Deciding On Your Year Abroad: A Guide by Current YA Students In Latin America

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As the year abroad application deadline looms, deciding on where to spend the year abroad, as well as choosing to either study or work, is a daunting process that many students will be facing. We have put together a country-by-country guide, where current Year Abroad (YA) students offer their own experiences and advice…

The once in a lifetime opportunity to spend a year of your degree, studying or working in a different country, is one that brings great excitement yet a whole lot of stress for many students. All second year language students at the University of Southampton are currently in the process of deciding on both which country to go to and what they would like to do during their third year abroad.

With advice sessions taking place throughout the year and with many options available, understanding the realities of such decisions are ever more important. Even more so, as much of the information, given out by the university, can be quite overwhelming and focuses mainly on the year abroad research project.latin america

This year, there are students in eleven countries spread across three continents. With this in mind, the invaluable advice from current YA students can be really helpful in obtaining a better understanding of the decision processes, students take and the realities of each available option. In this series, we have asked a student from every country to tell us how they made their decisions, as well as a brief summary of their time so far.

Latin America

Currently, there are students working and studying in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Chile. Here is some advice from the students themselves.

Beth Stark – BA Spanish, in Mexico as an English Assistant

How did you decide to study/work?:

I chose Mexico because I didn’t want to be in Spain and I thought the uni seemed to have the best links with Mexico. My ideal would have been Ecuador but I didn’t feel 100% confident finding a placement out there. Speaking to third years who went to Mexico also persuaded me but I never actually once thought I want to go to Mexico for my year abroad.

Toluca, Mexico
Toluca, Mexico

Give us a short summary of your time thus far. Would you do anything different?:

I’m finding the work very boring and frustrating, also lonely. Little direction from the department and almost zero attendance to classes, teachers are also not keen to have assistants in their classes. The students are all very friendly and welcoming, and indeed Mexico has some super awesome places to explore, it’s pretty cheap and has amazing food. Toluca is a great location for travelling from because it’s so central.

I’m not sure if I would have done anything different. I maybe would have looked at placements in other countries but Mexico seemed the best choice for me.

 

Eleanor Hunt – BA Hons Spanish & History, studying in Colombia, Medellín

How did you decide to study/work?:

The first decision I made was how I wanted to spend my YA and I knew pretty early on that I wanted to study. I wanted to have the freedom to travel during holiday times and to experience being a student in a foreign university. I have had the freedom to more or less pick what I want to study so I have been able to try a variety of new subjects. In my first semester I picked few literature modules and a film module and next semester I am thinking of taking up a new language and trying some photography. Although I have decided to continue studying for the next semester, if you do come to Colombia (Medellín), it is possible to find a job for your second semester.

How did you decide on your country of choice?:

Deciding where to go was tricky but I definitely feel like I’ve made the right choice. I knew I didn’t want to go to Spain as I had spent some of my gap year studying in Salamanca – I wanted to push myself to go somewhere I’d never been before and to experience a completely new culture. I also really wanted to reduce the amount of English I spoke. Following the experience I had on my gap year in Spain where I had met a lot of other English speakers, I wanted to go somewhere where it was much harder to revert back to speaking English. Chile was a bit too far away for me and I wasn’t particularly attracted by the universities and cities on offer in Mexico. I chose Medellín over Bogotá because it is much smaller (something I felt more comfortable with) and because of the weather (it’s between 25-30 degrees celsius all year round and rarely rains). The cost of living is incredibly cheap in Colombia – I spend far less out here than I did in Southampton. I also spoke to Frank and Rich, two Southampton students who were out in Medellín whilst I was deciding where to go and they sung the city’s praises so I decided to take the leap and applied.

Medellín, Colombia
Medellín, Colombia

Give us a short summary of your time thus far. Would you do anything different?:

I was very nervous about Colombia because (unfortunately) it still has a bad reputation in England and I also didn’t have the luxury of going with anyone else from Southampton but I wouldn’t change anything. The Colombians I have met have been incredibly nice and welcoming, as well as all the students I have met at university. Medellín is a busy, bustling city with so much to do: it has great nightlife and the travelling opportunities are awesome (I’ll be spending some of my holiday on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast which I am very excited about). My advice is that if you are toying with the idea of coming to South America, just take the plunge and do it, you won’t regret it.

 

David Williams – BA Spanish and Portuguese, studying in Florianópolis, Brazil

How did you decide to study/work?:

I was pretty set from the start on studying during my YA. I ruled out British Council fairly quickly as I knew it wouldn’t be for me. I briefly considered a work placement but by the start of second year I had decided I wanted to study this year as I personally felt I’d like to have the university structure in my life for an extra year and I also felt it would be easier to get to know more people.

How did you decide on your country of choice?:

As I was in a lower stage for Portuguese than Spanish my choice came down to a straight shootout between Portugal and Brazil. Before second year started, although I was excited by the possibility of going to Brazil, I thought that most likely I would settle for Portugal in the end. However, after speaking to then fourth years who had just come back from Brazil, and after doing research into Florianópolis as a city, I was sold and decided on Brazil. I opted for Brazil in the end as I think it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not only go to Brazil (I’d never been to Brazil nor Latin America before) but to live here for a long period of time, a chance I may never get again. I also wanted to learn Brazilian Portuguese more than European Portuguese as I find the Brazilian accent a lot easier to understand!

Give us a short summary of your time thus far. Would you do anything different?:

Florianópolis, Brazil
Florianópolis, Brazil

Having been here for over 3 months now I can safely say that I chose completely the right year abroad destination for myself and I was right in choosing to study. Florianópolis as a place is really well suited to me. It’s a fair-sized city with plenty to do but it’s not overwhelmingly big like some cities in Brazil are. I also really love the chilled out atmosphere here which has been a nice break from the hustle and bustle of life in England. There are loads of exchange students at the university here, so it’s been very easy to meet lots of new people from all over the world, and Brazilians are usually really open and friendly people.

I think my biggest piece of advice to anyone thinking of going to Brazil on their YA is that you should think carefully about the specific city you would be living in. Brazil is such a vast, diverse country that there is a lot of difference between different areas of the country. As I said, Florianópolis suits me down to the ground, however I would never have considered spending my YA in a city like Rio or São Paulo as they would be too big and crazy for me. On the other hand, others might find the slower pace of life in Florianópolis a bit boring and might prefer somewhere a bit busier. This is why it’s crucial to research the exact place you want to go well before making your choice.

 

Kelly-Anne Rainey – BA Modern Languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese), working in Santiago, Chile. 

How did you decide to study/work?:

I want to go into business after I graduate so saw it as an opportunity to get work experience and business knowledge.

How did you decide on your country of choice?:

Honestly I was initially looking at Argentina but I didn’t find anything. Chile is a really developed economy and its a safe country compared to the rest of Latin America so it looked easier to find a job in and spend a year there.

Give us a short summary of your time thus far. Would you do anything different?:

I couldn’t recommend it more. My job has given me so much more experience than an average intern would receive. The country is great as I feel safe, transport is incredible and I often forget it’s a developing country. I would recommend it as a great base in Latin America as you can travel lots plus the country has a desert and also the Antarctic so you can see lots of different aspects of nature just by hopping on a bus for around 20 quid. The Spanish is a bit crazy but you get used to it and I find it makes understanding other more simple accents a lot easier.

Photos courtesy of the students

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BA Modern Languages student (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese), currently working and researching in Cancun, Mexico. I live to travel and there is nothing I love more than moving to a new country, immersing myself in the language and culture. I have lived in Spain, Italy and Mexico. I love writing about my personal experiences when travelling. I am also very interested in UK politics.

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