Year Abroad: Myth vs Reality

Real experiences of actual people who aren’t in the prospectus

The applications are all in. As exams approach people sit at their desks dreaming of a year spent in Paris, sipping espressos and reading Sartre.

Most people you speak to about a year abroad will reel out stories of the best year of their life, how it was a transformative experience and they will never forget it.

However, underneath this idealised image is the reality of leaving your whole life behind to live in a completely new environment, starting again without a safety net behind you, and often in a different language.

It sometimes feels like we only hear one side of the story when it comes to year abroads, so we spoke to people who are away at the moment to hear their experiences.


You only socialise with locals, and spend all your time with new people who are already at the host university.


“I was expecting to leave Barcelona with a friends list full of Juans and Sofías – but I’m half way through and so far I know a few Johns and a Sophie. At first you try really hard to make local pals, but Brits attract.” – Suraj, Barcelona.


Your new university and Edinburgh work together to ensure you do the right courses and are in a good position when you return in Fourth Year.


People often get signed up for the wrong courses, you are left on your own to figure out what you’re doing and make sure you have the correct credits for both Edinburgh and your host university.

“You arrive at your chosen institution hoping to be guided through the ways of that land by the exchange department. Don’t expect this. You’re dropped in the deep end and you have to work things out yourself. I still don’t know how to print off university computers!” – Suraj, Barcelona

“The actual university was just as I thought it would be – ridiculously unorganised and giving me a long list of tasks to do in order to matriculate and sort out my timetable and adapt to Spanish bureaucracy.” – Georgie, Madrid


You explore all around your new country, and get to know a new environment.


“UNC is based in quite a small town in North Carolina – four hours away from anything vaguely interesting. Think St. Andrews on steroids. Everyone should try and get out once a month, it’s a bit suffocating.” – Ed, North Carolina


You’ll have the best time of your life.


“It can be very stressful, and very isolating. My mental wellbeing had definitely changed and I didn’t know what to do about it. I don’t know what support I can get at Madrid, and haven’t heard from Edinburgh much apart from generic emails to the whole department. There is a feeling that your year abroad should be the best year of your life, so the pressure to appear to be enjoying yourself is immense.” – Georgie, Madrid


People do have an amazing time, and the pressure of doing something completely new can fall away and be replaced by an amazing experience.

“It gave me an immediate community of people actually from Australia to get to know, all with similar mindsets and backgrounds as me. I was pretty fortunate that I got to meet actual locals, and be able to travel to their homes with them and explore the country.

“Everyone told me that it would be the time of my life, and now that I’m half way through it, it seems like they’re right. I would recommend a year abroad to genuinely anyone. It’s like having two completely university experiences in one.” – Francesca, Australia