Spending a year abroad, or a semester on Erasmus can be a truly enriching experience. However, at some point, this bubble has to burst, and the clouds of Nottingham await. I spent my year in Vienna and Paris. Swapping the Arc de Triomphe for south gate, the Champs Elysees for Derby Road and the Eiffel tower for that red thing on Jubilee campus is a less than enticing prospect. On my return, I certainly felt older, wiser, and generally more European. In a word: better. Surely this mundane life of a Nottingham student was far beneath me and my new-found recycling, ham and cheese for breakfast eating, bike-riding ways.
Coming back to uni for the first time felt incredibly strange. Actually, my main sentiment was relief at having made it, due to looking the wrong way and having been nearly hit by three cars en route. The campus seemed not to have changed at all. It’s somewhat disheartening to think that the whole university hasn’t somehow frozen or collapsed in your absence. Then, of course, I walked into Hallward Library, and realised that not only had life gone on, but that it had had the audacity to change, without asking my permission, or giving me a chance to complain and/or be amazed by it. I must admit to feeling pretty old and foolish trying to go and check out a book at the desk with a real person, and gazing at the large screens downstairs, as if I’d just walked into a Star Wars film! This must be how my Mum feels when I keep telling her to order her Tom Jones Greatest Hits CD online!
Being back in England, it must be said, does have its advantages. It is rather comforting to know that you can walk into a café and order a sandwich without having to stand outside it for 5 minutes, trying to remember the word for sweet corn or having to stand at the counter repeating your badly pronounced version of “tuna mayo” 10 times. Even better is actually winding up with one tuna mayo and sweet corn sandwich, as opposed to 4 mochas, or whatever it is the waitress has interpreted your order as. It’s also really nice to be able to go into a supermarket that looks like it has been cleaned at some point in the last 3 months, and in which if you ask for anything remotely “specialist” (on the continent this apparently includes such traditional British classics as pitta breads, humus and couscous) you don’t get sent to the “international shelf” which has one foodstuff from every country in the world, as if only built to fit in with some new EU regulation, all at 3 times the price you’d pay in England!
So, English cafés and supermarkets have their advantages. The cold reality of literature reviews, seminars and academic journals, however, hides its silver lining slightly more effectively. I know that I’d rather be in a bar with my half-litre of Kronenbourg 1664 than panicking in Hallward, 12 hours before an essay deadline! Not that the only things involved in a year abroad are cafés and bars, but, of course, there is always the excuse that you are in them so as to “get to know the culture,” whereas doing the same thing during in your final year at uni is simply putting off that essay you can’t start and spending money you don’t have – and you know it!
What I can say, however, is that re-entering the bubble that is Nottingham University life undeniably exposes you to a twinge of nostalgia, and once the rights of passage have been undertaken (standing in the queue for Ocean, the queue to order food at Mooch, the queue to get cash out on campus…. perhaps more aptly named the queues of passage!), that Nottingham student identity, the very one you felt was ever so far behind you, seems to have never left you at all. It welcomes you back with open arms! Older and wiser I may feel at times, but let’s just say you’ll still catch me stumbling down Lenton Boulevard at 3 in the morning, half-eaten kebab in one hand, the other wiping chilli sauce from whatever remains of the fancy-dress prescribed by the evening. An Eiffel Tower it may be lacking, but Nottingham, we love you all the same!