If your course allows you to take a year abroad whilst at university but you’re not sure what to expect, here are some first-hand experiences of a few students I recently interviewed.
My first question was, did you try to make connections in advance?
Lucie, who is 20, went to Berlin in her third year of university. The pandemic having heightened the common fear of not meeting people, she attempted to meet as many people as she could, online, before her arrival in Germany. One efficient way to meet people she reckons, is through societies. Some university societies have branches on a global scale. She made contact with the Berlin branch of her university’s society through social media, and met the contacts in person when she arrived.
Carmen, 20, was in London for her third year. For her, it was the first time she lived away from home and contacting people beforehand helped her not to feel alone when faced with going to a country where she knew no one. Scary feeling? I agree. But Carmen emphasizes that contacting people who were on her course through Facebook made her feel like she had people to connect with once she got to London. Those very same people have remained some of her best friends, both during her London days and still today.
Next I asked what the worst and best parts were?
For the worst of the year abroad experience, the answer was unanimous: The pandemic, lockdowns and online classes made it really complicated for year abroad students who understandably wondered sometimes, “Why did I even come?”
However, for the most part, they didn’t allow this set-back to get to them. Carmen, for example, learned how to make the most of what there was, embraced the year as it came, relinquished control. Sam, 21, learned how to be independent and reckons he became more mature for it. For Lucie, the best of the experience came in Spring with the easing of Covid regulations, as she finally was able to meet many people, go out, and live the experience she had dreamed of.
If you could have given yourself some advice before leaving on your year abroad what would it be?
Carmen’s advice? Stay open-minded. All through the year, learn to let life surprise you and allow its unpredictability to take its course. Moreover, try not to go abroad with huge expectations in the first place but instead, go with the flow, to avoid getting frustrated.
Sarah, 19, who went to Rome, has given us food for thought. ‘When you’re on your year abroad’, she said, ‘There is this pressure to meet the greatest number of people possible and do everything you can, to make the most of it’. It obviously depends, from person to person, how they would like to live their year abroad, but this led to her being constantly tired -- and her recommendation is ‘to live in your temporary city as someone who actually lives there full-time and not as a tourist’. That way you can immerse yourself more, in a city that is yours, rather than viewing your experience as a temporary stay.
Lastly, Lucie advises to get out of your comfort zone! Even if it seems like the easier option, don’t stick with other Erasmus students all the time but try to hang out with locals. After all, you went away for a reason.
By the end of my questions, all five students told me that though there were things they would have done differently with hindsight, they have no regrets. The steps they took throughout the year indeed led them to have the best experiences they could have dreamt of, be it in terms of culture, traveling, university, or friendships.