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February 9, 2010 | by  | in Online Only | [ssba]

Life as a Born-Again First Year


Cutting hard-earned summer holidays two months short for the dark and wintery English city of Leeds hardly seems like any student’s proverbial “cup of tea”. And yet I found myself boarding flight Emirates EK407 to Dubai on 19 January, accompanied only by an unfinished summer school research essay, a stomach full of nerves and a suitcase full of the warmest clothes I could lay my hands on. I was about to embark on the biggest and scariest adventure of my life thus far, a six-month long student exchange.

After working like a packhorse over the last few weeks my bank account was in unprecedentedly good condition and Auckland put on a stunner of a day to send me off. No amount of thermal underwear purchases or seemingly bottomless piles of visa application forms, however, could have prepared me for what was waiting for me a twenty-nine hour flight away.

After finally arriving, jetlagged and in need of a decent shower at Bodington Hall, where I was but one of 1200 residents, I soon realised I was in for the quintessential first-year experience all over again. Leeds is undoubtedly and unashamedly a student city and it seems everyone is here to escape the bondages of home, whether it be metropolitan London or the far reaches of Cornwall. Leeds is the habitat of the archetypal rebel youth, a flock of first-year fledglings anxious to escape the parental nest and test their livers to the absolute limit.

They certainly breed them resilient here. Wellingtonians seem to pale in comparison to our pasty English counterparts as girls don barely anything and brave the often sub-zero conditions night after night. Certainly a cider or two does warm the belly, but these students seem to have an unfathomable ability to make first-year Kiwis seem like a bunch of tea-sipping fireside knitters. Or maybe that’s my memory faltering in old age (certainly not helped by current drinking habits).

Upon arrival I was shocked to discover a church converted into a night club, proclaiming its regular Monday “Midnight Mass”, complete with DJ behind the pulpit, while Tuesday offered any array of clubs from the wonderfully tacky Tiger, Tiger to the appropriately atmospheric Space. Wednesday night sees massive queues outside Mission, and on Thursday the entire student body seems desperate to throng to the suffocatingly sardined Tequila. Friday is reserved for feel-good 90s pop music at the Student Union’s decidedly Kumara-esque Fruiti, and Sunday the self-explanatory Carnage.

If strobe lights and loud music aren’t your thing there’s always the legendary Otley Run, an historic pub crawl involving eighteen pubs (and an equal amount of drinks), and outrageous costumes which fall into various states of disrepair en route from the city’s outskirts to the university. Any night of the week is fair game, while Saturday night (reserved for locals at the clubs) is a rare opportunity for recovery. And somehow, amidst all of this one must force themselves to remember student loans require that drinking sessions be punctuated occasionally by the unfamiliar event of class attendance.

Ordering takeaways after yet another night of below-par hostel food is another familiar feature of the first year experience. Mashed potatoes replace Weir House’s rice as the staple diet, generously dolloped onto your plate, while baked beans seem an appropriate side dish at any meal. The only thing conspicuous in its absence Laurel_Leedsis the student’s saviour, the toast machine. There’s no evidence of the infamous first year five here though, which maybe has something to do the unseasonably minimal clothing!

It would be easy to bemoan swapping the beaches and barbeques of Kiwi summer for a far less tropical alternative, but these complaints are small fry in the scheme of things. It would be similarly easy to occupy the moral high ground as a ‘mature’, and ‘sophisticated’ third year among all this first-year frivolity. But, although this might sound as tacky and cliché as an O-week 60s party at the Kumara, this exchange has taught me to embrace everything that comes my way.

Sure, my old age and wisdom may mean that I’ve discovered this foreign concept of time management, and I need a little more sleep than before, but so far this experience has been filled with all the excitement and fun of my Weir House days. What’s more, I think I’ve caught the travel bug, an ailment which may be hard to cure, and one I’ve heard is contagious. So next time you tire of trudging all the way up Adams Terrace to class, consider travelling thousands of miles for next semester.

It’s certainly a decision I’ll never regret.


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  1. brigitta says:

    Laurel this is so cool – you’re published! Sounds like youre having an awesome time, enjoy :D

  2. J Vegas says:

    Ohhhh, I’ll be in a similar scenario to you in a years time – going to Leeds for a semester – though I don’t know my hall yet and what courses I’ll be accepted to! It’s great to read a fellow Vic students thoughts and feelings on the experience!

  3. Josh Farshforoush says:

    Laurel, this is awesome – I love the way you write…and you have definitely got Leeds to an absolute Tee.

  4. Jen Milan says:

    What an amazing story. Would welcome you to visit the website of Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students.

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