'Comparison is the thief of joy': Measuring Year Abroad Successes
Almost exactly 12 months after my year abroad first started, today whilst on a train I had a bit of an epiphany. Here I was in a country other than my own, having survived a year, feeling perfectly settled, able to manage day-to-day conversations and challenges (including working, getting a NIE and getting two small people safely across Madrid via bus and metro...not sure which was harder), visiting Spanish friends who had invited me to spend the day with them. Yes the sun was shining and yes I had a bit of Enrique on my iPod but I couldn't help but think how much progress I'd made in a year. My language isn't perfect and I still find the concept of eating dinner at eleven o’clock hard, but after all, I've spoken to many an 'adult' who's told me in no uncertain terms that you wouldn't catch them launching themselves into another culture alone for a year.
I haven't always felt proud though; despite being naturally quite optimistic, I often struggled not to compare my Erasmus year and developments to other friends' which often belittled my own progress or decreased my happiness. If you're about to embark on a year abroad I'd really urge you to try not to do this. It is really hard - with Facebook, Snapchat and other social media you will no doubt be overwhelmed by updates of what your friends are up to day and night and, after all, it’s only natural to want to share things. But an online presence can be deceiving and at the other end of the never-ceasing Erasmus status' there is quite possibly someone else struggling in one area or another too. As one friend said to me: "To be honest, I'm one of those people who wouldn't say even if I was having a bad time". Please don't use fellow ‘Erasmuser's’ photos as the only measure of their happiness or progress; after all, have you ever known anyone post a picture of themselves eating chocolate under their duvet in their room alone? Thought not, yet I'd bet from talking to friends nearly every Erasmus student has at one point or another!
In my experience it's also counterproductive to compare the life of an Erasmus Student to that of a British Council Teacher or an Intern. Each one has its own benefits and drawbacks and the three experiences will never be equal in all areas (language improvement, exposure to culture, opportunities to meet new friends and travel, disposable income, free time etc.) Likewise, keep in contact with home Uni friends and the trials and tribulations of final year but equally try to remember this quotation often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: 'Comparison is the thief of joy'. I read this a couple of weeks into Erasmus when some serious Fresher's Week envy was going on and it really helped me. As Year Abroad students we still have another year at Uni to come, don't wish this bonus one away! It’s hard not to feel left out sometimes, but if they are true friends, those left behind at Uni will keep in contact and be there when you get back!
So my advice would be: Enjoy your year abroad and, as you will have heard hundreds of times, make the most of every experience and try to be positive, but don't be disheartened if you don't feel like you are making as much progress or having as much fun as your friends, if you have an off day or if it takes a while to get that “Wow I'm really doing this” feeling. Measure personal successes, however small, and be proud of them. And 'poco a poco' (little by little), as the Spanish love to say, with effort and a sunny outlook, you'll get there. So stick with it, because whenever you have your year personal abroad peak: start, middle or near at the end like me, it'll so be worth the wait :)