Any feelings of apprehension that I had about finding my feet in a new country faded as soon as I saw Emma waiting for me in Arrivals. She looked slightly bemused to see my lack of luggage, replaced by a Qantas drawstring bag swung over my shoulder, but I could see that she was as happy to see me as I was to see her again. I used to look at international students arriving for the first time in Edinburgh and feel sorry for them, dragging their whole life in one suitcase, an appearance of anxiety and jet lag on their faces. Yet, I didn’t feel as unsettled as some of those students had looked, for I knew I had Emma. After she informed me that I looked exactly the same as she remembered me, and hadn’t I (not) grown, we left the airport. So much for ‘Don’t worry Liv, it’s winter at the moment, so it won’t be too warm for you.’ For as soon as I stepped out of the airport to meet the early morning Brisbane sunrays, my hair began to feel too thick and my clothes started to stick to my skin … Emma was wearing a beanie and a scarf, while I was already considering changing into my Qantas shorts and T-shirt!
I felt disorientated for the rest of my first day in Brisbane. I’d never been to a foreign country before, in which the majority of the population speaks English as a first language. I was confused that I could understand all the sign posts, since even Scotland has a Gaelic equivalent on all the place names north of the central belt. Furthermore, in the half hour drive from the airport to Emma’s apartment, everything seemed so different from how I expected it to be. I noticed that everyday objects, such as lampposts, post boxes, bollards, road markings, and even the buses and trains appeared to be so dissimilar to objects that serve the same function in the UK that I could only assume they were less up-to-date. Still, I was amazed by how much space there was, how wide the roads were, and how many bridges I could see. Emma was pointing out everywhere we passed that she thought was of particular importance to me (so every bottle shop and pub serving student Happy Hour deals was noted). She also warned me not to scream when we drove over the brow of a residential road that was so steep it seemed to disappear under the car bonnet before we started driving downhill.
‘Welcome to Sankey Street’, Emma said once we reached the bottom of the hill. I recognised the name of the street as the second line of my Australian address. ‘That’s what you have to climb every morning.’ Excellent … Apparently it’s only the fourteenth steepest hill in Brisbane; I dread to think what the first is like! I’m used to hills in Scotland. Sankey Street is slightly less scenic than Ben Nevis, but having to take my heels off after a night-out to tackle my street helps me to feel at home.
I realised very quickly just how lucky I was that I was going to be renting accommodation from Emma. The apartment is only one-bedroom, but there is a large L-shaped living room, in which we cleared an area to one side that we put new furniture in. (Visiting Ikea on the first day so I could have something to sleep on was a cultural experience and a half!) So there is an open-door policy in our flat, otherwise known as ‘no door’, but we’ve overcome that obstacle by calling ‘nudie-run’ if need be! When I compare the price that Emma is charging me to live in her apartment to that which a lot of other international students are paying, I realise that I have the best deal. I am willing to compromise on not having a separate bedroom if it means living with an amazing flatmate and not spending an extortionate amount of money on rent.
Furthermore, little did I know that I had just moved to the coolest and most alternative suburb in Brisbane, and in my opinion, the best place I’ve ever lived. I hadn’t had much time to explore West End via Google Maps, and all I knew about the suburb was its good location in terms of proximity to the ferry terminal to travel to and from university and the city. Having fallen asleep at 6.30pm the day I arrived in Brisbane, I awoke as soon as the sun rose and walked into West End. (I should point out that there is no daylight saving time in Brisbane, so it gets dark early-evening all year round, and therefore I was misled in my jet-lagged state into believing it was midnight.)
During my walk through West End, as a fully-conscious, thinking, able-bodied human being, contrary to my disposition on my first day in Brisbane, I decided it would be very difficult not to grow attached to the area, and very soon I’d start thinking of it as my home.