If you’re a language student like me and you are going to embark on your year abroad this September, I’ve tried to put together a sort of list of things that I think would be helpful to know. If someone had told me these things, I think my initial experience could have gone a lot smoother! For those of you who are worried about starting a new life in a different country (meant to sound way less dramatic than it does), don’t be! That seems like useless advice right now (I never believed anyone who told me this before I went), but it definitely wasn’t half as bad as I had thought. After only crying about five times I soon settled in within the first week, although it did help that I already knew people from King’s who were going to the same place as me.
Firstly, if you are going to university (and not working) like I am, picking your classes plays an essential part in your experience. Before I went to France, I had no idea that I was able to take classes solely for Erasmus students, so I had just picked classes which were open to everyone in the university. All I can say is, I am very glad that the friends that I made in the first week told me about the existence of these classes, and I was able to change modules! Erasmus classes are tailored to the level of us year abroad students, so they are a lot easier to participate in and actually do well in. So be aware that these do exist, and if you are not confident enough to immerse yourself fully into the regular university modules, I highly encourage you to take them! Of course, they are taught in the target language, so you can still achieve what you are there to do in the first place; learn!
Despite the whole objective of the year, I have to admit that all the friends that I have made during my time abroad are English (or English-speaking). Like I just mentioned, the majority of the classes I take are for Erasmus students, so it is very easy to fall into the trap of speaking English all the time, but before I went away I strongly believed that I would easily make loads of French and Spanish friends; something which in reality is a lot harder than it sounds. It is very off-putting when you try to speak to someone in their language, and they just immediately respond to you in English! All I can ever think is, wow, my evident English-ness must just radiate through to everyone that I meet. The other day I got told that I ‘dress very English’, and I’m still trying to work out if that’s an insult or not. Erasmus classes are a great way to easily make friends, but, if you really want to steer away from speaking English all the time, I recommend that you find a flat share with students/people who are natives of the country that you’re in. This may seem scary at first, but I know people who have done it, and they love it! Don’t forget – becoming fluent isn’t a given.
Lastly, although I dreamt of spending the year lying on a beach eating hundreds of ice-creams, this isn’t always the case. To my horror I never realised that the winter English climate could once again become my reality, even in France and Spain. Not cool. Also, classes don’t really take up as much time as you might think, so you do have a lot of free hours to fill up. You may find yourself stuck without anything to do when it’s cold and the weather is miserable, and you may find yourself missing home, but this is not the end of the world. People can still come to visit you, and you can still go home to see them. Speaking of visiting, I thought it would be difficult to maintain a long-distance relationship, but with return flights from £30, it is definitely achievable and doesn’t have to be expensive!
To sum it all up, despite not yet achieving my desired level of fluency in my two languages, going on a year abroad has taken me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to do more things that I never would have considered doing in the first place. For example, soon I am going to do a two-week internship all the way in Costa Rica! Despite my current lack of Spanish and French friends (oops), I have made great friends that I love very much. All in all, the experience has been amazing so far, and it’s one that I would recommend to anybody. And remember – you will need to pack your winter clothes :’(