Planning my year abroad: what I would have changed

Cerys at the Mercedes Benz museum - Stuttgart by Heather Moore

This article was written by Cerys Wakeman, published on 18th August 2016 and has been read 2585 times.

Cerys studied German and Russian at the University of Nottingham and did a British Council Language Assistantship in a small specialist school in Baden-Württemburg, Germany, as well as 2 placements in Russia at a summer camp and a language school. She says, "I really struggled in Germany with loneliness so I thought about what would have been helpful to know while preparing."

When you return from your year abroad no one really wants to hear about what went wrong. I didn’t really want to talk about it either. It’s fun telling friends about the time you realised you could climb inside the giant metal pregnant lady in central Prague – not so fun talking about how lonely you were living 4km from the nearest hint of civilisation.

Of course whatever happens you can make the most of your year abroad. You will learn, you will experience new things, you will develop as a person but there is one thing I would really like to say to second year Cerys planning the year.

Know yourself – simple and easy but planning your year knowing yourself is really important. There are 3 mistakes I made when planning my year abroad that could have easily been avoided had I just imagined myself in the situation. Trust me, the year abroad presents plenty of opportunities to put yourself out of you comfort zone without having to put yourself in the middle of your worst nightmare.

1. Think about where you are comfortable living
I did the British Council teaching assistantship in Germany and on the form I decided I didn’t care where I live. I ended up in a rural area. Why was this bad for me?

I’m a massive extrovert and want to be surrounded by people often, I don’t drive and I love to fill my time with exciting activities. The countryside may be right for you but it was absolutely wrong for me. Also I didn’t check that I could install internet in the flat and I couldn’t which was really annoying (it got me out of the house though).

What would be a relaxing place in truly stunning countryside for some was more like a prison to me and it made the homesickness for my city 10 times worse.

2. Think about what you want to get out of your job
Coursework deadlines are flying everywhere, you’re a busy second year you just want to get work sorted for the year abroad. You don’t need to consider what you’ll get out of it right? Well – sort of. You will learn loads from whatever you do on your year abroad and win those all-important adaptability points, yes. 

But why settle for that when you can get so much more and be happier doing it. I’m a busy bee. I love being busy and of the 3 main options the British Council Assistantship requires the lowest time commitment. Most opportunities only require 12 hours a week and they pay plenty well for most parts of Germany which sounds great… Unless you’re a workaholic like me. Now, on some placements you can do more and I offered ideas but there’s no guarantee they’ll be accepted, you could become an entrepreneur but I didn’t.

I think either of the other options would have suited me better. As an exchange student I’m sure I’d have gotten just as stuck in as I do at home and from my friends I learnt that the lectures stretch your language more than enough. 

In hindsight I know I’d have been able to find work in the private sector and I certainly started fourth year a little jealous of those friends who left their year abroad with a full time job. Take some time to brainstorm and carefully consider each option. Read case studies here, ask fourth years (we don’t bite, we actually want to help)

3. Check out the area before you go
This one I’m not sure I could have avoided not knowing before but in Germany, certainly they have a very bureaucratic way of joining clubs and societies. By the time you’re all settled their lists may be full so check if you can join a club, or something at the adult learning centres (Volkshochschule in Germany) before you go. Even if you can’t, knowing what you want to do will help you to dither less about doing it. 

Yes, there are surprises in store but don’t count on them coming straight away. If you train with people arrange to meet up, go on weekend trips, meet friends. It may seem expensive now but this is your chance and with budgeting you should be able to afford it. Especially if you work. (If you study maybe encourage working friends to come to you or get on board those cheap study trips).

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