Why going on a year abroad is the biggest personal challenge for me

Why going on a year abroad is the biggest personal challenge for me by Hideyuki KAMON

This article was written by Emily Maybanks from Swansea University, published on 1st December 2015 and has been read 2683 times.

Emily is studying Translation with French and Italian at Swansea University, and is spending the first semester of her year abroad at the Università di Bologna in Forl, in Italy. Here she explains why going on a year abroad is her biggest personal challenge...

When I commenced my studies at university two years ago, the thought of the year abroad was an exciting one. However, the two years seemed to fly by and before I knew it, I was sent an e-mail with my year abroad destinations at all of a sudden; it was the most terrifying thought ever. In fact, it was so petrifying that I was even considering dropping out of university. But, I remembered why I was doing this year abroad and all the personal challenges that I wanted to overcome during my year abroad.

For me personally, uprooting my life from the UK where I’ve lived for the first 21 years of my life without going abroad for more than two weeks, and never alone, to live in two different countries over the course of an academic year was always going to be an enormous test. Here are just a few reasons why:

1. Introversion

I am an introvert, and I am not afraid to admit that. I find it difficult to make friends and fit in, and social situations genuinely make me feel very uncomfortable, and that’s just in the UK. Yet, here I am, in Italy, the country of my weakest language. 3 weeks in, I’ve yet to have a full in-depth conversation in Italian with a local; however I’m taking small steps to build up to that moment. What I find helps me is to congratulate myself each time I say more than 3 words at a time without getting muddled in Italian, and gradually build it up.

2. Homesickness

Admittedly, when I’m at university in the UK, I feel quite homesick. It was a lot worse in my first year because I was finding my feet, making friends and trying to get used to a new city. In my second year, I didn’t miss home nearly as much as I did I my first year. Naturally, homesickness was a huge worry pre year abroad. I was anxious that I would miss home too much and that I wouldn’t make any new friends. On the contrary, The only time I’ve felt homesick so far in Italy is when I wasn’t feeling too well, and I’ve fitted in well with my new flatmates and met a few other people, mainly British people, but I hope to come out of my shell a bit more and speak with a variety of other people.

3. I’m a slow learner

Having studied French for ten years, since I started secondary school, my French is naturally a lot better than my Italian which I’ve only been studying for two years. I was very concerned about coming to Italy because my Italian is not strong enough at all, especially my spoken communication skills in Italian. Learning French and being able to develop my French over the course of a decade has been brilliant because I’ve been able to take my time. But, in two years I’ve had to reach A2 level Italian, whereas it took seven years to get to A2 level French. I like to take my time with learning languages. I think that by coming to Italy for half of my year abroad, it will help me to progress in Italian because I’m forced to speak the language.

4. Self-confidence (or my lack of it)

I have never really had any confidence or belief in myself. I’ve relied on others to have confidence, belief and faith in me. Since arriving in Italy, I can already positively say that my self-confidence has begun to develop. For example, before coming to Italy, I had rarely been clubbing, but in the first week I was here I went to an Erasmus night in a club with my flatmates, something I would never do in the UK. And I voluntarily contributed in my first Italian language class.

I suppose that reading this; some people may ask why I’m doing a year abroad if it’s going to be such a challenge. Obviously, if I don’t complete my year abroad, I won’t get a degree. And, I see my year abroad as practice for after university should I get a translating/interpreting job abroad, which is my goal. But, most of all, I’m doing my year abroad to prove to myself that I can.

What I want this post to do is to inspire other people who may be feeling anxious and scared about the prospect of their year abroad to take the first step and just go for it anyway. Set yourself small but achievable targets and reward/congratulate yourself when you’ve reached them. I hope to look back at my year abroad this time next year and think “I was so scared, but I did it and I’m so proud of myself”, and I hope others will take courage from this to use their year abroad as a way to develop their self-confidence and overcome any fears they may have.

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