“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
These wise words from writer, Neale Donald Walsch, probably resonate with any student who has gone on exchange.
The experience is so powerful and unforgettable that it is no wonder it is often referred to as the best year of one’s life – or even a life within a life. It’s no wonder some of us make the decision to go back for a second year abroad.
However, from my own experience, I have found that a second exchange can be very different than the first.
I am from France, and studied abroad at the University of Bristol for one year during my undergraduate degree. To say I had a great time would be an understatement.
Everything I expected to find there went way beyond my expectations – a buzzing and creative host city, a wonderful new country to visit, the most perfect and culturally diverse group of friends one could ask for.
I changed in more ways than I could have imagined; I arrived there at the age nineteen, as a teenager who had left high school not that long ago, and I left much more mature and resourceful than before.
Exchange was one of those life-changing experiences, and I felt the post-exchange blues immediately upon returning.
So I made the decision to study abroad again, and jumped at the opportunity to spend a semester at the University of Melbourne.
Yet, some words kept popping up in the back of my mind as I was preparing to go. They were those of a university professor, who knew me well and warned me about leaving for the right reason.
“You know, Bristol will always remain Bristol, and you will not find that again.”
I knew he was right, and came to Australia with this in mind. Yet, as soon as I arrived, I fell into a trap of comparing every single aspect of my new life here to the one I had in England.
It’s unfolded that my Melbourne exchange has been more challenging than my first study abroad. The most important difference is that I have my final year of studies at stake and a thesis to write.
This demands much more time spent in the library than out socialising with people and discovering the country, as hard as I try to maintain a fair ratio of both.
The fact that Melbourne is an expensive city as well means that many exchange students have to work while we are here, which requires time and committment.
My friends and I were also surprised by how difficult it was to find a decent yet affordable place to live in Melbourne.
Unscrupulous landlords takes advantage of the fact that international students are unaware of the law, therefore the abuse of tenant rights is reportedly common.
I have heard horror stories from friends who went to inspections where people lived in unsanitary conditions in the lounge room or even in the kitchen, with ‘walls’ made of cardboard or tarpaulin to separate spaces.
I have found some landlords also do not respect the size regulations for the rooms, or ask for huge bonds, which makes one definitely more wary when choosing accommodation.
In my first share house, the landlord got a surprise inspection from a housing official from the city council, who found that the landlord was required to renovate as the house was not suitable for fire emergency regulations.
We were given two weeks notice to vacate the property. Fortunately, I’ve now moved to an amazing new house with the most perfect room that one could ask for, so of course not everything is always gloomy.
Sometimes the ‘drive’ to do as many things as possible here is less present. Because I have already had this type of life-changing experience, I have not felt the urge to meet as many people, or see as many places as I did during my first exchange.
I love travelling and always will, so I already have a few exciting trips planned to Tasmania and New Zealand. But overall I do not feel the urge to try every single bar or restaurant in Melbourne, or visit the entire state of Victoria.
Yet, in my opinion, it’s not such a bad thing – rather, it is a different way of seeing the experience. I’m compensating with other things, like more studying and improving my photography skills.
Having said all of this, I’m grateful for my experience because I am also a different person to who I was a few years back. It took me a while, but eventually I have come to terms with the fact that Melbourne is a completely different adventure to Bristol, and the two experiences cannot be compared.
Although my stay here will perhaps not change me as radically as my first time on exchange, I already feel like it has already made me more empowered.