Layla is a third year literature and philosophy student at Monash University in sunny Australia who made the big move to Leeds uni for the end of 2015. When she’s not buried in books, drinking an unhealthy amount of coffee and writing auto-biographies about herself that sound like online-dating applications, she’s probably catching some live music and drinking an unhealthy amount of rum or cider.
Between classic “tourist lost in England” adventures, and making fun of all British people for calling chips “crisps” (seriously, guys?), she’s already started having a brilliant time in this country and looks forward to every rainy and overcast day left.
I’ve been here in England for over a month after travelling through Europe in August and September. I had no idea that in the short time between shouting a goodbye to my family as I boarded the plane, and writing this blog article right now, I would live some of the most stressful, ludicrous and brilliant stories of my life. I remember swinging my bag over my shoulder, saying a quick prayer that I had enough underwear, and leaving everything else I have ever had in this world behind.
The thing with Australia is that it’s so far away from everything that when we are finally able to afford those flights out, we need to stay out. There’s no point going to the UK and never bothering to catch that train ride through Germany, because back home we just aren’t able to hop between countries and cultures so freely. It’s truly amazing to even consider, “Oh, Ireland is only a couple of hours away. Maybe I’ll go there for the weekend.”
So, after a triathlon of booking flights, saving money, and researching the best places for coffee in Italy (everywhere apparently), I knew that I was as ready as I’d ever be. I flew out from freezing Australia over two months ago, a month before the semester was set to start in Leeds, and landed in the midst of a brutal Italian summer. Okay, so you’re probably thinking, “she’s Aussie; summer over there reaches 40 degrees. She’ll be fine!” Wrong.
For my first few days in Venice, I could do little more than lay like a heat-stroked lizard by the pool and drag my sizzling self into the water. All through Rome and Florence, it was the same story. Of course I did all the “must do’s” of these cities; I got lost inside the Coliseum, sang Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of my lungs in a karaoke bar, and almost punched a line-cutter at The Vatican. You know, the usual.
Italy was a haze of sun, giant stone ruins, flowing rivers and welcoming people. But I was never in one place for too long, and before I knew it, it was time to say arrivederci. I found myself on a bus to Barcelona, watching the sweet ocean pass by and dancing to Enrique Iglesias.
Just like Italy, Spain was H-O-T, and it felt like all I could do was seek shade, water and refuge from a Spanish man who proposed to me in front of a discoteca with a plastic, light-up ring (I said yes so that he would shut up, and made a speedy exit stage right). Spain was nothing like I could have imagined though, there was passion and liveliness beyond anything I have every experienced in secluded Australia. I learned to make paella and traditional sangria, went temporarily blind after 22000 people threw tomatoes in my eyes at La Tomatina, and even went stand up paddle boarding in the glassy San Sebastian water.
After simply not being able to stand being away from me for so long, my older sister flew from Melbourne to Amsterdam where we met up and spent my remaining ten days in Europe travelling together. We rented bikes in Amsterdam, got lost and ate Pringles at 3am while searching for our hostel, and walked the Red Light District wide-eyed and mesmerised. A few days later, we caught a train to Berlin, (amazing! You can just catch a train to another country!) which consisted of angry hostel workers, torrential rain across the Berlin wall and a whole new level of hilarious and beautiful of street art; I thought Melbourne had street art down, but Berlin is a whole new level.
But finally! It was time to make my way here to England, my true destination.
My trip from Berlin to Leeds started with a guy in my dorm room snoring so loudly that it was easier for me to sleep on the floor in the bathroom, and ended with me arriving at my hall at 10pm and having to sleep in every item of clothing I own because I didn’t have a blanket.
In the past month since that traumatic incident, I’ve settled into life at Leeds easily (and purchased a blanket). There’s very little difference in culture (except for food… I’ve never eaten so many potatoes before in my entire life), and even though most British people still open a conversation with, “So, how about The Ashes, hey?” everyone I’ve met has been welcoming, friendly, and open to having a couple of pints. Even though I’m drowning in readings for my modules and still struggling with the concept of exactly what a “seminar” is, I’m even enjoying studying!
The only surprising thing about university living at Leeds is that the international students from Australia have all been grouped together, and it’s almost like we’re segregated from the English people. Yeah, our ancestors are pretty much just the criminals you guys didn’t want, but we aren’t that bad. This situation has definitely worked out for the best though. Even though it would have been brilliant to be thrown in the deep end and be living with a bunch of English people straight away, I think about everything I’ve done here; oggling over squirrels, crying at The Wombats concert and revelling over how cheap alcohol is, and realise that I’ve been doing all these things with amazing people.
Settling in overseas is so much more than unpacking your bags and knowing the best route home from the pub at 2am. Living abroad is all about doing as much as you can, with the best people you can, and being completely out of your comfort zone while doing it. And honestly, right now, I am so far out of my comfort zone. It’s the best feeling in the world.