As you’re trying to pick your favourite clothes, decide on how many pairs of shoes to bring, which posters to flog into your suitcase and just how much tea you’re going to go through in a year, packing for your year abroad can be a real pain in the rear end, at the best of times. You will inevitably end up going abroad with far too many scarves when it’s boiling in the sunshine, or packing your favourite heels only to notice that no one else gets that dressed up. But what about your personality traits? What are the essentials when it comes to moving to another country?
1. Sense of humour
If you haven’t got much of one, you’re going to need to take life a little more lightly. Not everyone will get your dark humour abroad, so research who the national comics are, what you shouldn’t joke about (e.g. Fawlklands Islands in Argentina) and what’s accepted as funneh. Chances are you’ll meet a lot of eccentrics on your year abroad, from your claustrophobic landlady to the stark-raving mad lecturer at your foreign university; in such cases, your best bet is to smile, laugh off any issues and think of it as food for thought, when you can chuckle about your escapades with your friends back home.
All we need is a little patience...Despite how you may feel about Guns’N’Roses, they were onto something, those leotard-clad men; you won’t get very far in the UK without it, and you certainly won’t move past go and collect your 200 pesos if you don’t apply it abroad. Queues, ridiculous queues, no sense of logic, insane bureaucracy, no sense of understanding - these are all part and parcel of your year abroad experience. Didn’t know you had to fill in X form at Y office, only to be told it was actually at the Z office you were supposed to get the W form? That’s completely normal, nor did the woman who gave you the first set of directions. Wahey since when do banks make you pay to open an account? Why does the receptionist at work roll his eyes when you present him with attestation of this, attestation of that, when you thought that’s all you needed? Troubles may arise but this is when you need to put your hot-headedness (and British logic) to one side. And accept. Accept the fact your way of doing things is not going to happen. And that’s ok, because you’re a patient Percy, you can deal with this. You learnt the language since school - you can be patient with the locals for a year.
Not everything will go as planned - whether this occurs as soon as you arrive, one month in or at the very end of your year abroad, you’re bound to come across some obstacles. From the mundane (e.g. no fresh milk at the supermarket) to the unexpected (e.g. there’s only one bus every hour, till 6PM that is), you will have to learn to take things as they come and work around them. If you can’t get your favourite-flavoured crisps abroad, it’s not the end of the world and you might find something new to try. Can’t get hold of any sort of customer service you deem useful? Try and speak to the manager instead. Or better still, a customer, to see how things are done. Have you ever thought that, perhaps, just maybe, the way stuff is done back home is not necessarily the best way? You’re bound to get frustrated abroad, but you need to give things a chance.
4. Thou shall not judge
It might seem unlikely for a British person to judge foreigners, seeing as we’ve got our fair share of eccentric specimens on national soil, goths, hooligans, Chantelle, Little Britain enthusiasts, the Hollyoaks cast, Peter Stringfellow and national treasure John McCririck, to account for. Yes, mullets are all the rage in Spain, salmon coloured shirts are seen as perfectly acceptable on any sort of man in France, speedos are common in Italy and a fanny-pack can be demure, in cretain parts of the States. Frida Khalo had a monobrow. It’s all part of the culture shock experience, the oddities and barbarisms you’ll learn to accept, love and then cherish once it’s all over, itching to grow yourself a Siberian beard or wear harem pants, in Winter. Part of the charm, we say. Besides, if you start acting like a local, you’ll soon become one, and that’s the best part of your year abroad (aaah someone pass the cheese).
5. Eating habits - food and customs
Chances are you’ll know that in France, they eat horse meat, as well as frogs’ legs and those cute little snails you see in your garden, stuffed with garlicky butter. If you venture further afield, you may come across crocodile meat, grasshoppers, bull’s testes and much more. Though these national dishes may not sound like your cup of tea, the worse thing you could do would be to turn your nose up at them. Especially seeing as we eat jellied eels here. The saying goes that eating exotic dishes ‘puts hairs on your chest’; if that doesn’t really do it for you, just think of how much happier you’ll make your native friend, if you just so much as tried it. Sure, no one is forcing you to stuff yourself silly with offal, but you’ll discover a different side of the culture, when you start to eat like your neighbour. Although it might be seen as perfectly normal to have dinner parties round your uni flat back home, you might find people are unwilling to come round to your crib, preferring a shabby restaurant. At said restaurant, you may notice knives missing, bread being given centre-stage, a lack of vegetables and so on, and so forth. Accept it as your new way of dining. There is a childish pleasure to be found in using a tortilla as your substitute for cutlery or rolling balls of rice into curry sauce, gobbling it up with your fingers alone, make the most of it. The same can be said of cultures requiring highly polished manners at the dinner table - take note and you’ll soon be taken under each country’s wing.
Maybe this should have been number 1, but to be fair, these points are in no particular order of importance. To go off abroad is going to take some testes. It’s going to require even the most outgoing of you to reassess what’s cool and what’s not. Flying out to unknown territory is as exhilarating as it is scary. It’s going to take some getting used to as well as some of the points mentioned above to make it feel like home. Don’t run for cover when a situation seems a bit too difficult - it’s not all about having vasts amounts of vocabulary, though it helps to have some knowledge. Throw yourself in at the deep end to really live the experience to the full. You’ll be kicking yourself if you’re on the last lap of your time away, haven’t travelled and are just getting to know the city’s bars and nightlife. What’s the worst that can happen? You might make a fool out of yourself, but you might also meet someone who happens to like that carefree attitude. Romantic or platonic, you can’t turn new friends down!