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East Slope to Asia and back again

Graham McDougall

I started my Anthropology degree at Sussex in September 2009 and I am finally back for my third year. ‘Why has it taken you so long to finish?’ I hear you ask. Well, I’d like to say the answer is simple but it’s not. It is in fact, a journey of personal discovery, four day train journeys, Mongolian throat singing and Channa Masala.

Photo: Graham McDougall

After coming to Sussex and experiencing some personal difficulties in my first year, I decided that I needed a drastic change. Not a change of subject or career path but a total change of scenery, of culture and of life. A close friend told me her plans to study abroad in second year and a light-bulb exploded above my head! ‘This is a sign!’. After visiting the Study Abroad office and a little deliberation, I finally decided on Hong Kong. I had always wanted to travel to Asia and being a pretty broke student, I saw this as an amazing opportunity to experience a different culture.

Whilst discussing my plans with an exchange student at Sussex, another bulb exploded! “I did the Tran-Siberian railway from Moscow to Beijing a few years ago,” she said smugly between puffs of her cigarette. “You should do the same.” Damn, I thought – she’s right! Immediately my plans started to take shape. I didn’t like the idea of going all the way to Hong Kong and not seeing all the world in-between anyway. I wanted an adventure. After researching costs and visas, I booked a bus journey from London to Moscow and then the train from Moscow to Beijing, stopping in Siberia and Mongolia. On the 23rd July 2010 I was leaving Victoria coach station heading for Moscow.

The journey itself was one of the best things I think I will ever do in my life. Once in China, I began to travel south toward Hong Kong, taking in the sacred Taoist mountain of Tai Chan and the canals and hanging lanterns of Soujou. Finally, one month after I left England, I reached Hong Kong. In the process  of settling into life at my new university in the humidity of Hong Kong, I fell in love with a fellow exchange student, made some amazing friends from all over the world and found a job which I never thought I would enjoy: teaching.

Following my year in Hong Kong, I decided to travel to India and continued teaching, this time working for an Indian NGO in Bodh Gaya. Working with poor children in rural India only inspired me more and I met some of the most wonderful and happy people I have ever known.

I returned from my Asian adventure in September 2011 to finish my degree. However, I still wanted to keep teaching. So, I deferred my third year until September 2012 and moved to Spain to continue what had by now become a passion, even a potential career path. I worked for nearly a year in different schools and as a self-employed English tutor.

Now that I am back at Sussex and once again living on East Slope I can look back with pride about the journey I have taken between my first and third years. All in all, it may have taken me four years to complete my degree but the experiences I have had have given me a much clearer idea of what I want to do once I graduate. If the idea of studying abroad hasn’t crossed your mind or you don’t think it’s for you, think again. Your degree can be so much more than just a qualification: it can be an experience that you will never forget.

 

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