10 things you need to know before you leave for a year abroad
Jennifer Cooper is studying French and Spanish at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is about to leave for her year abroad, which she will be spending in Lyon and Cádiz. Here are the things she's found out just in the nick of time!
So I’m leaving for France in just over a month and finally realising that it is kind of a big deal. I haven’t even left yet and I want to point out some things which may be of interest to those venturing on their year abroad in the future.
1. Accommodation is not easy to find.
Hell, I’m currently paying to live in a stock room in an apartment and I’m not even in the country yet! (I would just like to add that this is currently being renovated so isn’t as bad as it sounds.)
2. Move fast
When you find accommodation, make sure you sign the contract fast and put the deposit down. Don’t get me wrong, make sure that it’s legitimate and read through your contract with a fine tooth comb, but even if you sign and return the contract, unless that deposit is in their bank account straight away, then you’re likely to lose the place. Unless of course you’ve actually stumbled across a nice landlord/lady.
3. Agencies - approach with caution
Yet another point on the accommodation, sorry – but this is important! So understandably finding somewhere to live abroad is a scary and daunting process, and so many people look for safety by using agencies. I’m not saying that this is a bad idea because you’ll escape being scammed by a random person that you found online, but do beware of admin fees. These will bump up the price by at least a few hundred euros, and what for? Some bedding and help accessing a phone and bank account? I appreciate that it does save you some hassle, but is it really worth it? Some agencies charge up to €800 extra, when at the end of the day you could leave a pair of shoes that you’ll never wear back in the UK, and pack some bedding of your own.
4. Do you want to live in a hostel?
The most heard expression at any PRA meeting is ‘Go out there, stay in a hostel, meet some friends and then find accommodation.’ NO. NO NO NO NO NO. So seeing as this wise and sage advice comes from your lecturers, most people take it as gospel. But, every single person that I spoke to who did this last year said they regretted it, and one of them said that it was the worst three weeks of her life. I love hostel life, but I mean come on, realistically speaking are you going to want to be living in a hostel for a month with all of your belongings whilst attending university and house-hunting? No. Didn’t think so.
5. Leave before you think you need to
Actually think about moving out there in advance and start preparing for it. You’ll notice that PRA advisors won’t really touch on this subject much and it’s not until later on that you realise that you somehow need to transport your life either on a plane/ferry or train. So book your tickets early when they’re nice and cheap and make your arrangements in advance.
This will pop up casually at every meeting you have for your PRA, but again it will just be like ‘it’s very important that you get insurance’ and that’s as far as it goes. Shop around as much as you can, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition. If you get good insurance it is expensive and you’re going to have to budget for that. Also remember that some European countries will also charge insurance for renting, or ask that you take out additional insurance for it – YAY, even more money to spend!
7. Have a medical condition? Do your research.
So this is a more personal issue related to the one above. I was recently diagnosed with epilepsy and was mortified at not only the quotes of between £400 and £900, but also the fact that a lot of companies wouldn’t even offer me insurance because of my condition. Luckily I stumbled across Epilepsy who are brilliant and offer insurance for under £100 even for those with the most serious of cases!
8. Translate your CV
I wish I’d been informed about the difference between French and English CVs. Luckily I still have a month to go before I leave so I can make the necessary changes. However, for those that don’t know, the French put much less detail in their CVs and then pour their heart and soul into their cover letters. Do ensure that that show yourself off in your CV but keep it simple, state your working history but don’t babble on about everything you learnt there in the employment section.
9. Make a few contacts
Think about getting in touch with people before you head out there; it’ll make you feel more at ease knowing that you have at least one contact out there. Most universities offer some sort of ‘buddy system’ or, if you prefer, find some Facebook groups or Twitter groups set up for foreign students heading overseas.
10. Browse this site!
I wish I’d known about it! Everything you need to know is on this website and you can tweet them for direct answers.