Kate – Semester Exchange to St John’s University, NY, USA
Semester 2, 2016
Every since I was a little girl, I have always been very independent and sure of myself. Being the oldest of three, I have always had to look after others and myself. This has allowed me to smoothly transition into my first real long period of time living away from home while doing exchange.
Trust me, at 22 years old I wish this wasn’t the first time. Heck my parents have been wanting me out since I started my degree. As being originally from the UK, living at home while studying at Uni is so strange to them. It’s not that they don’t love me or anything, it’s that they want me to experience independence and not have to deal with nagging parents each day. Buuuut Melbourne is an expensive place to live and it just isn’t feasible to be a full-time student and live away from home.
Before embarking on exchange this semester, I housesat with my partner for the entire month of June. I think that was really valuable as it allowed me to put into practice the living skills I am using right now. It’s not that I never do anything at home, but more that the need isn’t as existent as my parents do a lot of what needs to be done to take care of me and my younger siblings.
Because of that, the shift hasn’t been that difficult. It’s easy enough to do my laundry, cook, wash my dishes, go grocery shopping, clean up my mess etc. – what is hard is having to do that surrounded by 6 other girls that I’m still getting to know. I am living in off-campus residential apartments which are on the whole really good. They are clean, simple and have all the necessities. However, the kitchen is an issue. It is the smallest kitchen I have ever seen relative to the amount of people living in the apartment. We have one small bench space (probably about 80cm in length) to prepare food and only one pretty standard sized fridge – for 7 people! This lack of space has created some problems and tension in the apartment, as people want to ensure they are getting their fair share of fridge space. When people cook very elaborate meals, this results in a LOT of dishes sprawled all over the kitchen and dining table, being left there until they’ve finished eating. When this is during dinner time, it leaves the rest of us having to dance around the kitchen trying to find space to make our meals, or just putting off eating for an hour or two (which I have done).
I took some advice from one of my suitemates and since the first week I have been meal prepping my dinners. This means that I devote a few hours to cooking on one day a week and get at least 5 dinners out of that cook. I bought cheap containers from the ‘99cents and Up’ store and freeze these meals, putting one in the fridge to defrost each night. It means I can just grab my ready made dinner out of the fridge, put it in the microwave for a few minutes and it’s done. This lasts me at least a week, because we tend to eat out on the weekends. This way of doing dinners makes so much sense considering the small kitchen and my busy/changing schedule. I don’t have to worry about having to cook that chicken in the fridge by a specific time or use those vegetables before they go off. My weekly shop doesn’t cost so much either planning this way too. So far I have made chicken, rice and vegetables (various ways), beef stir-fry and chilli con carne. My batch of chilli con carne and rice lasted me over a week and a half! I would only eat about 3/4 of each portion and add sour cream, avocado, tomatoes, cheese, lettuce and tortilla chips to it, making it fairly loaded. Definitely going to make that again in the semester. It’s funny because back home, I used to complain if Dad would say we were having the same dinner two nights in a row (i.e leftovers), but here it doesn’t bother me at all! I’ll have to remember this and potentially apologise when I go home…
Considering myself and two other girls in my apartment are also exchange students, we have bought the bare minimum in terms of living items. We aren’t going to be taking plates, pots and a broom back home in December, so it means we have to improvise a little which keeps us creative.
I’ve also never had to share a room with anyone before, whereas in the states it is the norm to have one, two and even three roommates. Luckily I just have the one. As we arrived in summer, we had the AC on fairly frequently. The temperature for which that remained on constantly changed – but it was a secret mission by each of us. Before going to bed, we both would want to be the last to get into bed so that we could set the AC to the temperature to what we wanted – I always went to 16 degrees whereas Fran would set it at 20. It was this unspoken thing between us for a week or so, where the temperature would go up and down according to our individual preferences. Finally, I decided this couldn’t go on and we compromised on 17 degrees. However now that Fall is upon us and the weather is getting cooler, I can expect that deciding on the heating temp will be interesting all over again!
Navigating my way through living away from home for the first time is all a part of this exchange experience, and I’m loving it!