Cancelling year abroads is a tragedy

The opportunities that studying abroad offers shape who you are during and after university

Coronavirus has severely disrupted international study, with students receiving little guidance from KCL admin. Several years abroad have ended abruptly with students panicking about buying tickets home or risking staying and getting stuck on the other side of the world.

Whenever students who took a year abroad to study brag about how they ‘discovered themselves,’ we tend to roll our eyes. But then again, ultimately, that is what the year is meant to do! With university work taking a back seat, many years abroad are being allocated on a pass/fail basis. This means students have more wiggle room to take part in new opportunities. Before the pandemic hit, year abroad students were living some of the greatest moments of their lives. However, with current student’s enrolments being cancelled or fully online, their experiences will be tarnished, as the experiences of a year abroad cannot be achieved from studying remotely.

Here’s why a year abroad is necessary, and why it changes people’s perspectives.

Personal Growth

Cliché as it may sound, a year abroad aids in determining who you are and what you want to do in the future. It may seem like personal growth is possible at university without a year abroad, but what you miss out on are global perspectives and authentic exposure to cultures. Year abroads combine fun experiences with learning to help you decide who you want to be. Studying in Australia can help you discover your love of surfing… or put you on track for a legal career after university if you’re inspired by the discrimination of Aboriginal Australians or the extinction of exotic animals and corals.

Living away from home, in a completely new environment with little to no family within driving distance introduces a new form of independence along with the challenges of living in another country. It helps you gain a greater understanding of the world, and forces you to live outside of your comfort zone.

The Importance of Socialisation

Living abroad encourages you to mingle. This is made easier by the fact that all study abroad students are in the same boat– they don’t know anyone else at their final destination. People stick together in ways they wouldn’t at their home university. Your year abroad friends become a second family as you bond over your joint experiences. From scuba-diving in the Great Barrier Reef to partying in Bali, climbing mountains in New Zealand, sleeping in leaking caravans in Tasmania or getting hypothermia from a club pool in Sydney, the world becomes your oyster. You may not love every single person you met, or travel with, but chances are that you’ll meet at least one lifelong friend. Your exposure to many different types of people will not only help you develop crucial people skills, but it will also give you a more in-depth knowledge of others, particularly those from different cultures. Studying abroad could also help you notice aspects of your own culture that you wish to change. Ultimately, you get to meet like-minded people that share your love of travel and learning. Isn’t the best thing about university the friends we make along the way?

Cultural Enrichment

When you live somewhere different from your home country, you taste their food, experience their way of living, and immerse yourself in their culture. When I travelled to Australia, their Aboriginal origins were impossible to disregard. It was a colossal cultural wake-up call to view first-hand the immense divisions between white and blak Australians. It is shocking that schools in the UK do not teach about the segregation present in Australia. I was already aware of the European Holocaust, but during my year abroad, I learnt the same was happening in Australia in the Aboriginal Holocaust. Learning that their indigenous population was reduced by 90% during colonisation was an upsetting fact I was previously uninformed about. The incursion on Aboriginals is still celebrated, to this day, during ‘Australia Day’ which many now call ‘Invasion Day’. Though there are a few positive changes in modern Australian society, such as collaborations with Aboriginal artists and many Aboriginal businesses, not enough is being done.

Going on a year abroad allows for these cultural awakenings to occur even if you weren’t expecting them. It allows you to see the good and the bad in different parts of the world and can motivate you to make a difference. Becoming knowledgeable about the history and cultures of the world is an important first step to creating change.

Gaining Life Experience

One of the best reasons to go on a year abroad is to gain life experience. The year permits students to become more spontaneous, adventurous, and responsible for their wellbeing.

Students learn how to organise their lives and condense it into one suitcase. They also learn how to handle unforeseen situations and be self-sufficient. For instance, travelling mishaps force you to think on your feet (getting stuck in Houston Airport at 3 am with a cancelled flight to Sydney really tests your decision-making!) Students gain a sense of accountability for themselves that’s essential for transitioning into adulthood.

Cancelling year abroads is a tragedy because any year abroad is an unforgettable experience. Even if your friends and family back home get bored of hearing about it (and they will), your experience will stay with you long after it is over. The hopes and plans students had are now dashed for this year, but this shouldn’t discourage students from choosing to study abroad in the future. It’ll be the best year of your university life.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

King’s announces all study abroad programmes at the University of California are suspended

• ‘We’re in limbo’: King’s students on their Year Abroads

King’s students test Covid-19 positive after KCLSU event