As most of you back home are sticking those noses into textbooks to prepare for your midterm exams, I’m settling into my London life and will start my university exchange courses the week after next. Adjusting to the northern hemisphere’s academic year means that my semester will run from September until December. So, whilst I’m not jealous of any of you back home right now, I certainly will be when you’re all relaxing in the Australian summer at the end of term and I’m holed up in my room with ten layers of winter woolies on, cramming in those late night revision sessions. The advantage though – next week is the infamous orientation week – or as it’s known in the UK, Freshers’ Week.
If you’re about to start your own exchange, or you’re thinking of embarking on the exchange change next semester, this week’s Postcard is going to take you through my tips for settling in and give you an outline of my first impressions of life in the UK.
For some of you, moving overseas for a university exchange might be the first time you’ve moved away from home. For others, like myself, you might be used to packing up your life into a suitcase and lugging it to new cities. I find it is always important to make your
new room feel as comfortable and homely as possible. For me this meant a trip to the ubiquitous blue and yellow showrooms of IKEA in London, with its easily identifiable and consistent Swedish solutions. My downfall was forgetting that I was taking public transport home. Balancing all my new purchases while negotiating the Tube was definitely not ideal, but the results are worth it. Be sure to check with your accommodation what you’re allowed in terms of decorations, posters, candles, fairy lights, etc.
If you’re unfamiliar with the area in which you find yourself living, get out there and explore! Remember to be careful, but lace up those walking shoes and scout around each twist and turn of your new neighbourhood. Research the top recommended cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars and shops near your new home. Websites like Time Out or Trip Advisor are great for this. My suggestion would be to also locate your nearest park or garden, so you know you’ll always have a quiet place to escape close at hand when you’re thrown in the deep end or you’re missing home.
Keep an eye out for opportunities to make friends in your new area. See if there are any organised events if you’re living in student accommodation, and make sure you peel yourself away from your laptop in order to poke your head in and introduce yourself to your new peers. Hang out in the communal spaces of your university or accommodation. In England, I’ve learned quickly, the best way to make new friends is to put the kettle on. Nothing like some tea and biscuits to get new friends chatting away like old friends.
If you are going to a foreign country, make sure you’ve got a grip on local vocabulary and phrases to ensure you’re not that person who confuses your new friends. That person was definitely me when I started talking about my new ‘doona’ cover and was met by looks of bewilderment before I remembered that they’re referred to as ‘duvets’ in the UK. Similarly, I can forget about using the words ‘eggplant’, ‘capsicum’, and ‘zucchini’ for the next six months, I’ll be saying ‘aubergine’, ‘peppers’, and ‘courgette’ instead. I’ll also have to learn how to pronounce the first syllable of pasta so that it rhymes with ‘mass’, and the first syllable of yoghurt so that it rhymes with ‘log’. I’ll need to remember that ‘blimey’ is a perfectly acceptable expression of surprise, ‘bollocks’ means that something is nonsense, and ‘fit’ is the term to describe someone who is good looking. When I’m out at a bar, I’ll have to familiarise my ears to the term ‘lager’ to replace the word ‘beer’. Those silly Poms, you’ve got to love them.
My next big decision is deciding where I’m going to do my grocery shopping. This may sound really strange at first, but living in the UK has taught me about their odd convention of having a Supermarket hierarchy. Yeah. Your supermarket dictates your status in society. Seriously, it's a thing. If you’re familiar with England then you’ll probably understand. It’s odd, but again, you’ve got to love those Poms.
My number one, golden tip for anyone about to start their exchange (without wanting to sound like your Grandmother) is to look after yourself. The first few weeks of a new semester can be very full on, especially in the drinking stakes. So remember that your stomach won’t like you very much if you keep feeding it vodka and neglect to keep your immune system up to scratch. There’s nothing worse than getting ill when you’re so far away from home, so keep yourself hydrated and look out for your new mates as well.
Good luck for those midterm exams, RMIT students. To all exchange students, I’m wishing you even more luck to get you through your O-Week shenanigans. I’ll let you know all about my adventures in the coming Postcards.