Studying in the UK (May & June)

(January, FebruaryMarch, and April! I feel like this travel reflection is going to get boring if I drag it out any longer, so I’m going to combine my final two months in this post.)

After my Fritaly trip, it was straight into exams which I managed to get through without too much drama-llama. Throughout exam time, I managed to fit in going to X-Men premiere (we met no one, but James McAvoy did wave at us from his car) as well as meeting my favourite band of all time ever. After exams, my friends and I went to Liverpool and we saw a Beatles tribute band at the Cavern Club who dedicated “Another Girl” to us due to our exuberant dancing.

June was tinged with a bittersweet feeling. Leaving England in the summer was tough, because everything was beautiful and felt like the country was convincing me to stay. Even though I was heartbroken to be leaving, it was more to do with the people I met, terrified we’d lose touch and they’d become characters in the stories of my time abroad. Before I got on my first plane home (3 planes to get to NZ!), I remember telling my friend Erin “Come visit me!” and driving away, trying not to cry too much.

It’s about a year and a half since my time overseas, and I’m stoked to say that the people I met there are still absolutely among my closest friends (and Erin did come visit me!). If you ever have the chance to study abroad or live overseas or do something similar, I cannot recommend it enough. Living at a university meant I was surrounded by people my age and living in another country where I initially knew no one made me realise that I’m not useless or incompetent – I can take care of myself without the support of networks forged from home histories. I’m especially thankful I had this experience before getting together with my boyfriend, so I had the chance to have my own adventures first. All those cheesy things people say about travel are true – you come back changed, and you come back better, and if you did it right, you’ll come back with friendships that’ll last forever.

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My beloved second home

*that’s it for reflecting on past travels, I hope it was somewhat interesting!

Studying in the UK (April)

(January post, February post, and March post!)

At my university, we had a month off classes in April that was supposed to act as a study period before exams in May. For once in my life I was not concerned with grades (being on exchange meant I was on a pass/fail system), so my friends and I decided to travel around and ignore our classes.

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+ 10 points if you guess who I am

We caught a bus to Paris (seriously, I can’t handle the travel options available overseas). Travelling on a bus for an extended period of time lost any allure when I spent 10 hours getting to Glasgow, but again I was swayed by the price tag (£20 from London to Paris!). The bus ride was, as expected, rather awful, but that was forgotten once we arrived and got terribly lost, fell asleep outside the Notre Dame, and wandered the streets for about 8 hours til we finally found our hostel. Which was literally a block away from the metro. Pro-tip for future Clemmie: know where you’re going before you go there. Our time in Paris was brief: we mostly walked around the streets – if it’s not obviously yet, we had very little money to spend on anything other than food or accommodation. We did go to Disneyland Paris which was wonderful, and we disney-bounded as our favourite characters.

After Paris, we flew to Rome where we had a much easier time finding our way around. At our hostel we befriended our roommates and explored the city with them. There was a Frida Kahlo exhibit going on so (all of us being art nerds) we went to see her paintings. From Rome, we took a train to Florence and had a week there. Florence was absolutely beautiful. Nothing dramatic or particularly noteworthy happened, it was more like snapshots from a cheesy rom-com (but between a group of platonic friends). The first night we bought a bottle of terrible €3 wine, and wandered the streets of Florence, picking up other tourists as we wandered. Our final day in Florence was actually spent on a day trip to Venice (again, spent wandering due to our finances), and that night back in Florence we hiked up a hill and watched the city at night.

There’s something about travelling that turns everyone into a social butterfly – nearly everyone we met immediately wanted to be friends. Travel friendships have a kind of ephemeral beauty – for a week we would do everything together, and then we’d move on with our respective plans and never see each other again. As a shy, studious NZer, it’s unlikely that I would have met or befriended any of these people in my everyday life. I’m forever grateful that my time travelling forced me out of my shell and taught me how to be both social and self-sufficient.

Studying in the UK (March)

(January post here & February post here!)

Through editing I’ve realised these posts have the potential to read like a very staid and stale list of “What I Did On My Holiday”, so I’ll do my best to keep it brief and interesting!

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Scotland being unreasonably beautiful

The first weekend of March I had my first of several weekend tours for exchange students, which meant that someone else basically planned everything for me. I went to Scotland again, this time to Edinburgh and the Highlands. Edinburgh is a glorious city. Somehow my lucky streak of making friends easily continued, and together we visited the Elephant Cafe where JK Rowling first starting writing Harry Potter. The bathroom walls were covered in people’s messages to her and about Harry Potter in general – it was the most wonderful thing I’d ever seen. Throughout the weekend we also crashed a stag party and helped the groom work through a list of dares, visited Stirling Castle, and then headed up to Loch Ness and explored the highlands, including places like Culloden which was pretty eerie and emotional.

Later in March, I visited Paris (by train! The fact that’s possible still astounds me) with the same company, so was lucky enough to have the same people with me. We went to both the Louvre (it wasn’t for the whole day so it doesn’t count for my bucket list) and the d’Orsay, and I maybe cried at both places. Montmartre was also on the list, and there we saw where van Gogh lived. As is pretty clear now, I’m a huge art history nerd so I found myself crying again over long dead artists. The lock bridge was probably my favourite place in Paris – I tipped a sweet old man playing the accordion who then insisted we take a picture with him. We also (obviously) visited the Eiffel Tower; we didn’t go up the tower, but we did eat crepes and go on a carousel underneath it, which was just as magical. It feels slightly strange reflecting on Paris; it was so peaceful and beautiful when I was there, and the stark contrast between my experience and the recent tragedies makes for a very odd feeling. I guess the world is filled with beauty and horror and it’s hard to reconcile that the two can coexist in the same space. You never know when things will change, so make the most of them while they exist.

Studying in the UK (February)

(January post here!)

February in England was decidedly more noteworthy. Finally being settled in life in London (well, technically Egham), I started venturing out more and exploring more of the world that was suddenly so much closer to me.

Early February, some friends and I saw Phoenix performing at the 02 in Brixton. Tickets were SO cheap – in NZ, I’m used to paying upwards of $70 for a concert – this cost around £20. We were super early lining up so we befriended the people in line with us, and ended up being second from the front. It was incredible. Their music is so much more powerful live than it is recorded, and it was one of those shows where you don’t care about anything other than feeling the music wash over you. I’m absolutely not a dancer, so if a band can make me dance, I’m pretty impressed.

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Phoenix concert!

About a week later, I went to the Harry Potter studio tour. As a massive Harry Potter fangirl, this was my idea of paradise. I’m pretty sure I cried several times throughout the tour, so strong is my fangirlism. I also had the pleasure of meeting Trevor the toad, one of the owls who played Hedwig, and the daughter of the snake who played Nagini.

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I found myself strangely drawn to this wall in Glawgow

The following week, I also visited Platform 9 3/4 and concluded my HP fangirling for the month. I gave myself no time to breathe, and the next day went off to visit a friend who lived in Glasgow. She showed me the delights of Irn Bru, as well as the beauty of Scotland. It’d be easy to remember it as a lovely weekend away (which it was), but in reality it also involved a 10 hour bus ride there and back (only £10!), both journeys in which I worked on a hasty report for my psychology class about how optical illusions work. I almost missed the train to the bus station in the first place (luckily it was 2 minutes late!), and nearly caught the wrong train on my way back home. Travelling alone and on the cheap is a great experience and I’m glad I did it, but I swore that I would never do a bus ride longer than 4 hours after that. Which of course I did not stick to at all, because I am easily persuaded. But that’s a story for April!

Studying in the UK (January)

As I’ve mentioned a few times, in 2014 I spent a semester studying abroad at the UK. It was fantastic and I made so many amazing memories, and my only regret is that I didn’t keep up this blog while I was over there. I’m retroactively going to record some of my favourite memories from that beautiful time in my life.

In January 2014, I left NZ for Royal Holloway, University of London. I chose it partly because it was the only school in London that my home university offered, and also because it looks like this:

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Seriously. I lived here.

I wasn’t scared about leaving home, or travelling to a place I’d never been before, or even being completely responsible for myself. I was most scared about making friends. I’m the very opposite of outgoing and was terrified that I’d spend my study abroad experience alone in my room. For the first time in my life, I was completely alone. While that scared me a lot, it forced me to talk to people and actively make an effort. Luckily, I was on exchange with so many great people (most of them were from the States) and so avoided my fear of being an isolated ibis.

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Squirrel friend

In hindsight, the first month didn’t actually consist of much, other than making friends, settling into classes (class in January was a very novel concept for me), and exploring London. When we went into stores in London, I felt very much like a small town girl (in NZ I live in Wellington, hardly a tiny town!) because everything was so big. The idea of a shop having more than two floors was something I’d never considered. I also looked ridiculous because every time I saw a squirrel I got really excited and took lots of photos.

Being both a linguistics student and the only New Zealander, my way of speaking presented a lot of unintended issues, both frustrating and entertaining. Most people couldn’t understand my name until I pronounced it with a terrible American accent (“OH, Clemmie, not Climmie!”). There was also the occasional time I would say something and have my American friends stare at me because they had no clue what I’d said. Sweet as is a typical kiwi way of saying that is good – for a long time people thought I was saying sweet ass. I also taught people delightful kiwi slang terms like churr, crook, and wop wops. The differences in vocab delighted me (again, linguistics major) – the fact that people can grow up all speaking “English” but have such vastly different vocabularies is something that I love about language.

When you’re retroactively writing about an experience in several parts, there’s no great way to finish off one, so I’ll leave you with a couple more gratuitous pictures:

That time I met The Horrors

I’ve written a fair bit about The Horrors here. They’ve been my favourite band since I was 15 (I’m now 21) and I recall at that age daydreaming about meeting them. Pipe dreams, I thought. It’d never happen to me.

15 year old me would be so impressed with present-day me.

I was living in England (more posts on that later!*) when The Horrors released their fourth album, Luminous. At first I was stoked because it meant I could preorder a signed album without astronomical shipping fees. But then I saw a post from the band saying that they would be at the hmv on Oxford Street signing records. Which usually would result in a soft pang of sadness that I couldn’t go. It took me awhile to realise that I wasn’t in New Zealand – I was in London, which was where they would be!

There was a lot of kerfuffle in actually getting to hmv, but eventually we got into the room where the band was playing and had a short set. After the set, a table was set up and the crowd lined up to get their albums signed (there were less than 100 people, it’s astounding how few people went to an essentially free gig).

Rhys was first at the signing table. I was trying very hard to be normal and shook his hand (which probably wasn’t normal). He asked me my name, and then as he signed my record I actually made conversation with him. I told him that I was from NZ and that next time they go there they should go to Wellington instead of Auckland because Wellington is a lot better**. After hearing I was from NZ, he then invited me to Cave Club, a club night that he runs, because a kiwi band was playing.

I just want to reiterate that: a member of my favourite band personally invited me to his club.

Next up was Tom (who is my secret favourite) and I also awkwardly shook his hand and managed to have normal conversation with him. Unfortunately I kind of used up all of my coherent conversational skills on the first two and kind of word-vomited when I met Josh, Joe, and Faris. Faris ended up drawing a cat on my record and then said it was nice to meet me, so I can’t have seemed too insane.

Me & Rhys!

Me & Rhys!

So I went home with a personally signed LP of Luminous and felt like my life was almost complete. I finished completing it by actually attending Cave Club with Erin, a friend who is also super into the band. The club itself was fantastic, playing music we actually liked (a lot of 60s and 70s psychedelia). Around the middle of the night, we went outside for a quick breather, and happened upon Rhys. We ended up chatting with him and managed to take pictures with him. When we headed back in to keep dancing, Rhys would occasionally come out of the DJ area and dance with us.

After we decided to call it a night, we then also bumped into Tom, and had another chat with him. He recognised me from the signing which put me on cloud nine, and also agreed to take pictures with us***.

Me & Tom! He asked if he could shut his eyes during the photo. I didn't question it.

Me & Tom! He asked if he could shut his eyes during the photo. I didn’t question it.

This post was probably slightly rambly and incoherent, but I achieved a bucket list item five times over, and met the five people that have inspired me since I was an angsty teenager. Meeting my favourite band also succeeded in making me less of an obsessive fan. I obviously still love their music more than anything, but meeting them in person took them off the pedestal and made me properly realise that they’re just normal people. Normal people who make incredible music and made my life so much better.

*eventually they can be found under this tag.
**I’m slightly embarrassed I said that but I also stand by it: if you ever find yourself in NZ, Auckland is very overrated. Wellington is where it’s at.
***also I realise that this is the first time I’ve posted a picture of myself. This is what my face looks like.