As I sit in Kro Bar, a cozy restaurant/bar that has easily become one of my favourite spots in Manchester, two men sit down at the end of the table next to me. My interest was piqued at the mention of research grants. It appears to be an interview about some type of research job. There’s a mention of biology, biophysics, gene regulation, cancer, cell behaviour. The older man starts talking about what his lab at Yale is like. I listen to their conversation, unable not to.
Overheard: “Thinking of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life, a few of them were physicists. The rest were cell biologists.” “You can’t just go chasing money. Life’s too short for that; you need to research what you’re interested in.” “One thing I’ve noticed is that the best biophysicists have to have a strong knowledge of biology first.” I’m glad I was able to start my day overhearing this. Anywhere in the world, so it seems, knowledge abounds. I love hearing people have conversations about the things they’re passionate about; it’s refreshing and interesting to hear. And even though it was something so casual, it reminded me of why I love science and the research process so much. The topics–the idea that cells can be so controlled by something as small as a gene–are things that I will always intrigue me. So yes, it was just an ordinary, chance conversation, but it reminded me of why I love learning so much and how I really do want to learn something new every day.
In a month, I will find myself missing Kro Bar. Missing the long, narrow tables that I always thought were too close to each other, missing the cappuccinos and pork noodle stir fry, missing the impeccable music selection in the place. Right across the street from my accommodation on Oxford Road, Kro Bar has been the perfect place to study and grab a bite to eat, whether at noon or at 9 p.m. when every other place was full.
In a month, I will find myself missing Manchester itself. I’ve travelled to Alnwick, Bath, Liverpool, Whitby, York, Paris, Brussels, and London. And oddly enough, every time the bus or train returns to Manchester, I find myself feeling a sense of comfort to be back in this city. My friend who’s studying in Lyon, France feels the same way: the cities in which we’ve spent our semester have started to feel like a second home and will likely always feel that way. I’ve come to love Manchester for its diversity, for its people who have a unique sense of style and always roam the campus wearing Doc Martens, for its perfectly sized city centre, for its friendliness, and even for the people on the streets who constantly inspire me to do something about homeless populations.
Despite my love for Manchester, I’ve been so fortunate to be able to see the world and travel to different places throughout the semester. I didn’t have nearly enough time as I would’ve liked to explore London, but it was still very exciting to be there and see Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Thames, the Natural History and British Museums, the Welcome Collection, and even have time for afternoon tea. A few weeks earlier, I got the chance to search for fossils along the coast of Whitby after exploring the ruins of Whitby Abbey and eating fish and chips. And Paris? Paris was absolutely magical, just like everyone said it would be: I sat on the Arc de Triomphe at night, looking out at the Champs-Élysées, waited four hours in line to see a spectacular, expansive sunset at the top of the Eiffel Tower with my best friend from home, and drank the absolute best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.
Traveling to so many different places for the first time has taught me the importance of friendship, of improvising and being versatile, of taking time to rest after walking for long periods of time, of planning ahead, of packing light, and of taking the time to appreciate the present moment and surroundings. As much as I love Manchester and feel really comfortable here, it’s nice to take a few days to escape the city, see new sights, and immerse yourself in new energy.
How do I feel about having just one month left? Have I accomplished all that I wanted to? Kind of. I’ve been writing and keeping a journal, making time to do watercolor painting, working hard in my classes, exploring new places around Manchester, spending time with friends, and meeting new people. I’ve reflected on what matters most in life, pursued my interests and the things I love, and I’ve learned to appreciate a new culture for the first time. In the next few weeks, I think the things I want to focus more on are taking the time to reflect and write more deeply; I really have found it hard to write a lot and to write consistently, but I definitely want to commit to that in my remaining time here.
There have been times where I’ve missed being home. I miss spending time with my family and the traditions that we have in the Fall–apple picking, pumpkin picking, taking drives, going out for ice cream. But this past week my dad and uncle actually got to visit me–they visited Manchester and London, and I was so happy to be able to spend time with them. I think they really liked exploring here, and I was glad to show them the place that I’ve called home for the past few months.
As much as I miss some things about home, I don’t want this semester to end. From art museums to cafes to weekend trips to my research project about arts and healthcare and everything else, I’ve been having an incredible time, and I can’t wait to see what the next adventure here will be.