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

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As the year abroad application deadline looms, deciding on where to spend the next year of your life as well as choosing whether to study or work is a daunting process that many students will be facing. We’ve put together a country-by-country guide, where current 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. Currently, all second year language students at the University of Southampton are in the process of deciding on both which country to go to and what they would like to do during their third year.

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.

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.

This time, we will focus on Europe and China. Currently, there are students spending their YA in Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, France, Austria and Italy. Here are some of their experiences thus far.

Europe:

Germany

Chione Armstrong – MLang French and German, studying at Potsdam Uni in Germany

How did you decide to study/work?: How did you decide on your country of choice?:

I knew that I wanted to be in a German speaking country, as my German was the weaker of my two languages. Also, I’ve heard that, in terms of the admin side of things, German universities are a lot more organised than French and Spanish ones, which is a bonus! But I’ve also been to Germany a lot in the past and knew I wanted to live in Berlin at some point, so I figured the perfect time to do that, would be during my year abroad. I would say that it’s not essential, but knowing a bit about the place beforehand definitely helps.Potsdam, Germany

A short summary of your time thus far. Would you do anything different?:

I would say the first week was extremely hectic; there’s quite a lot of stuff to sort out once you get here, like registering with the authorities, sorting out internet for your room, signing up to classes… small things, but I think if I had better prepared myself it would’ve made my first week a bit easier! If you’re living in halls, I would also look into what you actually get when you move in e.g. bedding, Internet etc. because when I got here I didn’t realise that to get Internet you have to go pay for it at the office, which is a bit of a bummer if you arrive at the weekend when the office is closed. In Germany you also have to timetable your classes yourself and sign on to them once you arrive, but the university helps you with any problems. After that, things settled pretty quickly and it’s been really easy

 

meeting people and making friends (mainly with other Erasmus students). The Erasmus network in Potsdam is really good at organising events so that you can meet new people and socialise e.g. a tour around Potsdam, pub quiz, weekend trip to Weimar. So I would just say, in terms of doing anything differently, I would’ve researched things a bit more thoroughly before coming here.

Austria

Matilde Ercolani – Modern Languages, studying in Vienna, Austria

How did you decide to study/work?

As I am doing Modern Languages, I am studying three instead of two languages, which allows me to do only half of the optional modules in comparison to the others. This is why I thought that studying at the university would have been a good choice! Moreover, as I am interested in Education, it is good to be able to have the possibility to see how a different university looks like and how the system works!

How did you decide on your country of choice?:

Vienna, Austria

Vienna wasn’t actually my first choice, and my main anxiety about coming here it was the Austrian dialect! But the more time passes, the happier I am to have been placed here: as a German stage 5 student, after 1 month I’ve made great progress with the language. Life is great and the city offers thousands of opportunities for everyone!

A short summary of your time thus far. Would you do anything different?

I am living in a WG (Wohnungsgemeinschaft) with three Austrian girls! It is the best choice if you want to get to know people from the place, as otherwise as Erasmus students it’s easier to always stay with internationals. I follow four courses at the university from the Romanistik department and, as I could choose the modules I wanted to take, I feel very satisfied with them! Probably at the moment I wouldn’t do anything really different.

I am happy to give you further help or advice if you want, just contact me at: me2g13@soton.ac.uk!

Italy

Ciara Boulton – BA Modern Languages (French, Spanish & Italian), studying at Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy

How did you decide to study/work?

In the beginning, I was convinced that I would do the British Council Assistant scheme on my Year Abroad, before even deciding which country I would go to. I thought that it would give me a little experience in teaching, even though I am quite sure I don’t want to go into teaching. I knew that it would either confirm what I thought already or completely change my mind. But then, we were given all of the details about the British Council and it made me question my original decision. This was due to the fact that you didn’t get to choose exactly where you go, as well as how late you found out. It left me feeling less enthusiastic about choosing the British Council scheme.

I then went and spoke to various people; students from the previous years, my personal tutor, my family and some of my friends to see what they all thought I should do. In the end I decided I was comfortable in the role of being a student and enjoyed it. I thought, when putting myself in a completely new environment in a new country, it might be nicer to not be totally clueless about one thing. Plus, in choosing to study somewhere I would be able to control exactly where I would go.

How did you decide on your country of choice?

Padova, Italy

The main reason I decided to have Italy as my first choice was because, as the language I picked up last, it is my weakest. So I wanted to improve it to the point where, when I return to Southampton, all of my languages would be at the same level.

Before we were given the list of Universities we could go to, in each country, I knew I wanted to go to either Spain or Italy. When I saw the list, the fact that Padova was the only option for studying in Italy, pushed me towards choosing Spain as I would be given a wider choice. In the end though, my three final choices were; Padova, Madrid and Zaragoza. I actually then organised to go as an au pair in Madrid over the Summer, which turned out to be the best compromise in order to give myself an experience in both countries. I also plan on finding some type of placement in France for next summer so that I’ve spent time in all the countries of the languages I study.

A short summary of your time thus far. Would you do anything different?

My time so far in Padova has been great, minus the unavoidable stresses of admin and various other official business. If I was to go back to before I came here, I might have researched more about things I did not really think about before coming here, for example, exactly how I would get my phone to work out here, which would mean I could have avoided a very stressful few days of searching for free Wi-Fi to contact anybody. On the other hand, I would definitely recommend, to anyone coming here, living in the student residences. There is a really lovely and friendly mix of people here with both Erasmus students and Italian students, from all different years. However, if you really hated the shared kitchens and bathrooms of first year then it’s probably not for you.

Also, when you choose your subjects to do at University, whatever country you may be in, make sure it is a topic you are somewhat interested in and therefore not too difficult as you will be learning the content and doing the exams in the language of the country. I am finding learning to translate Spanish into Italian quite a difficult task which is something I didn’t think about beforehand. But, if you find that after a couple of lessons you really are struggling or really don’t like the subject, at least in Padova, it’s very easy to change to a different class.

Portugal

Abigail Rosser – BA French and Portuguese, working in Lisbon, Portugal

How did you decide to study/work?

I always wanted to work for my year abroad. British Council wasn’t offered for Portugal, so I found an internship online.

How did you decide on your country of choice?

Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal

My original choice was Brazil. I was looking with AIESEC to find a job but then I was advised by my uncle, who lives in Brazil, to avoid going as the economic/social/political situation isn’t ideal at the moment. That left me with Portugal!

A short summary of your time thus far. Would you do anything different?

I wouldn’t use AIESEC unless you’re going somewhere like Latin America to work. My time in Lisbon has been great, I love the city and working is a challenge but good fun. Just make sure you are aware that with working, the YARP can be a bit more of a pain to find time for. With studying you will definitely have more free time, but working is such a great experience. Otherwise I wouldn’t change much!

Spain

Alex Fanos – BA Languages and Contemporary European Studies (Spanish and Russian), Studying in Granada, Spain

How did you decide to study/work?

I was originally planning to work as I wasn’t sure about studying abroad and whether I would cope (Mainly related to some doubts I had been experiencing during Semester 1 of my 2nd year of study, which nearly led to me suspending my course). However, after considerable thought and building my confidence, during that first semester, I decided that, as a student, I would be able to get in contact with many other people. Also, studying would also allow me to take advantage of all the benefits and discounts, often available to students – which could save me some money for starters! Finally, I did not actually have any work experience at the time, which would have made it difficult for me to find a job in Spain.

How did you decide on your country of choice?

In reality, I was always going to go to Spain, as it was my stronger language, but mainly because Southampton University has no links with Universities in Russia, so I would have been unable to study there anyway. Also, since I began Russian as a beginner, I do not believe that my language level would have been sufficient enough, for me to survive in Russia for a whole 9/10 months. I am, however, studying Russian as a module in order to keep it up, in part due to advice from my Academic advisor.

A short summary of your time thus far. Would you do anything different?

So far, I have undoubtedly experienced the best 2 months of my life to date. I have met so many people; made so many amazing friends that I would never had met, if were working. I have also been able to travel and attend events, created specifically for Erasmus students by a number of organizations here, in Granada, that specialize in the like. For those students travelling to Spain I would highly recommend Granada as the place to go! The Andalusian culture is one that is laid back, friendly and non-judgemental and Granada, with a population of 60,000 students is more than well equipped for all your needs! Finally, Granada is also perfect in the respect that you have the atmosphere and feel of a city but it small enough that you don’t feel miles from nature or trapped in a chaotic urban centre.

I’m not sure that I would do anything different in all honesty!

Catherine Simpson – BA French and Spanish working in Spain as a language assistant in schools, through British Council

How did you decide to study/work? 

I decided to work as a language assistant because I have some prior experience of teaching and it is a career path I am considering for the future.

I didn’t want to study abroad because, after three years studying in Southampton, I wanted try something different. However, from speaking to friends, I can see that Uni abroad does have a lot of different advantages, eg. It’s easier to meet and make friends, more structure and support is easily available. I would say though that, with work placements, including the Brit

Granada, Spain
Granada, Spain

ish Council, you may get more integration into the language and culture of the country you’re in, and a more ‘authentic’ experience of life in that country, as you’re less inclined to spend time with other international students. However this does also depend on where you get placed (small town/ big city).

 

How did you decide on your country of choice?

Although I love the idea of exploring Latin American countries, I was a bit too chicken to make the jump across the pond for the whole 8 months (and I decided it was an adventure I’d rather save for personal travels).

I was interested in Spain, not only because it’s closer to home, but because I wanted to live in Andalucía (the southernmost region, which is where I got placed). I already have connections with the region, as I have friends scattered about here and have visited before, and I was interested in studying flamenco culture (native to Andalucía) for my YARP.

A short summary of your time thus far. Would you do anything different?

The first few weeks were packed full of admin and sorting out various forms and documents (getting a bank account, phone contract, NIE- Spanish national insurance number for foreigners, a flat, etc). I would definitely recommend going prepared with all documents you may possibly need, as well as a few photocopies, whatever you’re doing and wherever you plan on going!

I used Facebook groups and websites such as expatblog to find other language assistants working nearby, and met another girl working in my town, who I decided to live with for the year.

If you are going to be teaching, have no expectations. The school system, here, is completely different to the UK’s! Be prepared to introduce yourself, answer questions about yourself, and maybe have some general games or activities at the ready, just in case you ever need them!

I’ve also been getting used to Spanish life, which is completely different to life in England; the eating hours, shop opening hours, customs, and general attitude of the people is so different here. There’s no point digging your heels in either, just go with it and don’t stress if you don’t have a clue what’s going on!

Most of all just try as many new things as possible, travel a bit to see more of your host country, make an effort to meet people, and generally enjoy! You only get this opportunity once.

Chinachina map

Mang Phung – BA Modern Languages (Spanish, French, Chinese), studying in Nanjing, China

How did you decide to study/work?

I only had the choice of studying for China.

How did you decide on your country of choice?

I went to China in 2011, for a family holiday, and I knew I wanted to come back. I honestly didn’t receive any advice as there wasn’t really any – even the support group for people currently abroad is on Facebook which is banned here. It seems to be forgotten about because there are fewer students going there – which I think is pretty unfair.

A short summary of your time thus far. Would you do anything different?

I highly recommend those who are studying Chinese to come to China. The food is great, everything is cheap, and as a foreigner I have not had to pay entry for nightclubs or buy a single drink. It’s true when they say that if you’re a foreigner you get treated like royalty. It’s also very cheap to travel around China, and there’s a lot of cultural sites to visit. It’s also cheap to travel to other Asian countries.

All images 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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