How would you sum up your Year Abroad?

Aidoia Puig-Delfin!*

We had so many fantastic entries for our 'How would you sum up your year abroad?' competition, that we've decided to display the very best ones on the site! We think these photos, videos and blogs perfectly represent the fantastic opportunity that is studying or working abroad and demonstrate just how wide a range of experiences are available to year abroaders! Enjoy. 

*The above photo is by Aidoia Puig-Delfin. Aidoia studies Spanish and Media Communications at Newcastle Uni and spent her year abroad in Barcelona. The photo is of the view of the city from El Tibidado, a theme park in the mountains.

1. A video by Luke Nichols
Luke Nichols is currently studying at Aston Uni and spent a year at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. He says: "I did a lot of travelling in my time there and had the most amazing experience of my life."

 

2. 'The Wurst year of my life' by Rosie Sargeant
Rosie studies at Cambridge Uni and spent her year abroad as an intern at a bank in Frankfurt.

I have just returned from a year spent in Germany – a year during which I consumed unparalleled amounts of sausage, dressed in some ridiculous outfits, raved all night to techno music, learned to enjoy beer, and fell in love with a nation. Here are some of the most memorable moments.

The majority of my time in Deutschland was spent working full-time in the Private Wealth Management division of a well-known bank – whose decision to employ me proved all the more remarkable when I discovered that my name in both its forms (Rosanna, or Rosie for short) are the names of notorious prostitutes in Germany, who have been immortalised in conveniently catchy songs to ensure that the stigma attached to these names shall never fade. Considering that I was expected to email high-profile clients on a daily basis, the firm’s decision to employ me was my first, somewhat fortuitous, example of the accepting, forward-thinking nature of contemporary German society.

Having settled into the job, it was time to find a place to live. When I came across a house shared with sixteen lovely people, the small matter of having a rather eccentric landlady who insisted I paid my rent in cash in the shisha bar down the road didn’t bother me all that much. However, she did have a slightly bothersome habit of practising her ‘street English’ in email exchanges with me, in which she would begin messages with phrases such as ‘Hey bitch!’ and ‘Yo slut!’, something which was, regrettably, alerted to the attention of the Compliance division of my brand new job. Fortunately, the open attitude of my peers and superiors salvaged me again – in fact, their patience proved inexhaustible in my case, only mildly chastising me when I attempted to send bags of gummy bears to colleagues in the London office via internal mail. Following my first visit to the staff gym, during which I had the misfortune of entering the sauna to be greeted by a senior colleague sat there completely naked, I considered myself fully integrated in the German working world.

Outside of work, I embarked on cultural activities with gusto. I donned a Dirndl and went to Oktoberfest, and discovered it is possible to drink vast quantities of beer from dawn to dusk (just try to ignore the constant, chronic urge to go to the toilet). During the Christmas markets, I resigned myself to the necessity of consuming mulled wine at regular intervals in order to keep warm – the steadily increasing levels of drunkenness that accompany this obligation being only a minor side effect. And in Cologne, as I sat on a bus wedged in between a middle-aged man dressed as a bumble bee and an older woman in a unicorn costume on their way to the Karneval parades, I cherished the thought that fancy dress parties needn’t be confined to childhood memories.

I even began to assume a number of German habits: at work I weaned myself off the procrastination pleasures of the Daily Mail news feed; subsequently, my efficiency surged at a quite remarkable rate. I soon adapted to the Sunday closure of shops, only encountering a few initial teething difficulties when I forgot to purchase toilet roll on a Saturday and, through desperation rather than intention, immediately befriended my neighbours who took a kind of bemused pleasure in providing me with emergency supplies. I even came to master the ‘Pfand’ system of returning bottles for cash, hitting the jackpot each time my house hosted a party – one time I even collected enough to pay for my weekly shop! (This was, of course, no reflection on the quantity of Bitburger and Riesling consumed in our household.)

Aside from alcohol, food is undoubtedly one of Germany’s finest features. The staff canteen churned out a dependable supply of stodgy delights such as pizza meatloaf and (a personal favourite) cornflake-crust Schnitzel, and my sweet tooth reached levels of euphoria when rice pudding, pancakes and giant dumplings with custard were served up as main courses. I did, of course, return from Germany looking wonderfully svelte and radiant.

As time went on, the Germans seem to warm more and more to this inappropriately-named expat, and I found myself in the unforeseen situation of embarking on an alternative modelling career. I was asked to participate in a modern art exhibit involving young women dressed in white headdresses, silver corsets and floaty skirts wandering around a room in an alternative interpretation of ‘The Divine Comedy’, which was filmed and can still be seen in Frankfurt’s Modern Art Museum. A few weeks later, fresh from my modelling debut, my personal trainer asked if I would mind posing for some photographs to advertise their EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation) service, which involves being covered in straps which are plugged in so that electric currents can be used to exercise your muscles. The diversity of my modelling portfolio is, in my humble opinion, already quite commendable.

Before I knew it, my time in Germany had flown by quicker than you could say ‘Prost!’. As my experiences confirm, it was a time of varied degrees of hilarity, humility and, most of all, happiness, feelings which culminated in the euphoric 7-1 World Cup semi-final victory that coincided with my final evening in the country. I left filled with amazing memories of the friendships I had made, the places I had visited, and the lifestyle I had experienced – a sense of admiration for a country whose brilliance was confirmed when the national team emerged victorious a few nights later.


3. 'In which a normal day is no such thing' by Isobel Edwards 
Isobel Edwards also studies at Cambridge Uni and is spending this year as a Language Assistant in Reggio Calabria, Italy.

Having decided to spend my year abroad as a Language Assistant in Italy, I was initially attracted by that age-old spiel spouted by teachers that no two days are ever the same. Having been here for a little over a month now, I’ve come to realise that this applies to my whole life in Italy, not just the few hours I spend in the classroom. To prove my point, here is a day in my life!

My alarm goes off for school at 7am. I grimace. Trudge to the kitchen to make myself an Italian espresso, promptly adding a bucket of hot water to turn it into a nice recognisable americano. Have run out of suitable breakfast foods, so settle for a peach and some biscuits.

Already pretty hot as I leave for school at 8.20am, I give a cheery nod to the man from the 3 shop who recognises me from last week – it’s a small city. Slightly unnerved to see a lot of students from the school meandering along in the opposite direction when they should be in their first lessons of the day. My walk takes me past the local nursery, which has been amusingly translated as ‘baby parking’. I take the street escalators for the last leg of the journey (why have these not come to the UK???) as am not feeling quite up to the near vertical climb to school this early on.

On arrival at the school I find no students but plenty of teachers in the staffroom – there’s a strike. While many of the students have stopped at nothing to selflessly sacrifice a day at school in the name of democracy, it seems the teachers are taking a more leisurely approach to the protests. My two classes are cancelled due to a lack of willing participants – the English teachers invite me out for a coffee instead. Two minutes later, I contemplate my next move. (To say that coffee breaks are brief here would be quite the understatement: espressos are drunk standing up at the counter quicker than you can say ‘no sugar’). One of the teachers invites me shopping – I gladly accept. She shows me where I can buy clothes for ‘young people’, but the majority of our time is spent in Zara. I am seduced by a beautiful blue tunic – perfect for work as soon as the winter (or at least autumn) weather arrives, and what’s €39.95 to a working gal? I also invest in a copy of Dan Brown’s ‘Il simbolo perduto’ to get a grip on my language learning. The shop assistant does not look convinced that I will be able to read it. He underestimates me. As we leave the shops the sound of drums tells us that the protest march is approaching. I recognise some of my students in the throng. They motion for me to join them. I politely decline. The crowd passes as a lefty with a megaphone rouses spectator support – I pretend to listen but understand nothing.

The day takes a darker turn as I have my first encounter with the famous Italian ‘furbizia’ (cunning) since I’ve arrived. Opposite the Museo Nazionale I spot a stall selling a delicious kind of honey-infused bread that I haven’t seen since the day I got here. In the spirit of the holiday, I mean strike, I decide that I must have some. The stall owner bags up my bread for me. I hand him €10, expecting change. He tells me that I owe him another €8. I give him a €20 expecting my €10 back, he keeps the lot but throws in a ‘free’ packet of biscotti worth a maximum of €3. Having neither the will nor the vocabulary to say ‘give me my money back you thieving scallywag', I am left speechless and bewildered as he warmly shakes my hand and offers me a dried fig. And so he should, I’m keeping him in hot dinners for the whole of winter! I leave momentarily disillusioned, chastising myself for shopping in such an obvious tourist trap.

All is forgiven though as I head to the Museo Nazionale (via a cash point as thanks to the morning’s shopping/robbery I am now broke), home of the famous Bronzi of the Magna Graecia, a reminder of Calabria’s place in ancient Greek history. My €5 ticket seems to have bought me a personal guided tour, as a curator accompanies me around the whole exhibition, which, despite being made up of under 10 exhibits while the museum is being refurbished, extends into a two and a half hour tour, and I get the feeling that was the edited version. Halfway through, my guide Antonio’s friends invite him for a coffee. For some reason I go with them. We nip across the road to De Mauro for an espresso before resuming the Magna Graecia experience. Antonio’s explanation of the sculptures in the museum takes us onto the topics of the fundamental differences between men and women, the core values of humanity and the importance of a multicultural society. I feel well and truly enlightened when our journey comes to an end, and only in Italy would a tour guide finish up with ‘I feel like I’ve been doing all the talking. Tell me about yourself’.

Leaving the museum with an invitation to return tomorrow to see more (?), I head out in search of lunch. ‘Fish m chips’ (not a typo), a recommendation from my students as a place to satisfy my craving for some good potatoes, is just across the road. The shop offers a variety of delectable meals, most notably ‘fish n chips’, ‘fish n fish’ and ‘chips’. I take my meal – a decent sized cone of chips topped with a variety of battered seafood – to the promenade. I munch away while watching the waves – bliss.

Only a brief pause, mind you, as in the afternoon I welcome my parents into the 21st century with their first ever Skype date. It’s great to see them. We marvel about what modern technology is capable of, I boast about the weather and we biro in a date for a November visit! All in all, I’d say a pretty successful and surreal day, and it ain’t over yet! As I write this I mull over my options for the evening – the most appealing of which is reading on the beach, the most likely of which is a nap. I’ll need energy for whatever tomorrow has in store for me!


 4. Exile Imposter by Suzy Duggan

“How was it?”
I was an exile imposter.
I made no sense.
Though I made sense of another world
...Catching...? every third word ? ? ? ...
But the words are in the wrong order
Played fortissimo in the ancient darkness.
“Your accent is a dream...
And you made them all up”
“Who are you?”
“Was machst du?”
“Da dove sei?“ 


“How was it?”
Flavoursome and chaste.
It had a taste
of persimmons and fried brain
Artichokes and sudden rain.
It was a concerto for drum
and thunder orchestra
I was witness
To the asparagus ceremony.
I applauded
The wine princess.

 

“Where were you again?”
On the step where Saint Catherine fell over.
On the wizened streets where Dante’s enemies took over.
Where Etruscan Gods loom over the hills
Are giant, rubicund, royalist raw pepper eaters
FACELESS.
Where Europe means freedom.
Where the English
Who speak English wrong.

 

“How was it?”
I was an exile imposter.
I made no sense.

 

5. A drawing and poem by Claire Ewbank
A Durham Uni student, Claire spent her year abroad as a Language Assistant in Perpignan, France, and studying at Universität Heidelberg, Germany.

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6. '1 year later- hola Inglaterra' by Mish Hedley
Mish Hedley goes to East Anglia Uni and spent her year abroad as a Language Assistant in Malaga, Spain. She says: "My American friend Luc (who was also a language assistant) and I combined videos we'd taken. It shows the friendships we made and normal things we did all year, which I think could be really helpful to people with fears of moving away - I was not expecting to make the friends I did, but the video proves that the year can be fantastic."

 

7. A photo by Gabriella Craft 

Gabriella is a student from Reading Uni and she spent her year abroad studying at Università degli Studi di Firenze in Florence, Italy. She says "Florence stole my heart!".

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8. 'My year abroad' by Magnus Strong
Magnus Strong studies at Cardiff Uni and is spending his year abroad working as an Editor/Translator for a sports statistics company in Montevideo.

It was the 28th of September and after a mere two weeks in Uruguay, admittedly, I was still finding the language a little difficult. So when a man from my residence saw my Peñarol football shirt hanging out the window and said something along the lines off, ‘blah blah Peñarol, blah blah blah cumpleaños’. Looking to make friends and not one to turn my nose up at opportunities I thought to myself, ‘yeah sure i’ll go to this kind man’s birthday because he’s a Peñarol fan’; this was, however, not the case. In actual fact it was the Peñarol football club’s birthday and we were off to celebrate in the traditional manner.

We took a bus 30km outside of the capital to the town of Shangri-La, where it is said Peñarol’s heart lies beating. We stopped off a little early to collect his friend and hitch-hiked the remaining kilometre or so with a friendly passer-by. I was beginning to feel a little nervous about the whole event but these bad feelings were soon doused out by incredible hospitality and the feeling of belonging. Upon arrival I was greeted with wine and beer by the cheery and welcoming core of Peñarol’s hinchada. We sang and danced on the roadside for a few hours as cars passed honking their horns in appreciation for our dedication. When the clock struck midnight huge fireworks were let fly and we began our mission.

For 7 hours as men, women and children we marched back towards Montevideo painting the lamp posts that separate the carriageway the noble shades of black and gold. At times we were even given lifts by police cars further ahead to help us on our journey.

What surprised me most was the incredible community, all united for one cause and every time I thanked them for anything, they confidently replied: "Esto es Peñarol". Coming to Uruguay has allowed me to experience passion and compassion like nothing I have ever seen before. The distance from the UK may seem daunting for some but the people here are very aware of that. They don’t have much, but they are willing to share all. Even if it just a football club in your eyes, it remains a family in theirs.

This was the point where I knew I had made the right decision coming to South America and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. People can never do enough for you.

My Year Abroad continues, working as an editor in a Sports Statistics company in Montevideo and not a moment passes where I fail to remember not only how lucky I am to be here, but also how welcome I am made to feel on a day-to-day basis. As a whole, this is the happiest country I have ever travelled to. The people shape the culture and vice versa. Instead of picking the flaws in their country, they thank everyone and everything that made the positives possible.

That is exactly why I wrote this article - to enlighten you of its wonder and let you know of the possibilities beyond Spain. If you don’t like football, Peñarol is just an example, but a great one. You´ll love it, or anything this beautiful city has to offer you, by the time you leave.

Esto es Peñarol. 


9. A series of photos by James Smith
James is a Hispanic Studies student from Royal Holloway Uni. He says: "I spent my year abroad working in Argentina for seven months and then Costa Rica for three months. I also travelled as much as possible and made it to Cuba for a few days."

PRA photograph

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10. A video by Elis Rosenberg
Elis studies at Birmingham Uni and spent her year abroad in Bologna, Italy.


11. 'Toutes les bonnes choses ont une fin' by Romy Higgins
Romy goes to East Anglia Uni and spent a semester at university in Paris and a semester in Madrid. To read the rest of Romy's entry, check out her blog

"So my time in Paris has come to an end. When I first arrived, I remember wondering if I would come to love my year abroad as every other language student seems to. My first week, I felt like 4 months was a lifetime. I was lonely, daunted by the idea of studying in a foreign country and confused by all the paperwork that was being thrown at me. But little by little, I came to love the city that is loved by everyone. At some point I stopped feeling like a tourists and started to feel like I could settle in, even if I didn’t smoke or drink coffee like 98% of Parisians. And along the way I met some really lovely people who made those 16 weeks so special, and I think the reason I’m sad to have left is as much because of them as it is because of the city..."

 

12. A photo by Vanessa Whiteley
Vanessa studies at Oxford Brookes Uni and is spending her year abroad in Seville as an English teacher, followed by Bordeaux. Her photo is of the Plaza de España in Seville.

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13. 'Things that are good: an important exercise in positivity' by Ellie Gould
Ellie studies French and Italian at Cambridge Uni and is spending her year abroad at the University of Bologna, following by an internship at Hermès. Read the rest of her entry on her blog.

"It’s fair to say that I’ve had a rough start to my year abroad. After the accommodation debacle and ensuing struggle described in previous posts, this week I had to return home for a few days for family reasons; though I wanted to go, it’s added to my sense of displacement and brought back all the initial anxiety that I was naively hoping to be well shot of. Before I left for home, I had been planning on writing a sort of report card for Italy; ways in which it’s performing well as a country, and things that it could do better if it could just put in a bit more effort with its homework and please remember its PE kit on Mondays. But after realising that my tendency to over-extend analogies meant that I’d probably make a hash of this, and taking into account how hard I’ve found my uprooting, I thought it’d be good to ignore the could-do-betters, and simply list some things that are good here..."

 

14. A photo by Rebecca Shields
Rebecca went to Swansea Uni and she spent her year abroad working as a Language Assistant in Barbate, Spain.

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15. A blog post by James Reed
James studies French and German at York Uni and is working as a Language Assistant in Reutlingen, Germany, and then in Champagnole, France.

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I am currently on my year abroad, and I am spending my first six months in a city called Reutlingen, just south of Stuttgart. What I have learnt on my year abroad so far is that the Germans take their privacy seriously. I was warned about this by my German teacher, but didn't really listen. That is, until I had my run in with players from Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

Whilst walking through Stuttgart with a few friends one Friday evening, we noticed four football players from German football team Bayer 04 Leverkusen walking down the street too. Many people were taking photos as they walked past, but they ignored anyone talking to them. I politely asked for a photo (but they ignored me too). Being James Reed, I ran ahead of them and shouted "everybody smile" and took my selfie with them. They obviously did not like this very much, as when I tried to run away, one player then stuck his leg out to try and trip me up. So today I managed a photo with Bayer Leverkusen (against their will), learned that Germans like to decide themselves who takes photos of them, and stamped on one of their miserable player's feet (possibly Tim Jedvaj's). It may be for this reason that when they played my local team VfB Stuttgart the next day, they weren't able to beat them.


16. A video by Jodie Baker
Jodie is a final year student at Nottingham Trent Uni and spent last year doing a work placement in Regensburg, Germany.


17. 'Auf wiedersehen and Au revoir' by Lily Fritz
Lily Fritz went to Cambridge Uni and spent the first three months of the year abroad studying in Montpellier, before moving to Berlin and working in a film archive for five months. 

I like reading back on my old blog posts, because they remind me of how excited and bright-eyed and optimistic I was to begin with. I think at some point along this journey I lost that feeling, but somehow, magically, a little further along I think it’s reappeared. I leave Germany feeling quite triumphant and really rather proud of myself – I proved to the world and more importantly to myself that I was able to enjoy and get something out of my Year Abroad, and I didn’t have to change who I was or do things I hated in the process.

It’s funny because now, as I am faced with a new challenge of adjusting to life back home (because yes, that will be hard too), a year away suddenly doesn’t seem like any time at all. Everybody told me that it would fly by and be over before I knew it, but like with so many things, you can only truly understand how that feels once you have experienced it and can then become another one of those people who proclaim “It’s true what they say – I know, I’ve been there”. If I were to do it all again, I would give myself this advice: sometimes, no matter what people say to you, you feel unique in your experience, and it feels like nobody has ever felt like you do. At times like this it’s easy to think that you’ve failed and to resign yourself to sitting crossing off days until you can go home, but honestly, honestly, it WILL be okay. A day feels like a long time when you’re in it, but suddenly 365 of those things called days have passed, and you’ve made it. And you’re okay. And actually, you’re more than okay. You have overcome the hard parts, and now that they’re in the past those things are barely even memories. I can honestly say that when I look back at this year the silly and funny and happy memories will be the ones that I remember. Yes, okay, perhaps it is a kind of nostalgia now that that phenomenon that is “The Year Abroad” is over, but what I’m trying to say is that in the end, a year is just a year full of months full of days full of moments, and I guarantee that the extraordinary moments will far outweigh the ordinary.

Here is a list of a few of my favourite things that have happened this year. Without my Year Abroad I would not have been able to experience what it is like to live in two very different cultures from my own. I wouldn’t have experienced the wonders of Speculoos biscuits and Strudel and Schnitzel and Spaghettieis and all the other wonderful food and drink that Europe has to offer. I wouldn’t have been up the Eiffel Tower, explored the Christmas markets of Hamburg, made a wish at the Trevi Fountain in Rome or lounged on the beach in Barcelona, all of which have made for some wonderful memories and have contributed greatly to my enjoyment of this year. I also have lots of fond memories of Berlin upon which I will always look back and smile: drinking cocktails in the TV Tower, enjoying endless amounts of Starbucks cheesecake, lying in the sun and swimming in the Badeschiff pool in the River Spree…the list goes on and I am very happy to have shared this wonderful place with so many lovely people. Finally I am very happy to have had this year because I have learnt more about myself than I ever have before in my life. Once again I refer to the wisdom of my hero, good old Joanne Rowling, who taught me that my choices define who I am, and not my abilities. I honestly feel so grateful that I was given the opportunity to make the choice to leave France and move to Berlin to make something positive of the Year Abroad, because that very choice has become an intrinsic part of me and allows me to move forward from this chapter of my life into the next unknown one with more confidence, courage and self-belief.

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better – and because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Both German and French share something which I think is quite lovely. The words for goodbye, “Auf Wiedersehen” and “au revoir”, respectively, both mean “until I see you again”. So, although goodbyes have been one of the hardest things about this year, France and Germany have taught me that goodbyes are just fleeting. So Auf Wiedersehen and au revoir, because I’m most certainly not finished yet.

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18. A photo by Becky Freeman
Becky studies Romance Languages (French, Italian, Spanish) at Aberystwyth Uni. On her year abroad, she spent time working at a children's Play Scheme in Bordeaux, teaching English and working with a Church in Saint-Étienne, as a University Language Assistant in Rome, with a Church again in Bologna and on a language course in Valencia. She says: "I Instagrammed a photo or a photo collage every day of my year abroad (there were 413 days) and made this collage of all my photos. In the middle is my Homecoming party at the airport and the cake that we had.

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19. 'End of an era' by Mike Winnington
Mike is in his final year at Nottingham Uni. On his year abroad, he spent 7 months as a Language Assistant in Bordeaux and then completed 4 month internship in Frankfurt. The rest of Mike's guide to Frankfurt can be found on his blog, Fromage and Frankfurters.

"Today was my last day working in Germany and my year abroad officially ends tomorrow, so this will be my final post. I’ve had an absolutely amazing year abroad as a teaching assistant in Bordeaux and working for RS Components in Frankfurt, and there is honestly very little that I would change about both experiences!..." 

Fromage and Frankfurters


20. A video by Elle Smith
Elle is currently in her 4th year at Nottingham Uni and she split her year abroad in 3 parts: 3 months teaching in Ecuador, 7 months teaching in Martinique and 4 months working in a hostel in Sao Paulo. The video is of her adventures in Ecuador!

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