Julian Walker – Exchange in Wales
My plane took off from Sydney airport and was set to land in Frankfurt 2 days later. The first 24 hours of my trip set a standard which would be maintained for the following 7 months. With an overnight stop over in Seoul, Korea and no plans I introduced myself to some young Germans on the plane and we spent the night out on the streets of Seoul exploring a beautifully foreign place until the early hours of the morning. This kind of unexpected adventure became the norm for the duration on my exchange experience. After close to 2 months travel in Europe I found myself in the middle of a 3 hour bus ride from London to Swansea where I was to study, taking the cheaper option of travel after being tipped off by a local English student I’d met the night before. It was during this bus ride that I was introduced to “the Welsh”. Having never travelled to the UK let alone Swansea I went with an open slate, no expectation but knowing it could be great. This first Welsh girl I spoke to on the bus reassured me that I was in for a great time, her honesty and openness was testament to the warm jolly nature of just about every Welsh man or woman I was to meet for the next 4 months. These people truly had spirit and would go to any lengths to share it.
I arrived in Swansea and after the glamour and beauty of some of the European cities I had seen it definitely did not have illusions of grandeur. It appeared to me as somewhat of a Welsh Wollongong, fuelled by industry, small, modest and nestled on the shore line of the Swansea bay. Nicknamed by the locals as the “pretty ugly city,” it did not take long for ordinary working class exterior of Swansea to dissolve into the masses of jolly Welsh that filled its streets, bars and restaurants despite the often cold miserable weather. And hence the meaning of the phrase became clear.
I found myself in the middle of everything, embraced by all like some exotic gimmick, a rare Aussie, treated like I was their oldest companion, jokingly mocked by the English and passionately defended by the Welsh. I spent multiple weekends in all corners of the Welsh country side having dinner with the families of the friends I had made. So open and eager to share their lives were my new mates that I had more dinner, weekend, holiday, Christmas invitations then I could accept. I was at almost every uni event and every student gathering, even numerous appearances as a guest host on the local Swansea Uni student radio station, Xtreme radio. Swansea greeted me with open arms, I embraced, and it was love at first feel. I say feel because once you let the Welsh people get a hold of you there was no turning back, you knew you were going to love it.
When I consider my experiences socially, academically and personally, I could not truthfully look further than Swansea University for exchange. In short, it was unforgettable, unpredictable and emotional.