I finished my A-Levels in 2004, and the plan was to go to University. I did not want to go to a London based University as I needed to have the experience of independence and freedom. At 18 years old, I believed that I was fearless and brave and applied study abroad at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. Pretty much the furthest University from London.
I had heard of the University before from some friends from New Zealand and went online to find the course and applied. The application process itself was pretty straightforward. I completed an application form and made the submission (much more relaxed than UCAS!). I was given a provisional place, and I needed to make the grades in my A-Levels to confirm my position.
Unluckily for my boyfriend (now my husband), I was not at home to receive my A-Level results. I was actually in Turkey on holiday. So he phoned me to relay my results to confirm whether I had been accepted or not (he told me that he was so nervous giving me those letters over the phone, in case they weren’t enough).
Making the Grade
I was accepted (my psychology mark making up for my maths one!) and now I had to start the process of Visa applications. Even though NZ is part of the commonwealth, travellers from the UK still need to apply for a visa to study (the standard tourist visa allows 3-month visit). I went to NZ House in London (next to Trafalgar Square) and applied for my student visa. I need to have all my vaccinations up to date (including Hep-B), a clear chest X-ray within six months, funds to pay for my tuition and to pay for myself when there and enough to get home. A student visa has to be renewed each year of study, so I would have to visit the embassy in NZ to confirm that I was still enrolled on the course, I had paid my fees and that I could even afford to live in New Zealand.
I found a flat, I got a part-time job, and I lived. I went to rugby games; bar crawls, student events and lectures (although not the 8 am Friday Biochemistry lecture!). I learnt more about myself than I thought I could, I learnt that the pangs of homesickness could be all-consuming and I learnt all my domestic goddess skills (I never cooked before I left home). I discovered that I am stronger, fiercer and more courageous that I knew. I can overcome almost anything. I was away from home for just short of three years. Although NZ might not be so different from the UK (the same language, drive on the same side of the road etc…), it was so far away.
Dare To Be Wise
‘Dare To Be Wise’ was my Universities’ motto, and to make such a huge commitment, I did have to be daring. I knew that I wasn’t going to see my Mum and Dad for years, I knew that I would be changing my life, uncertain if for better or worse, I was either going to sink or swim. Although sinking to me didn’t seem like such a loss. I knew that if I didn’t go, I would regret it for my whole life. I knew that if I did go and didn’t like it, I could always come back home. The balance was definitely in favour of me going. I could not have done this without the backing of my family. My mum left Glasgow at 18 to move to London, and she knew what opportunities I could experience, having done it herself.
Saying goodbye to my family, not knowing when I would see them next was heartbreaking. Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away six weeks before my graduation, and that is still one of my regrets about going, that I never got to say goodbye to him.
You are more capable than you know, if you have the opportunity to study abroad, take it with both hands. University or study is the time for self-development, self-awareness and self-enlightenment. Time overseas will help broaden and shape this awareness of self in ways you didn’t know.
My experiences have stayed with me. I am very family focused as I missed out on so much while I was away (my sister growing up), I still love rugby, I genuinely appreciate what cold is (when it would snow, and we had no central heating), I found out what is essential (me!). If you want to help discover yourself, take that risk