Dead lizards and three-hour lectures: We spoke to Edi students about the realities of their years abroad

They took the incredible opportunity to travel beyond the Lothian Buses map


It's that time of year again – with the year abroad deadline fast approaching, hopeful yet anxious second years are making big decisions. Thinking about applying, but feel like you don't have much information about what a year abroad is actually like? We spoke to three Edinburgh students about their experiences, to try to colour in your expectations.

Meet Oscar, currently away in Copenhagen, Greg, studying in Sydney, and Holly, who did did her year abroad in Provence, France, last year.

The application process

All three students found the process of applying itself reasonably simple, especially Holly as she does Law and French, making a year abroad mandatory. They admit there was a fair amount of admin involved, though – especially Greg who found that "applying for courses, figuring out risk assessments and insurance, and exploring what life outside MyEd looks like can all get quite confusing".

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Greg making his first steps in Sydney

The arrival

Holly "didn’t feel prepared at all on what would actually constitute my uni experience in France or what student life was like in France" and as a result felt underprepared, and Greg felt similarly but found that not knowing what to expect was "probably part of the fun".

The accommodation

All three interviewees lived in their new uni's student accommodation, which Oscar found "a bit jarring coming from a lovely Edinburgh flat" and no one was particularly ecstatic about moving back into student halls. Holly made a pretty gross discovery a few weeks into her time in Provence – a squashed, dried out, dead lizard underneath her mattress.

Yum yum!

Others have opted out of uni halls, but have found it stressful trying to arrange accommodation on arrival and ending up living in costly temporary accommodation beforehand. The accommodation side of things hasn't seemed to be a highlight with anyone I've spoken to. Having said this, the point of a year abroad probably isn't a year in the lap of luxury.

The uni work

What uni work itself is like abroad has received very mixed reviews, and this appears to be one of the big inconsistencies across the board. Holly found that her three hour long classes, essentially consisting of rote learning, made her year abroad a complete waste of a year academically speaking. Oscar found that his workload in Copenhagen has resembled the first two years in Edinburgh, though it hasn't been as specialised as he'd like – with a lighter workload meaning that he's had to keep his practice in essay writing going independently.

The social life

Making local friends doesn't seem that easy for a lot of people who've been on a year abroad. Greg found that most Australian students live at home, and already have established friend groups – as a result only making local friends through his job outside of uni. Overall though, he's found Sydney to be a great spot in terms of a laidback lifestyle and great nightlife, as long as you stay on the right side of the lock-out laws.

Oscar has also found that whilst there is a strong sense of community between the international students in Copenhagen it also feels like there's a level of separation between them and the Danish students.

Holly's experience couldn't have been more different. She did make other friends who were also spending their year abroad in France, as is much the theme, but didn't really find there was much to offer in terms of nightlife during her year in Provence. Much worse, there seemed to be quite a culture of creepy men around, meaning that she didn't feel like she was fully able to let her hair down.

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How it matched up to expectations

Holly felt like she missed out on a lot going on in Edinburgh, both socially and academically, but did chalk it up as a potentially useful life experience. Greg and Oscar both felt that their years abroad matched up to expectations, with Greg saying that he thinks he would have regretted not applying and Oscar saying that he thought it was a great way to push himself outside his comfort zone and experience new things.

Holly says that if she hadn’t had to go abroad for the French part of her degree but was still interested in France after uni, she would have stayed in Edinburgh for third year, then saved up and planned a "gap year" abroad after graduating. Her final advice? If what you’re interested in is the experience of learning in another culture and a different education system, go for it – but don’t go just for the experience of living in another country if you have the opportunity to do so after uni.