Travelling alone to a foreign country? Leaving friends and family behind? Moving somewhere that doesn’t even speak your native language? Sounds crazy, right!? But I’m going to give you 10 good reasons as to why you should bite the bullet and go on your year abroad, despite all those fears in the back of your mind.
1. You will meet lots of different people
Say goodbye to your friends from England and hello to your new foreign friends! This is your chance to meet people from all over the world, when I stayed in the youth hostel I met people from Australia, Poland, Mexico, France and Italy and the mix of people that you encounter will open you up to different ideas, opinions and customs.
2. You will become more confident and independent
In a foreign country, all alone, battling to understand the locals and make yourself understood is no easy task. After the initial shock period though, it does get easier and you begin to feel more confident in yourself as you make small, but noticeable improvements. Nothing beats realising that you actually understood everything that a local said to you, especially when they speak at a million miles an hour, even better is when you are trying to put your point across and are met with a sea of nodding heads, rather than confused looks as they try to understand your half-constructed sentences.
Not only this, but for those who have never truly lived 100% alone (shoutout to my boyfriends Mum for always making me homemade chips and Sunday dinners) this is your time to flourish. From finding and arranging viewings for your own accommodation, doing full shops at the supermarket and tackling the bus journey home with hands full of plastic bags to registering as a resident in your host country and spending hours dealing with Spanish (or French/German etc) bureaucracy… you can now claim to be fully, completely and totally independent and gloat to your friends back home about how living abroad now comes at such an ease to you.
3. A year away from the stresses of university
If you are doing a work placement you are completely away from university stress (apart from the few compulsory assignments we have to complete) and luckily when I finish my workday at 2pm I have the rest of the day to myself: no essays to plan, no homework to do and only minimal grammar exercises to do to keep them fresh in my memory. Only slightly worse is a study placement, but having to take significantly fewer modules than is compulsory in England, you have more free time than you would expect. There is that saying that an Erasmus students weekend starts on a Tuesday night after all! If this isn’t enough to persuade you then I don’t know what will be!
4. A chance to experience a different culture
Siestas after lunch, eating tea at 10pm, going on nights out at 2am to get home at 7am and all the shops being closed on Sundays are all things that I have experienced about the Spanish culture so far. It gives you a new perspective to life when you experience a different culture and see how other people live, some people even struggle with the culture shock. Being in Europe definitely has its advantages, things aren’t that different, but there is definitely a noticeable difference. It is important to remember that you aren’t in England anymore, and things are just different over here so try your best to embrace the new way of living and make the most of it… Although saying that I still eat my tea at 6pm like all normal people!
5. Time to develop as a person
This is a year where you can really focus on yourself, away from the distractions of your friends, family, and any resemblance of your usual life, you can take up new hobbies, meet new people and decide what you want from your life. It is really important to spend time on yourself, whether that is getting back to the gym, picking up your old hobby of drawing or going for early morning walks to watch the sunrise. This will all give you a closer feeling to being “you”: doing things that you truly enjoy, which we often neglect for more “important” jobs such as homework, housework and spending time with others. Even if you only spend one hour a day doing something important to you it will improve your mood greatly, for example I have been reading Harry Potter on my kindle and try to read a chapter before I go to bed on a night.
6. Something to put on your CV
Not everyone gets the chance to have a YA while at university, and if you do have that chance you should definitely take it! It will provide something different to put on your CV when applying for prospective jobs, you have moved abroad (alone), used your language skills and have gained a completely different experience than many other students. This is especially important if you do a work placement abroad, this shows that you have experience in something other than sitting in lecture halls and writing essays. While studying abroad shows that you can tackle situations in a foreign country and complete assignments in a different language: very impressive. Regardless of what you actually do on your year abroad, it definitely shows intuition which all prospective employers will be impressed by.
7. A chance to travel
There is no better chance to travel than when while an Erasmus student, the Erasmus grant (see below), being in mainland Europe and cementing new friendships all lead to ample opportunities to travel. Whether you take the bus to a nearby city, catch a flight to a neighbouring country or do 2 months interrailing after your placement there is no shortage of places to visit. And even if you aren’t in Europe then I’m sure there are lots of opportunities to travel, South and North America, China, Japan and all their neighbouring countries. The possibilities are endless.
8. You will improve your language skills
If you are on your YA to learn a foreign language then this is the best chance you have to really nail it! Being surrounded by your target language 24/7 will make it sink into your brain 100x faster than reading a grammar book in England, whether you are watching TV, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper or listening in to conversation it all adds up. You want to make the most of any and every opportunity to mix with the locals, say yes to EVERYTHING (everything you feel comfortable with), go on day trips, meet locals at the pub, go to organised events, message people on Facebook, join Meet Up to see events in your area, invite people to go out… anything you can think of!
9. It is accessible to everyone
Regardless of your parents’ income or your personal savings, the YA is accessible to everyone through Erasmus and the SFE Student Loans. While the student loans are means tested, the Erasmus grant is not and you can earn up to 430€ Euros (academic year 2016/17) depending on if you do a study/work placement and if your country is classed as high/low-cost of living. Combining the Erasmus grant with the student loan means that the pressure to self-fund is dramatically reduced. BUT it is necessary to cover yourself for the Erasmus payments as it can take over a month after your arrival in the country for your money to come through, so be careful of this! Even better if you do a work placement, you may even receive a salary- don’t expect much as I am on €2/hour!
For example, as I am working in Spain (low-cost of living) I receive 380€ a month which covers my rent, my travel to and from work and helps to cover my food shop. On top of this I get paid for my work placement and receive my student loan. This is enough to cover orignal transport to the host country, my week in the hostel and my plane tickets home for Christmas. So please do not be put off from a YA if you struggle for money!
10. You will appreciate England (and your loved ones) a lot more!
Baked beans, Heinz tomato ketchup, chip shop chips, prawn cocktail crisps…
Getting used to different food products (and supermarket layouts!) can take a few weeks, and it is difficult to forget the lovely taste of beans on toast, but upon your arrival in England you will marvel at all of the delicious foods which you missed on your YA. While of course it is sad that you spend 30 minutes trudging around the supermarket trying to find something resembling food you are used to, it is a good experience to try the different food of a foreign country. Nothing can beat your Mum’s cooking (can’t wait for my Christmas dinner!!) it is always fun to try new things, and who knows… You might even find something that you miss after your return to England!
Not only the food but all your beloved family and friends will certainly be a miss while you are away. Hours spent on Facetime/Skype and communicating via text can only replace so much physical interaction. Luckily, my contract with Three gives me 200 minutes, 2 GB of data and texts to use abroad which means I can message my friends if I am out and about. Now, I’m not saying you need to spend hours a day ringing everyone you know for a chat but it definitely makes your time away easier knowing that if you ever feel down in the dumps you can Facetime your parents for a pep talk. For all those people out there who are away from their bf/gf like me (miss you Andy!) Facetime is a life saver, and try to call each other every few days to remind them that although you are apart, you can be together for a few hours.
So those are my top 10 reasons for going on a YA, if you have anything to add to the list let me know by commenting below! Hope you enjoyed reading.