The whole journey began one winter morning at University back in Brisbane. I had arrived for my 9am lecture on art history, which I must admit, was secretly one of my more favourite subjects, even though all my other class mates despised it. For me, it started off as a really good day. Sunny, yet refreshing weather, a warming cup of coffee that I managed to get in time for the start of the lecture and some valuable company from my two friends, Georgia and Shannon. After two hours of being inside the lecture hall, a stall had been set up outside with a red banner: International Exchange. It all looked really appealing. I had always admired my friends who did exchange programs when they were in high school, but for me, it felt like it was a lot more difficult. I’d describe myself as a keen, avid traveller, but the thought of moving away from my cruisy and comfortable life in Brisbane and simply moving to the unknown scared me a little. I knew that my boyfriend at the time, would not approve of the decision and so be it, telling myself that it wasn’t even option to go and leave him. I mean, at the time I just thought it wasn’t right. But after a few minutes of eyeing the stall off, I walked over with ease, thinking curiosity never killed the cat and it doesn’t hurt to just ask some questions, right? Well, a few hours later I ended up in a room of about 20 other students from the art college, all in the same position as I was, gaining an insight from other students that had just returned from a semester or two abroad. And there it was, I was hooked. I got home, had a given argument with my boyfriend about my decisions, moved on, and began my lengthy but very exciting process to applying and picking the right university in the right country. I had dozens of options to decipher through, but due to being incompetent in German, Spanish or Italian it was near impossible to even look at the university handbooks to see whether it would match my requirements that I had back at my university. Jumping out at me however was Leeds Beckett University, a perfectly matched course of Photojournalism, so perfect that I even managed to link up two semesters of study (this is near impossible for most exchange students, but luckily for me, it worked out very smoothly). The application process soon began, sending letters to the host university, having frequent meetings with my course convenor to sort out my study plan (this will be the death of you, but it is so worth it, trust me) and sorting out the appropriate visa as I wanted to work over there. Come February 2015, I had broken up with my boyfriend of the time, had just been on my first solo trip to Thailand and was back home in Cairns running my Dad’s art gallery when I received the email saying ‘Congratulations Sophie! You have been accepted as an exchange student at Leeds Beckett University’. To say I was over the moon is probably an understatement. I began cartwheeling down the road, practically burning my hands off on the extremely hot bitumen but I couldn’t care less, I was just thrilled that I was accepted. There was so much adrenaline pumping through my body that I couldn’t stop moving. I mean, I could even start packing now right? (I’m the type of girl that will begin packing two months before a trip starts purely because I get that excited. Weird, huh?) The next three months just flew by and sooner than I knew it, I was hopping on a plane, by myself (but basically my whole wardrobe, even with my non-stick Jamie Oliver frying pan) ready to disembark on the most life changing journey.
As I obtained a Tier 4 working visa, I was able to get a job, this being as a bartender/waitress in a slightly tacky night club/restaurant, but working with the greatest bunch of people. One of which I fell very much in love with. I made life long friendships with some uni pals and because of this, I picked up a very British accent – I can’t wait to get back to Brisbane and be the new girl with the ‘funny’ accent, not to mention the British slang that all my friends are going to hammer me for (buzzing, brill, that’s grim etc. etc.). I was able to jump from country to country on weekends, that is when I was able to get time off from work. I mean, who wouldn’t be up for 14 pound return flights to Copenhagen? But most importantly (cliche alert) I developed, grew and matured as a person. Going on an exchange, made me realise that there is nothing negative about being put out of your comfort zone. That it is simply put in place to be broken. To be explored, and to thrill. So if you are a fence sitter like how I once was in relation to taking the study abroad plunge, then the most I can ever say is just do it. There will not be one inch of you that will ever regret the people you met, the places you get to explore and the abilities it has to develop you as a person.