Myth-busting studying abroad: What you really need know before you go
No ‘bring five pairs of socks’ lists here
Preparing for a study abroad scheme takes a lot of effort, let's not beat about the bush. You've applied, you've got your place (congrats) and now you're thinking where the hell am I going to start. You start receiving packs of emails containing cheat sheets, brochures, pre-packing lists (whatever they are), arranged events, socials with suitably foreign sounding food and drink in the title to lure in language students… the list is never ending.
All the tutors, and the odd recent graduate, will inundate you with fabulously positive success stories. The problem is, a lot of the “advice” given seems to be selling points. I’m already sold. Now where do I start?
Get organised and quick
A year abroad can be whatever you want it to be. Live in a damp Parisian flat as a struggling student, get important work experience in Frankfurt, teach English in the Alps. It’s all very well vaguely googling “Internship in Germany” in the middle of March and hoping your dream job will pop up; it most likely won’t, and you’re most likely too late. You do not want to spend your money frivolously being a tourist, do you?
Find a destination but make it worth it
After deciding whether to work or study, the next task is to determine where to live for the next nine months or so. You're basically creating a whole new life, it’s a place to work, study, make friends, travel, do a weekly shop and generally live life for a considerable amount of time. Most universities are paired with about thirty others across Europe, so take a little moment to consider the kind of place – city, town, climate, country – you’d like to be. Cities are fabulous for meeting people and keeping busy, but the cosmopolitan lifestyle is not the best for improving language skills. There’s nothing more demoralising and unhelpful than confidently asking for “ein Kaffee, bitte” only to receive the reply “Do you want milk with that?”
Your PSHE teacher would have told you how to create a budget with Susan's great salary, but this is the time to really evaluate your income
The most boring job of the lot, living costs.It’s very easy to be caught up in the romance of living in Europe for a year, and we all like conveniently forgetting how costs can add up. Students rely on grants and loans, and part time work. Investigating how much you are entitled to is a bit dull but it helps with choosing destinations as well as accommodation. Working isn't totally easy either. If you’ve landed yourself a nice paying job, don’t forget that you might not actually be paid for a month. It really is worth doing a bit of budgeting, and finding the nearest ATM.
What's worse: a room with minimum heating or no room?
“Finding accommodation will be easy once you’re there” is the best piece of advice that often wafts back across the Channel from a friend with their new laissez-faire Parisian lives. It is actually true. It’s far easier to find prospective flatmates and prospective flats when you are in the place itself. The only problem with this is that the idea of moving abroad with no home organised is terrifying, not just for your parents. University halls are safe and easy, but if you can't face another year in purpose-built 60s accommodation, shop around! Resources like spotahome.com are aimed at Erasmus students and will view flats as part of their service if you can’t go yourself.
I don't want to say it, but YOLO the shit out of study abroad
Worrying is normal. It's fine to wake up in a cold sweat about how many duvet covers to pack, and it's also very much okay to worry that the deposit for the accommodation may have been a scam. However the reality of the situation is that it’s basically going to be fine. Moving anywhere is stressful, joining university in the first place was nerve-wracking. Focus on what to look forward to, join Facebook groups for the university you’re joining, and remember that it most likely will be the best year of your life before you land back home to face Blighty.
As much as you can say