Despite the tears and frustrations and headaches it induced, I count it as a small blessing that the complications that arose concerning the issuing of my flight ticket managed to at least occupy some (if not all) of my time and thoughts just a few hours prior to flying off, as the alternative would probably be a breakdown about leaving home and my parents and everything I’ve ever known to fly to a foreign country filled with strangers.
But in the end, the ticket arrived the night before I was to fly and things were finally final but I still felt like I couldn’t really register what was actually happening.
The airport scene was as if not more horrible than I’d pictured, and it still makes my chest heavy even when I think about it now. It was a vicious cycle of me crying and my parents crying and then me crying even harder because they were crying and then came the painful ripping off of the band-aid I’ve known as the comfort of home and my parents all my life at the goddamn descending escalator to the international departure hall. I couldn’t stop crying, and frankly, I didn’t care that I was red-rimmed around the eyes and sniffing back snot in front of so many people (and future university mates at that) because I didn’t have the available mental capacity left to hide my feelings from the rest of the world.
My last conversations in Malaysia besides my parents were with Taliza, Chok, Bellyn and the Shiba Inu whatsapp group comprising of Mei, Ellie, Effie and Atikah, which made the farewell less painful and frightening. And when I was finally seated comfortably (as comfortably as I could, anyway) in the fourth seat to the right of the middle aisle on the flight to Amsterdam, feeling the convulsions and tremors led by the rumbling of the plane engine ready to take off, sensing the briefly startling weightlessness and pressure against my temples when the wheels were no longer in contact with the runway ground, all I could feel was an odd sense of tranquility, suppressing both the heavy boulder of fear and fervent spark of excitement that were dwelling on completely different ends of my emotional spectrum.
The flight was fine; there is literally nothing else I can say to describe it besides the fact that I was doing some heavy repressing the entire time as I struggled to sleep while being jolted awake by anxiety several times and having to watch anime or read fic on my phone to remind myself that I am here, I am doing this, I am quite literally on a plane to a country 10,000km away from home to attend university. And ironically, the disbelief kept me grounded (haha).
Upon reaching Amsterdam, I suddenly acquired the energy of a million suns, despite running on at the very most an hour of sleep and facing a 5-hour transit for my next flight to Manchester. Unlike many other times back at home, I didn’t allow myself to think about running away, mostly because there was no way I could do that, and also because I managed to convince myself that I didn’t want to, and it wasn’t untrue because university in UK was something I’d been looking forward to since before A Levels even ended. So when I finally touched down at Manchester airport, feeling the highest degree of exhaustion and physical grossness, my heart was a leaping organ of joy and anticipation, taking all my surroundings in with a huge grin on my face. The green signboards with the Transport font along the road, the chilly antithetic weather of the English lands, the Northern British accents that felt like music to my ears at the time; I took everything in greedily, feeling so so excited to be in Manchester, befuddled by the newness of everything around me, ready to set out and explore anything and everything. I was slowly developing a migraine in the bus from the fatigue, but I was still capable of romanticizing everything I saw and heard and felt.
Perhaps more than anything, I was most excited to reach my room (as I’d mentioned before in the previous post, owning a room of my own in university was one of the things I was most excited about, don’t ask me why that is because I probably can’t give you an answer you won’t frown in ludicrousness at) in Weston Hall. Immediately after dumping my luggage in my room, I ran out to meet Rumin, who had already arrived a day before on a different flight to London. Despite being absolutely drained of all energy (I was already beating my record of still being conscious and moving after 24+ hours of being awake when I went to Japan) I still had to get bedsheets to sleep in so I followed Rumin to city centre where I got bedsheets and a duvet from Primark, had my first meal in UK (in a Japanese restaurant, how predictable) and bought some necessities from Wilko before passing out at around 10PM before I really had the time to start ruminating about a new routine I was about to have and being intimidated by a brand new set of four walls surrounding me.
The first week of orientation and welcome week was spent Chasing. That is the most accurate term I can come up for how hectic things were that week. As it rightfully should be, many would justify, since there was no lack of events and activities listed out in the little Welcome Week itinerary we were each given.
Like I said, I don’t remember specifically what I did during the first week; the only memories I have are of flurries of activities rushing to the next best thing on the itinerary and we would only stop when we were hungry and/or our tired limbs couldn’t carry us any further only would be retire for the night. I did the international check-in and collected my BRP and student card, visited Primark, Arndale (which was the main shopping mall of the city of Manchester) and the outrageously ginormous Asda to stock up on food, toiletries and homeware, paid the Student’s Union bar a visit at night to further our education on the English social drinking culture, took photos at the critically acclaimed Manchester Gay Village and went sightseeing around Old Trafford and Salford (during which I took photos of the Etihad Stadium to show my MU supporting friends and received unaware backlash as response).
I slept really well that week because I was usually dead on my feet each time I came back and there was no time to even stop to think about anything else.
The previous excitement I’d felt at Amsterdam wasn’t entirely gone, but I could also feel some sense of disappointment trickling in. I’m not sure if they were fuelled by repressed homesickness and a craving for familiarity in the form of friends and fandom or if I’d subconsciously harboured a set of ridiculously high expectations for uni, of which they weren’t met at all.
Freshers’ Fair was pretty exciting, I signed up for a lot of clubs and societies purely based on the question of “What would the ideal Michelle do” so I signed up for the uni magazine editorial board, the creative writing society, the journalism society, the UoM blog society, the anime club, the volleyball club and the basketball club.
That weekend, MULS (Manchester University Law Society) had a bar crawl event at Fallowfield and despite the whole bar scene not being our thing, Ee Min, Yee Lin and I decided to check it out anyway since we were granted free entrance given our membership status. It was a 30 minute walk from Victoria Park (where Ee Min and Yee Lin are staying at) in the immense cold and when we got there, only KY, CC and Jia Yang got drinks and then we huddled around a table and played spin the bottle on my phone to make the guys’ £4 entrance fee worth the longer period of stay. And then it was another long walk back to Victoria Park where I stayed at Yee Lin’s place in Canterbury Court for the night. We woke up at 1PM the next day and lazed around Opal Gardens (Ee Min and CC’s residence) reading, watching anime on the projector in their common room and playing badminton.
It was a really relaxing weekend and I loved the contrasting lazy inactivity compared to the busyness of the entire past week. It was good recharging time.
I also cooked lunch for myself during that week and it tasted bland but it was actually Not Too Bad.
On Sunday night, it was mid-autumn festival and I was silently lamenting not being able to eat mooncake this year (I don’t really eat a lot of mooncakes back home but I guess you don’t realise what you’ve lost until it’s gone) when my Chinese flatmates offered some pieces of the HK-style mooncakes they got from Chinatown and I felt really warm and happy that night as I chatted with my flatmates over free pizza after that.
Law induction week started on Monday, and we attended our first lecture introducing us to the basic aspects of law – human rights and morality. It was very general but it got our rusty mind gears going after nine months of stagnancy but honestly? The sessions were pretty interesting and thought-provoking and I just hope this optimism for my law degree course lasts throughout the three years (it usually never does).
On Monday evening, I played volleyball.
And this is kinda a huge thing!!! I mean, I did play volleyball before with Bellyn and Yu Chia but this was different because this was the real thing and it was on a real court in a real sports centre overlooked by a real volleyball coach and it made me so nervous and excited at the same time. It was team trials so naturally I was worried because I’ve never actually really played Real Volleyball TM before but it turned out that I wasn’t the only one. There was a massive turnout and honestly I was a bit sad that there wasn’t any real coaching but some people tossed for us (I received all of them really badly) (but our setter was a Chinese girl and she was wearing a volleyball jersey and she was so pro I couldn’t stop staring everytime she tossed and received) and then we rotated through games of six people like in a real game!!!!! I avoided the ball a lot of the time to the extent that someone asked why I didn’t go after it even though it was heading right for me (it was heading right for me and my face so I got scared and dodged) and I got so embarrassed and started running after the ball everytime after that. I managed to get one serve over the net though I was so happy and proud!!!!! Overall I didn’t really get to play a whole lot (and whose fault might that be hmm I wonder) but it was so immensely fun even though I sucked and I honest to god want to join the free weekly training sessions in October.
Who would’ve thought I would be a cooking and sports enthusiast at 20 years old????? Not the Michelle of the past 19 years
Tuesday night was spent eating Thai food in UK for the first time at Try Thai in Chinatown with Jovaynne, also an Alor Setarian who I was meeting for the first time. She’s a really lovely person and my social ineptness usually means that I’m terrifyingly awkward around people I’m meeting for the first time but that wasn’t the case this time; I felt very at ease with the company and had a great night out overall.
There was a gathering held by the Malaysian Students’ Society Manchester on Wednesday afternoon at Whitworth Park and the huge Malaysian population in Manchester no longer surprised me, although the large number of Malaysians taking law kind of did. I’m sure this isn’t news to anyone but I can literally walk along any road or sit down at any café and hear the all too familiar Manglish accent coming from behind or the table next to mine.
It feels very comforting to be honest, like there’s a certain kinship between us as a group in this foreign white country. Like I know the whole “don’t just stick to Malaysians when you’re overseas” thing and I agree with horizons expansion but I can’t help but feel a social barrier prompted mostly by cultural differences when it comes to foreigners. Not saying that I’m running away entirely by this form of intimidation but there is a hint of determent that requires an abnormal amount of effort and some days I can’t even pick someone to call when I’m feeling bad so I’m working on that, even though it might be at a supremely slow pace.
Towards the end of the gathering, my head was starting to feel really heavy and I could feel the first traces of a headache settling in, coupled with sudden nausea churning in my gut. I felt so tired and my lazy eye was starting to throb and hurt but activities weren’t over yet and I couldn’t afford to shut down and be quiet when my mind was constantly going “Don’t leave a bad first impression or you won’t even get a second one” and I didn’t want to turn quiet and unapproachable when everyone was going around making sociable rounds between conversation groups but I was also so exhausted and I’d been in the cold in a mere cardigan for 2+ hours. I felt like I had an unspoken self-obligation to fulfil, something that I had to do or suffer the horrible consequences of ruminating regret and guilt later.
In the end, I gave in and went completely silent, secluding myself from the crowds despite the fact that there was a tiny part within me that was still ringing the “Go and socialise!!!! Be sociable!!!!”. But I didn’t have the mental or even physical capability of any more social interactions, feeling comfortable enough when it was only me, Ee Min and Yee Lin walking to the bus stop in front of Students’ Union. On the bus back to Weston alone, I started to feel the energizing effects of recharging. Upon reaching Weston, the headache was gone and my stomach didn’t hurt that bad anymore.
But that’s the irony, because the relief of finally recharging alone was swiftly replaced by the ten-tonne feeling of loneliness as I lied down on my bed because everything still felt so new and fragile here and it made me so afraid. Everything and everyone and everywhere felt so precarious because they still felt so foreign, like I’d not nailed in the solid foundation allowing me to cling onto that will breed familiarity and comfort and stability. And that’s pretty problematic right! University is all about tearing away from a safety net and learning to be independent and brave and going on adventures and trying new things just like what all the kids do these days! God I feel so old and bitter since coming here
And yet there I was, feeling so inexplicably alone as I wept at my mum’s Facebook messages and masochistically watched and scrolled through old videos and photos that just led to more throat constricting feelings.
It also didn’t help that I kept on drawing comparisons about my new beginning in university with my previously new beginning in college, wondering where I went wrong this time when I was able to be so outgoing and optimistic during the start of college. I was trying to hit the middle ground between being sociable enough that I wasn’t unapproachable but also not too sociable that it would be a false and misleading representation of who I really am and would thus lead to extreme exhaustion to keep up the image.
It has been some pretty tiring weeks in university, even more so that I’m still trying to establish an identity for myself here, one that wouldn’t leave me feeling lonelier than I already am but would also enable me to feel confident of myself and do things on my own. I’m struggling at this more than I thought I would, but hopefully once classes start and there is a regular routined rhythm I can fall into once again, things will get better and even if they don’t, at least I’ll be occupied enough to not overthink things.
But in all reality, things probably aren’t as bad as they seem. In fact, if I was able to get my head out of the vicious funk I’ve been in, I’d be able to see just how fortunate I am and how many great things lay in wait for me. And I am able to see it, just that it’s drowned out by the intensity of emotions I’m still feeling from the new environment and such. You’d think I’d be able to adapt quickly by now, judging by college and other things I’ve done but no. But then again, university is truly incomparable and at this point I’m just going in circles contradicting myself aiyo how to become lawyer like this
TL;DR, I did a lot of things since coming to Manchester but sometimes I come back to my room and feel sad. It’s okay, though. To paraphrase my good friend Mei, “I’ll survive this”.