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Year Abroad Life Lessons

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Leeds chapter.

Hola Her Campus Leeds! It’s your ex-Editor here; I hope you’re all well and that revision isn’t making you suffer too much. This year I’ve been completely out of the Leeds bubble, and my comfort zone, by spending the year working as a teaching assistant in a village in northern Spain, which just happens to be the capital of jamón in Spain but we’ll get in to that later. I’ve been here since September and with only 3 weeks left of my year abroad I thought it was the perfect time to reflect and see if I can pass on some wisdom. I’ll try and avoid clichés as much as possible but sometimes the temptation is just too strong.  

Maybe some of you are considering doing a year in industry or a year studying on an exchange programme, for others it may already be part of your degree (go linguists!). Even if this doesn’t apply to you I’m sure that you’ve probably read countless blogs with advice, dos, don’ts, plans, advantages and disadvantages about uni life- enough to make your head spin. So to cut through all of that I’ve made a list of five key things that I’ve learnt from my year abroad that could help you in a similar situation wherever you are.


  1. Throw out your expectations. This is possibly the most important and difficult but will help in the short-term and long-term.  Positive or negative expectations skew your view of where you are, who you’re with and what you’re doing. This definitely hit me for six a bit at the beginning of my time away. Most of my expectations were taken from the Erasmus film “L’auberge espagnole” which I’d definitely recommend but obviously living and working in a small Spanish village without any other English people or people my age anywhere nearby was definitely not going to be similar to the typical international student experience or anything like what I had envisioned. However, once I’d gotten over the initial culture shock and gotten rid of my expectations I came to appreciate the uniqueness and authenticity of my experience. This in turn helped me get more involved and feel happier in myself. Going mushroom picking and hiking in the mountains, learning to cut Spanish ham or participating in local festivals or traditions are just a few examples of how my expectations of Erasmus parties were very mistaken.

  1. Don’t compare your experience to other peoples. It stops you from getting the most out of what you’re doing. This is essential for your self-esteem, confidence and independence.  Make your own way and focus on yourself; essentially be selfish! Other people are doing other things that have nothing to do with you. I desperately wanted to be in a city again and have my friends around me after Facebook stalking them with all of their new friends at various parties. Taking a break from social media will definitely help with this tip! When you meet up with these friends you can surprise each other with your different experiences and everything will come together nicely.


  1. Go with the flow. This seems to be one of the most widely given piece of advice not just for uni but for life generally. “Be spontaneous!”, “If you want to do something, then do it!” or “You only live once/YOLO” and all of that. This all gets a bit tedious after a while but I’d say that if people invite you to a party, drinks, lunch, dinner, coffee or whatever, say yes provided you feel comfortable. One time I ended up going out for drinks with some local Spanish girls from my village and then singing karaoke until 4am and another I went to the beautiful yet fairly unknown city of Logroño for a weekend.


  1. Make time for yourself by yourself. For me I relax by drawing or cooking but you do you. This helps keep you sane and ground yourself. When you’re abroad and speaking another language you might start to lose your sense of self. Focussing for an hour on something you like works wonders.





  1. Finally, you are capable of more than you think. You shouldn’t need to have people telling you that you can do something, but we all need some encouragement and support sometimes. Just try and let this encouragement come from the inside, rather than the outside. I never really considered how much I’d be tested on my year abroad which sounds stupid but is true. Obviously I relied on family and friends but as time went on I felt that I could do things on my own without having to ask for help. Now I feel much more confident in my abilities and have pushed myself socially and linguistically. I went to Morocco for a week and at points was translating between English, French and Spanish while trying to sort out tricky navigation! This helped me realise that I could rely on myself more than I thought I could.







These little nuggets of advice have come from some of the toughest experiences and at the same time led to some of my best experiences of my year abroad.  I hope they help you in some way. Hasta luego!


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All images are my own.