Seven things I wish I knew before starting my year abroad

‘Slut’ in Danish means ‘finished’, not slag

On 14th August 2022 I began my long-awaited adventure: studying abroad for a year in a completely different country. My destination was the land of pastries, Vikings, and a disproportionate amount of (not fake) blonde people: Denmark. The city that was to be my new home is called Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark – about a three-hour train journey from Copenhagen.

After a long and treacherous journey – it’s fair to say the train strikes across the UK were not the best start – I arrived in my new home. I quickly found myself encountering situations I had never been in before in my life and, although it was exciting, it was also very scary and overwhelming. Despite the help from various TikToks and Emily in Paris, there are definitely a few things I’d wish I’d known before starting my year abroad:

1. Budgeting becomes even MORE important

This is something you don’t want to learn the hard way. Remember, you’re going to be living in a different country for a year, so think ahead. Depending on where you’re going, the cost of living might be even higher than in the UK. You may well be spending more on your weekly shop than you’re used to back home, so make sure you get saving a few months before you’re set to leave. Luckily, you can still rely on your student loan to help you out. There is also funding available, such as the Turing scheme, so definitely do some research into what you’re eligible for. You might also want to travel around your new home country and maybe even abroad, so make sure you account for this while you’re saving.

2. The locals won’t necessarily be jumping to be best friends with you right away

I know, I couldn’t believe it either. I mean, I flew all this way to start my new adventure in a new country. I am literally the definition of a mysterious foreigner, and they’re kind of…unbothered. All joking aside, it’s important to remember that although this might be a novelty year for you, for everyone here it’s their actual life. If you want to make local friends, you’re probably going to have to be the one to make that happen. So be brave and ask someone from your class for coffee.

3. Even if everyone speaks English, it’s respectful to at least attempt to learn the language

This is more my personal opinion, but I’m sure other Brits can relate to the feeling of constantly feeling embarrassed when you’re abroad because locals have to switch language for you. I’ve experienced that a lot already, and it honestly helps a lot just to know the basic phrases and avoid these awkward encounters where possible. Don’t get me wrong, people are often more than happy to help you out, but it’s definitely a skill worth having and I guarantee it will make your life easier. So, have a google and see if you can find affordable (or even free) language lessons in your local area.

Learning the language can also be helpful when completing everyday tasks like washing your clothes. It took me a few uses of the washing machine in my accommodation to realise it was telling me the cycle was finished and not just verbally assaulting me.

4. You will have bad days

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately this time abroad is not just a year-long holiday full of new friends, exploring new places, and trying different cuisines. Don’t get me wrong, you will get plenty of opportunity for all of those things, but also be prepared for anxious moments, a bit of homesickness, and trying to stay on top of uni work (it’s still a struggle, no matter the time zone). When this happens, just remember that all your friends and family back home are only ever a message or a call away. Don’t be afraid to get in touch and let them know you’re struggling a bit. I went through a phase where I called my parents pretty much every day and it really helped. Trust me, it’s normal, and it will get easier.

5. You’re suddenly going to have friends from all over the world

This is probably one of the coolest things about your year abroad. Never in my life did I envision it being a regular occurrence for me to be hanging out with my Australian, Vietnamese, Portuguese, and Dutch friends at dinner every week. You’ll now find yourself having invites to stay in countries all over the world, and if you ever go travelling, you’ll have free places to stay (put that in your budget). However, this also means that once you’re back home you won’t be able to hop down to spoons to see all your besties. Luckily, we live in the age of FaceTime, so you’ll still be able to keep them in the loop!

6. The money will return but you only get to do this year once

You may have seen the (slightly cringe) TikToks with the same message, but it’s true: never again will you be in your early twenties living in a cool foreign country, so make the most of it! However, I’m not trying to completely contradict my earlier point about budgeting, so I’ll just say: try everything in moderation. But trust me, if you’re studying in Europe and you don’t hop on some of the £10 Ryanair flights you can find to random cities, you might regret it. This year is your prime time to indulge in all those travelling plans that never quite took off due to the dreaded pandemic (sorry for reminding you…) I would also recommend exploring other places inside your year abroad country to really immerse yourself in their culture.

7. You will remember this year for the rest of your life

Props to you for being brave enough to move countries alone in your early twenties! Not many people can say that they had the balls to do that. The things you experience on your year abroad will be unlike anything else you do in your life. It will be such an enriching, eye-opening experience despite the trials and tribulations you might face along the way. Just think, one day you’ll be the grandparent sat in an armchair at Christmas reminiscing about when you were young, wild, and free living abroad at twenty (the ultimate dream). Your grandchildren might roll their eyes, but I promise they’re just jealous.

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