Year Abroad: Week One Woes

SARAH CARSON just about survived the first week of her Year Abroad and she can help you do the same.

It’s September, and for a lot of third years that means holidays are over and it’s time to get pushed out of the bird’s nest into the abyss that is the year abroad. 

If you are desperate to get away and eager for an adventure, you probably left back in July, or even the last week of June. But some of you are in complete denial about the ordeal then you have probably waited until around now to get on the plane, armed with a map, a 3 month supply of beta blockers, and a self help book.

Here is our guide to Week One.

Get a Private Room in the Hostel- The likelihood is you’ve been advised to find a cheap hostel while you flat hunt. Good idea, but can go so wrong. I spent my first night of the year abroad- after the two hour Skype session with my exasperated parents- in a room with five New Zealander men in their thirties.

Sleep tight

I had my valuables strapped about my person, planning possible escape routes should I be faced with the prospect of a seriously misbalanced orgy. Fortunately the situation didn’t arise which was a big relief as all I had was the balcony and we were bloody high up. Two euros extra a night might well have secured me a more peaceful sleep.


Eat- Sounds obvious, isn’t. The stress of Week One can get rid of your appetite but force yourself to keep a routine. Going for food solo might be daunting at first, and you might have a local barman stroke your face, offer you a job and a room in his house, but this is less degrading than fainting in the street (it’s hot in Spain!) and falling into the arms of man dressed up as Spongebob- who will want tipping.

Money-grabbing bastard


Find a Home-  This really is commonly considered to be one of the worst episodes of the year abroader, a memory you spend the rest of your time overseas striving to forget. I remember a time when I considered crying in the street a social faux pas. Week One changed that.

I took my search to the extreme and- after I found nothing to my requirements despite a visit from my mother and the help of her Spanish (and a hysterical phone call to my senior tutor begging for a room)- gave up for a while and lived with family friends and commuted 2 hours to work every day.

There’s no mortgage required so just get a room ASAP. Preferably with a window, and a deposit to save you finding your own replacement ten months down the line, but still not essential. Foreign strangers for flatmates can be nuts. Mine kindly put a post it note on the toilet just so I knew what it was. But they can mostly be avoided.


Forget your Language-  It will be dire at the beginning. The taxi from the airport to central Madrid for me involved a half-hour discussion about Celtic and Rangers. I thought ‘this is going to be a breeze’; it wasn’t.

The comprehension of about one word in fifteen can lead you to funny places- one friend viewed a flat where the lesbian couple who owned it offered her a futon next to their bunkbeds (??), another needed contact lens solution and perplexed a local pharmacist by apparently requesting some cream to get rid of her testicles (gestures can and do go wrong). Should note though, it’s time to panic if this is still happening on Week 30.


Find Durham People- It’s a dangerous trap to fall into- but can make such a difference in how fast you settle in. We are fed the grandeur of complete cultural immersion- don’t feel like a failure if you speak English every day, it’s bound to happen, especially in a city. Making foreign friends is hard and takes time. It’s easy to think you have to force yourself to speak the language all the time but it’s not an endurance test. Plus, fourth year friends are gold dust.


Don’t get Robbed- Sleeping in parks and too-casual metro journeys are unfortunately very real dangers. Being blonde in most countries is also an invitation for predators of all kinds. Would a bottle of Cheryl Cole’s L’Oréal Casting Crème Gloss have saved my Blackberry? We’ll never know. Watch your wallet, even in your front pocket, you could end up having the most expensive grope of your life. Police stations when you don’t have an address yet are 0 fun.

Robbers’ paradise

Don’t be disheartened, they’re dark days for everyone. Get a phone, a bank, an internet connection and a bed as fast as you can. After this, the year really will flash by and you’ll reminisce bitterly over the hell of Week One at your goodbye meal, and board the plane wondering why you ever wished you wanted to go home.