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Opinion | On the bright side of Bristol

Chien Wen Siow shares her favourite aspects of living in Bristol as a student.

By Chien Wen Siow, Second Year, Law

As humans—and also as twenty-somethings struggling through our third quarter-life crisis of the year—I think it’s only natural for us to catastrophise our university experiences. From homesickness and hangovers to the dreaded exam season, we’ve all had our fair share of bad days.

Navigating university doesn’t have to be a hotchpotch of disasters, though. Personally, I’ve had the chance to explore the nooks and crannies of Bristol, form tight friendships, and find a home miles away from my own home. And it’s here that I share some of those positive experiences.

Brunch in Bristol

Something I noticed right off the bat about Bristol are the cafes and brunch spots. Almost every street features a franchise coffee shop or an independently owned bakery. They’re perfect for a quick coffee to-go on a hectic day of classes, or for a meet-up with classmates or a long-time friend visiting the city.

There are too many good places to list them here, but something they all share is the atmosphere. Each spot buzzes with laughter over clinking glasses and cutlery, from students catching a break from lectures, or couples and families, all squeezed into the same space. Something about being surrounded by good coffee, cakes and conversation instantly takes the stress off of my mind. Each time I pass by a café now, I associate each one with the memories I’ve made with my newfound friends in Bristol.

Perrett Park by Chien Wen Siow

Soaking up the sun

As a city girl surrounded by concrete jungle all my life, I’ve never had the chance to explore green spaces as much as I have in Bristol. I’ve picnicked in College Green far too many times to count, and I’ve had long conversations with friends atop Brandon Hill. I’ve toured Castle Park’s scenic views and waved hello at boats passing underneath the bridge. I would forever take ignoring my readings in favour of laughing over cold pizza and sandwiches in the sunset.
One place that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is Perrett Park. Tucked away in Totterdown, the hillside overlooks residential houses and a small playground, with dogs bounding up and down the incline. I’d gone there once on a bad day, a Tesco meal deal in hand, and I drank in the sights, all the while watching people go about their day. Time passed by faster than I thought, and by the time I climbed back up the hill, I felt okay again.

A home away from home

Coming to university is one thing; it’s far worse to take a thirteen-hour flight and settle down in a new country all by yourself. That was what I believed.
The learning curve has been steep, but along its trajectory, I’ve met some of the most inspiring people who I now have the privilege to call my friends. I’ve gotten some solid advice from graduating seniors on how to survive my next few years, and with all the iced coffees I’ve ordered on-campus, I’ve formed a deep connection with the Source Café cashiers (or not). More and more faces have become familiar to me, and every time I cross the street, I’m sure to bump into someone I know. (Whether that’s for better or for worse, I’m still not quite sure.)
With hundreds of other Malaysian students here, too, I find myself code-switching each time I hear someone speak in an accent that reminds me of home. Cultural celebrations that used to be spent surrounded by family are now dinner gatherings with friends longing for a taste of home. Thanks to the events helmed by the university societies here, I’ve been able to indulge in the food and culture I’d missed from back home, and I was comforted to know that I wasn’t alone in this journey abroad (quick shoutout to MSSA and MCS!).

The last year has been full of ups and downs. Whenever I’m on the down-low, though, I think back to all the highs I’ve lived since starting university in Bristol—and a part of that helps me to keep going.

Featured Image: Nathan Riley/ Unsplash

What are some of your favourite places in Bristol and do you consider the city a home away from home now? Let us know @epigrampaper