Celebrating your 21st birthday abroad

Celebrating your 21st birthday abroad by Hubert Figuière

This article was written by Holly Walton from The University of Exeter, published on 31st January 2016 and has been read 4754 times.

Holly Walton is studying French and Spanish at the University of Exeter, and is on her year abroad as a British Council Language Assistant in a small town in the Spanish Pyrenees called Barbastro. She says, "Something that I wasn't expecting to struggle with this year was celebrating my birthday out here, but I did, so I've written this so that if other people are feeling the same they know that they're not the only ones, and hopefully they can take something from it!"

For the past 20(ish) years of your life, your birthday has been a time when you were surrounded by friends and family and people who love you. Most students on their year abroad will be turning 21, which in our culture is a BIG age.

Celebrating your birthday on your year abroad can be very different, and at some point, either beforehand, on the day or after, it'll sink in that those people aren't there to celebrate with you. They still are wishing you the best in every way that they can, and they still love you just as much, but this is another adventure you're going to be living solo.

I'm speaking from my experience in a small rural town in Spain, everyone's experience will be different, but here are 5 tips I've got to help you enjoy your day.

1. Forget the social pressure that it's got to be an extra special different day!
If there's a gym class you particularly like to go to in the morning, stick to your usual routine and go to it on your birthday too! Having a sense of routine and normality to your day will put you at ease, and you're also likely to see friendly familiar faces! You'll have friends and family insisting that 21 is huge and important and special, and yet the country you're living in might just see it as a number like any other. Try to relax and just enjoy your day, you can make up for the missed celebrations when you're back at uni next year!

2. Copy the social etiquette around birthday celebrations
In the school that I'm working in, every time a teacher has a birthday they buy and bring in tortilla, cheese, cured meat and red wine for everyone to feast on at break time. So on my birthday, I decided to bring in a mountain of Welsh cakes for the staff to try! They loved them, and it made me feel great when they asked for the recipe themselves! Cultural integration - TICK; birthday celebrations - TICK!

3. Make sure your family and friends have your address well in advance
AND accept that snail mail is called snail mail for a reason, and if you're receiving cards and presents for days afterwards, count it as a birthWEEK and enjoy it!

4. Live your day through your own eyes, not through a camera lens
If there's something locally you haven't got round to visiting yet, or a favourite place you like to go to, suggest a trip there with someone you know, or just take yourself there! It's easy to fill your day with Skype calls, but you'll have a lot more to talk about if you can tell them about what you've been up to! And don't, definitely don't, compare your day to anyone else's! We've all seen the Snapchats and Facebook posts, and to the outsider we're all having the best year of our lives, but remind yourself that the truth is that sometimes everyone struggles, and those moments aren't the ones that get shared publicly.

5. Treat yourself
Run yourself a long bath, take yourself to get your hair cut, bake a cake, order yourself a present off Amazon and wait to open it until your actual birthday... One of the most important things I've learnt this year is how to enjoy some quality "me-time", a skill that definitely shouldn't be neglected!

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