United Kingdom. England. Staffordshire. Keele University. Lindsay Hall. Block P. Room 5.
That was my home for an entire semester and the consequences were unimaginable. The one thing no one prepares you for when going on exchange, is the inconceivable pain you feel when you have to leave. Uprooting your life for any length of time is a hard thing to do; so many emotions are felt, from nerves and worry, to excitement and joy and everything in between. You hope that your friends will still be there when you come back, you hope that you find friends and you hope beyond all hope that you can fit in with new people, in a new place. You expect to feel homesick, you expect to miss out on important milestones and you even expect things will be different when you arrive home. But the one thing you do not expect is falling in love with your new home so completely it hurts to leave.
I arrived at Keele with 25 kilos worth of luggage and knowing a total of one person, who happened to live on the opposite side of campus to me and had enrolled in totally different subjects. To say I was worried was an understatement and in all honesty, my expectations were quite low. However, what happened over the course of the following 3 months changed my life forever.
I never really believed in instant connections until I met three American girls on my first full day at Keele. They were three girls who, just like me, were on exchange and ready to see what university in England was like. Whether it was the way they spoke, or the glimpse of something more in their eyes I will never know, but meeting them was like I had found myself in three different people all in the same moment. That instant spark and new unwavering friendship would drive our wanderlust and take us to places dreams are made of.
That fateful September day I also met my roommates. They were girls from The Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Romania, Sweden and England. And then there was me, all the way from Down Under. Despite being the only student in second year and the only one from the southern hemisphere, I now had 11 roomies, all sharing two toilets, two showers and one kitchen. It was exhilarating to have a family of fantastic roomies and extraordinary friends.
When on exchange, it is up to you to make the most of the situations you are put in and I was determined to get as much as I could from my time abroad. I helped my sisters hone their English skills and in return learnt how to make the most incredible pesto gnocchi and Dutch delicacies. We had library study sessions together and dance parties. Oreo’s and vodka became our trading currency.
I only spent one weekend on campus my entire semester. I travelled to Wales with the Ultimate Frisbee team and we became international winners. I took a train to Scotland and hiked up a hill with severe food poisoning. I may have broken into a castle. I experienced getting lost in Rome with nothing but a map and a metro ticket. I also studied harder than I had ever done back at home. So many experiences I will carry forever.
Keele’s student life was incredible, with socials (read: pub crawls) three times a week, dressing up and partying by night, and living in the library by day. I hosted a radio show with my American friends, which ended up being 70% talking about our travel plans, 20% talking about the differences in the three countries, 5% singing very badly on air and 5% thanking our very few listeners for sticking with us.
Whilst I was away, my motto was ‘go hard because you KNOW when you are going home’, and I was fortunate enough to find people with the same beautiful mentality. Home is where you make it, where you most feel at ease and where your heart is. Distance cannot separate the bond I formed with these gorgeous people. It has been nearly 6 months since I last saw my roomies and my American sisters, but I can honestly say my home away from home exceeded my expectations. I am so grateful that I met the people I did because I can’t even begin to imagine my life without them.
Words by Laura Telford