Isabella was an Incoming Exchange student who studied here at Essex during the Spring/Summer term 2023. Isabella’s home university is University of South Australia, based in Adelaide.

Why did you choose to go to Essex?

Attending The University of Essex seemed like a no brainer for me. I had always fantasised about living in the UK – specifically London – since I was a little girl. Embarking on the fifth and final year of my Law degree felt like the perfect time for me to go overseas and finish my remaining law electives in a place that would allow me to live out my London-life dreams. Essex offered the most unique and interesting law electives, and given that it’s situated under one hour away from Central London by train? How could I say no! Not only did it tick the educational and situational boxes for me, but it also offered affordable on-campus accommodation – making it the ideal trifecta for anyone considering a study abroad experience.

students sitting in giant deckchair decorated with Union Jack

What are the main differences between an Australian university and Essex?

University life in South Australia was drastically different – for starters, I had never experienced a living-on-campus lifestyle before, given the centrality of university at home. This was something I had to learn to adapt to, and which I ultimately ended up enjoying. As a result of the living-on-campus lifestyle, Essex is also incredibly community oriented, with various activities being held each day to promote inclusion in every respect. My favourite activities being the weekly Eat & Meet social events, where free dinner would be offered to students, and the frequent SU Makes events – a time where students could attend free creative/art-based sessions to relax, socialise and create in a chilled and welcoming environment. Overarchingly, I think this demonstrates how university lifestyle at Essex specifically was all-encompassing – it (in the best way possible) made university experience your entire life, and a place you were happy to stay at.

group of students in Buffalo Joes Colchester Campus

What were the best moments from your time in Essex?

On-campus life at Essex carried so many consistently iconic moments – Sub Zero on a Wednesday night, having pre-drink parties in your friends’ flats, having game nights or movie nights in an empty classroom – the list goes on. Those small, low-key moments are what created my most core memories at uni. It was the impulsive decision-making that took place when working out if we wanted to explore a rural part of England after class one day. It was the flat meetings that took place when someone was going on a date, so we would collectively make our way to the bar to subtly keep an eye on things and be there to support one another. It was the nights we would sit by the lake – eat food, listen to music and cry whilst talking about how crazy it was to be in that very moment in time. It was our own little reality. Something so unique and special. Something only we could understand and relate to.

students taking selfie in Sub Zero, Colchester campus

Beyond campus, excitement continued. If I woke up feeling spontaneous, all that had to be done was take a 49-minute direct train into Central London, where the thrill of adventure persisted. One day I made it onto the red carpet of Louis Tomlinson’s movie premiere in Leicester Square, and met him and his former One Direction bandmate, Liam Payne. Another day my favourite YouTuber put my friend and I on the VIP guestlist for his DJ set where he opened for Swedish House Mafia. We went. And if I was up to date on my studies, my friends and I would decide to fly from London to Milan for Milan Fashion Week 2023 and rub shoulders with celebrities and fashion influencers alike – anyone know Kim Kardashian? Even if some days the energy to commute to London dwindled, Colchester offered the same occasional excitement, with a morning walk to town turning into a King Charles sighting extravaganza. See what I mean with the creation of core memories here?

What would your advice be to anyone considering studying in another country?

My advice would be this: if you don’t have an interest in changing your life in the best possible way and in every single way imaginable, don’t go on exchange! Going on exchange is scary. It’s daunting. You are exiting a life of certainty, comfort, and security in pursuit of the total unknown. But it’s when you are thrust into total unknowingness that you lose who you thought you were and find who you truly are. It seems generic to say that studying abroad changes you, but it also seems mediocre to limit yourself by not putting yourself out there to see if it will change you. There will be ebbs and flows in your experience – not to mention the potential wavering of optimism with respect to undertaking such a commitment of an experience, but the proudness and self-satisfaction you will feel at the end of it all? That’s what makes it worth it.

What was your favourite local meal?

As cliché as it sounds, you can’t go wrong with classic fish and chips! I made it a little task of mine to carefully curate a list of all my favourite eating/drinking destinations given that I am an extreme foodie, and well, I did!

In Central London, my go-to destinations for the ultimate culinary delights include:

  • ‘Knoops’ for personalised hot chocolates
  • ‘Apple Butter Café’ for totally extra (in the best possible way) pancakes in unique flavours
  • ‘Humble Crumble’ for the most exquisite apple and berry crumble you EVER have tried (in the most non-humble way)
  • Borough Market for the best fish and chips and juicy strawberries with melted chocolate – do I even need to explain further?

In Colchester specifically, my tastebuds were frequently blessed the MOMENT I discovered these absolute gems, including:

  • ‘Crumbs’! – located on campus, this is where I consumed the best hot chocolates daily. My order: dark hot chocolate with hazelnut syrup (if you enjoy drinking warm Nutella) or alternatively: white hot chocolate with hazelnut syrup (if you want a Kinder Bueno type of experience). Crumbs also – in my opinion – have the BEST sausage rolls that I have ever tried (sorry Greggs!)
  • ‘Brick Lane Bagel Co.’ – located in town, these bagels are the most filling, fresh, high quality, inexpensive and most importantly, TASTY creations to exist. They also make violently phenomenal chocolate cookies!

Did you feel different after your year abroad?

After my study abroad experience, I can hand-on-heart say that I am a different person. I went into this experience not having explored anywhere bar my home country of Australia. I felt stuck in the monotony of my day-to-day life as a studying and working girl from the city. I found myself in repetitive situations that had me questioning how I was in fact, in the same types of situations and surrounding myself with the same types of people without growth or change. I felt uninspired and lost with how I wanted to progress in my career, and in my aspirations for life generally. Post-exchange, I can safely say that I now thrive in the uncertainty and unpredictability of each day that passed. I met new people that allowed me to question myself, question the way I dealt with situations in the past, and try new ways of dealing with people to get what I want – and form better, healthier relationships that served both parties more. I delved into aspects of my life I otherwise would have neglected or seen past. I found new passions and immersed myself in experiences which allowed me to feed and nurture them. And on the most intricate of levels, I found my core self. The only way I could have done this was by understanding how to truly be alone and enjoy that loneliness – because contrary to popular belief, it is a good thing. I also understood the importance of making new friendships and starting from scratch as an adult – something that a lot of adults don’t have the opportunity to do when stuck in the same routine and even further, when stuck in the same place with the same faces around you daily. 

group of students sitting in park

There are other ways I think I am different post-study abroad, one of those not being the fact that my Australian friends think I have developed an Essex twang in my voice (I definitely have not but maybe I’m delusional?). But I think the main way I can assert confirmation of this change is the fact that when I finally got back home, I lay in bed and felt an overwhelming sense of calm – a feeling I hadn’t felt in my hometown in years. I allowed myself to revel in this calm for as long as I could. In this moment I remember saying to myself, ‘if every day you could feel as calm and self-assured as you do right now, and that be because of your overseas experience, you can live a happy life.’ And that is how I know I changed. And that is how I know that my study abroad was a success.

Inspired by Isabella’s experience? Visit our Study Abroad pages to find out more about all of our opportunities.