Mathew’s Best Study Abroad Moments and Adapting to Life Back Home

Mathew ChenAfter an emotional few weeks of farewells and now experiencing some post exchange withdrawals being back home in Sydney, I wanted to reflect on my time in Leeds and how I’m coping now that it is over.

My trip begun with an 8-week adventure around Europe before winding up in England. Visiting over 20 European and British cities was the biggest thing I’d ever done and an incredibly eye-opening experience. Whether it was riding on a gondola in Venice, visiting the hipster Szimpla Kert retro bars in Budapest, biking for 2 hours to the windmills of Amsterdam or just trying my first snails in Paris, almost every city had something unique to offer. Some of the best and most unique experiences were the ones we never planned, like joining a “beer culture” tour in Prague at the last minute and then discovering my love for dark beer or being in Barcelona just when the Catalonia Referendum was happening. I loved the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands, the mix of medieval and modern architecture of Edinburgh, the charm of Paris and the cuisine of Italy.

Fast forward 2 incredible months of travelling and I had finally arrived in Leeds. I remembered at the time of arrival that I was feeling anxious and miserable at the thought of studying after such a big holiday. It turned out that while this initial big trip was over, the adventure was still going and here are some of my favourite experiences of my exchange in Leeds.

  1. Living in a Student Residence

For the past 10 years I’d always lived an hour commute away from my friends and so living at Leodis where I had friends next door and upstairs was personally very special to me. We had many good nights out (Fruity, Bongos Bingo, seeing Christmas markets, drinks, etc) and in (international dinner, birthdays). Even small things like bumping into friends in the laundry room would make my day. Sometimes when I had days home to myself alone and I hear a flatmate walk into the kitchen I would just run out to greet them!

Mathew Chen 1

  1. Travel Travel Travel

As an English speaker, England was an ideal home base from where I took weekend travel trips out to Europe or around Britain. To add to my thoughts on my travels above, the feeling I’m going to miss most is how casually I could say “I feel like going to Spain next week” and after one night of planning, I was all booked to go. The rest of Europe is so close to Leeds and with so many budget airlines available, travelling is so easy and accessible. To my fellow travellers, make the most of your weekends and do short trips around England and Europe!

  1. The Free Lifestyle

The freedom of being in charge of all my choices was initially confronting but became the most invaluable “gift” that helped me grow so much. I was cooking the food that I enjoyed, doing my own groceries and laundry and planning my own spontaneous trips, without any badgering or influence from my parents. As weeks went on, I got better at cooking and saw it as less of a chore, grocery runs became my respite from any stresses and I even saw joy in doing laundry because it meant I could get creative with where to hang my clothes after in my room (since I didn’t use the dryer). I became more appreciative and rediscovered the importance of making my own decisions to do things that make me happy which was something I felt that I forgot throughout the last few years of university when all I did was stress over academics and job applications. While I’m currently back at home with my parents, I will definitely miss this lifestyle of freedom that came with exchange but I’m thankful for what it taught me.

Mathew Chen 2

  1. The International Experience

A shout-out to my friends from Austria, Canada, Belgium, America, Brazil, France and Finland (to name some) for giving me such a culturally rich and diverse exchange experience. You guys know who you are. It was so much fun hearing different accents and learning about some of each home country’s customs and the different slangs and expressions between American, Canadian, British and Australian English, which taught me more about my own Australian English.

Fast forward another 4 months, I’ve been home for about a week now and it’s been a tough readjustment period. Physically I am in Sydney, but my thoughts are still in Leeds. When I go to Woolworths (my local supermarket), I’m reminded of Morrisons. When I catch a train to the city, I think of the many train rides I’ve taken around Europe and England. And when I go to see my friends next week, I will be reminded of the people who were the most important to me just over a week ago, on the other side of the world. Initially I said to myself that I need to get over it but then I realised that getting over something is normally associated with recovering from a bad experience. And exchange was undoubtedly the best 6 months of my life so what’s there that’s bad to get over?

Instead, I’ve decided to strive to accept it and to find a way to live comfortably between both worlds I’ve been in, rather than pushing one aside to make room for the other. Doing small things like listening to new music I picked up over there, cooking some recipes I learnt while away and of course, keeping in touch with everyone from Leeds, is helping me through this reverse culture and readjustment shock. I don’t know how much time it will take, but I will eventually settle down after living on a high for so long and take the energy and inspiration I found on this trip and use it productively as I have found a few new things that I want to do and change with my life and to me, this is a way of making sure my exchange continues.

To the incoming Leeds students – I hope my story was somewhat insightful and I wish you the best exchange trip possible! You’re away from home so now is the best time to try new things and do what makes you happy regardless of what people think. All the best!

by Mathew Chen – University of New South Wales – Australia

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