Even as my time at university comes to an end, I still have friends who have yet to reach their final years. And some of those people have year abroads to go on (Hi Helen). Leading up to a year abroad is scary, because moving to a foreign country will always be at least a little terrifying, and so I thought I’d share some things I wish I’d known before my year abroad.
1. Your language skills need work.
Moving to Germany showed me how lacking my language skills could be. Most notably in the first week I was in Ilmenau, trying to buy a sim card became a huge production because I didn’t know the word for account and the woman at the shop didn’t speak any English.
But it’s okay. You’re not meant to be great at your language yet. That’s why you’re doing a year abroad. You’ll muddle through, with half learnt words and charades and a lack of every day vocab, and a few weeks/a month/two months in you’ll realise you can actually speak the language, and have been for a while. It’s all going to be okay.
2. You’ll be exhausted.
Having to speak your second language all the time is really tiring. Between trying to remember vocab and grammar and then pronunciation and then understanding replies, you’re probably going to be knackered for a while. Don’t worry. Sleep and it’ll be fine.
3. Things take time.
Getting used to the new country, making friends, not being bone tired at the end of every day – everything’ll happen. But it takes time. Which I think is the most parent-y thing I’ve ever said. But it’s true.
4. Cultures are different.
I didn’t think Germany would be that different to home. It’s a western European country after all, only separated from Britain by France and the English Channel. And while in broad strokes it wasn’t that different, it was the details that tripped me up. I found myself missing Sunday opening times for shops, for crying out loud. Be prepared for ridiculous things to be different.
5. It doesn’t have to be the best year of your life.
My university, like many other universities I assume, get enthusiastic fourth years to talk to second years about their year abroad, and the phrase “It was the best year of my life” gets bandied around like there’s no tomorrow.
Your year abroad does not have to be the best year of your life. If it is, that’s awesome – I’m really happy for you. But if it’s not, that’s legitimate too. You don’t have to come back for your final year and be that fourth year who talks about their year abroad for half an hour.
I feel like maybe my advice has painted a bleaker image of a year abroad than I intended to. They’re great, I really enjoyed mine. But sometimes I think all the “it’s the best year of your life” marketing makes people forget that it’s still real life. And nothing is ever perfect all the time.
If you’re heading off on a year abroad, I hope you have an amazing time, whether or not it’s the best year ever. If you want to read about my misadventures in the middle of Germany, they’re all Year Abroad posts in reverse order. And if you have anything you wish you’d known before your year abroad or questions, or you just want to say ‘hi, I go to Spain in September and I’m scared. Will everything be okay’, leave a comment. And yes, everything will be okay.