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Year Abroad: The Best Thing You Could Ever Say Yes To

You’re halfway into semester one, first year.  All you can concentrate on long enough to produce a coherent thought is whether you’re going to get charged for the broken fire extinguisher in your flat which is still suffering silently from Freshers’ Week. It’s Monday morning, and you’re scanning your email half-heartedly, hoping to catch a glimpse of an invite to a social or freebies in the union, when you see an email entitled ‘Year Abroad Opportunities’.

‘Hmm sounds interesting, I’m sure it doesn’t apply to me though. I’ve only just started. I can’t speak any languages‘. Mark as spam.

We all do it. I did it for at least eight months of first year. The emails start early and persist like your flatmates hideously cheesy, incessant 90’s music on a Friday night in preparation for Fruity. In the tornado of excitement of my first few months in Leeds, I ceased to remember that one of the reasons I chose Leeds in the first place was for its infinite study abroad opportunities. It wasn’t until a friend of mine mentioned in passing she was writing a personal statement for a year in Spain, that it dawned on me that that was one of the reasons I was here! If you study languages, then this doesn’t apply to you as going abroad is part of your degree, but for all you who study History to Chemistry, English to Psychology; Listen up!

Leeds’ study abroad programme offers great chances to study at a university, almost of your choice (if you get there quick enough; it’s worked on a first come, first serve basis), for an entire academic year, in countries all across the globe. I’m going to talk about Europe (Erasmus Scheme) as that’s where I’m based and I’m not too well versed on trans-Atlantic placements.

It begins by contacting the study abroad co-ordinator for your department, who will usually have sent you a back log of emails worthy of Royal Mail at Christmas time.

  • Find out where you can study and do some research on where you would like to go. Your co-ordinators will also verse you on which universities are best for your subject. I chose Spain, as I studied Spanish A level and was also doing an advanced Spanish elective in my first year. Don’t worry if you don’t speak the language of the country you wish to go to. In second year you can undertake electives, or even language courses detached from the University (Leeds also offers some pre-paid summer schools in host countries). Although being minimally proficient in the language is advised, it is NOT a fixed pre requisite.
  • Let’s be fair, this is an amazing opportunity, therefore you need to prove you’re worthy of your place.  This is done by writing a personal statement. We all remember our good acquaintance UCAS right? Well this is basically the same!
  • Next you need references from tutors. Once you’ve got past this stage (usually towards the end of first year), it’s a waiting game.

Now you’ve been accepted, you must keep up the hard work through all first AND second year exams. The study abroad co-ordinators can exercise the right to remove you from the programme if your grades are not adequate (in the School of English this was based on 2:1 average marks throughout both years, although they do allow some leeway). After you’ve received your glowing Christmas second year results, you’re almost there. It’s now basically a formality that your host university accepts you but you won’t find this out until June. YES... the summer you leave! Don’t worry too much about this stage; if you’ve made it this far the likelihood is nothing will go wrong! Finally, your letter arrives in the post saying your place is confirmed on the ERASMUS year abroad scheme and you can run out and justify buying that garish and impractical leopard print cabin case you’ve had your eye on for ages.  Ta-dah!

Why say yes?

The benefits of a study abroad year are endless and there are far too many to state in this short article, but I will briefly outline a few which I think really do prove it’s a no-brainer.

  • Who wouldn’t want to get away from grey, drizzly England for a year? You can think of it as a year out. The likelihood is that pressure is much less abroad, deadlines are few and far between and the social life is like first year all over again.
  • You basically get paid to go! The Erasmus scheme really is amazing. Leeds pay your tuition fees in Europe (so a free year of education) and you get a hefty Erasmus grant to subsidise you whilst your there. On top of this, if you qualified for loans, grants, bursaries in Leeds then you will do on year abroad too (although the amounts do differ slightly).
  • You meet weird and wonderful people like yourself from all over the world! I’ve now been in Malaga for 4 months and I can add Dutch, Canadian, German, Polish, Spanish (obviously) and so on, to my list of friends. You make great friendships, as you’re all sharing a unique and sometimes daunting experience together (and make great connections for the future!).
  • You get to live and breathe a new and exciting culture and with more free time to travel, the opportunities to explore your new home country are endless!
  • You can add bilingual (hopefully) and the fact you lived, survived, prospered, conquered, whatever, abroad for a year, to your C.V. We all know how hard it is being a graduate these days, so why not make it easier for yourself and make your C.V stand out from the rest. What’s more (don’t quote me on this), it’s said that returning students in fourth year get, on average, one whole grade higher in their final degree than their counterparts who didn’t do a year abroad. Maybe it’s the extra year of education (although admittedly my education in Spain is questionable) or just the fresh outlook on life but it’s all a bonus!

Still got reservations?

The most common questions I get are: ‘Do you miss home? Do you miss your boyfriend? Do you miss your friends?’

The answer is yes, of course, I’m only human right? (Although I’ll admit I miss bangers, mash and gravy most). However, you cannot and will not let this stand in your way! Most of you will already have some experience of living away from home under your belts now, and with today’s technology moving abroad is not that much different. What with Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp, Bbm, email.... and those little silly paper things called letters, remember them? England is not that far away. Your home will always be there; your friends (if they’re real friends) will always be there and with a tablespoon of trust and a pinch of understanding, so will your boyfriend/girlfriend! It may come as a surprise when I say that around 75% of the people I’ve met abroad are also in relationships, it is a possibility and it can be done! Besides, with our friend Ryanair doing the rounds for £40 return, you literally are just a stone’s throw away if you do decide it’s all too much sometimes. 

Disclaimer:
These opinions are my own and not the University of Leeds’. The point is I’m almost half way through my year abroad, considering myself a semi-fledged Spaniard and so far never looking back!

International relations: In Madrid with British, Dutch, Polish and Swedish friends

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