I’ve known that I wanted to study abroad in England for a loooooong time. I’m definitely an Anglophile—leading up to this year, London had been my #1 dream travel destination for as long as I can remember; I was really interested in the royal family in high school; and my hobbies back home included binge-watching British dramas (but no, I have not seen Doctor Who) and scoping out the import shop for Munchies and Parmaviolets. There were a lot of schools for me to choose from in the UK, and I didn’t really know which one to pick, but then I found Leeds. A huge international community? An elective on musical theatre, and another about the English country house—with field trips? Recommended by one of my favourite professors back home, who studied here for a while when he was doing his masters? Sign me up! Time has flown by so fast since my arrival in September that it’s hard to believe I’m already going home in a few weeks!
The educational system is a bit different here than at my Canadian university, where I take five classes a semester and they’re two or three times a week, usually with more assignments and tests throughout the term, worth less. But all in all I’ve really enjoyed the modules I’ve taken. My favourite was the one on musical theatre, because we studied musicals I love or else I found out about ones I should check out. We talked about them in a historical and social context, considering the story, music, movement, characterization, and creative team to analyse their meaning as pieces of performance art. Going to that class never felt like work. I wrote an essay on the function of ballet in one particular musical. An essay on ballet! In a musical! For school! How cool is that! The screenwriting class I took in the first semester is a close second, though. Part of my degree at my home university is in creative writing but I usually focus on prose fiction, so the module was a great opportunity for me to expand my skills and try something I never thought I’d like or be good at. Now I can say I’ve written a short film!
Outside of class, I didn’t join any clubs, but I took advantage of the union’s Give it a Go program, and tried fencing, tea blending, a cappella, arm knitting, swing dancing, Irish dancing, rock climbing, and more. I watched three of the four musicals put on by societies in the union, and was totally blown away by the professional quality of them (I especially loved Little Shop of Horrors). I was an Intercultural Ambassador for the university, collaborating with my team made up of people from Japan, the US, Singapore, England, and Germany to organize and execute an event celebrating and bringing awareness to cultural diversity.
I’ve explored a lot of Leeds. I love the Hyde Park Picture House, because it makes me feel like I’m going to see a movie in the 1920s; My Cookie Dough in Trinity is the best because cookie dough is my life and it’s all they serve, with ice cream, which is also my life; Paperchase is a godsend because it feeds my stationery obsession; and Canada desperately needs Primark, where the clothes are cheap and stylish. I really enjoyed Light Night in October, when there were light installations throughout the city. I saw probably the best movie I’ve seen all year at the Leeds International Film Festival in November, and had fun shopping and snacking at the German Christmas Market in December. I like Leeds because it’s a big city with things to do but I can walk basically everywhere. There are at least three theatres nearby, which, for an avid theatregoer like me, is a dream come true. In March, I finally got to see a staged production of my favourite play!
But of course, I haven’t just stayed in Leeds. My main travel priority this year has been the UK itself. I’ve been all over the UK, although mainly England—but I have been to Edinburgh twice and even Wales for a day. Scarborough, Oxford, Cambridge, Carlisle, Ilkley, Canterbury, Dover, Manchester, York, Haworth, and probably a few I’m forgetting. Plus, obviously London. I’ll never forget Christmas Day, when I had festive afternoon tea just a block away from Buckingham Palace! One of my favourite study abroad experiences so far has been participating in the HOST program, where international students can spend a weekend with a British family. I was matched up with an English lady in Carlisle who speaks fluent Mandarin and has lived in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and New Zealand (but mostly England). That weekend, my host, knowing that I’m a literature major, took me to see William Wordsworth’s childhood home. We also had a picnic at a picturesque spot in the Lake District, and hiked a chunk of Hadrian’s Wall. I had my first real experience in a British car (I accidentally almost got into the driver’s seat—the passenger’s seat in Canadian cars—about three times!), and got to hear so many fascinating stories from my host about her life. I was even able to bake, not once but twice, using recipes I make all the time back home in Canada. I love baking, but it’s not something I can do easily in my small residence kitchen, and I had really missed it. It was a bit of a challenge because my recipes used American baking methods, with oven temperatures in Fahrenheit and ingredient measurements done by cup, but we figured it out!
Besides the UK, I’ve been to Ireland, Malta, France, and Spain. Malta has the most interesting story out of the four—I had never even heard of the country before my friend invited me on her trip! It ended up being a sunny Mediterranean island with gorgeous architecture and ohmygosh delicious food. We saw the Azure Window, just months before it collapsed into the sea. Paris was also memorable for me because growing up in Canada, I studied French for eleven years, but never really experienced a Francophone atmosphere until that trip (French is basically only used in Eastern Canada, and I live in the west).
I did slightly (and oddly) miss the cold and snow of Canadian winters, especially when there was not a flake of snow in sight at Christmastime, but my experience in the UK so far has definitely been sunny, even though the English sky usually isn’t. Seriously, where has all the sunshine gone here? I’m still an Anglophile… just not when it comes to the weather. Or Marmite, now that I think about it…
by Kaitlyn Batty – University of Calgary – Canada