Advice to live by on your year abroad
Jenny Benson, from Glasgow university, has just finished her year abroad which she spent working as a Language Assistant in Aix en Provence. Here, she gives her advice to those of you who are about to head out! To look back over Jenny's adventures in Aix, check out her blog.
I've just finished my year abroad in the South of France and I had the best time ever. I understand that not everyone has the best time ever on their year abroad and as a side note to my main point in this post, your year abroad is what you make of it. You want to make friends all over the world? Talk to everyone you meet and don't be afraid. That's my main piece of advice to anyone starting their year abroad. But that's not what this post is about.
In relation to what I want to talk about, my year abroad is over. It's done. I've finished. I've moved back home and I've suffered reverse culture shock, which is awful.
The one thing you should know about your year abroad is that it finishes.
Simple, right? Not so much.
It's the summer before you start your year abroad, you're terrified but also excited about for what could happen. You have no idea who you'll be a year from now and who you'll have met and what places you'll have visited.
I remember everything so clearly; the scary feeling of packing my suitcase and wondering what to put in it, crying as I said goodbye to my parents and putting sunglasses on to hide my crying just a couple of hours away from where it all begins, the excitement of meeting someone from the other side of the world and realising I had things in common with them, being able to converse with locals in their tongue, taking your family or friends around your city and bumping into people you know and being able to tell them facts about your city.
Now, you've finished your year abroad. You look through your photos on your laptop or on Facebook one night and you just cry for hours and hours. You don't understand why everything has changed so drastically and where the time went. All your friends have moved back to where they came from and seem like they're getting on with their life, and then you Skype them and realise they're feeling the exact same way as you. You reminisce about all the stuff you've got up to and the places you've been. And guess what? Your friends from home and from university, the people you've known your whole life and who were your whole life, do not understand any of it. You cannot explain it and, frankly, they don't care. You feel lost and you don't know where you're going. All you want is to return to the carefree and independent and incredible experience that you lived. What makes it even worse is the realisation that this type of experience will never come again. You will never have the support you've had and, even if you do it again, will it be the same?
It's all so clear in my head, yet it's almost a distant memory.
It's not a bad thing that my year abroad is over but it's not easy to come to terms with. What I'm here to tell you is that you seriously need to make the most of your year abroad. It doesn't matter if you don't have money for the weekend trip away, you find a way to get that money and you go. To be 100% serious with you, you need to live your year abroad as if there's no life afterwards. You can't think of the future and of your financial situation after your year abroad, you just need to do what you want to do and live it to the full. Let me tell you that the year abroad experience doesn't happen twice.
Now that I've finished my year abroad, I know I have university to finish. And after that? I have some options on how I can return to the country I spent my year abroad in but I don't know if they're realistic or financially wise.
As a British person, (which if you're reading this, you most likely are), we pretty much get paid through the year abroad. The Erasmus grant is an absolute godsend and that only happens once: so use it. And I don't mean use it to pay your rent, use it to get out there and explore your country and use your language and meet people.
The most important thing you can do with your year abroad is live. You need to use your language as much as possible and from my experience, falling in love with someone from the country you're living in is the easiest way to do this. And it's pretty easy to fall in love with a romantic Frenchman, isn't it? But seriously, use the language, use your money stupidly on things that will give you experiences and memories and just live.
I officially finished a couple of months ago; part of me feels like it was yesterday and the other part feels like it's not even me who lived that life - but it was. All I want for you to take away from this piece is that your year abroad is such an important time in your life that will seriously never, ever come again so make the most of everything. Don't worry about anything other than doing everything you can to gain experience or meet people, and I promise you won't regret anything. Personally, I have several regrets about my year abroad. But, I wouldn't be where I am without making these mistakes so I can't technically regret them. Everything I've done has given me the best year I could have possibly asked for and that's what you should do.
Live and make mistakes. Get into debt. Talk to people you don't know. Travel as much as possible. Realise that mistakes are what shapes us.
A girl who is very sad to leave her favourite country in the world.