The university experience is full of change, with every new academic year requiring students to mediate a transition into the next stage of their degree. The year abroad, however, often presents a unique challenge for students, which can seem daunting in the beginning. While preparing to embark on the year abroad, students frequently find themselves bombarded with advice, from both tutors and fellow students. It can quickly feel overwhelming and hard to remember the suggestions being thrown your way. During the 2019/2020 academic year, I completed my year abroad in a small city just outside Düsseldorf, Germany. (Below is a picture of me on a trip to Heidelberg, just one of the many beautiful German cities I visited during the year!) This blog post sets out some of the advice that I remember hearing before I left for my year abroad but wish I had paid closer attention to!
- Don’t pack things you can buy
With airlines having strict rules, students often spend the days leading up to departure weighing and re-weighing their suitcase. I vividly remember opening my best friend’s (severely over-the-weight-limit!) suitcase the night before our flight to reveal so many things she really didn’t need.
It’s important to keep in mind that the year abroad is not the same as a holiday – you don’t have to take every item you will need for the entire year abroad. If the items you are packing are purchasable in the country you are travelling to (for example, shampoo or conditioner), don’t let them take up precious luggage weight! You’re much more likely to appreciate an extra pair of shoes in the long run than your favourite body wash. Plus exploring a foreign supermarket is one of the easiest ways to get acquainted with the culture, foods and products available in your new home! You might even find a new favourite product – My best friend struggled with her suitcase weight on the way home too… because it was stuffed with her new favourite German deodorant!
- Remember you will be living abroad
This advice was very easy to ignore but I wish I’d kept it in mind, especially at the beginning of the year. Of course, you know you’re going to be living abroad, that’s the whole point of the year, but not every day will feel like a holiday. The year abroad can be filled with exciting plans and travelling, but you can also find yourself doing your laundry and watching Netflix. Managing your expectations is important in order to fully enjoy your time. The year abroad is a fantastic experience, where you are likely to make some incredible memories, but remember not to enter the year abroad expecting every day to be an adventure.
Before I left for the year abroad, the term ‘culture shock’ came up over and over again and you may find yourself asking, “but what actually is it?”. Quite simply, it’s the feeling of disorientation when experiencing a new/different culture. At the start of the year abroad this can feel quite overwhelming, but usually starts to feel better as you become accustomed to living abroad. Keeping an open-mind and asking questions can help you acquaint yourself with the foreign country you have moved to.
Top Tip: If you can, stay in contact with other Warwick students who have gone to the same country! Discussing your experience with culture shock can help it to feel much less isolating, especially at the start of the year abroad.
While this may seem like a more straightforward tip than the others listed in this post, it’s important to remain up to date with reliable travel advice for the country you are now living in. Subscribing to FCDO alerts on foreign travel is a great way to stay informed about safety, laws and health while living abroad. The regular email updates are a quick way of receiving information, rather than waiting to see something on social media.
- Don’t force friendships
Many students who begin a year abroad are anxious about making new friends in a foreign country. While you may feel pressure to make friends immediately at the start of the year abroad, remember not to try and force it. Take time to get settled and get to know your new surroundings before pushing yourself to step even further out of your comfort zone. You’re likely to make a better, friendlier first impression if you’re more relaxed and comfortable in your environment.
I’m well aware this is easier said than done but try to keep it in mind if you find yourself a bundle of stress. Whether you’re concerned about making friends, accommodation or even just the flight, try to just enjoy the process – you’ll likely look back at the end of the year and wonder why you were so stressed to begin with!
Are you planning to do a year abroad next year? Where are you planning to go? Let us know if you’ll be using any of these tips by tweeting us at @warwicklibrary, emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leaving a comment below.
by Fay Inverarity