A Koala-ty year. Wollongong, Australia.

How best to summarise my time abroad? I’m lost as to where to start. I could talk endlessly about why everyone should study abroad. Simply, studying abroad in Australia was the best year of my life.

If you’d have told me on New Year’s eve 2013 that 2 years from then I’d have studied and lived in Australia for half a year; visited 4 Australian states; backpacked South-East Asia for a month (visiting Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia); would sweat on Christmas day; have stayed with a Thai tribe; met Monks; visited Angkor Wat and be due to visit New Zealand before session 2 would have started at UK Universities, I’d have laughed. That was half a year.

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13 months on, I can honestly say studying abroad irreversibly changed my life for the better. While it had ups and downs, I can’t think of a better experience. Travelling to an unbelievable variety of places: from cities to rainforest, mountains to beaches, was incredible.

However, I think the best thing was just how much my year opened my eyes. Meeting so many new people from massively diverse backgrounds changed my perspective on life to an incredible extent. Beforehand, I’d considered myself fairly open-minded. Now, I consider myself then to be far too secular, content in my comfort zone. Making so many new friends and acquaintances not only allowed me to experience more in my year; it allowed me to see what I experienced from a variety of perspectives. There really is nothing like experiencing it. While a picture may say a thousand words, experiences, are unquantifiable.

 

See, the thing is, I haven’t even mentioned studying once. It was undoubtedly important, but never seemed a chore to me. I really enjoyed studying everything I did while I was over there. Being in a university environment abroad gives you all the social pros of being at any University, one of which is a huge number of like-minded people; most importantly, though, it provides the freedom and drive to do so much more than just study (or did for me). Hence, studying enough wasn’t an issue – I didn’t struggle with motivation to do it as I have here at times, and it showed (my average mark is significantly better than my previous year in Sheffield). So in terms of workload, course enjoyment, and grading, again – why wouldn’t you go?

If you do still need convincing, I’ll do another little highlights reel of semester 2 and coming back.

Post New Zealand, I headed back to the Gong for a little while, before understanding that the Travel Grant facilitated travel home for me. So, I came back in February to see friends and family; I missed home a little more than I’d initially considered when applying, but this wasn’t really an issue.

Session 2: Managed to enjoy studying; my house (which had a pool); meeting heaps of new people; North Gong (and City) beaches (and many others besides – including the whitest sand beach in the world at Jervis Bay); the Blue Mountains (again); Sydney for Vivid; the coast from there to Adelaide (yeah, all of it, including Melbourne R2 and the incredible Great Ocean Road); every hike/mountain and waterfall in the Illawarra it seemed; and all the while walk to University through some of the nicest gardens I’ve ever seen. Not bad for 12 weeks, given assignments, exams and the like.

For more info on each bit, I’ve got a blog (I’ll link it below). Otherwise, this post will go on forever. If I haven’t blogged it, sorry, I’m getting there. It was a busy year.

Between session end and now though, figured I’d make the most of my chance. Perth and WA in winter was really cool to see. There’s so much there, yet I barely scratched the surface. Could say that about the whole country, really.

No visit to Australia would be complete without a trip to Uluru and the Red Centre, though. There’s nothing quite like camping in a swag and seeing dingoes in the wild. Eye opening? Without a doubt. The scale of some things in Australia still astounds me, though I grew somewhat immune to it.

I guess this is highlighted by my final trip before heading home: Australia’s east coast. I drove over 5000km in total, from the Gong up to the Daintree River – north of Cairns, over about three weeks. I saw the lower, mid and upper reef, touched a sea turtle; swam with sharks; chilled with kangaroos; hit up huge waterfalls and mountains; surfed Queensland’s most northern tidal beaches; posed for endless beach shots (but also snapped some city photos too); hiked national parks for some unreal lookouts; saw cassowaries, crocs and all manner of other wildlife, and some of the most spectacular scenery along the way – at sunrise and sunset. Oh, and I saw the Whitsundays. And Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Noosa, Coffs, Byron, 1770, Agnes Water, the Sunshine Coast, Fraser Island – the largest sand island in the world, the list goes on. Not bad for a 20-year old in a Mitsubishi Mirage almost as old as him, hey.

So I ended my trip in Cairns, having picked up a tan, a skateboard, and an unreal mix of memories and photos. Still, before home there was time for some beach camping and time with mates to catch up before I left. To everyone I met who made my time so sick, thank you.

Australia, you little ripper.

Link to my blog (more detail on travels, and a kind of journal): https://henrytomkinson.wordpress.com/

Instagram (heaps of photos): @tonkaa16

 

Conclusion (read this bit if you haven’t got much time. Wasn’t gonna tell you that at the start though, was I).

The best way to summarise study abroad would be to look at me. During my time Down Under, I completed second year of university and grew 13 months older. Mentally, I grew exponentially. Would the old me have bungee jumped twice or jumped out of a plane strapped to some guy he’d just met at 14,000ft? I could say yes, but even I’m not too sure. Verdict? Loved it. Before, home was Croft House – my house since I was 3. Now? It’s where my heart is.

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Wollongong Lighthouse, Australia

 

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