How to survive your year abroad in an isolated location
Charlotte Hale is studying English and French at the University of Southampton, and is spending her year abroad working as an English Language Assistant in Marignane, France. She says, "The town I am posted in is an airport town with very little in the way of social or cultural opportunities, which I was unprepared for." Here is Charlotte's advice about how to cope on your year abroad if you're in a more isolated location.
When planning the Year Abroad, we do not really know what we should expect over the course of the year. For the majority of us however, we expect the same sort of experience we are so used to at our various universities across the country; endless social opportunities, new experiences just round the corner, and unlimited access to the big cities attached to each respective campus. Unfortunately, for many of us undertaking British Council Language Assistant roles, we find ourselves placed in small rural or suburb towns far away from the active social life of British universities. Here are a few tips on how to overcome your expectations and make the most of your location abroad:
1. Alleviate Boredom
One thing you will find an abundance of whilst on your year abroad is free time, especially if you are a language assistant. Pair this with leaving behind a university atmosphere where there is something to do at all times and you might find yourself struggling with the onset of boredom. For some people, having nothing to do can be a dream whilst for others, and I am a firm member of this latter group, boredom can be nothing short of torture. Being in a foreign country, isolated from everyone your own age and having nothing to do can make you feel incredibly homesick and lonely, so how can you stop the onslaught of the dreaded B word if you live in the middle of nowhere?
2. What’s nearby?
Are there any cities or big towns nearby? If so scope them out, work out how the public transport around you works and get exploring. Nearby cities are a godsend when you have nothing to do on a weekend and fancy a slightly more ‘bustling’ atmosphere. You can go there just to have a few drinks, explore, or maybe do a bit of shopping. The change of scenery is often all it takes.
3. Take up a hobby
You’re going to have a lot of free time, so you may as well use it to start that hobby you always said you would. Join a gym, take up a sport, read the books you always wanted to read etc. I, for example, have taken up cycling, which not only lets me use my weekends for leisure time, I can also explore my local area and find all the exciting nooks and crannies which may have not been so evident at first sight.
4. Make plans!
Make plans to travel around the region in the short term and then perhaps in holiday time you can expand this to the entire country. After all, when in the future will you have the same freedom just to explore and experience other cultures? Just as importantly, make plans for your friends and family to come visit you in your new town. Showing them around may just open your eyes to the small wonders it may possess. This will also fill your time as you act like a local tour guide and, you never know, it may make you a tiny bit proud of your small town.
5. Making Friends
At university, there are opportunities to meet new people and make new friends at every turn; often the smallest chance meeting in the first week of Fresher’s can turn into a blossoming friendship. Of course, constant run-ins on and off of campus ensure maintaining friendships is simple, however, the same may not be true of your experience abroad. If you, like me, are placed outside of the big student cities you may find yourself isolated from people your own age, and struggling to find ways to make friends. So here are some important tips for making friends where seemingly there are none:
6. Make the most of your flatmates
If you live with other people, maybe even other assistants, ensure you profit from their company. Not only can they be valuable resources for your language skills, they will also understand exactly how you feel when it comes to living slightly afar from where you wanted to be. They will be important comrades when planning activities and will always be your port of call when you’re going a little bit stir crazy.
7. Get yourself out there
If you know anybody in the nearby cities, perhaps university friends, perhaps other assistants in your region, go out of your way to make sure you maintain this friendship. They can be a great way to make other acquaintances and before you know it you’ll have a wider network of people to accommodate you should you visit and to make your year abroad a whole lot less lonely.
8. TALK to people
Bus drivers, shop assistants, your students, anyone! Try your best to spark up a conversation with the people you encounter. This will not only improve your language but will open up all manner of unknown opportunities, and also gives the illusion of being more involved and integrated into your community.
While yes living in an isolated town can come as a major culture shock, eventually you will begin to feel more and more at home. Explore your town, meet its people and find the special corners of it that really speak to you. This way, the town will feel just as homely to you and just as exciting as the one’s you have left behind in the UK. Who knows, you may even begin to enjoy the fact that you can retreat peacefully back to the suburbs after spending a long day in the lively streets of whatever city you’ve found to explore next.