Choosing a destination for your year abroad is arguably one of the most important decisions you will have to make at university. However, with an often overwhelming choice, it’s not something you can decide overnight. Below is the decision-making process that I took which resulted in me spending my year in Cartagena, in southern Spain. Hopefully this helps you out!
1 – Choose the language
It’s most likely that your reason for going abroad is to improve your language skills (though I do realise that non-language students can have a year abroad too!). With that in mind, the first thing to do is choose the language you want to spend the next year of your life immersing yourself in. Depending on your exact degree title you might not get a choice in this, but for those who do, this is the first thing to consider. Spanish has always been my weaker language, so despite my love for German I thought it would be sensible to spend the year trying to improve my Spanish.
However, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go to the country of your stronger language, if that would be best for you and you would get more out of it. Whatever your reason, once you’ve chosen a language the options have already been narrowed down!
2 – Choose what you will do on your year abroad
Language students have three options here: studying at a university, working as a language assistant with British Council, or finding a work placement. Often the activity you want to do might limit the possible countries. For example, I knew I wanted to be a language assistant, however that is much more competitive in Latin America than it is in Spain so that fact pushed me towards Europe. Equally, there may be certain types of jobs that are only available in some countries.
3 – Choose the country
Your options here will vary depending on the language. Having picked Spanish, I had all of Latin America at my disposal as well as Spain!
This was probably the hardest part of my decision, as I really was tempted to go further afield, but in the end I wanted to be closer to home to know it would be easy to get back to England if I wanted to. Here are some things to think about when deciding on your country:
- How far away from home do you want to be?
If you’re the type of person who likes to pop home most weekends to visit your family, then you might not want to go too far afield. But if you don’t mind being away from home, then this could be an exciting opportunity to go somewhere unusual!
- How similar is it to your home country?
Will you be unable to cope if you can’t buy your favourite brand of biscuit or are you looking forward to trying new things (and biscuits)? Research some of the key differences between England and other countries and consider if they would be a problem for you.
- How much does it cost to live there?
Although you will get an Erasmus grant and will get paid if you’re working, it might be worth investigating the cost of living in other countries.
- What else is there to do in that country?
Most students who take a year abroad like to travel throughout the year. If this applies to you, research what you’d like to see! If you’re desperate to see lots of new places but have already been backpacking around Germany, you could consider Austria instead so that you have new places to explore.
- Is it safe to live there?
Some countries are generally more risky to live in. Whilst the university will make sure you’re safe to a certain extent, it is worth bearing this in mind!
4 – Choose the town/city/region
This next step varies depending on the country and what you will be doing next year; British Council assistants choose three regions but don’t get a say in towns or cities, whereas future students pick some universities they would like to go to, so obviously the town is included in that. When it comes to this final step of narrowing down, there are a few things to think of:
- Other languages/dialects.
Some areas may have a variety of other languages or local dialects spoken in or nearby them. This could be appealing if you want to practise or learn one of them, or could put you off if you want to focus on just the one.
- The size.
Think about whether you would feel overwhelmed in a big city or bored stiff in a small town – the size of your location can be very important when settling in.
I personally wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t a massive tourist hot spot, so I wouldn’t be faced with too much English. But the tourist spots are popular for a reason, and maybe there’s something there that you desperately want to visit!
- Transport links.
This is useful for both getting to and from home (are there nearby airports?) but also for getting around to other parts of the country.
The most useful thing I did to help me decide was write a list of everything I wanted from my future home town. It doesn’t have to be long – mine only consisted of four things – but it helps if you can then match it up to the places you research!
Finally, the internet is your best friend. There are loads of helpful articles on www.thirdyearabroad.com from people who have already had their year in the big wide world. There are also plenty of Southampton students who blog about their experiences, so ask around in the language Facebook groups for any advice.
Of course, the way I picked out my destination may not work for you, but hopefully there will be enough ideas here to help you on your way. Best of luck, and happy travelling!
Featured image by Rich Goatly