Exit through the gift shop

Six-and-(almost)-a-half months, 10 countries later, I’m home. And it’s kind of a big deal. I had idealised this beautifully written, perfectly judged reflective piece of writing which would sum up my entire time away and the impact it had on me… turns out it’s not that easy.

Although it’s not going to be quite what I’ve envisioned, with the help of a few subheadings, I am going to try to make sense of some of the many things going through my head.

Things I missed while I was away

Friends and family: Obviously. (And my cat)

My own space: I made my room in halls my own, and learnt to love it. But let’s be honest – it was miniscule. I missed the luxury of having free reign of more than a little room. I looked forward to not sharing a bathroom with multiple others.

My room in Hampstead halls

Television: I virtually didn’t watch TV for six months. Sure, I watched this and that on my computer, but it wasn’t quite the same as being on the couch in my living room with my cat Pepper on my lap. I’ve done plenty of that since I’ve been home.

Clean clothes without any effort on my part (thanks Mum): I was very much over the coin operated washing machines and dryers in halls; not to mention handing dirty clothes to a hostel to have them returned with one less sock.

Home-cooked meals: Again, thanks Mum. I got good at preparing food for myself, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it cooking. My mum will be the first to admit that she’s no culinary expert; but whatever. There’s nothing like Mum’s cooking – especially after six months without it.    

Driving: London public transport is fantastically efficient, but I missed driving and the autonomy it provides. It felt good (although strange) getting back in the driver’s seat after six months.

My whole wardrobe: Rotating clothes that could fit into a single suitcase for six months got very boring very quickly. Even adding a few purchases to the mix, I longed to be able to put on anything I own. I could tell you the individual items of clothing I missed, but that might be overkill. (This same notion can be applied to my jewellery collection etc.)

A good coffee: I’m sure I’ve ranted about this in previous blogs, but the coffee in London is disappointing. And other places in Europe I’ve been to haven’t been much better (with the exception of Italy). I like to think I could teach them a thing or two. The fact is, if you want a good coffee, Melbourne’s the place to be.

Highlights

When I left Melbourne six-and-a-half months ago, I had ideas in my head of what the experience was going to be like. In essence, I’d emphasised some things over others. I thought, ‘I’m going to travel to so many places; it’s going to be amazing. I’m going to meet so many people and make lots of new friends.’

Certainly, I was right on both counts. But there were key aspects of my experience that I hadn’t given much thought to at all. Specifically, I thought of Hampstead Residence as my accommodation, rather than expecting it to be an integral part of my experience. Throughout my studies in Melbourne, I’ve always lived at home, so living in student halls was a completely new experience for me.

It was an opportunity to meet people from all over. On my floor there were people from Ireland, Poland, France, Spain, Morocco, and Malaysia – even Bangladesh. Some of the best friends I made during my time in England were from halls. Certainly some of the most fun I had was with people from halls.

While it was fun, sometimes it was challenging too. There’s always some commotion, which can make it difficult to study. Sharing a kitchen with 25 people isn’t easy, especially when many of them don’t know how to clean up after themselves. I’m not sure if I could do that year after year – it’s kind of tiring. But I’m very glad I had the chance to experience it.

Almost everybody I’ve seen since I’ve been back has asked me what my favourite place was. I’ve narrowed it down to a few, but I can’t decide on one. Bruges was magical, no matter what Colin Farrell says. Prague, in all its historic glory, is certainly up there, and Granada is a recent favourite. Yesterday I remembered about Galway, the colourful beachside town in Ireland.

But my real favourite would have to be London. It’s hard to imagine that I could feel so at home in a city on the other side of the world. Every day, as I discovered new places, I grew to love it more.

I'll be back

It’s funny. On a few occasions I was lucky enough to have friends and family come to visit me in London, and I was faced with the task of showing them around. They could tell you, I had no trouble. But if any of my international friends ever come to Melbourne (I’ve told them they have to) I won’t have a clue what to show them. Put simply, I know London far better than I know Melbourne.

Perhaps that should be incentive for me to get to know my own city better. What I feel instead is a yearning to go back to London. And it’s only been 10 days…

Things I will miss

Friends: I made a brilliant group of friends in London. We all met at the Study Abroad orientation on my second day in London, and by my third day, we were making sightseeing plans together. Although we were all from different places, at that point we were in exactly the same boat, so we hit it off straight away.

Going out together, probably my first week in London. It really does seem like so long ago...

A common desire to make the most of our proximity to the rest of Europe ensured many trips together throughout the semester. We explored London, went out lots, and became like one big family. (Seriously, we’d have dinner together every week and call it family dinner)

I miss these girls already, and it’s especially hard because I know that I may never see some of them again. But I like to think that I will. In fact, once I’ve paid off the debt from this trip, I will start saving for my next trip – Canada and America, to visit my friends. I learnt so much from these girls. About them, about the world, and about myself. We had such fun together, and they added value to my experience more than they know.

A few of us when we went to Bath

Bev and family: My cousin Bev always looked after me, and I would have had a more difficult time getting myself set up if it wasn’t for her. She lent me coat hangers and cookbooks, pillows and pans. I always enjoyed our time spent together, in particular our cultural outings, where we’d visit museums, galleries, gardens, and more. We didn’t quite get through our list – I guess I’ll have to come back.

With Charlie and Bev at Dover Castle

King’s College Library: It’s funny that I went to London to study, yet the academic aspect of my trip has never earned much of a mention. King’s College is a great university, but the fact is, when I look back on these six months, my studies are going to be one of the last things that come to mind.

I will miss the library, though. It’s a beautiful, old building and it made me feel like I was studying at a really prestigious university – or Hogwarts perhaps. Did I mention that the reading room in the library was used as Dumbledore’s office in the ‘Harry Potter’ movies? Well, if I did, I don’t mind mentioning it again. It’s my claim to fame – I studied in there.

The King's College Library

Hampstead: I was lucky enough to live in a beautiful area of North London – Hampstead. I will miss walking to Hampstead village, and wandering up and down the high street. But I will especially miss the beautiful Hampstead Heath, which has been mentioned many a time in this blog. The parks were my favourite part of London. It’s amazing that such a busy city has so much green space.

Deer at Hampstead Heath

Pret-a-Manger: I loved eating at this place – there was one about every 200 metres. Loads of delicious sandwiches and other fresh food, all ready to go. Australia needs to invest in this chain promptly.

I could go on, but I’m going to stop here. Most of all I’ll just miss my London life. I might get to live overseas again one day, but I doubt that it will be in such a carefree context. Aside from a few hours of uni a week, I could do what I liked. I could make the most of having Europe at my doorstep, because nothing was tying me down. 

Things I learnt

For starters, I learnt a number of practical skills.

  • Basic cooking
  • Budgeting
  • Reading a map (I wouldn’t say I’m good at it, but I can do it to an extent)
  • Booking flights, hostels, etc. Organising travels.

Just in case you didn't believe it

I also learnt many things about the world, about the countries I visited. For example:

  • The Czech Republic uses a currency called koruna, and one Australian dollar is worth about 18 koruna.
  • Vatican City is its own state. It even has its own postage stamps.
  • Spain is a monarchy, and their King is Juan Carlos I.

I learnt a lot about art, sport, culture and more. But I think I changed in a way that I can’t quite pinpoint, and I certainly can’t dot point. And I don’t know if it’s even something the people around me will recognise.

If I was able to make a life for myself in six months, from a clean slate, it gives me some confidence that I can tackle my next challenge, whatever that may be.

But for now, I’m content. I’m missing London, but content to be at home and getting back into some sort of a routine.

Every corny line they feed you at Study Abroad information sessions, about growing as a person and learning about yourself, about gaining invaluable life experiences… it’s all true. And if you were to ask me if those were the best six months of my life, the answer is without question, YES.

Thanks for following my blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. This might be the end for Phoebe Abroad, but if I get my way, there will be more of my writing popping up in the not too distant future.

Catch you soon 😉

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