As this academic year draws to an end, many students are preparing themselves for a stay, semester or year abroad. As exciting and exhilarating as this upcoming prospect can be, many have a few uncertainties that are burdening the build-up.
As a languages student, a year abroad is obligatory for my degree: AKA there’s no going back now! So, after speaking to a variety of students, I’ve compiled the 10 biggest concerns we have about living abroad and offered some solutions too.
- Different Systems
Are you a self-confessed control freak or just like to have a grip over your life? If so, living, working or studying in another country may seem daunting. You’ve only just grasped how to navigate round Hartley library, Blackboard and E-Assignments but now comes the next challenge. My advice: don’t be afraid to look like a tourist and plan things in advance. As a foreign student to that country, you have automatic allowance to look like a fool and ask as many (subordinate seeming) questions as you want. The two minutes of awkwardness it takes to ask for help might save you hours in the future.
- Language Barriers
“Err…err…errr…” is a language student’s biggest fear. Think about when you’ve been spoken to buy a foreign student: all they want is a bit of patience and perhaps to speak a little less fast so have the courage to ask. Also, after exams, spend a bit of time researching basic, conversational phrases and words. Being able to discuss the current economic crisis seems very intellectual but ensure that you know how to ask for a cup of tea. If in doubt, language-charades could be fun.
- Social Life
My current concern is that I’ll be sat on an isolated farm with only a little old Spanish man and his goat for company. This, I’ve been assured, will not be the case. There’s always ways to meet people so don’t stay in and worry about it. A problem shared is a problem halved. If you’re feeling lonely, you can guarantee that someone else is too. Take advantage of being new: throw yourself into as many activities as possible to meet a wide spectrum of people. If you’re a little quieter, use the beauty that is social media.
- Lack of Multicultural Food
One girl on her year abroad stated that she missed M&S more than her family: Percy Pigs vs nagging parents is a tough one. Foreign supermarkets are becoming more globally standardised every day but accept their gastronomy as a challenge. You won’t get many frogs legs in Portswood and you could return to England with a new-found talent.
“Will my relationship survive?” is a big worry for many people whether you’ve been coupled up for years or recently found your new Romeo. Technology means that keeping relationships alive is much easier and most places are easily accessible. But take each day as it comes. Don’t be swayed by other people’s anecdotes as you’ll know what’s right for you.
- Getting Around
“I’m lost” seemed to be my most commonly used phrase when recently in Barcelona. See it as an adventure and you never know, you might find something hidden away. Getting around is a great way to boost confidence in talking to people and may improve navigational skills! If the “Dora the Explorer” approach isn’t quite your style, thoroughly research maps, timetables and transport systems and it’ll sink in before you know it.
All you hear regarding money on a year abroad is “budget”. As practical and constrained as that may seem, it’s wise advice. Research what grants and loans you’re entitled to and consider picking up a part-time job out there: it’s another way to gain new experiences, meet people and fund travelling in free time. There’s loads of advice online, for example with Third Year Abroad about how to survive financially.
The ease at which we can buy whatever we want (thanks to certain student online deals) means we’re spoilt for choice in England. Embrace the cultural styles in your host country and who knows, a beret may suit you perfectly. If you’re not quite ready to abandon the British High Street, parents can always send over treats in the post.
If you’re like me and have your favourite shows set to record, don’t panic! There is still a way, using network connections, so you don’t have to miss out on the essentials. Perhaps you’ll indulge into the most current German soap opera or catch English shows with the foreign subtitles or dubbing. Maybe a lack of television will promote a new-found hobby. Why watch others on a screen when you could be living the dream outside?
If you’re thinking that this applies to you, you are not the only one. Moving abroad is a daunting process for many but don’t be afraid to miss your home comforts. I know for a fact that being over 1,000 miles away from my dog will be more difficult than coming out of Jesters with clean shoes. However, we’re very fortunate that we have technology that allows us to make contact with those at home. If you do feel homesick, don’t ignore the symptoms as it can have real negative repercussions. Speak to someone.
Some concerns may seem more trivial or important than others. Be aware that your time abroad will throw obstacles in your path but accept them as challenges. If you have any concerns, talk to someone: your tutor, someone in your host country, friends, family or do online research. But fundamentally, make the absolute most of your time abroad.
“There are no regrets in life, just lessons.” – Jennifer Aniston
Feature image by Kathryn Smith.