By Elsie Haldane
Most students know by their second year (if not earlier) if they will study abroad. As Modern Languages students, we spend this second year completely bombarded with information, too much to possibly process, before being flung into a new place, a new culture, and a new life. It is rather impossible to understand anything we are told about our travels until we actually arrive and experience them ourselves. Of course, we are told about making friends, finding flats, staying safe and avoiding crime. Even so, it’s easy to feel gripped by stress and anxiety over any potential problems we may experience. So, what is the truth about the infamous year abroad? You may have guessed the answer pretty quickly: in short, it’s not what you expected. It’s far more.
We are so used to our lives at UoB, that we may not even consider cultural differences that are less obvious. For example, going out in the UK and hearing music that we know and can understand is a comfort we take completely for granted. Going out on your year abroad and dancing to music that is not in your own language, with a rhythm or style you are not familiar with, can be a surprisingly disconcerting experience. When it comes to food, before we leave the UK we thrill at the prospect of Spanish tapas, French wines, Italian pizzas, German beer, and so on. However, after about 6 weeks of them, we begin to feel that pang for a Sunday roast or a Costa coffee, a feeling which becomes all too familiar. If you are keen on fashion, this can be a different game altogether. Shops are unfamiliar and you may not be able to find certain things you like because they are simply not in style where you are. Some days, you may feel as though you were not prepared at all for how different everything would be.
However, if you are thinking about a year abroad, don’t panic! In fact, although the majority of your experiences will be positive, the challenges of a year abroad are really what makes it one of the best experiences of your life. Although the music might be unfamiliar to you, you will likely discover a love for it that you would never have known otherwise. You will have pangs for the new exciting food you ate on your year abroad for years to come, along with warm memories of the new friends you shared it with. You will realise that fashion is in the eye of the beholder, and that you grow to love new shops and looks. In every sense of life abroad, you will discover something about it you love. Overall you will realise so many unexpected things about yourself and about your new home that will enrich your year more than you could have imagined.
Ultimately, every experience during our years abroad, whether desired or not, is positive. Every happy moment we will cherish for years to come and every challenge we may face will make us more well-rounded people who can adapt easily to different situations. When we return, we will have a new perspective on the world and an understanding of it that only few can boast of. The best way to approach what can be a very terrifying concept is with an open mind: ready to learn a new language, experience a new culture, and discover a new person inside each of us that we didn’t know existed.