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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going On My Year Abroad

Spending a whole year away from uni, your family and friends can be both scary and exciting. After filling out all the forms and deciding where you want to go, it can be hard to know exactly what to expect when you actually get there.

We spoke to students who have been on a year abroad about what they wish they knew before they went. 



1. You have to start again in a new place, so it’s up to you to make friends.

“Don’t expect friends to come to you. Go to every Erasmus thing or naff meet up at the beginning of your year abroad and just be as friendly as possible, be as outgoing as possible, be that person who adds everyone on Facebook. I suppose it’s easy when you have your uni friends to be comfortable, but you do really have to start over when you go away for the year, and putting yourself out there makes all the difference”

From Sylvie, who was an English Language Assistant for the British Council in France.

2. Don’t panic if you aren’t fluent by the end of the year.

“Don’t be bothered if you aren’t fluent by the end. One year is nothing and, no matter what, you will always have opportunities to improve. If you feel like you need more language practice at the end of it, then au pairing in the summer is a good way of doing that, and it’s so easy to apply for.”

From Joanne, who spent a year abroad studying at a French university.

3. And don’t be thrown off when things happen that you aren’t prepared for. It’s inevitable.

“No matter how many documents you’ve filled out or how much research you’ve done, you’ll always encounter more things that you just couldn’t have anticipated. For example, I didn’t expect to have to complain about our shared toilet breaking four times, or to have to look up toilet-related vocabulary in French. The best thing to do in such a glamorous situation is just to embrace it and you’ll probably learn something new.”

From Grace, who was an English Language Assistant for the British Council in France.

4. You’ll miss home more than you realise.

“You’ll realise just how much you miss British-related comforts even if you don’t want to admit it. Normal-sized cups of coffee, banks that are open over lunchtime, being able to pay a normal price for a cup of tea with milk and so on. It’s not until you’re abroad that you realise how much you rely on certain comforts.”

From Grace, who was an English Language Assistant for the British Council in France.

5. And people will make assumptions about you because you’re British.

“People will hold stereotypes about you, but it’s best to embrace them. From the assumption that I loved the Queen, ate a full English breakfast every day and lived in London – I encountered them all plus so many more. These assumptions definitely led to interesting conversations and meant I learnt things about other countries and cultures.”

From Grace, who was an English Language Assistant for the British Council in France.

6. Be confident, even if you have to fake it a bit. 

“If you know something is likely right, it probably is. If not, pretend to sound intelligent. Landlords often think you’re stupid and ignorant because you’re foreign and don’t know the system, but the likelihood is that they also don’t. It did give me a kick to start quoting the German constitution at my German landlady when she was being very unfair (but legally). What I made up was mostly bollocks but it saved me 700€.”

From Michael, who did a tourism internship in Germany.

7. Manage your expectations before you go.

“I don’t know if it’s the same at every uni, but I was given loads of information and endless forms to fill in, all of which were supposed to be extremely important. They really glorified the year abroad and I think they raised my expectations too high. I wish someone had given me realistic expectations for how difficult it would be to organise everything – there’s undoubtedly lots of really helpful information out there, but they never seem to talk about the negative side of anything.”

From Sally, who was an English Language Assistant for the British Council in France.

8. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

“I wish I hadn’t been so bothered about being fluent all the time. It’s not just going to happen over night and if you make a mistake, who really cares? It doesn’t matter – even French people make mistakes when speaking French. As soon as you let go of the fear of making mistakes, it comes more naturally.”

From Sally, who was an English Language Assistant for the British Council in France.

9. You might not love your time abroad, and that’s OK. 

“It’s OK if you don’t have a great time. Not everyone is going to have the best year of their life. It may, in fact, be quite bad, and that is alright.”

From Rose, who spent the first part of her year abroad teaching in Madrid, and then went to university in Geneva.

10. But the little things will make you really happy. Enjoy them.

“You don’t quite expect the sense of accomplishment you get on a daily basis – just from stupid things like asking for some biscuits in a bakery.”

From Emily, who taught English in France and Argentina.

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