It’s the age-old decision that has to be made before your year abroad: whether to spend it at university or in a work or teaching placement. Having been myself at a university in Brazil last year, I’m going to present both the pros and cons of a study placement.
Starting off on a positive note, there are many advantages to choosing to go to university! Firstly, I think it’s much easier to make friends abroad being at uni, especially friends of around the same age. In Europe the Erasmus network can help with this, and although ESN doesn’t exist in other continents there is usually still a large group of international exchange students as well of course the local students.
Furthermore, going to a university as opposed to working will almost certainly mean you’ll have a lot more free time to travel, go out, and just generally make the most of your year living in a new country. I personally only had six hours of class per week in Brazil and I wouldn’t have done nearly as much travelling or exploring if I had chosen to do a work placement. It was good to have a more relaxed year with less pressure on it before coming back for final year, while at the same time experiencing an extra year of university/student life.
Studying abroad does also have its cons. For language students, it can sometimes be hard to practice the language you’re actually meant to be speaking there due to the large community of international students for whom the common language is usually English. It can be very easy to slip into speaking English a lot of the time.
If you go to university abroad, you need to be prepared to make an extra effort to speak the language you study, be that getting to know local students more or by insisting on speaking the language of the country you’re in with your Erasmus friends. The other international students are great to have around to socialise and travel with given that you’re all in the same boat, but they can sometimes be a hindrance when you’re ultimately on a year abroad to improve the languages you study and become more integrated into the culture of your chosen country.
Erasmus can, at times, become a bit of a goldfish bowl with not much contact with the ‘real’ life of the place you’re in. Also, for some people the thought of another year of having to write assignments and revise for exams, but this time in a foreign language, would put them off.
All in all, I am glad I chose to study on my year abroad as it suited what I personally wanted to get out of the year and allowed me to make the most of this amazing opportunity. However, everyone is different and you should research the three options available to you carefully (study, work, or teach) and choose the option that is best suited to you.