So, You’re Thinking of Doing a Year Abroad…

Ahh, September… a time of Gilmore Girls re-watches, unpredictable weather and, for the lucky few, the start of a new University year. If you’re a student starting third year, the start of this year may mean that you are moving away to a brand new country to live and study (even though it may look different to previous years’ year abroads), and if you’re a fresher, now is the time to be considering the option of a year abroad (those preliminary talks come around quickly)!

I, personally, spent my whole three years in sunny Birmingham, so don’t really have much to say on the topic, so I have politely asked (bullied) four of my lovely, beautiful, adventurous friends to write this article for me. Whether you’re considering a Year Abroad or about to head off on one, this article should hopefully give you a little bit of insight into living in another country, from housing disasters and homesickness to road-tripping around Australia… Tempted? Me, too.

Siobhan, 23, Spanish & German at Durham University

Where: Düsseldorf – Germany, Havana – Cuba, Arequipa & Lima – Peru

Best bit: Two months exploring Havana whilst escaping the ‘Beast from the East’ that winter in the UK. Cuba is such a unique country – really is like going back in time! I loved (almost) every second there!

Worst bit: In a rush to be super organised I signed a 5-month contract for accommodation in Germany before arriving. Safe to say the pictures online didn’t quite match the reality… I moved out after a month and ended up living with a colleague and her family!

Advice to those considering a Year Abroad:

  • Rent an AirBnB for a few weeks in a new place and suss out your options in person!
  • Most importantly, go with an open-mind and get involved in as much as you can! If part of a Languages degree, try to meet and spend time with native speakers – definitely is the best way to improve your fluency. If you stick with other UK students (as tempting as that may be) you’re unlikely to see the same benefits, so seek out those opportunities as much as poss.
  • Also, as much as for anything in life, remember a Year Abroad on Instagram is a highlight reel. Try not to compare your experience to those of peers and don’t panic if it takes a bit of time to feel settled.

Thoughts on heading back to University:

It can be tough if friends have already graduated, but wherever you spend a year abroad, you’ll likely come back to uni feeling more self-assured, refreshed and keen to make the most of your final year. In many ways my last year was the most enjoyable of all!

Lizzie, 21, Law at Newcastle University

Where: University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Best bits:

  • All of it! I can honestly say that my year abroad was the most brilliant, exciting year that I’ve had so far. It is such a great life experience and gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture and broaden your perspective on life. I was able to meet some fantastic people who will no doubt be my lifelong friends.
  • As the year didn’t count towards my degree, I used it as a chance to try something different, even if it turned out that I wasn’t very good at it. Newcastle actively encouraged me to take non-law modules to broaden my learning, and I ended up doing an introductory bio-molecular module!
  • If I had to choose my top experience, it would be travelling around Tasmania in two campervans for a week with seven friends. The landscape was so beautiful and it was so varied- one minute we’d be driving though mountains and the next there would be a beautiful beach. Being in Australia allowed me to meet like minded people who wanted to take every opportunity to travel. On weekends and during the holiday periods, we were constantly exploring new places and trying out new activities, like surfing and driving a 4×4 through sand dunes!

Worst bit: Leaving! I was gutted that my time in Australia was cut short because of Covid-19 but I was one of the lucky ones as I did get to spend 8 months there before returning home.

Advice for those considering a Year Abroad:

  • My advice for anyone considering a year abroad is to go for it! I really could not recommend it enough. If you do go though, you need to throw yourself completely into life and study abroad to get the most out of the opportunity.
  • I think you need to consider the costs of studying abroad as these can be high depending on where you are going to study. Obviously going to study in Australia meant higher costs of airfare, and since I was living on campus in the middle of Sydney, accommodation costs were high. So it is worth checking out with your university what, if any scholarships or grants may be available to help you.
  • At some point, you will also need to think about where and who you are going to live with when you come back from your year abroad. In my case, my closest friends did not do years abroad so whilst I was in Australia I kept an eye out for students who were looking for people to house share with. After doing some zoom chats, I am moving into a house of 7 other students, all 2nd years, who are lovely.

Thoughts on heading back to University:

Coming back from my year abroad I feel refreshed and excited to start my final year at university. It will be a bit of a culture shock as I have spent the last few months at home with my parents but I am looking forward to getting more of my independence back again and to cracking on and finishing off my degree.

Pasha, 21, Music, French & Spanish at University of Birmingham

Where: Université Paul Valery Montpellier III and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Best bits:

  • Brunching after class with friends and being a regular at THE best ice cream & crêpe places in the city just 5 mins from my house!
  • Always meeting new people from all over the world from day one right through to the end of the experience
  • Dancing on the tables of Australian Bar with everyone belting out the words to ‘Freed From Desire’ while the bartenders did their routine on the bar tops.
  • Taking weekend trips away to other cities in the country — our trip to Marseille was a big highlight for me filled with lots of great memories!

Worst bits:

  • Not being able to be with family in difficult home situations
  • Saying goodbye to/missing friends from home, knowing I wouldn’t be graduating with people I began my university journey with.

Advice for those considering a Year Abroad:

  • Whether you’re an hour away or halfway across the world, this is your chance to really explore yourself and your independence with nothing holding you back. Of course it will be a new challenge, particularly if you’ve never traveled before, being chucked in the deep end with cultural differences and potential language barriers, but that’s all part of the fun and adventure! You will be surprised how much those survival instincts kick in and fast, and before you know it, your local Gelateria will know your order inside out, you’ll be picking up on everyday language and you’ll feel right at home.
  • It’s never going to be the same as your university experience at home with all your friends that you’ve already made, so try not to focus on that or compare the experiences. There will be times when all you want to do is jump on that next flight home and be around the things and people you’re familiar with, but there will also be times where you couldn’t imagine leaving the whirlwind that is your year abroad, meeting new people and trying things you’ve never tried before.
  • It’s ok to feel homesick. It’s also ok that it’s not the “best year of your life” like so many say it is. The main thing is that you give it your best, be open minded, push yourself out of your comfort zone and embrace the whole experience — the good, the bad and the ugly! All of it is going to make up a collection of some cracking memories you will never forget.

Thoughts on heading back to University:

Get me there ASAP! Don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely devastated that my year abroad was cut short by Miss Rona, and the days of tanning beside rooftop pools in 35 degree weather and watching sunsets on the beaches of Barcelona with a glass of ‘Tinto de Verano’ in hand were stolen from me. But after a month in lockdown, all I could think about was getting back to the classic shenanigans of Selly Oak, seeing friends I’d missed so much and making many questionable life decisions one last time before adulting looms over our heads after graduation! Can’t wait to be back in my second home that is Birmingham and make the most out of this final year.

Emma, 22, English & French at University of Oxford

Where: Nantes and Paris, France

Best bits:

  • Getting to see more of France and getting really valuable experiences living abroad and working in a field I want to pursue after uni.
  • Living in Paris over summer and going on a solo trip to La Rochelle and Île de Ré. French food is amazing!
  • The resilience and independence I gained living abroad

Worst bits:

  • French bureaucracy is as bad as everyone says. The gilet jaunes meant the city centre in Nantes was shut down every Saturday by riot police – not ideal for weekend plans.
  • Not having many hours at the school I worked at in Nantes meant I didn’t feel very connected to my job and I had too much downtime during the week.

Advice for those considering a Year Abroad:

Seize opportunities, but also take time for self-care – a year abroad can be tough and lonely. Join local Facebook groups, clubs and language cafés (MeetUp was good for this) and don’t wait for other people to make plans – I wish I’d travelled more (esp. in Nantes when I had very few hours each week). Try not to compare yourself with your peers but also use them as a remote support network, chances are they’re feeling exactly like you!

Thoughts on heading back to University:

Luckily, the majority of my uni friends were still at Oxford for my final year so it felt really natural coming back to the social side of things. I think it was really good to have done the year abroad in that it was bit of time to breathe and mature before tackling final year. I found it tough to get back into the English side of my course because the rest of my year group had graduated. On the other hand, I think having space to reflect and read around the course over a year was really helpful and fed quite a few of my ideas that turned into finals work. A year abroad is generally a bit strange and there’s a lot of pressure for it to be a certain way, but in the long run I think it really helped me gain a better perspective on my university experience within the context of the wider world. It helped me to manage finals stress and look ahead to post-uni life with less dread!

Final Thoughts

I know that this year isn’t exactly going to be what we thought, and uni students (especially first years) are facing a lot more uncertainty than they bargained for, but all of us here at A Spoonful of Hannah (literally just me) wish everyone a happy September and best of luck in whatever you’re up to! And if you’re off to Peru or Montpellier, just know that I am extremely jealous…

Recommended Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *