Friday, August 15, 2014

Lessons Learnt from Year Abroad


So in the final installment of Year Abroad Fortnight, I decided I would share all those random lessons learnt from my year abroad that didn't fit in any particular category. That is the real beauty of having a year abroad, a study abroad placement or even travelling abroad to learn a language. It is so much more than just an academic learning experience. In fact, I would even go as far as saying that you learn so much more outside the classroom. If you ever have the opportunity to do so, grab it with both hands. As you might be able to work out, I rave about my year abroad experience and in one way or another, the vast majority of my friends who have done so too would wholeheartedly say the same.

Anyhoo enough of my waffling, without ado, my lessons learnt from year abroad:

Learning languages is hard and you feel guilty when you realise you've been a complete and utter a*sehole to others before trying to learning English.

It's surprising how many languages you can say cheers in (priorities).

Sob stories will not work with French administration staff. Being firm and persistent will.

Finding accommodation in Paris is one of the most frustrating experiences but everyone finds something eventually.


Culture shock happens when you least expect it.

Keep a journal, your memory doesn't serve you as well as think.

Likewise with taking lots of photos.

Or even better, have a blog.

TGVs have to be the most incredible invention ever: 3 hours to get to Basel in Switzerland from Paris. Class.

Night trains from Paris to Nice, however, are not. Fork out the extra money to avoid them.

The day your Erasmus grant comes in will be the most joyful day of your life.

The day after when you've spent half of it will not be so much.

But good news, all the best things in Paris are cheap: bread, croissants, cheese, wine, chocolate.


Keep in touch with your parents, regardless of the situation, they will worry about you.

Helping yourself to box wine for a bit of Dutch courage is a recipe for disaster. Stay away.

Same with accepting shots of aguardiente. Exercise caution even if everyone tells you "No se puede rechazar."

Stuck for icebreakers and anxious about your language skills? Ask lots of questions. That way you dictate the conversation, you can sit back and let the other person do the talking.

Do not, I repeat DO NOT, look at anyone on the Parisian metro, not even for a second, especially not at a toothless hobo. Eyes down at all times.

On the contrary, marvel at the Medellin metro. Public transport at its finest.

Mess up, screw up, make a fool of yourself, it's the only way to get better.

You will get used to making a massive t*t out of yourself.

In fact you will get used to embarrassing yourself so much, you will have no shame.


Regardless of coordination, as long as the man knows what they are doing, anyone can dance salsa.

Colombians will never understand why you don't want/need someone to go to the supermarket with you.

Do not feel down when someone mocks your language skills. It's easy to do so when it's your native language. Just rue the day when you will absolutely own them in their own language.

There will be a point when you have a mini-existential crisis with regards to your lack of personality in *insert language here*.

But once you break through the language barrier, you will be doing, thinking and dreaming in said language.

Pitfalls aside, social media is a glorious thing to keep in touch.

It's the age-old cliché but saying yes to everything (OK, maybe not everything) is the way to go.


"Le pont" are the best words to ever be uttered to stagiaires' ears

"El puente" you will hear at least every fortnight in Colombia. Colombians love their bank holidays.

Take every opportunity to travel: Be a tourist in your own city, have a weekend trip nearby, have a last-hurrah extravaganza at the end. Go out, explore, discover.

Make the most of your year abroad. It's actually 15 months and it will be the most incredible, challenging but rewarding experience to date.

What is your advice for year abroad students? What was your biggest lesson?

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