Don’t worry! As a fellow year abroad supporter, I have constructed this brief guide using my personal experience, as well as the advice from students and friends, to write down everything you need to know and do before going on your year abroad!
But before starting, it is important to know that struggling with this decision is normal. After all, leaving in the middle of your studies (during a pandemic) to move to a different country is nothing less than a leap of faith. But it’s a leap that is absolutely worth doing.
Having said that, let’s dive right in.
Step 1: Finding contacts
A common line of thought you may have before leaving for a year abroad is “but I won’t know anybody!”. This is solvable!
We live in the 21st century where we have access to people from all over the world through social media, so take advantage of that! Remember, this is an incredible and unique experience you’re lucky to embark on, being shy is not allowed! Surprisingly enough, the most useful social media in this case in Facebook. While it might not to be the “trendiest” platform, Facebook is perfect to find people who share your year abroad destination.
All you need to do is type in the search bar “Erasmus [your destination] [the year]” and start to follow the groups that pop up. Instagram and Twitter also have these useful groups through which you’ll have access to students, nervous and excited just like yourself, who you can text, get to know and hopefully make friends with!
As everyone I spoke with told me, you need to “put yourself out there” in all the senses of the term. Be friendly and outgoing, show yourself to others, let them get to know you and share insecurities and goals, because chances are others are just the same. This way you’ll be sure to already have some contacts before leaving, which will make you feel much more secure and confident. Plus, these are your possible future companions for a year of adventure and discovery.
Step 2: Learn about your destination
Wherever your destination may be, you need to remember that you won’t be there as a tourist, so it’s important to stop thinking and planning like one.
As a start, you can read reviews of other people who did a year abroad before you, to get a feeling of their experience, what they liked and what they disliked. In addition, I found it really useful and relaxing watching YouTube videos, mainly vlogs, of people living in my future city and seeing what a day in the life of a student is like over there. These are all good ways to get to know basic, but essential information such as how much a student spends, what are the best places to eat, where to go out to and in general, how to fit in best in the new city.
However, to achieve this there is even a better way: get to know locals, people who know the city you’re moving to inside and out and can tell you more about what to expect. The best way to find these contacts is through the university you’re going to. Go on their website or social media pages and see if there are some student mentors or tutors willing to have a chat with you about what to expect when you arrive. Or try to contact someone from your department directly. Again, don’t be shy and remember we are all just students trying to survive this unique time of our lives willing to make new friends and memories.
Step 3: About the university
Talking about university, that is another essential element. I believe you should treat your host university just as you did your original one: obsess over it. Try and discover everything about it before even flying. Look up the best campus spots, the cafés, the common rooms, classes, everything that will make you feel less like a fish out of water, once there. All this information should be accessible on the website or again, through students.
When you do that, the most important thing to look out for in my opinion are clubs and societies. Many universities have these small student-run groups created around an activity, hobby or sport. Join them!!
I cannot stress enough how important it is to join these clubs, whether you’re familiar with the theme or not, you’re there to discover new activities and passions so don’t limit yourself to things you already know. The tennis society looks cool but you’ve never played? Join anyway! Chances are they’ll have a beginner class where you can learn and enjoy the sport with others. You like drawing? Well now try and join the art society where you can do what you love, but with others.
The same thing can be applied to elective classes; take a risk and sign up to a class you wouldn’t have chosen, maybe you’ll find out that you unexpectedly like the subject! This is the best way to get to know others, make friends and just find someone to have a nice time with. Plus, being always busy can distract you from feeling homesick and having something to do constantly, will make the year abroad feel worth it; so you can think: “I did a lot of things I never would have done otherwise.”