Living History: My Semester in Liverpool

Posted on: 22 February 2018 by Hannah Duffus in 2017/18

Hannah in Berlin

All my life I’ve been a straight-A student. From my first day of kinder to my last day of uni back home in Melbourne, I’ve been the type to spend a hundred hours on an assignment, sweating the small stuff, drafting and redrafting until I got it right. Never mind if it was a finger-painting or a journal article; they all received the same, serious treatment.

It’s funny though. Despite having ticked off all the hallmarks of a ‘good student’, it’s taken me the best part of twenty years to figure out what getting an education really means to me. If I hadn’t made the decision to study abroad, who knows how much longer it would have taken for things to ‘click’.  

I chose to enrol at my home university because my sister went there. Like many others I know, I kind of fell into my history major. It’s always felt like a decent decision, but I’d be lying if I said I’d ever had full faith in it before moving abroad to study. So, what’s changed and what does it have to do with going on exchange?

I’ll try to give you an example.

When you move to a city like Liverpool, history suddenly seems more… real? I don’t know. It’s a difficult feeling to pin down. Here, the past isn’t something distant or abstract. You can feel it as you walk down the cobbled streets, along the windy dockside and in the cavernous sports stadiums. It’s not something that plays out on the pages of a book, but part of the nitty gritty of everyday life.

By chance, the street where I live was recently featured on a BBC documentary, ‘A House Through Time’. Historian and University of Liverpool alumnus David Olusoga explored the history of Liverpool through the inhabitants of a single townhouse on Falkner Street. Now every time I walk down the road to work or to meet friends, I’m awake to the stories of the people who lived here before me: profiteers of the slave trade, poor immigrants, victims of the cholera and AIDs epidemics… Like most places in Liverpool, there’s a Beatles connection – John Lennon lived here for a while with his wife, Cynthia. The flat where I live only exists because the block’s original townhouses were destroyed by bombs during the Second World War.

Living History: My Semester in Liverpool body photoThere’s also something about being a newcomer to Liverpool that makes you feel connected to the city’s past. It’s always been a place of passage, where people have left for and arrived to new lives abroad. If I’m ever missing home, there’s a statue down by the docks that I like to look at, of a family about to board a ship to emigrate to America. I still haven’t decided what the mother of the family is thinking, but something in her expression always makes me feel a bit braver.    

I know history isn’t everyone’s thing, but I can promise you that studying your discipline from a new vantage point will change the way you think about it. You might regain a passion or find a new one. It’s not just about gaining a different perspective on your studies, either; studying abroad has transformed the way I think about my family, my friends and the wider world. Like I said, it’s difficult to explain. Things just seem a little clearer from a distance.