Hello everyone! I am Mya (Emerald), an international postgraduate student, pursuing MA in Creative Writing, right here at the University of Exeter! It took me 14 hours to fly from my country, Myanmar to the UK. It was important for me to feel settled and comfortable when I went to university to feel more confident in a new place and help reduce homesickness. So despite cultural differences and the actual distance, I finally created a home away from my home and I’d love to share my process with you!

First of all, where am I now?

My place is a self-catered studio room at Birks Grange Village, 12 minutes away from the centre of the Streatham Campus. You will never get bored at Birks Grange! Since residents are of different age groups and the accommodation itself has various types of rooms to choose from, living here is such an inclusive experience. Surrounded by nature, my accommodation provides me a sense of belonging to the environment. It offers a calm, soothing and homely place to rest my tired little legs off after climbing up and down the ‘Cardiac Hill’ at the end of the day. The hill is a faster route to walk to the campus from my place. Honestly, it’s a great exercise… free cardio every day before and after the classes!

What does a studio look like?

I will let you follow the lens of my first impression of the room. Opening the door, coat hooks on my left and heater on my right, I walked towards the dining table with two chairs. I put down my hand carry bag, and a chubby tote bag on the table where a tiny green cactus plant waited for my arrival with hopes of being watered. (Throughout my life, every plant I nurtured always dies. Hopefully, this little guy doesn’t!) Its little presence made me smile because it also seemed to remind me that I would be living in the greenest city of Great Britain for a year.

Resting for a little while, leaning on the polished wooden chair, my eyes did a little scan around the room. There was a king size mattress on the left side of the room. Surely, a giant empty notice board above the bed would challenge me to be creative, I thought to myself. And was I right! It has become my project board where my story ideas lie. I wrote a murder mystery story during term 1, so the board gave a detective vibe with red strings connecting characters and events in my story. The plot was just there on the notice board, waiting for me to come up with better twists and turns. I now put pages after pages of my poems on the board, brainstorming ideas for my poetry collection.

Aesthetics of the room can be different for everyone though! My friends/flatmates decorate the board with twinkling fairy lights, attaching their family photos and motivational quotes. Honestly, those fairy lights do not cost much if you buy at the Poundland, the cheapest variety store in Exeter!

Smiling at the thought of my first day in this room, my eyes slowly adjust to look at the laptop screen. What else do I need to show you? Of course, the sanctuary, the place I spend most of my time, and my little comfort zone is on the right side of the room…it is the widest and wildest study desk! There are six sockets to charge your electronic devices. Above that is another notice board (smaller than the one on the wall above the bed but still it has enough space to decorate!) where you can pin your to-do-lists or bedeck according to your preference. The light above the desk is shining brighter than Exeter’s sun and my forehead combined! I am not a big fan of bright direct artificial lights, but they do their job.

I pull the curtains open, to let the light seep in. I live on the second floor and my window faces the staircase of my block. Hearing the sounds of the birds singing, trees swinging, and leaves rustling, nature offers me a nice ambient playlist. On lucky days, I can see the ray of sunlight making its way to my shelf above my study corner. There are six compartments of the shelf, where I place my headphone, books, trinkets, stationery collected from the Student Guild during Welcome Week and stacks of Exposé newspapers I collected from the Forum.

I believe people put different things on those compartments: some put their entire skin-care-routine cosmetics, some put figurines or perfume bottles, and some even turned a compartment into a shrine. For me, there’s this one corner where I display all the gifts including postcards and letters from my friends. It may not be eye-pleasing to others but random objects from different experiences bring me joy. That corner reminds me of kindness, warmth, and connection. Have I made a home away from home?

Why studio?

I live in a self-catered room, so naturally, it has a shining steel kitchen unit, wide enough to put the jars and bottles of condiments such as fish sauce, oyster sauce, spices, and oil. The microwave comes in handy as I can quickly put some instant pizza or reheat some pasta in it on my lazy days. A kettle is provided as well; I still remember that first coffee I made right after I set foot in my room on my first day of arrival. After months of living here, empty cabinets from six months ago are now filled with utensils, spices, coffee, tea, and food.

Sometimes, cooking traditional cuisines can leave your whole room with a strong smell. So, I place a scent diffuser on the table. Scented candles are not allowed in the room, so scent diffuser takes up their job.

And of course, as it’s a studio it has a toilet room adjoined.

Home is where the heart is.

Where does my heart lie? For me, it has always been stories in different forms. Be it poetry or prose fiction, I am always ready to consume stories which may be fictional or sometimes, real life stories. Naturally, I packed so many books that I had to leave a lot at the airport due to being overweight. I was disappointed but thanks to the generous allowance of the libraries in University of Exeter, I am now living my dream, a room filled with books! But of course, books take up most of the space on the widest desk I have ever received. I guess, I now have a room of my own.

What does it mean by ‘Home’ though?

I don’t think home is just a place. Likewise, my life in Exeter wouldn’t be complete if I just hibernate in my studio most of the time. In the first few months, I considered my place as a mere place… nothing more and nothing less. It was just a house. It would continue to only be a house if I hadn’t met some amazing flatmates from my block. To be at home is to have someone to laugh with, to enjoy meals with, and to pour out what you have faced in a day. And I found that someone one day after I came back home from the campus feeling stressed. She’d had a tough day too. We shared our two cents of thoughts, meals, and tea, and then our stories. She and I have been friends ever since.

It seems like books complement the empty room of mine while my flat-mate (now friend) fills the gap between definition of a house and a home.

And that’s how I finally created a home away from my actual home.