The students left behind...

The students left behind... Travelling on the Year Abroad by Lozbabz

This article was written by Nell Fane, published on 22nd June 2011 and has been read 8561 times.

Having handed in her final piece of work, Nell Fane decided to find out what the year abroad was all about. She packed her suitcase and travelled across Europe to see how the other (student) half live, on their year abroad. Here, she tells all...
We non-year-abroaders are – understandably – massively jealous of our jammy year-abroad friends. Third year has hit, work has accelerated at a pace faster than anything we’ve ever experienced before, essays and dissertations are being pumped out mechanically, tears are frequently shed, and emotions are ricocheting manically through our stressed-out bodies.  And then our minds wander...We begin to think about our friends – language students or otherwise – who have chosen to take their 3rd university year ABROAD. Emails and Skype sessions confirm our jealous assumptions: we hear reports of the sun, new friends, partying, foreign romances, food, a couple of exams here and there, but mainly sheer, undiluted fun. The emotional volcano explodes: IT IS NOT FAIR.

We’re happy for them, don’t get me wrong.  It’s just that, on a scale of one-to-fair, it doesn’t seem particularly fair.

Keeping in contact with them all is easy; emails and postcards flit back and forth, Skype sessions are frequent, holiday reunions are recurrent, and they’re always popping back to England for a ‘one night and one night only’ night-out, back in their favourite uni haunts.  Suddenly they are the most popular people in the club – everyone wants to know everything about their lives, everyone wants to dance with them, EVERYONE wants to visit them. They must feel pretty damn special, actually.

The thing is, just how unfair the whole ‘3rd year abroad’ malarkey is doesn’t actually become apparent until you get round to boarding that cheap flight out of the UK to visit them all. I have just returned from this rather revealing trip...My exams were over, most  of my uni friends were still working hard, I was being thrown daggers as I frolicked around campus grinning, and I basically fled the country with the selfish intention of saving my own life from jealous, potentially-harmful students. That, and visiting my year abroad friends, of course!

Destination numero uno: Barcelona – student with a JOB:
My first stop was Barcelona with an ex-housemate – a newly working woman – Pippi. My sister took a year abroad in Florence a few years ago, but hers was university-based, so I was really curious to see what the whole ‘working in a foreign country’ year abroad would be like. I’ve now decided that it’s something I would definitely like to try out at some point in my life. Admittedly, it meant that we could only spend the evenings with Pip (she was working early until late), but each day she wrote out copious lists of things to do, places to eat, people to see...So off we went with the intention of ‘doing’ Barcelona in just 5 days. There was no pussy-footing around, no partaking in the over-rated touristy things, no wasting time eating at rubbishy places. We were basically given an ‘insider’s’ guide to Barcelona. That’s something I’ve learnt, actually: year abroad students are the best tour-guides (hence the reason they need to upload info here). Because they’ve been through the whole ‘visiting’ the city back-to-front, they’ve tried out all the touristy things (unlike most locals), they’ve met and befriended people all around the city, and they have gradually become walking student-guidebooks. So from the visitor’s point of view, it couldn’t get any better!

Pippi spent her first term as a student at the Universitát de Barcelona, but changed her activities in the 2nd and 3rd terms to take up a job in marketing and PR. She said uni was pretty challenging – you’re expected to be at the same standard as the Spanish students (which is a bit of a shock, understandably) but she did it, and through doing so she improved her Spanish whilst making a bunch of young, Spanish, studenty friends. Then, with her student experience as a base, she moved into her current job, where she’s met lots of older people, improving her CV by the day. Of course, it’s hard work, but I think the whole ‘changing for variety’ decision was a clever one, and one she definitely doesn’t regret. Plus, she’s now seeing a whole new side of Barcelona, and on the weekends she has absolutely no work, so she can go off on adventures with her housemates (one of whom she met on TYA!).  

Barcelona looks like the most fantastic city to live in. SO much diversity, beaches, Gaudí art, little cobbled streets, big wide roads, multicultural and incredible foods, with a massively patriotic feel to the place, too! I left wishing beyond wishes themselves that I too had braved a year abroad.

Destination number 2: Ferrara – student studying at UNI:
New person, new country – this second leg of my journey was to visit my good friend Miney, who’s been at the Università di Ferrara (a much smaller city, in Italy) for the whole year. It was interesting to move houses, from living with Pip to living with Miney, because their lives are so completely different. Pip is obviously working incredibly hard every day, but Miney...isn’t so much. She has lectures and exams, sure, but the workload is a lot less hectic than back home, with exams being, she says, pretty basic (they take into account that you are English). So yes: uni workload and lifestyle DEFINITELY differ between countries/universities across Europe.

Anyway, this meant that she was free to embark upon ritualistic sunbathing, record-breaking ice-cream eating, road-trips around Italy, cultural expeditions and various cappuccino-drinking-sessions. AMAZING! It felt like a prolonged holiday, but we weren’t typical tourists (though I really was, whipping out my camera at every possible opportunity).  Don’t get me wrong though, Miney is getting the whole cultural experience and enrichment from the year abroad as well. She’s living with an Italian, has lots of Italian friends, cycles everywhere (Ferrara is known as ‘the city of bicycles’) and because Ferrara is pretty small, she just seemed to KNOW a hell of a lot of the random Italians we walked past in the streets (possibly because she’s thrown herself into it all, joining optional clubs like the university choir...!). But the best part is that not all her friends are Italian; she’s met a lovely group of English people too, who are all living with Italians, and who are all into the whole ‘making the most of your year abroad’ thing. I think it’s actually quite important to make some English friends on your year abroad – just to have that element of security in a foreign place...And all of Miney’s friends are all good fun, keeping me laughing for most of my stay.

Miney didn’t take a gap year, but she says she’s ‘found herself’ (in quotation marks) on this year abroad. It’s kind of a different ‘finding yourself’ though; no tattoos, piercings, hippy clothes or arranged marriages. You’re just totally free to be whoever you want. Plus, it’s clear that all Italians LOVE Erasmus students (especially the pervy ones...) so your confidence rockets to sky-high, and you can literally just throw yourself into the whole thing with no fear of what the result will be. From an outsider’s point of view, the end result for these once-upon-a-time purely English students is positive. They appear more relaxed, more confident, more fluent – a pretty good deal, then, really.

Plus I totally didn’t realise that the government gives a humongous grant if your year abroad is Erasmus. Ok maybe ‘humongous’ is taking it too far, but still – it’s FREE, and it’s money!  And whilst I was out there, they all got given a new wodge of it...So yes, I confess I would have liked to have taken a year abroad in Europe. How often does an opportunity like that rear its head?  Not very.

***
Are they going to find it odd coming back to uni??
Errrr...yes! Most of their friends from 1st and 2nd year will have left, everything will be geared towards finals, dissertations and good degrees, and the intensity of it all will be as odd for them as it was for us. HOWEVER they’ve sorted houses already and final year is a hell of a lot more relaxed than the other two (in terms of ‘going out’), so I think they’re going to have a much better time then they’re expecting – they’ll just become closer to the elite group of fourth years (who are granted immediate respect anyway, because they’re veterans). Plus – let’s face facts – we ‘graduates’ probably won’t actually find jobs for a while, so we’ll be camping on their floors back in uni, clinging onto the idea that we’re still students. It’ll be just like visiting them all on their years abroad again!

Reasons Why I am Green with Envy when I Look at Year Abroad Students: They are PAID a lot of money by Erasmus. YES PLEASE. They get to wallow in sun and consume vast amounts of amazing food. They become near-fluent pretty damn quickly. This fluency makes them mightily employable when they graduate. They gain a whole new batch of friends (for life). They live abroad for a year, and get to know a city which others don’t know. They can call this foreign place ‘home’ (and claim it’s their home on Facebook). They appear to be happier and buzzier whilst out in their foreign city than they’ve ever been whilst at uni. Friends miss them (a lot) and visit them, and get jealous of them, and send them letters, and basically make them feel very loved and happy to be living abroad (absence makes the heart grow fonder). When they come home for their brief stints, they are favoured by their parents. Their parents support frivolous foreign relationships (which are wonderful for improving the old language). They gain a whole new sense of independence which you just don’t need in British unis (they are abroad after all...and British transport/education/health systems have been known to be a lot more efficient than those found anywhere else in Europe)! They miss out on the near-suicidal, depressed, teary, workaholic-y vibe which is found lurking at the end of third year (and then get to experience it in a much more diluted form the following year, with less people they know going through the same thing). If at uni (in Italy, anyway), they appear to do no work... If they get a job abroad, they can make lots of money and therefore have even more fun. All locals seem to love and adopt Erasmus students. It is basically a prolonged holiday.

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