Monday 19 March 2018

Year Abroad Blues

Paige shares her tips for keeping the international experience alive when you return from your year abroad.
- Paige

A year abroad is an experience that seems to end as quickly as it started. When it draws to a close, it’s most likely you’ll be wondering why you were so apprehensive nine months earlier. Yes, in the same amount of time it takes to carry a baby to full term, you’ve given birth to a whole range of life-changing and unforgettable experiences. You’ve survived speaking Spanish or French every day, detoxed from not being allowed to drink alcohol in the USA, and accepted that supermarkets just don’t open on Sundays in Germany. And there lies the kicker: just as you’ve immersed yourself in living in a different country and culture, it’s time to head back to your rainy British university town for final year. Salamanca will be swapped for Sheffield, Los Angeles for Leeds, and Melbourne for Manchester.

Though nothing beats being back with your old friends, there’s no doubt you feel like you’ve left a part of yourself behind in your year abroad destination. All you want to do is talk about the experience, but your mates just aren’t interested in hearing the story about how you hitchhiked through Tel Aviv for the hundredth time. It may not be immediately obvious but living in a different country for a year has changed you; and, it’s very likely, the place you came accustomed to calling “home” when you moved to university just doesn’t feel that way any longer.

There are, however, steps you can take to keep the international experience alive when you move back to the UK. We’ve compiled a list of how you can “continue” your year abroad back home – even if it does mean having to juggle things alongside your finals!

1. Visit your international friends

One of the best things about being on a year abroad is the friends you make from all over the world. Unfortunately, being able to visit them in their home countries depends a lot on where they are based. If you engaged in an Erasmus exchange and made friends in Europe, visiting them will obviously be easier than if you studied further afield. Airlines offer low cost travel to a variety of European destinations, and if you have the option of staying with your international friend, it will make the trip even cheaper! Being able to visit your friends will rekindle those memories you shared together when studying abroad and, if you’re a linguist, will offer a great opportunity to practise your second language. Of course, you can always encourage your friends to visit you in the UK, at your home or university town!

2. Take cheap weekend breaks

Even if it’s too difficult to visit your friends in their home country, there is always the option to meet somewhere else for a weekend. Or, if you fancy a trip on your own, travelling to a new destination can give you that same rush of wanderlust you had when you first moved abroad. Taking a short and cheap holiday will break up the monotonous pace of the semester and will give you something to aim for once you’ve handed your assignments in.

No matter how close to the UK you travel, always take out travel insurance to ensure you’re covered for costs in case of injury abroad. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has more advice on what you should cover with travel insurance here. Also use the FCO’s website to check for updates on travel safety. They have a directory of every country in the world with live travel updates here. If the FCO advises against travel to a certain country, don’t be tempted to go –  no matter how cheap the trip is!

3. Join your university’s Erasmus and Year Abroad societies

If your university offers year abroad opportunities, then it’s almost certain that they will have a society dedicated to welcoming incoming international students. Joining these societies offers a fantastic way to make even more international friends (which means even more places to visit at a later point). It will also offer a rewarding experience of making an international student feel welcome at your university – you could even offer to show them all of your favourite sights in town. Think of the help you were/would have been grateful for at your destination and aim to replicate it. The society will normally be run by fellow students at your university who’ve been on exchange years. If your normal circle of friends has grown tired of your ramblings, you can meet with students who have more understanding as to why you miss your year abroad so much!

4. Learn a new language

Bring a slice of the world into your own home! Learning a second language has never been easier thanks to apps such as DuoLingo. If you’ve grown accustomed to the international lifestyle, speaking a second language will also greatly increase your chances of securing employment abroad. It will also help you to decide on further destinations you’d like to visit in the future to test your language skills. Which brings us onto our next point…

5. Connect with an international pen pal

DuoLingo offers groups you can join to practise languages with fellow users. There are also a variety of pen pal websites to be found online. Connecting with a native speaker will be invaluable to improving your language skills. It will also offer the opportunity to create even more friendships overseas!

I am a final year undergraduate at the University of Birmingham studying Philosophy. I spent my third year studying in University College Dublin, Ireland and really enjoyed every second of it! I now want to help other undergraduates consider taking a year abroad as part of their studies and as part of this.

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