Your Year Abroad and How I Learnt to Stop Panicking and Embrace the Culture Around Me.
How exciting does the prospect of a year abroad sound? A new culture! An adventure! True immersion into a different way of life! An opportunity to really find something out about yourself! At the very least, an extended holiday! Sounds great, doesn’t it? It is not surprise that more and more students are taking advantage of the Erasmus programme and jet-setting all over Europe.
Of course that’s just the sales pitch. Once you actually touch down and the adrenaline of finding accommodation has worn off, the reality of the situation before you really sets in. You are in a foreign country. Alone. Properly on your own. Who knows the state of your language skills outside the classroom. What if you make some serious social errors not understanding the culture fully? What if you don’t meet any people? How do you even meet people in the strange country, when your not quite confident of the language, when you don’t know where to go? How do….etc and ad nauseum until you are only irrational panic and doubt. It sounds terrible, I know. I lived it. It’s also totally, completely 100% normal! It is fine to have a few moments of all out panic when you convince yourself that despite all your training you don’t know the language and despite a life time of dealing with people, you don’t know how to speak to another human. Once again, totally normal.
Emotions run high at the start of your year abroad. You have to do a lot of very grown-up things, in a different language, when you quite likely haven’t got anyone there to help you and hold your hand through it. Induction at the university might be confusing, initially you might not be able to keep up in class and you might start to feel like you have made a terrible mistake. You haven’t. You might even feel like you’re simply not ‘The Type of Person Who Does A Year Abroad’ because you are not immediately meshing with the native culture, having adventures and having the time of you’re life. Well, here are a few little secrets I uncovered: ‘The Type of Person Who Does A Year Abroad’ doesn’t exist, there is no one type of human who is more able to go abroad for a year of their lives; I guarantee, there is not a single person doing their Erasmus who has any better an idea of what is actually going on then you do, everyone is just muddling through as best they can; and finally you have not failed it your year away isn’t the time of your life and I suspect people who say it was their’s are looking at the past with rose tinted glasses.
It’s scary and that could maybe be a good thing. Once all the madness dies down, once you’ve gotten used to living like in a different language, settled into your courses and made some friends you’ll take a breath and realise it’s nearly Christmas and you’re unsure why you were so stressed to begin with. That’s not to say that during this year abroad you won’t still have intermittent moments of panic: during exam period, when you have to do assignments, when potentially some of your Erasmus friends return home. You might just feel lonely and homesick sometimes.
The Erasmus year is like any year of your life. There is stress, there is an immense amount of fun. There are good times and bad times in equal measure. But, you have the opportunity to do some serious growing and to acquire some invaluable life skills. Searching for a flat becomes ten times easier when you’ve already done it in a foreign country. Meeting new people? Whilst speaking your native language? Piece of cake. Finding your way through the world when you’re not entirely sure what’s going on? You just spent a whole year doing that, alone and without the fluency English gives you.
As a former Erasmus, now with my feet firmly back on British soil I can say that my year in Spain was a unique experience. With a bit of distance from all the small things that irritated me day to day, I can even say that the bad wasn’t really ever that bad and that the good was really quite amazing. I have friends now in Spain, in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, America, France and Algeria. If I ever want to go travelling I have a great many sofas to crash on. And to top it all off? My Spanish is impeccable!
Enjoy your year away! Don’t stress to much if you mess up. Don’t feel bad for maybe wanting to have a bit of a cry. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to socialise, even if it feels terribly awkward. It is totally worth it in the end and most definitely something you will remember and cherish for the rest of your life.