When I received my offer to study at the University of Queensland in Australia, I instantly dismissed it. I distinctly recall my flatmate congratulating me with a hug, only for me to say “thank you, but I’m not actually going to go.” My qualms about going stemmed from financial worries to the irrational – although occasionally rational – fear that I was going to spectacularly fail my second-year courses and not be allowed to progress to third year. However, five months later I found myself touching down in Brisbane.
The stages leading up to my departure were stressful. I had important paperwork coming out of my ears. It’s amazing, though, how quickly you forget this stress when you’re sitting on a plane, travelling to the other side of the world. The prospect of 30+ hours of travelling solo was daunting, but in reality it was rather therapeutic. It allowed me time to prepare myself for this exciting solo challenge I was undertaking. I was travelling to the place I would call home for the next six months and, in doing so, further away from my comfort zone.
I had been told on occasion that Australia is like “a sunny Britain”: probably an unfair label for the country, but it does have its truths. Even familiarities such as driving on the left hand side made it feel instantly more like home. Australian’s have a similar sense of humour and nature to us Brits and of course the lack of a language barrier helped significantly in settling in. Moreover, there was a suburb of Brisbane called Kelvingrove, the city centre had a George Square, and the West End was the place to be if you’re a student; it didn’t feel like Glasgow was too far away at all.
Of course it was the differences to Britain that made it a fantastic place to study abroad. I was lucky enough to have guaranteed sun for six months and I had the opportunity to spend my weekends sunbathing on the beaches of the Gold Coast, or exploring the waterfalls and forests of the vast national parks which surround south-east Queensland. Even today, sitting in a flat in rainy Glasgow, it seems too good to have been true.
One thing is for sure though, Australia is expensive. Especially after, and I’m sorry to mention it, Brexit happened, and the not-so-Great British Pound weakened significantly against the Australian Dollar. Food and clothes were especially pricey compared to home, and it was always rather heartbreaking when you converted what you’d spent into pounds and understood the true cost of something.
When people from home asked if I’d seen any Australian animals, the answer was of course yes. Spiders, cockroaches, geckos, lizards, bats, possums, and kangaroos were all frequent regularities in my Brisbane experience. By the end of my time in Australia it seemed totally normal to find a gecko in my kitchen, to be swooped by a bat outside my house, or to walk past a leering water dragon on the way to university.
When it came to thinking of home, I was lucky to rarely feel homesick. However, there were many, often random, things that I missed: Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, for example. Additionally, when it approached Autumn, I realised that I would be missing Bonfire Night back home. It was only when explaining to a non-British person what this nationwide celebration was and why we celebrated it, that I suddenly realised what a strange tradition it actually is. “That is so British,” my Australian friend said to me. Whatever that was supposed to mean, I took it as some sort of compliment.
Without sounding cliché, being able to call Brisbane my home for six months was fantastic. I even had the opportunity to travel to Fiji and New Zealand in the process, and of course met some incredible people along the way. If I could relive it again, minus the sunburn and insect bites, I would do it in a heartbeat.