Shortlisted for the Higher Education Category of the 2019 Melbourne Writers Festival's storytelling competition 'Love & Melbourne' .

Home Away From Home

By Radhika Agarwal

‘The happiness of life is made up of…the little soon-forgotten charities of a kiss, a smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment…’ (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Coleridge’s philosophy towards life resonates with me; my recent experience of living in Melbourne has taught me to enjoy the little pleasures of life. Most importantly, it has taught me that one doesn’t need to be in a specific place to be happy and content. I lacked this wisdom however when I first got the opportunity to move to Melbourne.

Last year when I received an email from the University of Melbourne telling me that I had been selected for its fully-funded doctoral programme in law, it took a long time for the news to sink in. I had least expected it since I had hurriedly put together my PhD research proposal and submitted it just minutes before the deadline. While I was excited at the prospect of getting the opportunity to live in a new city for three years, I couldn’t help feeling slightly sad. I was sad because my heart was still in London, the first city outside my home country where I moved to pursue a master’s degree. I had fallen hopelessly in love with London and I was sure that no other city could even come close to what London had to offer. I kept asking myself the questions: Will I ever love a place as dearly as I have loved London? Will I ever be able to call any other city my home?

I finally came to Melbourne earlier this year with hardly any expectations. Having already lived the ‘London experience’, I had the ‘been there, done that’ attitude. I was positive that, while Melbourne was likely to offer some interesting new sights, the rest of my international experience would not be a novel one. I was almost prepared to be disappointed.

My student accommodation at Graduate House was luckily situated just about a minute away from law school. Being so close to the University gave me the advantage of attending several events on campus. I participated in the free swimming, strength training and cardio tennis lessons run by the University’s Sports Centre. I also volunteered as the Sports Coordinator at Graduate House and organised a ping pong tournament for all the residents. Being actively involved in sports helped me cope with the stress of settling into a new environment as well as pursuing a rigorous academic course.

Having meals in a communal dining hall at Graduate House also gave me the opportunity to bond with students from other parts of the world. I reached out to other international students outside the University by participating in coffee meets organised by Study Melbourne. My experience of volunteering at the Rotary Club’s annual book fair also introduced me to the city’s reading culture which inspired me to become a member of the North Melbourne library.

While my busy schedule kept me from travelling outside Melbourne, I ended up taking long walks by myself and experiencing the lovely sights, sounds and quirks of the city. From observing the hustle and bustle of the busy Queen Victoria Market to watching frenzied fans at an AFL match at the MCG, I got a varied taste of the city’s unique flavour. And before I knew it, I had fallen in love with Melbourne!

AFL Grand Final at the MCG

I realised that rather than the big opportunities, it is the small things that have given me lasting happiness and inner peace here in Melbourne – the breakfast-time conversations that I had with people from diverse backgrounds, the love with which the chefs prepared and served food, regular ping pong matches with mere acquaintances who later became close friends, the random acts of kindness by strangers, the occasional texts from my colleagues to see if I am doing okay, and the serendipitous discoveries that I made during my walks in the city.

Having lived in Melbourne for about four months now, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. While London still holds a very special place in my heart, I have found a second home in Melbourne. Looking back, I am glad that I did not over expect from the city, and at the same time, tried to immerse myself as much as possible in the city’s culture. Although adjusting to a new city initially seemed quite challenging, being open to trying new things helped me build an identity and find my place in Melbourne. Most importantly, it helped me discover myself and create memories worth reliving.

While many people travel to exotic places in the hope of finding some calm away from the busy city life, I found my inner peace right in the heart of the city.