"It’s an interesting experience being an Australian in the UK”ALEXANDER YAO

It’s an interesting experience being an Australian in the UK, and I still sometimes find it surprising how great the differences between the two countries are, given how similar they can be. As someone fascinated by cultural distinctions and the unique characteristics of countries around the world, I am particularly aware of what I feel defines my personal experience of the UK as an Australian. After having spoken to friends from both places, I think that there are some interesting comparisons to address which go beyond Vegemite and Marmite (although the former is clearly better), as, crucially, a major part of any migrant experience is realising all the things you took for granted at home only after you have experienced life without them.

Before coming to Cambridge, I had visited the UK regularly, as I have relatives who live in London, so I thought I knew what life in this country was like relatively well. Yet I only truly became conscious of how much my Australian-ness defined me when I started introducing myself to people here by saying “Hi, I’m Alex, nice to meet you! I’m from Australia.” It’s fascinating how something I never thought much of before quickly came to differentiate me from others – I’ve often heard people saying, “Alex from Australia” or “Alex the Australian” to clarify which Alex they are talking about.

“A major part of any migrant experience is realising everything you took for granted at home only after you have experienced life without them”

Since moving to the UK, I’ve realised how much my childhood and adolescence in Australia have shaped who I am. Growing up surrounded by nature in a country which places such a strong emphasis on life outdoors, I never fully ascertained how much I valued this until moving to England.

Often when talking to British people about Australia, they immediately mention warm, sunny weather, and it’s true that this is not only a cliché. An active lifestyle is so crucial to the work-life balance of Australians, and personally, I rarely considered how special it was to live in a country which offers uncountable beaches warm enough to visit throughout the year, or where the mild winters promoted activities such as winter morning brunches outdoors with friends – a staple of any Australian’s weekend routine. Reminiscing on such things made me recognise how even something as simple as weather can so heavily influence one’s lifestyle. Lounging about the seaside surrounded by a high quality wine and dine scene is something I definitely miss from back home. More practically, classes on sun safety, safe swimming practices at the beach, days where wildlife experts would come to our school and show us different species of snakes, lizards and spiders and even get us to hold some of them (yes!), are all part of every Aussie’s childhood. To me, this all seemed so normal, until I realised that in the UK this just isn’t part of many people’s upbringing.


Mountain View

Life as an international student during Covid: a comparison of two different worlds

It goes without saying that every country has its own practices and traditions, and evidently each country brings its unique customs. Having lived in France and Hong Kong before, I expected the UK to be much more similar to Australia given our shared history, but little things like this have made me quite interested in the uniqueness of each country.

Australia’s biodiversity is something I truly miss – being able to go on a road trip which traverses countless unique landscapes, taking you from stunning beaches, through magnificent rainforests and incredible desert landforms, all within the same country. The laid-back, easy-going culture of Australia is definitely no myth, and to be honest, I never thought much about it before coming to the UK. Be it in customer service, or simply the general atmosphere in the streets, it’s true that us Aussies have a certain laissez-faire attitude to life which isn’t translated in a fake smile, but simply an expression of a certain carefreeness which is sometimes rarer in the UK.

“Growing up surrounded by nature in a country which places such a strong emphasis on life outdoors, I never fully ascertained how much I valued this until moving to England”

That being said, for me, the UK is a historic centre, and is so rich in the cultural sights it offers, which are rare in a country as modern as Australia. My home city is dominated by skyscrapers and a bustling youth scene, but the UK boasts its castles, museums, and architectural wonders which transport you back into another era – Cambridge itself epitomises this. I personally value the UK for its proximity to Europe, and as much as I miss home in this time of the pandemic, I am so grateful to be where I am. Especially as someone fascinated by European cultures and languages, it’s incredible living somewhere where it is so simple to take a weekend trip to another country. For Australians, a trip to Europe is a big adventure saved for the summer holidays, keeping in mind the airfares, a layover somewhere in Asia or the Middle East, and the 24 hour plus journey. Both the UK’s position as a global capital, as well as just being able to just go on walks through beautiful streets with centuries of history embedded in them, definitely gives this country a special place in my heart.

Having studied here for almost two years now, it’s funny hearing from people both here and in Australia about how I have changed. Of course, accent is the first thing which comes to the minds of many – even when I first arrived, many of my British friends told me that I didn’t sound very Australian, and that they wouldn’t have guessed it if I hadn’t told them. Now, my friends back home can’t stop commenting on how I sound so English when I call them, and it’s funny how such differences make me so aware of the little things by which each country defines itself. At the end of the day, Australia is my birthplace and the country which made me into the person who I am today. I’m so grateful for all the experiences I have had there, but I am also appreciative for everything I have learnt by living in this new country, so different to my own.