As with most things, I’ve found the year abroad experience to have a rollercoaster of emotions, with the highs being really high and the lows being really low. However, I’ve also found that the reality of the time away is rarely addressed accurately as people have a tendency to overembellish. So here are some honest truths I’ve discovered about a year abroad based on my personal experience.
1. Force yourself to practise the language
It might seem weird to think that you’ll have to force yourself to practise the language of the country you’re in, but I personally haven’t practised as much as I thought I would. Perhaps partly owing to lockdown, but with all my friends speaking English it’s so easy to go days without speaking the native language except for the usual conversational script in a supermarket. It’s important to remember that (for most people) you go on a year abroad as part of a language degree, so why not push yourself to improve? Go get that degree!
2. Mental health and homesickness
As always, mental health is a priority. When pushed out of your comfort zone in a new environment, things can feel rather overwhelming. Taking time out for yourself can be so beneficial especially when homesickness rears its’ head, which will happen to most people. Contact your loved ones, keep a diary, go for a long walk – do whatever it is to keep your mental health as best as it can be.
Bonus point: don’t feel pressured to be having the ‘time of your life’ on Instagram or in general if you’re not. Simply surviving in another country is impressive enough.
3. Tailor your experience to how you want
Again this might seem like an obvious point, but at times it can be easy to get swept up in other people’s ideas and plans. Make sure to hold your ground and spend the limited time you have doing the things you want to do. If you’re an outgoing person maybe you’d like to live in a student residence. If you’re into history or art, treat yourself to visiting some museums and landmarks. If you’re a foodie, indulge in the local cuisine. You don’t want to end your experience having completed only half the things you wanted to, so write a list and keep yourself busy in the ways you want.
4. 99% of stuff you can buy in the country
This is of course dependent on your location, but it’s a safe bet that most countries will sell that spare phone charger and random toiletries you’re thinking of bringing. Do yourself a favour and only pack the things you use on a daily basis and the clothes you’ve worn in the last six months. It’s harder than it sounds I know, but you’ll thank yourself later when packing to return home having bought souvenirs, new clothes, and random décor along with who knows what else!
5. Have fun but don’t force it
This links back to my earlier statement about feeling pressure to have the ‘time of your life’. Before my year abroad departure, I was told by multiple people that this would be the “best year of my life”. And although it has certainly been a great experience, I wouldn’t say it’s been “the best”. A pandemic doesn’t help the situation of course but in general, it’s unfair for people to put this expectation on others no matter how good their intentions might be. If, then, the experience falls short of this expectation it could be deemed as a failure in some eyes when in actual fact there is no pass or fail reality. All I can say is try to enjoy yourself as best as you can. In most cases, I’m sure it will be an amazing experience, but on the off chance that you’re not quite feeling it, that’s perfectly ok too. There’s more to life than a singular experience.