There’s always a lot of chatter when you’re at uni about the infamous ‘year abroad’. Namely, because of its positive reputation and supposedly life-changing impact. The only problem is, within student circles, the conversation around this opportunity is so often dominated by those who had positive experiences during their year abroad. Consequently, its high-status reputation can become intimidating to those yet to embark on their own year abroad. When you’re only at the beginning of your student travel adventures, it’s only natural to wonder what happens if you’re the exception rather than the rule.
But we don’t want your anxieties to stop you from experiencing this incredible opportunity. So, we’re here to abate your fears and answer the questions you may be too afraid to ask about your year abroad as candidly as possible. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
1) What happens if I go on a year abroad and don’t like it?
It’s perhaps the biggest question on everyone’s minds, but also the one that nobody dares even entertain, because who wants to tempt fate?
But the truth is, the year abroad stereotype exists for a reason. The majority of the time, most students come away from their year abroad feeling on top of the world. But sadly, there does tend to be a small minority who return from their student travel and their experience deviates from everyone else’s.
If you’re feeling anxious about falling into this minority, it’s important to remember that most universities can facilitate a premature departure from your host country, should you need to. Reminding yourself of this fact whenever you begin to feel anxious about meeting expectations will hopefully relieve any pressure. Then you’ll feel more ready to go into the year with enthusiasm, patience and open-mindedness. And speaking from experience, I can assure you that these three ingredients are the perfect recipe for a happy year abroad.
2) How do I deal with feeling lonely or homesick?
Everybody feels lonely from time to time, but moving to an entirely different country alone is understandably scary. You have the fear of loneliness combined with inevitable homesickness.
The good news is, whilst homesickness is a common feeling in the early days of a year abroad, for most it usually settles. Once your surroundings become familiar and you find your social circles, it gets easier. Equally, a year abroad is the perfect opportunity to call back on your skills from being a university fresher.
With this in mind, it might be a good idea to try and prepare for this potential scenario in the same way you would have dealt with it in your first year at university. Think about the things you would normally do if you were feeling homesick and apply them to your new situation. This might include getting someone to send you your favourite snacks from home, video calling friends and family, or even organising for them to visit you, so you have the anticipation of their stay to look forward to.
But most importantly, try your best to ride out the initial wave with distractions. This might take shape in the form of social mixers organised by your host university. Or for those working, you might want to try using apps like Bumble Friends (whilst taking necessary safety precautions). Even taking a class that wouldn’t usually be available at home is another fun way to integrate and meet some likeminded individuals.
3) I don’t speak the country’s native language, what do I do?
Fortunately, we’re living in the 21st century, so you can rest assured that you always have Google Translate. However, whilst it usually does the job enough to get around, it doesn’t always provide the most accurate translations.
Speaking from personal experience of student travel, language classes are an excellent idea during a year abroad. You don’t need to spend the whole year intensely studying the language, but a few introductory classes can make the world of the difference to navigating a new country. Plus, you never know if you’ll get the chance to practice a language in the same way again.
If you’re not able to find any classes though, or you just can’t afford it, Duolingo is always a free and easy alternative. Although Duolingo lacks the benefits of face-to-face teaching, you can certainly make a dent in your progress with a bit of work. Making other small lifestyle changes can help advance your progression too, such as downloading Toucan on your web browser, or watching your favourite Netflix shows in the language you’re trying to learn.
4) I just feel overwhelmed. Where do I even begin?
One of the most important preparations you can make for a year abroad is sorting out your accommodation. Student travel, it’s typically associated with cheap hostels and minimal planning. However, researching into the right accommodation for you could not be more important to your year abroad.
If you’re going to study for the year, your host university will likely organise this. But, this is a good thing! It tends to mean you’re paired with other students who you can socialise with and approach for advice.
Where issues tend to arise is for students who are working abroad. These problems tend to originate from being located in quiet villages that are too far away from the nearest city or town. If you’re able to, try to find a place not too far from a city or town. This will be a huge help to your social life and efforts to make friends.
As you may know from previous student travel, lots of small villages have limited transport links. This can cause problems if you’re working full-time, as it makes socialising later in the day difficult. So, if you’re able to find accommodation in a vibrant location, it’s probably going to be worth it.
5) Is there anything else that’s not obvious that I should consider for student travel?
One area of moving abroad that people are often ill-prepared for is researching your destination country’s laws and cultural ‘norms’. But the reality is, some countries have laws and cultural norms that might seem unconventional to you. So, in the same way you might prepare for European travel on a gap year, thorough research is crucial.
In Singapore, for instance, chewing gum is illegal. Meanwhile in Japan, tipping is a no-no, as excellent service is the expected standard. It’s not the end of the world if you neglect these topics, but you can never go wrong with cultural research.
All in all, the most important thing you can do is go in with an open-mind and patience. It takes some longer than others to settle, so try not to compare your journey to other students’ because it varies for everyone. Just try your best to focus on making the most of your time and have fun!