“So you’re going on a year abroad? Wow, I bet you can’t wait!”
When you sign up for a languages degree, you know right from the start that you’ll be spending your third year abroad. For some, it’s the unrivaled highlight and whole point of the course. For others, it’s a necessary but terrifying step.
You tell people that you’re excited, that you can’t wait to go, how much it’ll improve your language skills and how you can’t wait to throw yourself into a new life. After a while, you might even start to believe it yourself, even if secretly you’re wondering how you’re meant to be able to figure this all out in your second or third language when you struggle enough as it is in English.
No matter how much you rationalise it, talk to others who have gone before you, look at how well international students fit into your friendship group, or how much you plan everything to the most minute detail – you can’t help but feel like you’re walking into a void.
The date draws closer, feeling more like a prison sentence than a holiday, and you feel guilty because you’re not looking forward to it. Then, at long last, you start to realise that perhaps you are looking forward to it.
My preparation for my year abroad could be termed more as ‘safety planning’ than making a uni application. Here are some things that got me through and stopped me losing it completely.
1) Start applying early and keep an eye on deadlines
If you know that the process will cause you a lot of stress, try not to procrastinate your way through denial. Get a handle on what the options are, do your research and fill in the forms. It’s a lot easier for you to prepare yourself emotionally when you know exactly where you’ll be going. Don’t give yourself any extra stress by cutting deadlines fine.
2) Talk about it with whoever will listen
Even though the year abroad seems to always come up in conversation, it’s okay to talk honestly about your fears with your friends, family, and lecturers. You don’t need to pretend that you’re excited if you’re worried: talk those fears out with people who will be able to help you overcome them. Talk with returning fourth years as much as possible about their experiences, read all the blogs you can find and make sure that you’re as informed as you can be.
3) Figure out your free time activities before you get there
Depending on whether you’re working, studying or teaching, you’ll have varying amounts of free time to spend. Pretty much everything is organised via Facebook these days, so you can look at exactly what kind of clubs, volunteering opportunities and trips you can do before you’ve even booked your plane ticket. You’ll arrive armed with contact details and timings of things that you can do to make sure that you get out your room and start meeting new people.
4) Be kind to yourself
Spending a whole year speaking another language is a pretty incredible thing, and you need to make sure that you’re choosing the best option for you. Yes, improving your language skills and employability is a part of it, but you also need to be somewhere you’ll be supported and happy. If you know that a certain activity will worsen your stress, see what you might be able to do to sidestep it, like going into halls again instead of looking for a shared house. Above all, remember that the most important thing is looking after you.