Yang’s First Impressions of Leeds

yang-chenIt’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks since I left my hometown of Toronto, Canada to embark on my first ever trip to Europe and my international exchange here at Leeds. I had never been to Europe before, so my classmate Melanie (who is on exchange at the University of Madrid) and I decided no better way to be introduced to Europe than a week long, action-packed Europe extravaganza: Iceland, Germany, and Czech Republic, all in a week. Within a week’s time, I had taken more than 10 long-distance trains, buses, and flights! By the time I arrived in Leeds, you could say that I was definitely ready to settle.

My first week at Leeds was like first year (or fresher’s, as they call it here) all over again, and I was already eager to “un-settle” again. It certainly helped that everyone here at Leeds, both exchange students and locals have been nothing but kind, open, and welcoming. When I walked into the giant Conference Auditorium for our meeting with all the exchange students, I couldn’t help but feel like all of us were embarking on this exciting journey together. As such, meeting people from all over the world has been really easy, as you have something immediately to bond over (“Where are you from?”). One of my favourite events from orientation was the City Chase – running around the Leeds city center, discovering what a lively and charming city Leeds is. Our group bonded over how happy we were to have made it back to the finish line just in nick of time to avoid a 30-point penalty. Although we didn’t win, we were still pretty proud of our 380-point total, and learned so much about what the city had to offer us.

I chose Leeds because it seemed like it had one of the best student experiences in England, and the student union seemed very active. After being here for a month, Leeds has absolutely exceeded expectations – the Leeds University Union building itself is amazing, with its multitude of cafés, restaurants, and spaces available for clubs and societies. The fact that the “Give it a Go” and “Get Out, Get Active” sessions were organized for students was incredible. I knew I was specifically interested in music and performing groups, and I was blown away by the sheer amount of quality societies here – two musical theatre ones, an opera society, two a cappella groups, and even more theatre groups. This doesn’t even count the LUU Music Society, which boasts three choirs, two bands, and four orchestras. Not only impressive in quantity however, as I recently went to see OperaSoc’s production of “Don Giovani.” I was extremely impressed by quality of the show, and the fact that it was only a university production blew my mind. It only made me more pumped about performing in my own show, “Merrily We Roll Along” in March, produced by the LUU Musical Theatre Society. Auditioning for it was nerve-wracking, as I had never been in a musical before, but I felt Leeds was encouraging me to not be afraid to try new things. To my pleasant surprise and excitement, I was cast, and now I am fervently rehearsing my lines and notes between a tight rehearsal schedule!

Back home at the University of Waterloo, I’m the musical director of a co-ed a cappella group. By coming on exchange, I thought I had given up the chance to go to the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) with my group, which we made it to the Semi-Finals of last year. However, when I found out there were two a cappella groups here at Leeds who were participating for the first time in the very same ICCA competition this year, I just knew I had to get involved somehow. I eventually got in touch with the right people, and I had the chance to help their preparation of the competition sets. Once again, I felt so warmly welcomed to their community, and I’m even heading off to Edinburgh to support their performances at the quarterfinals! It just goes to show the more you put yourself out there, the more you can receive. I think I’ll stick to that mantra for the rest of my time here at Leeds. Onto more adventures!

by Zhi Yang Chen – University of Waterloo – Canada

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