This isn’t a checklist of things to pack, but rather a list of things that are much easier to forget while you’re away. My year abroad was undoubtedly one of the best experiences I have had, and, despite the difficulties, I not only learned a lot about French and German, but also about myself. I’ve compiled a list of 10 things I learned on my year abroad in the hopes that those soon to depart can learn something from my experiences (or at least waste 10 minutes of their life reading about them!)
1. Speak in your target language as much as possible. Everyone you meet will want to practise their English with you (if that is your first language). Sometimes it’s difficult to be stubborn enough to speak in your target language, especially if you’re less than comfortable with it. I found that often I was too happy to give in and speak in English rather than insist that I get to practice my language too.
2. Netflix is great. Sometimes an evening binge-watching your favourite Netflix show can heal wounds from stress, homesickness, and general life. However, it is necessary to remember that you’re not graded on Netflix, nor does it yield many memories to reminisce on when you return home.
3. Unrealistic expectations do not help you. They only serve to accentuate your “failures”. It will help you more to accurately figure out what you can and can’t do, rather than demand too much of yourself. That’s not to say don’t push yourself, but expecting constant successes can be unhealthy.
4. Ask for help. This follows on from my third point, and something that I found personally while I was in Trier. Asking for help from your university does not mean that you failed. You’re not bothering your tutors when you need to ask them something. Within reason, your tutors are there to help you, and keeping in regular contact with the tutors and the mentors that you meet in first year in Lancaster helps both parties to understand your situation better, and help support you when you need it most.
5. People don’t mind when you make mistakes speaking in your target language. As someone who cares far too much what people think, I found it quite nerve-wracking speaking in my target language, terrified of making mistakes and making people think that I “wasn’t very good”. I also found that this was not the way to improve, as we all know how important it is to practise your speaking skills, especially to native speakers. When speaking to native speakers about language, they had higher opinions of the language skills of those who spoke confidently, in spite of a number of mistakes, than they did of those who were afraid and therefore only spoke in English.
6. Try and find a new place to see every weekend. Whether it’s a new country, city, or bar, a change of scenery each weekend and a little sense of adventure can start off your Monday morning feeling slightly more motivated. When you’re on your year abroad, try and see the most of the places around you
7. A coffee shop can make a nice substitute for your desk. If, on your weekend adventures, you find a nice coffee shop, make the most of it. When you have a deadline, change up your scenery to avoid losing the will to live and at least get you out of the house, or the library for a few hours.
8. Year Abroad is hard. Give yourself credit. Doing a year abroad is a big, scary, difficult thing and doing it a year early only worsens that. It’s okay to feel proud of yourself for fighting the smaller battles. Navigating the laundry for the first time, answering a stranger’s question on the street, and the big one: being mistaken for (in my case) a German. Give yourself a pat on the back and get to work on that cultural essay.
9. Start your Year Abroad Project(s) in plenty of time! I cannot stress this enough. Leaving it until the last minute is dangerously easy, and unbelievably stressful. Give yourself a month or two once you’re there to think of ideas, then get cracking before exams start and you have to focus on them.
10. Comparing yourself to others is not healthy. Another personal issue of mine. Everyone has their own strengths, and their own weaknesses. Comparing yourself to them might give you a short ego boost one day, but beating your past self does you much more good than beating someone else.
Our MLang students at Lancaster have their own blog, which can be found here. You can read about their experiences on the MLang degree programme.