I have been back in the UK for a week. Time sufficient to re-acclimatise and consider my year abroad.
I had a wonderful year. I received an excellent education, if very different to what I am used to in the UK. The education at Curtin was a "taught degree" whereas in the UK, we do self-directed learning. So at Curtin, it was very clearly specified what we would learn, feedback on your work for your practical modules was received in every class and assessment was both mid-semester and at end of semester. This suited me. In the UK, we have set projects that are wide open to interpretation, and if you want to learn new skills, you need to find out about them yourself. There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles. The taught style suited me for my 2nd full time year, but I would not want to continue with this style into my 3rd year. I have learned a lot and am now ready to spread my wings. For my textile work, I want to work much more with overlaid colour in print, and to continue with my hand-drawn illustrative style.
The year abroad was expensive. Partly because the exchange rate was not good, but also Western Australia is a very expensive place to live because mining (coal, minerals, uranium, precious metals) drives the economy and salaries are very high. This means prices are ok if you are working in the local economy, but as I was living on savings, it was mega-expensive. I think I spent about £20,000, but this does not take into account Jim's expenditure, and he paid for food (more expensive than in the UK) and our road trip to Cairns.
Was it worth it? DEFINITELY YES. It pushed my boundaries beyond my previous experience. I had never lived in another country, even if I deliberately selected an English speaking nation. I had never been away from home for a year before. It made me appreciate my home country and so many things I took for granted. I value the extent and diversity of our history and culture in London and the UK. I appreciate the comparative ease with which I can source textile base materials. I am aware of how much choice there is to access part-time and full-time textile classes, and the skills of tutors (University of Herts, City Lit, Missenden Abbey etc). I am thankful that my university runs a shop where students can access quality controlled materials at virtually cost price, rather than ordering unknown materials online, and not being able to see materials prior to purchase, without knowing the quality first.
Lots of people have been surprised that we returned to the UK. I do not want to be Australian - I am English, and I like what the UK is. Australia is great if you are part of the working economy. I do not want to work any more. Australia would only have me and Jim if we had skills that they need. Jim is retired and I don't have skills that are in short supply, so neither of us would be wanted by Australia. Also, I don't want to live in a country where the weather is 26C in winter, and 43C in summer. It is just too hot. I liked coming home to the UK, and finding I had a green lush garden, without irrigation!
I had to go away to appreciate what I have here. I have had a wonderful year, and I learned more than I would have done in the UK. And I am very glad to be home.
Would I recommend an exchange year to other students? Yes. But make sure you have plenty of funds, and expect to have a few wobbles of confidence. And you will come home, ready to take on the world with a greater breadth of experience, and depth of knowledge, than if you had stayed at home.