A year abroad is advertised as being the best year of your life and often mocked as being a year out of education during which people ‘find themselves’. Whilst this is the most exciting adventure that many undergraduates will have ever been on, it is natural that it comes with its anxieties. So, whether you’re jetting off to the other side of the world or hopping across the Channel, here’s some advice to consider from someone who’s been there and… still doing it!
The biggest worry that most people probably have about their year abroad is being lonely. Whilst the first bit of advice would be to research where you’ll be going to ensure that it’s not in the middle of nowhere, one thing to note is that you can’t always be surrounded by other people. Nonetheless, whether you’re studying, teaching or working, you will make friends. There will be a network of other young people in the exact same boat as you. For those of you in Europe, the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) is a great place to start. This is an organisation which is available in many European countries, aiming to bring Erasmus students together through day trips, parties and pub quizzes. It is fair to say I was a regular at ESN Nantes events for the first few months of my year abroad, and I made some great friends there from all over the world – who I am still in contact with now.
My biggest fear became the thing I learnt the most from being on my year abroad
Also, remember that seeking company doesn’t always have to be with people your own age; one great way I’ve reduced the risk of feeling lonely whilst being abroad is by living with a host family. This guarantees someone to talk to or just gives you comfort that someone else is around to prove that you’re not alone. This can also really improve your language skills as you’ll have a native speaker literally on your doorstep (and something your lecturers will recommend!).
However, it is also important to remember that being on your own sometimes is ok. A wise friend once said to me that “at the end of the day you’re all you’ve got 24/7, you might as well try and get along”, and that speaks volumes. Although doing things on your own isn’t always thrilling, it allows you to do exactly what you want to do when you want to do it, whether that is going to a museum that your friends aren’t keen on or taking a stroll around a picturesque park. It gives you time for self-reflection, breathing space and can change your perspective on things. My biggest fear became the thing I learnt the most from being on my year abroad, becoming my own best friend.
This is an amazing opportunity that you have away from intense studying
Year abroad anxiety is often heightened if you’re already facing preconceived mental health conditions, so preparation is key. If you are used to counselling or seeing a GP often, it is worth voicing your concerns to them early on and seeing what services will be available to you in your host country. It is important to remember that education systems differ everywhere you go, and you might not be offered the same services that you would be at Warwick, for example. However, don’t panic! Ensure that you conduct thorough research on where you are going and what is available there, and if you think it won’t be adequate, work out some online or digital sessions that will keep you in your normal routine. This will help you stay on track and save yourself a lot of stress and worry before going away.
This is an amazing opportunity that you have away from intense studying, where you can travel, meet new people from all over the world, and embrace a new culture. Whilst I could list one million different anxieties I had before going abroad, I always tried to keep in the back of my mind that it would be an amazing adventure. It is also key to give yourself time; you may not love where you are or what you are doing initially, but you’ll get there. With three weeks to go until I head back to the UK, my best advice would be to get out of bed, enjoy every day and make amazing memories.