Setting Sail: Reflections on a Year Abroad

13017950153_d723bec2cc_kBy Ottoline Spearman

The idea of a year abroad came to me on a gloomy, blustery day in Durham as I battled against the elements to make my way into town. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if I could have all the perks of university without this Northern weather? Then it occurred to me that this was possible.

Travelling across the world for a year was a nerve-wracking prospect, but in the biting cold I happily conjured up an image of revision on the beach, pen in one hand, cocktail in the other. It was one that I could not pass up on.

Having been motivated purely by selfish tan-related reasons, I started to think more seriously about the possibility of a year abroad. Pros: tan (!), new experiences, and delaying graduating. Cons: leaving Durham, and the fact that most of my friends would have left by the time I returned. But upon reflection, the pros certainly outweighed the cons and I sent in my (lengthy) application.

So perhaps the idea of a tan was the main initial motivation, but for fear of painting myself in a vain, self-obsessed light, I’d like to stress that the idea of experiencing a new city on the opposite side of the world, away from friends and family, was the most exciting factor. I’m obsessed with new beginnings, it seems, and what better way to have a fresh start than on the other side of the world?

The Durham bubble is all very well, but it can become rather claustrophobic when you go to Tesco in your pyjamas, only to end up bumping into about ten people that you know – not part of the plan.

Durham City holds a quaint charm, but eventually the breathtaking sight of the cathedral in the afternoon sun wears off when you realise that there’s actually not that much to do. The chance to go to university in a proper city, complete with a decent cinema – I swear the Gala cinema only shows about three films a year – and famous clubs (as opposed to infamous) seemed too huge an opportunity to miss.

The application process was far from easy. I effectively had to write three personal statements, pay god-knows-how-much in application and admin fees, and conduct an interview with a charming Aussie at 6.30 AM following a heavy night out, the dulcet tones of his lilting accent threatening to almost send me back to sleep. I guess I’ll never know whether the fact that I was still drunk was the only reason I got in…

And so here I am, with a mere six weeks before I venture across the world for an entire year. Daunting.

Things I’ll miss: the sticky floor of Klute, the unnecessarily complicated sliding bookshelves of the Billy B (they attacked me once and I had nightmares), the outrageous prices at Dunelm, Mary’s prison-cell of a bar… need I go on?

Things I’ll actually miss: the scenic walks, ridiculously cheap college bar crawls, and the cafés.

So, I’d better get my visa so that I don’t get deported upon arrival, and I’d sure as hell better start packing.

Photograph: Reading Tom

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