Author: Michaella//University of Auckland//New Zealand
Hello lovely readers! I can’t believe that I have been in the UK for almost two whole months now! The time has flown by so quickly, I’m already beginning to feel a little sad about having to leave in January. However, this time has definitely not been wasted. When I first arrived in Manchester I was introduced to the International Society, a group dedicated to sharing and learning about cultures from all around the world. Through the International Society I have been been able to explore the UK, learn about different cultures, and make friends. So, for anyone reading this who is thinking of coming to Manchester in the future, or is an international student who is already here, join the club!! Not tempted? Well maybe you will be when I tell you about the trips I’ve gone on through the society (trips that occur every weekend, so you’re spoilt for choice friends!)
As is (my) tradition, the accompanying song for this blog post is Oh Wonder’s “High On Humans”, seeing as the trips allowed me to make friends with strangers and socialize with people who had a shared experience with me. Don’t be afraid! Talk to people, it’s nice to hear other people’s life stories and what makes them them.
Trip One: York
My first trip outside of Manchester occurred almost two weeks after I landed in the country. My first thought of the town was, “Wow, that wall reminds me of Winterfell, just without the snow.” A beautiful town filled with old – timey buildings, York was exactly how I imagined a little British town to be. Everything was brick and stone and weathered and old, with every part of the town – the buildings, the churches, the statues – holding inside them a story waiting to be read (which was obviously exciting for this English major). The museum’s gardens were breathtaking and large enough to hold all of York’s dogs, which they have a lot of which was a bonus to see. The town definitely catered to the BA students’ aesthetics with its cobblestones and history, quaint little cafes and shops, bustling markets and arty atmosphere. I think I’ll have to go back and visit again (and to think, I wouldn’t have found this adorable little place without the International Society).
Trip Two: Oxford
I’m a Harry Potter nerd, so naturally I was excited to be going to Oxford. Who wouldn’t want to explore the place that had scenes from the movies filmed here! With a group of new friends as well as a student from my home university, we explored what Oxford has to offer. We had a tour of the Oxford University campus, my favourite areas being the Christchurch Hall and campus. It had an air of prestige about it that I really enjoyed, but without feeling pretentious. I’ll be honest, I was a little envious of the students I saw here! Part of me was wishing that I could attend the university at least for a day so I could see how it felt, but that’s just normal curiousity. When you’re surrounded by a beautiful town, campus, and an area that inspired the Great Hall in the Harry Potter novels, you’re gonna feel that way. Overall it was a fantastic place that I was glad I had the chance to visit.
Trip Three: Whitby
Here’s a seaside town with a kiwi connection! Known for housing James Cook while he learnt how to sail (and would then eventually discover my home country), as well as appearing in three chapters of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Whitby is the cutest seaside town I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting (wait your turn Conwy and Llandudno). It definitely had that “charming seaside village with a hint of gothic creepiness” vibe going, even with the sun lighting it up like a beacon for those at sea. There’s a lot of easy exploring that’s able to be done here, such as the seaside, cliffs, graveyards, and ruins.
Trip Four: Conwy Castle and Llandudno
Occurring the day after Whitby, I got my first taste of Wales in these two places. My morning was spent exploring Conwy Castle with a bunch of other international students I had had the pleasure of meeting on the way over. The castle was a photography paradise; my phone was filled with pictures I took there (and they looked even cooler due to how fantastically sunny it was. It felt like Summer had returned just to say hi and introduce me to Northern Wales). The castle set my imagination on fire and I found myself thinking about the people who used to live there and the views they would’ve had.
After Conwy Castle we travelled to the coastal town of Llandudno. The wind had picked up now, making the low tide waves crash onto the beach and my hair whip around my face. However there were areas of safety, such as the arcade at the end of the long, historic pier. This pier had a very 50s feel to it; I could imagine people all dressed in pastel colours spending their Summers here. It makes me wish that I was here for Summer next year! Oh well, this gives me extra incentive to return to this lovely town in the future.
Trip Five: Stratford Upon Avon
Oh, be still my beating heart! Here is the town that I had most been looking forward to visiting since seeing that it was an offered trip with the International Society. I, an aspiring author, went to Stratford Upon Avon, AKA the birthplace and home of my literature bae, William Shakespeare. I had a fantastic English teacher in high school who started my love for Shakespeare, a love that reached new heights when I started university and found myself getting caught up in New Zealand’s ‘Pop Up Globe’ company (look them up they’re fantastic). A new group of international students and I strolled through Shakespeare’s childhood home, a moment that made me feel a bit breathless, as though I were in a dream. We also visited the home he and his family lived in (the garden was a stunner!) as well as his daughter’s home, before exploring the town itself. I could probably go on forever discussing how amazing it was to be in the town of a legend, but I think I’ll just end with a simple quote from As You Like It that sums up my overwhelming feelings quite simply: “I like this place, and willingly could waste my time in it.”
Trip Six: Bath And Stonehenge
The last trip I did with the International Society (so far) was an overnight one. In the crisp Autumn weather me and a new friend explored Bath together, taking in the gardens, the Abbey, and the river (which – fun fact – was used in the 2012 film Les Miserables, a fact I didn’t know until I arrived there. Maybe an unpopular opinion but I really like that movie). It was great that we were given that whole day and part of the next day’s afternoon to explore the town. It honestly has so much to offer and you’d be missing out if you limited yourself to only a one day visit.
The next day we travelled to Stonehenge. I had been incredibly excited at the chance of seeing Stonehenge. I mean, who wouldn’t want to check out one of the Wonders of the World?! During this trip out of civilization I realized how much I missed the countryside. The city can become a bit choking after a while, so it was nice to be able to breathe again in an area that sort of reminded me of New Zealand.
But Stonehenge! First thought: It’s smaller than what I expected. However, that didn’t diminish it’s beauty. The way it’s made to look like a long corridor into a building when the sun sets is ingenious (and a great play with shadows too). I was sad I couldn’t touch the stone (yes, I was that kid in shops), but the fact that my eyes got to witness the structure made up for that! I don’t think I know anyone from my home who has ever seen Stonehenge, so I feel very honoured to have had the chance.
Without the International Society I don’t think I would’ve had as much of a chance to explore these places in the UK. Half of them I had never heard of before so probably wouldn’t have even put them down on my list of places to visit. Through the society I have made friends from all over the world, have learnt about their home life and shared part of mine, and together we got to start our international adventure. So again, if you have the chance, join the club! Make your time in Manchester worthwhile with people who want the same thing as you: to travel and to experience something new.