On the days leading up to my exchange, I knew I was meant to feel excited but I was actually 50 per cent freaking out, and 50 per cent sad to leave my friends and family. The day before I left, I remember thinking, I’m going to be in a completely different environment tomorrow where I don’t know anyone. It was a bizarre feeling. What am I doing?! I suck at being cool!
I was determined to have fun, so I made one rule for myself: If my only excuse for not going somewhere or attending an event is the weather, or that I’m worried I won’t make friends, then I have to go. This worked out surprisingly well, although I was thankful to have my waterproof shoes with me quite a few times.
The University of Manchester has a fantastic student union, and made sure that exchange students were properly introduced to Manchester and its people—especially instructions on how and where to party.
A highlight was super cheap student tickets to watch a Manchester United game. I saw Wayne Rooney play, and we also won that match! A good game to watch considering—although it hurts me to admit it—United had a poor season that year.
Manchester residents are determined people that have worked out how to make the most of the often dreary outside. This means indoor entertainment was at its absolute peak. Musicians were actually willing to come and perform in Manchester and I was lucky enough to see one of my favourite bands play for about $20. Manchester was the birthplace of bands like Oasis and The Smiths after all, and the Beatles were created just next-door in Liverpool. I also tried to find/stalk Daniel Radcliffe because he was filming nearby, but unfortunately to no avail.
Manchester was one of the most multicultural places I’ve ever been to. Its main road was actually named Curry Mile, and it was even better than what you’d think. Every shop was an Indian restaurant, a Middle-Eastern restaurant, a jewelry store, shisha bar, or an Indian/Middle-Eastern fast food store.
I need to stress the brilliance of this. By Indian/Middle-Eastern fast food store, I don’t just mean kebab shops. I mean cheap and delicious combinations of naan, cheese, falafels, curry and chips. Manchester also had heaps of Western themed fast food places too. The unbelievable deliciousness of cheesy chips with garlic mayonnaise still haunts me today. I can’t believe no one has opened up a store here in Canberra. It’s my back-up after uni though, so maybe that’s a good thing.
One thing that I feel compelled to warn any potential exchange-goers is in regards to the English language. A few hilarious but embarrassing moments occurred before I realized “Are you alright?” meant a simple “How are you?”, not “You look ill and sad, are you ok?”. Also, “that person is fit” meant “that person is very attractive”, not “that person can run for a long period of time”. But none of that really mattered because the British accent is wonderful and makes anyone sound intelligent.
I feel very lucky to have had this experience. I met the kindest people who opened their homes, taught me how to read Welsh, told me stories about places I was in, let me dance in their video clip, drove me up mountains, took me on hikes, and just talked to me, especially in some of my more vulnerable moments. For me, exchange was an emotional semester absolutely worth doing. I was sad to leave (I literally cried by myself in the security line at Heathrow airport, not a great moment) and I have my new and old friends to thank for an incredible time.