Your year abroad is a big step. A huge step. Starting university ain’t got nothing on this. Of course it is exciting. There are going to be so many new experiences, people and great things to look forward to, whether you’re going to France, Canada, Brazil or anywhere else. However, it’s completely daunting. Sorting out bank accounts, phone contracts, accommodation, meeting new people, experiencing university life or taking your first step in the professional world, with the added bonus of all this in another language – it’s scary stuff.
So, whether you’re about to depart for your Year Abroad, you’re already out there living it, or you’ve got one in the near or distant future, I’m here to talk you through it all and give you hints and tips along the way; every anticipated high, every inevitable low, I’m experiencing it all for the first time and I’m taking you along with me.
“Do a languages degree, you get a year abroad” they said. “It’ll be fun, best year of your life” they said. “You’ll become so independent and confident” they said. What they didn’t tell you about is just how many damn forms you have to fill in before you can get there.
I’m about to go into my third year and in just a mere few weeks will be moving to a town between Lyon and Grenoble, in the south east of France, near the Alps (hence the cheesy series title, sorry not sorry). Every time I tell people this, the reactions are either ‘oh cool’, or they just convert a blank face stare of complete unawareness of where this is. Or they say ‘oh that’s amazing, you’ll be skiing every weekend and eating cheese 24/7 and think of all the snow!‘ That was my first reaction too when I found out where I was going, so I can’t really blame them.
I’ve been terrified about doing a year abroad ever since I signed onto a languages degree, and I was finally starting to look forward to it. After an episode of pure stupidity where I didn’t read emails properly (and consequently had to accumulate various things such as passport photos, guarantor signatures and proof of address in about 3 days) I started to realise the sheer quantity of forms, documents and emails I was supposed to be on top of. So naturally I went on holiday for two weeks, stuck my fingers in my ears and pretended they didn’t exist.
This leads me to my first piece of advice:
1. BE PREPARED – like every good boy scout, prepare yourself in advance for what needs to be done before your year abroad. Know what you need to do and when you need to do it, and don’t leave things until the last minute.
You’ll always think you’ve got everything under control, that you’re outsmarting the system, and that you, unlike every foolish year-abroader before you, will be totally fine. Well I’m afraid to say that probably you haven’t, you aren’t and you won’t. So if you’ve got a year or semester abroad in the foreseeable future, or even if you’re just going on holiday, don’t be like me and leave yourself a month to organise your entire existence into a few files and folders – BE PREPARED. When you get an email, actually read it and do anything it asks you to do in good time. Work out what needs to be done and do it as soon as you can. Anyone currently reading this who is doing or has done a year abroad will vouch for how big a deal it is and how much needs to be organised before you leave and once you arrive; I’m sure most of them would stress that it’s all worth it for the amazing year you’re about to have, but it doesn’t stop it being important.
Now you’re probably not going to listen to me. I wouldn’t listen to me. I mean I’m sitting here writing an article telling you to be organised because I don’t want to face the responsibilities waiting for me when I’ve finished writing it. But just try and bear this in mind when you start getting emails and letters, and do your best not to push them to the back of your mind.
Come back soon for more in my series, on finding accommodation abroad, the big move, making friends, and the transition to the real world. If I haven’t already suffocated under the paperwork, that is.