8 things to do during the first month of your year abroad
Craig Debrah is a student at City University London who spent his year abroad studying Law on an Erasmus year at the Université Toulouse 1 Capitole in Toulouse, France. Here are his top tips for making the most of your first month abroad. For more of Craig's adventures, check out his blog.
So you’ve just arrived in your new country where you’ll be spending your year abroad. I remember my first few days in my beloved Toulouse like it was yesterday. It was actually over 12 months ago.
Still, with my vital year abroad experience, I wish impart my pearls of wisdom on you newbies. I’ve compiled a list of 8 things for you to do in your first month of your year abroad.
1. Start speaking the language
This is imperative. I’m sure part of the reason you went on your year abroad was to learn the language. Well do it, and don’t be shy. The temptation is to just go through the whole time speaking English, but come on that’s boring. You can speak English when you Skype your Mum and Dad back home. Don’t be lazy. SPEAK.
It’s really not that difficult, just drum up the courage to speak to locals. They’re not two-headed aliens, they’re just foreign. As unfriendly and as unwelcoming as they may seem, you will surely, SURELY find one who isn’t. Okay fine, even if you can’t find a local who is nice just speak to your year abroad friends in the local language. Yes, it’s hard, usually your fellow year abroad people have insane levels of English but force yourself to do it. You’ll thank yourself (and me) sometime later in life when you’re speaking the language fluently.
2. Il faut s’installer
As they say in French, il faut s’installer. Which means you have to settle in. Get your feet under the table. Get a bank account, Get a sim card, get your travel pass, sort out a place to stay, find a gym to sign up to, get a huge supply of toilet roll etc.
You seriously underestimate how much there is to do before you arrive, but there really is a lot. An often forgotten thing to do is to get insurance for your room/apartment, you never know what could happen. Robbery, fire, Earthquake who knows. Sign up for your classes early too before they get full. If they do, you’ll be left with the extra hard ones with the crappy lecturer no one likes. Or worse still, you’ll be stuck with the classes that are at 8:00 a.m on a Monday. Settle in quickly, and then once that’s done, you’re free to spread your wings like the beautiful foreign butterfly you are.
3. Make new friends
This goes without saying. Go and be social. If you’re living in halls, go and knock on the doors of the 5 closest rooms to you. Introduce yourself and find out more about them. If even only one of them is friendly and nice, it was worth the social embarrassment of being seen as a keen bean.
It’s vital to get your foot in the door and start making new friends in your new land. It will help you in ways you can’t imagine. Friends are going to be the number one thing during your year abroad. Nothing helps you settle in faster and make you more comfortable with your surroundings, than making new friends. So make them in abundance, and make them fast.
From day one of your year abroad, you’re living on borrowed time. Your time is limited, and you don’t wanna have the regret of meeting someone late and wishing you’d have known them from the beginning of your time abroad. That feelings sucks.
Now, if you’re in Europe this is a lot easier than if you’re on some random island somewhere. Of course, even your random island probably has a whole load of stuff to explore. So get out. GO. Explore, be adventurous, be bold, be brave, be curious.
You’re in this foreign land - you presumably chose to go there because you’re interested in it. So find out more about it. If you want to go to a neighbouring country, that’s also a really great idea too. Flights are usually cheap if you book well in advance. Plan your holidays with the new friends you made (remember them?) and just go. Bear in mind you may never have this opportunity again so what are you waiting for? What’s stopping you?
5. Go Out
You’re young, wild and free. So enjoy the night and paint the town the deepest shade of red. Get wasted, go clubbing, dance the night away and have fun. You bloody deserve it for being so bold as to move to a foreign country all alone, you awesome person. Explore the nightlife in your new town/city and find out where the best bars/clubs are.
Once again friends are key to this. You can’t have a great night out with no friends. Round them up and hit the town. Not just at night though - if you’re the cultured type (I’m definitely not) search for art galleries and museums. You never know what gems you could find. While in Toulouse there were loads of different museums to go to, and I only went to one. That sort of thing isn’t my cup of tea so I have an excuse. What’s yours?
6. Get to know your local area
On my year abroad in Toulouse, they had these wonderful bikes in the city where you paid €20 for the whole year, and you had unlimited access to these bikes. These bikes were the best thing for easy access to the City. If you’re not blessed with such a resource, fear not. You have legs, use the damn things. Find out where your nearest supermarket is, what line your nearest station is on the metro, how far away your uni is etc.
Safety is another thing too, try and figure out if you’re in a safe area. Can you walk home alone at night, and, more importantly while drunk? Where’s the nearest police station/hospital? By the end of the first month, you should know your area like the back of your hand.
7. Start looking for the love of your life
When I embarked on my year abroad my mind was absolutely, 100%, dead on certain I was going to meet my future spouse. It turns out sometimes your mind can play tricks on you. As far as I’m aware, I still have not found my future spouse. But hey, that doesn’t mean the same will happen to you! Don’t let my unfortunate story put you off! Go and find love! Last year, the millionth baby born to former Erasmus students was born. I wholly advise you to try and add to that number.
8. Enjoy the moment
Finally and most importantly, just enjoy the moment. You’re in your first month in a foreign country, with loads of foreign people and presumably a foreign language. Soak it up, drink it in. As mentioned before, don’t ever forget that you’re on borrowed time. But at the same time, don’t let that weigh you down. Be free as a bird. Travel, make friends, visit them, go out at night, be young! At the end of your time abroad, you’ll look back fondly and hopefully say “Damn, that was one hell of a year!”