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Things I wish I knew before my year abroad

In the run up to a year abroad, there are a number of talks to help prepare students for their year ahead, where we frantically scribble down any tips that might save our bacon. However, trying to combat the unknown value that is our year abroad by coming at it with what we students know best – taking notes – can be futile, as you can’t truly know what you’re up against until you get there. The best thing you can do is speak to students who have done one and, with last weekend marking the official half-way point of my year abroad in Germany, it now seems apt to reflect on the time I have already spent here and attempt to impart some wisdom on anyone set to embark on a similar journey.

Domestic life
As students, it is taken as a given that we are all independent, capable adults. So, when preparing us for a year abroad, the advice we receive is often steered more towards the nature of our placement or admin issues, like who to call in an emergency. Therefore, the big reality can go easily overlooked: a year abroad may be the first time that many students are living alone in the real, ‘non-university’ sense, not to mention doing so in a foreign country.

Whether you’re living in halls or with a group of people, make sure you pay attention to the various necessary formal procedures once you have found somewhere to live in your destination country. This is important and can make your transition a lot smoother when you have a lot on your plate at the beginning.

be ready to adapt to new and sometimes stressful challenges, potentially not in your native language

What I do wish I’d known is that some of the more testing moments I’d have would be those involving a new level of responsibility and self-reliance. Be prepared for this, especially if you aren’t at a university abroad, and be ready to adapt to new and sometimes stressful challenges, potentially not in your native language. What do you do when your fridge breaks suddenly or your kitchen window is swarmed by wasps because next door a nest has broken open overnight (asking for a friend)?

 

Time
Before arriving it was hard to know what would become of the measly 12 hours a week I knew I’d be working as a British Council language assistant. So, when I arrived here it surprised me how the days started to fly by, filling up with things like shopping, planning lessons and researching travel plans, not to mention finding the time to actually go on these adventures!

Although things have settled down a little now, there are still always many things that pop up and I wish I had known this before, if not to calm my worries about sitting around twiddling my thumbs, as a precaution to avoid having too many extravagant ideas before heading out! You never know how your daily life will look until you actually get there. So, try not to buy a gym membership or get a part-time job on your first day before you’ve had a chance to see how your life pans out!

it’s definitely worth looking into your area and what it may, or may not, have to offer before it’s too late

 

Research
Personally, I wish I’d had a sense of how big Germany is and how realistic, or rather unrealistic, it would be to try and visit as much of it as possible this year. Research is of the essence and I would encourage everyone to do this wherever they may be headed to. This applies to anything from travel options to the foods you love most, which may not be available where you’re going. I’d also have appreciated knowing in advance that my town’s Flixbus stop was going to stop being served in December. Although it might be tempting to leave things as a surprise, with your time abroad limited, it’s definitely worth looking into your area and what it may, or may not, have to offer before it’s too late.

The prospect of your year abroad may be the most highly-anticipated event of your university career yet, or it may fill you with dread. I belonged to the latter category and, while I kept an open mind, I was always extremely nervous about if I would manage it. Anything could happen in the last months I have here. Though, if the first few are anything to go by, in hindsight I would tell myself that, yes, there are bad days and of course it isn’t a walk in the park, but don’t worry, you’ll have a great time.

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