Why it's ok to hate your year abroad
Lucy is a fourth year Spanish and History student at the University of Southampton, and here she reflects on the pressure to have 'the best year of your life' on your year abroad, how you can take charge of your time away and why, whatever happens, your experience wasn't a waste of time.
It's that time of year again; third years are packing their bags, desperately making the most of every last second of beach-time, tearfully saying goodbye to their new-found foreign friends and then wearily trudging through the airport towards the rain, wind and predictable greyness of home... or are they?
What if you can't wait to set foot back in old England? What if the sunshine, sangría and oh-so-sassy Spanish language have left you cold? Your suitcases full 3 days before they need to be, your return ticket in pride of place on your bedside table and all your waking hours spent dreaming of roast chicken dinners, rainy summer afternoons and being in a place where you don't need to consult a dictionary to buy a doughnut. The day arrives, you leap out of bed and are at the airport before you can say "adios amigo" because you, like a lot of other students out there, secretly hated your year abroad.
Maybe your job was rubbish, maybe your housemates were awful, you missed your friends/partner/parents/hamster or the sheer effort of having to speak in a different language was constantly getting you down. Whatever the reasons for not enjoying your year abroad the fact that you didn't have the best year of your life is nothing to be ashamed of and here's why:
1. Incredible levels of pressure
"Oh my god you're going to have the best time!" is usually the first thing someone says when you tell them you're going away for a year. Their heads are full of images of partying into the night, a new latino lover, long lazy lunches and endless sunshine. This is all very well but what noone tells the innocent little second years before they set out is that before all the fun can begin they'll need a flat to call home, a job/internship/study placement to satisfy their university and a few friends to hang out with. This ridiculous pressure to be enjoying yourself ALL THE TIME leaves students with unrealistic expectations.
Finding a flat, finding your feet at work and making friends can take anything up to a couple of months (in the case of friends sometimes a lot longer) and can be incredibly stressful. It's important for everyone to understand that, as well as having the potential for being a truly great experience, a year abroad is also often the hardest thing that any student will do during their degree.
2. It's not your fault
The majority of problems encountered on a year abroad can be solved - check out my previous post Taking Charge of Your Year Abroad. There are some things, however, that are completely out of your control and can definitely ruin a year abroad. Maybe you've moved 4 times in 8 months and still can't find a flat not peopled by psychos, maybe you turned up to work one morning and were told it had closed down (happened to a friend of mine), perhaps you were overcome by crippling shyness or anxiety or maybe you just couldn't shake the terrible homesickness that seemed to be taking over your life. If you tried to change your situation for the better but failed then there's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
Yes there will be people who came back from travelling round South America boasting of their spiritual epiphanies, friends in Paris snogging on top of the Eiffel Tower and people who managed to find a job on Spanish television and became minor celebrities. There are also people, however, (and they often won't be so keen to shout this from the rooftops) who absolutely hated every single second of their year abroad with a passion. If you're one of these people it's absolutely ok.
3. It wasn't a waste of time
Whatever your feelings about your year abroad it was most definitely NOT a waste of time. Firstly, you were away for at least 9 months, a few words of your chosen language must have filtered through to your vocabulary. You may be feeling ashamed of how little you've improved but don't - trust me, when you get back to uni you'll see how almost everybody feels the same way. Secondly you learnt an incredible amount about other countries, cultures and most importantly yourself. There will have been situations when you had to stand up for yourself, overcome your fear and argue with a bank manager, organise a flat search alone on the other side of the world or simply become comfortable travelling solo hopping from plane to train to taxi. These experiences will help you no end in the future.
The self-knowledge you gained will have an effect on your future choices. If you were thinking of a job that involved long periods of international travel but suffered terribly with homesickness then you may start considering other options. The fact that you didn't enjoy your time away doesn't make you a bad person or even a bad languages student. We are all different, it would be ridiculous to expect everyone to have the time of their life while away, and you can still have fun speaking Italian at a local exchange evening or on holiday with friends. Equally though don't let this experience put a dampener on all your future travel plans; you may just have better luck next time! Right now though, it's good to be home...