“Would you like a cup of tea?” She asked. That was about the most British way of greeting people, I thought. “Yes, please,” I gladly accepted her offer. And it was this brief encounter that marked the start of my exchange at UEA, in January 2016.
The day before this, I landed at Norwich Airport, I had never set foot in Europe before. On the slippery pavement I dragged my luggage—the first thing that greeted me was the humidity of the British January. As an exchange student from Western University, Canada, where everything at this time of year was frozen to the core, to me the humid weather was an ointment to my international experience.
Flashing forward to the warm welcome, I met my first flatmate in the kitchen the night of the following day. She was smart and funny. We sat down at the dinner table and talked for a long time. The second flatmate came back from Christmas break the day after with a skateboard on his shoulder. In hindsight, he was one of the most interesting personalities I met. He was the kind of guy who would parkour around the campus, and episodically camp beside the UEA Lake at night. Besides his eccentric hobbies, he was a bright and passionate student. There were times we would sit down in the common kitchen late at night and talk about politics and literature. One night I asked him how he managed to do those crazy flips and wall-runs during the day. “Once you tell yourself you’re not afraid and get past the mental block, you can do the craziest moves in the world,” he said. I found his remark was quite insightful, and therefore, alone I travelled to several countries in Europe during the Easter break. I saw more of the world and came back as a different person.
It was spring when I returned to UEA, and my flatmate was doing even more flips around the campus. I thought it was about time I move around as well. The UEA campus was excellent for that purpose. The Sportspark housed state-of-the-art facilities for physical training; otherwise, the vast open areas of the campus were available for leisure sports. I joined the Archery Club and put a few arrows to the bullseye; sometimes, I also jogged by the lake and the beautiful sunset.
When I was not physically moving, I would be chatting with my Indian friend I met in class. He would tell me about Indian culture, and, to my surprise, lecture me on American politics. I learned so much about the world by hanging out with him. We still keep in touch today.
My time at UEA was so pleasurable that May came before I knew it. I was so accustomed to having close friends like the tea lady, parkour buddy, and my Indian classmate around. But even the best of friends must part. It was dawn when I departed, and over the same slippery pavement I dragged my luggage, only they were heavier this time.
Gordon So was an exchange student from Western University, Canada