make a choice without any others’ opinions to weigh in. I didn’t particularly want to stay overnight, and waiting 7 hours for a “maybe” flight was a risk I didn’t see panning out. Upon the reassurance of the information lady that my luggage would be transferred, I booked the 10:25 to Manchester.
The Manchester flight only took an hour and was perhaps the most interesting hour yet. I was seated next to a lovely gentleman who introduced himself as a geography professor at the University of Leeds, aka my home for the next six months. Amazed by this piece of luck, I began to bombard the poor man with question after question about the university itself, the lifestyle, the accommodation, the facilities, and everything else you could imagine. Not only did he tolerate and answer my questions, but offered to assist me in catching the train to Leeds, an offer I gladly accepted.
Years of using an Opal card and being accustomed to student discounts left me shocked by the £30 fee, but my teacher friend assured me that not all trains are as expensive as this. He said that after a while, thinking in pounds rather than dollars would become natural to me, and that I would soon learn how to spend and save in the UK. It wasn’t long before we boarded the train, and soon my friend, another exchange student named Annemarie (a lovely girl from Texas), and I headed off towards Leeds – the epicentre of my life for the next half-year.
It’s now been three weeks since I arrived in Leeds and I’ve been settling in nicely, if a little slowly. I apologise for the long hiatus since I last wrote, but considering everything I’m sure you can forgive me. I hope to update you all regularly with photos and recaps of my progress throughout my studies and travels. Not every post will go into as much detail as this one so don’t be alarmed! This was merely a stretch of my writing and creative muscles.
I hope to write again soon, probably after my first month of living here. In the meantime, I’ll be posting photos on both my Facebook and Instagram regularly, so feel free to follow me there and stay updated on my travels. Adios xx