For language students, studying or working abroad is a no-brainer. However, you may be surprised to hear that most university courses offer students a placement abroad for a few months or an entire year. Some people choose to study in a foreign country, whereas others opt to throw themselves into working life. Find out about what it’s like to study abroad, and why you should think about doing the same…
A year studying abroad is as much about the cultural experience as it is the university life and lectures.
When I first applied to University, I decided not to move away from home because I knew I wanted to do a year abroad – something which would give me the independence that other students gained in their standard three-year courses. Studying Spanish and Linguistics at Nottingham Trent University was a dream come true for me. The work environment suited me, and I loved the structure of going to lectures and studying. When the time came to apply for my year abroad, it was fair to say that I was a little on the nervous side. I didn’t initially like the idea of giving up the stability and comfort I had formed over my first two years, in exchange for a completely new and unknown environment. After some gentle persuasion from family, friends and university mentors, I decided the best thing was to at least give the year a try – worse case scenario, I could come back and pretend like it never happened.
As exchange students, we were given three options for our year abroad. We could either study at a partner university, teach English at a variety of schools abroad, or work with a foreign company. I decided to carry on studying over my year abroad, and chose to be an exchange student at Madrid’s Carlos iii University and study a new variety of subjects that weren’t otherwise available to me.
Having never left home before, I was terrified of how I would react without the comforts of home, but I was also excited to try something completely new and different, and to really find myself and my independence. I was moving to Spain with a friend, and also moving in with a host family which made things a lot easier. I wouldn’t have been able to survive the year without either one of these things, and living with a host family is something I wholeheartedly recommend. The support they gave me was unconditional and they were always on hand to help with any language or university doubts I had.
The feeling that you’re not good enough and the feeling of embarrassment comes hand in hand with learning a language, but over the course of the year you really do get used to it. Making mistakes is all part of learning, and the sooner you understand that everyone around you wants to help, the sooner you’ll start to improve.
I can imagine that moving across the country is hard enough, but leaving behind the security of home, the knowledge of your home language and cultural norms that you’ve spent your whole life living made the feeling of insecurity overwhelming as soon as I arrived. For the first week, I felt completely out of my comfort zone and like I had made a big mistake, which wasn’t helped by a complete change of routine. Cultural norms are different all around the world, and in Spain, the biggest differences for me were the eating times. This was something I had to adapt to in order to feel as comfortable as possible.
When I studied abroad, all exchange students tended to gravitate towards one another and stick together. This meant I was able to meet students from all over the world including Portugal, Italy and America, all of whom I have maintained contact. The connections you make whilst on an Erasmus exchange period is virtually unrivalled and the experiences that go along with that are unforgettable.
For the first few days, coming back was difficult. Returning to normality, and facing the reality of not being around the same people I had lived with for a year, it was difficult in its own way. I didn’t realise how much I loved being around them, until they no longer were. However, living in the technological era we do, Skype and social media makes things so much easier, and there’s nothing to stop me flying back for a short trip in the future.
For me, the positives of a year abroad outweigh the negatives, and it’s left me with an experience and connections that I’ll never forget. This was probably one of the reasons why it was so hard to leave when the time came. I had made so many memories, both positive and negative, but I had ultimately become my own person and learnt a lot about myself. Whether you choose to take part in an exchange semester or year abroad, and study or work, the experience you will have is unforgettable, you’ll make new friends, and possibly even gain clarity about your life after university.
Faith’s post here was originally featured in the Left Lion Guide to Nottingham for Students 2019