It’s just past 12:00 on a Friday night, and I find myself unable to sleep. I’m not really sure why. It could be a combination of things – the muffled but constant noise from the party a few doors down, the springs of my mercilessly thin mattress digging into my back, or the anticipation of seeing another brand new English town when I wake up. One of the joys of living in Leeds is that it’s so centrally located within Yorkshire that I can get almost anywhere within a few hours. It’s one of the things I love about this place.
I’ve just passed the five-week mark in my exchange adventure, which means I’ve had a month to adjust to my new life, with an extra week to overcome the culture shock. Now that I feel a little more like a permanent resident, I thought I’d write a little about what it’s like to be on exchange in England, and in Leeds in particular.
I’d just like to say that so far, this has been the most difficult thing I’ve done in my entire life. Nothing even comes close to this. As a 19-year old girl living with her family in her hometown, everything about exchange was new and scary to me. Not having those safety nets to rely on, the familiarity of family and friends close by, meant that (at first) the only person I had was myself. At times I couldn’t even rely on myself, and those were some of the hardest moments I’ve lived through. But exchange is not an inherently scary thing; it will push your boundaries, for sure, but that’s when you adapt and grow to meet the challenges it places in your way.
So without further ado, here’s what my life in Leeds has been like!
First off, I have to mention the weather. At first, it was as bad as everyone made it out to be – constantly cold, wet and windy. To be fair, I did arrive in the middle of January. The weather has gotten marginally warmer over the weeks and the rain has definitely cleared somewhat, but the forecast for next week isn’t looking good. It’s actually meant to snow which might not be too bad! I don’t go anywhere without a beanie and an umbrella anymore, just in case.
I actually didn’t get to settle into my accommodation immediately. Although I had been advised to (and then proceeded to) book my flights to arrive in Leeds on the 18th, I was later told that my permanent accommodation would not be ready until the 22nd. Luckily the University of Leeds was kind enough to set me up in temporary accommodation for a few days until I could move in. I was in Montague Burton during this time, and I met some of the nicest people during my time there who I am still friends with now. Lilly, Gabi, Ryan – that’s you guys.
On the 22nd I moved into James Baillie Park, my home for the next six months. By complete coincidence, my new friend Lilly was actually my flatmate, which made the move so much easier. It took a while for my new place to feel like home, but one of the first things I did was buy bedding and decor to make the room feel less like it was part of a nursing home. My room now has purple lights and I’m not ashamed of that.
My flatmates are all incredible people and although it took a while to get to know everyone (Lilly moved to Devonshire Hall and Kenny moved in late, much to our surprise as we thought he’d just been hiding from us for a week), we now have an easy rapport that makes living together a breeze. Grace, Christelle, Kenny, Kostadin and I are from all over the world – two Aussies, one Austrian-German, one Bulgarian and one British-Zimbabwean – and it makes for some great conversations.
Part of the reason I chose to live in James Baillie Park was that it’s a self-catered accommodation. The student halls at Leeds are split into two groups – catered and self-catered – and it determines whether or not we have to cook for ourselves. As someone who’s not ashamed to admit she’s a terrible cook, I figured that there’s no better time to learn than to have that learning forced upon you out of sheer necessity, so I chose self-catered. So far the tactic has worked and I’ve managed to pull together some decent meals, plus I have plenty of leftovers.
I have to be honest, the eating out hasn’t wowed me yet. There doesn’t seem to be many restaurants in Leeds at all besides pubs, and most of the food is in the city centre. What we do have in Hyde Park (my closest suburb) is two of the greatest drunk food hotspots – Pizza Milano and Crispy’s. Each is iconic in their own right. Pizza Milano is famous for its huge slices for £1 each, whilst Crispy’s introduced me to the wondrous carb blend of chips, cheese and gravy.
The reason why I’m here is so often overlooked, even by me. But yes, let’s not forget that I am here to study media and communications, so let’s talk a little about the university itself. Let me just say that the campus is absolutely stunning, even in winter. The buildings have the grace and elegance that only older buildings carry, but step inside and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was brand new. Most of my classes are in the Clothworker’s Building, one of the more central and picturesque buildings on campus. The facilities are great, and there are four separate libraries across campus which makes studying easy-peasy.
My classes themselves, from what I’ve experienced so far, are perfect for me. I’m doing three subjects of 20 credit points each (60 is a full study load), two of which are media/communications-based and one of which is of personal interest to me. Each is interesting and unique, and the teachers have such passion for their teaching that it’s easy to be engaged. The Ethnography of Speaking encompasses patterns of speech and ways of communicating and telling stories, Creative Work in Cultural Industries focuses on what it’s like to work in an evolving workplace with a focus on creative industries, and Japanese Cinema in the World analyses different Japanese filmmakers and forms of filmmaking, and their impact across the globe.
Life in Leeds
Student life is rough for my immune system, it seems. Out of the five weeks I’ve been here, I think I’ve been sick for about three of them, on and off. At the moment I’ve got a nasty cough that I can’t seem to shake. It seems to be a form of the freshers’ flu, which seems fair considering that a) I somehow dodged it at home, and b) I’m in close proximity to a lot of students. Everywhere I go, I meet more students like me.
It’s very obvious, simply from walking down the streets of Leeds, how prominent the university is to the city’s way of life. In the same way that Wollongong is starting to revolve around the influx of students, so too has Leeds evolved. Almost every store has a student discount of some sort, and there are streets where every second shopfront is a student property rental.
The shopping in the city centre is surprisingly good; far surpassing what Wollongong has to offer. There are numerous large department stores, the best of which is the Trinity Centre, and the streets are full of vintage stores and charity shops. Seriously, Leeds has more vintage stores in one place than anywhere I’ve ever seen! Maybe it’s because the population is about 99% students? Who knows.
One thing I am yet to get used to is the pub culture in England. It’s everywhere. Each corner has its local pub – for me its either the Hyde Park or Skyrack, depending on which way I walk. They’re the cafés and brunch spots of Australia, replaced with midday beers and chip butties. It’s bizarre and I’m still adjusting to it, though I will say that I’ve grown a little fonder of beer.
Speaking of beer, it would be amiss if I didn’t mention the nightlife. To be honest I haven’t been out as much as I would like (blame the ongoing sickness for that) but that hasn’t stopped me trying. Going out in Leeds is HUGE. Many of the students here will go out every single night of the week, just because that’s what the British do, apparently. Not only that, but apparently British women don’t feel the cold when you look at what they wear on a night out!
The weekends in Leeds are silent, but every bar, club and pub has its own student night and they do a roaring trade. There is a legendary pub crawl, called the Otley Run, that traverses its way through 22 pubs (the modified 16 is the more popular version), and every Friday you’re bound to run into a group of oddly-dressed merry-makers taking part. I’ve done it myself and made it to the end, but not without the group taking a few casualties, as you’d expect.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting York twice during my time here, and it’s probably been the highlight of the trip so far. York is such a historically rich city that it’s easy to wander its streets and absorb the atmosphere, but there’s also an abundance of things to do. I saw the York Minster which was stunning, joined a walking tour, visited the Shambles Markets and the crooked, cobbled streets that inspired Diagon Alley, saw Clifford’s Tower and the bars (gates) that acted as the city’s entrances during its time as a walled city, walked along the top of said walls, visited the Viking museum and took part in the Viking festival, went on a brewery tour and sampled the beers, and more. I also visited Kirkstall Abbey recently, which is Leeds’ local 12th-century church ruins. Nothing says England quite like church ruins!
Tomorrow I’m catching the train to Sheffield to attend a talk by Japanese filmmaker, Mika Ninagawa, as well as explore the city. I’ve got a lot coming up in the next few days, including my first essay due, my first visit to London and of course my 20th birthday! You can’t say I’m not keeping busy, that’s for sure.
Adios friends, until next time x