The Year Abroad Commandments: How not to rue the day you left the UK

Your guide to surviving life abroad


Are you a student? Are you a linguist? Are you required to undertake a Year Abroad? Lucky you! You’ve been selected out of thousands to abandon your resentful finalist friends to embark on a journey of self-discovery!

But your year abroad will be fraught with danger – and it’s all too easy to make a mistake and then you’ve ended up sitting in a bedsit in Berlin watching Netflix for 10 months without having spoken a word of German.

These are the commandments you need to make sure that your year abroad is the journey of self-discovery it was meant to be.

Thou shalt accept that thou shalt initially be a loser

Me after drinking alone in a corner of a dark pub for four days

The second you leave that plane, you’ll be a loner. A molecule in a sea of equally insignificant molecules. You might be able to bear that one girl at the café you’re working at. Otherwise accept that you will be fundamentally alone, unless you channel loser-dom at the start. Attend fake-smile expat events, read guidebooks, go alone to openings. IT’S OK.

Thou shalt try not to be as British

 These go-getters are making the right decision by opting for tequila rather than Pimm’s or gin.

These go-getters are making the right decision by opting for tequila rather than Pimm’s or gin.

Be chameleon-like. Not really into Portuguese rap? Find Vegemite appalling?Discover your local supermarket doesn’t stock refrigerated hummus pots? Accept; adapt; embrace.

Perhaps that controversial-looking food item works wonders for your metabolism or has magical powers. In the face of adversity, remind yourself that you’re (probably) only in continental Europe. Lamenting a decent cup of tea is the only exception to this.

Thou shalt reign on social networks

Down a milk with Nils!

Whether you want a hook-up, a husband, or nothing, Tinder is a weird lubricant for cultural integration. Once prepared to filter out the routine scum festering in its digital banks, you may actually chance upon a decent friend… or a psycho. Plus, take a traveller to your favourite bar and they’ll probably repay it to you if you visit their country.

Facebook is (depressingly) also not to be underestimated. Expats in Berlin, Erasmus Year 2014-2015, Free Year Abroad Advice… the list of groups like this goes on. And on. Baroque dressers, bike lights, Chanel heels, the odd bag of weed. Who knows what you’ll end up with?

Thou shalt re-invent thyself

Students in the process of re-inventing themselves as Disc Jockeys.

Students in the process of re-inventing themselves as Disc Jockeys.

Slept with half of your university? Nobody will know anymore, and, more importantly, they won’t care. Anything you were once paranoid about at university is now probably (more) socially acceptable.

Dye your hair lilac. Wear a choker and a scrunchie simultaneously. Harbour a health-food addiction. If you’re feeling particularly wild, commit identity theft.

Thou shalt neglect thy home-friends

This ball may look like a blast, but look into the eyes of the middle attendee.

You’re not ever going to ascend the level of bemused-expat-loner if you’re in your flat drinking tea and Skyping your Mum about foreign washing powder, are you? Do not fly back every weekend for a 21st, a ball, or a quick cuddle with your beloved. Ryanair is a godsend, but hold back. They already resent you for being on your year abroad anyway.

Thou shalt know where the fuck you’re going

These students are so much happier knowing that they have left the American Sector.

These students are so much happier knowing that they have left the American Sector.

Simple, but overlooked. Do you know anything about Madrid except that it speaks Spanish? Raid TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides. Do not attempt to memorise every pavement crack. Just know to some extent what you’re getting yourself into. This may even, to some extent, eliminate bemused-tourist-clutching-a-map syndrome.

 Thou shalt channel thy inner secretary

A fellow Oxford student receiving a fine for not paying her train fare. Horrendous.

Health insurance, taxes, bank accounts… life is suddenly reduced to a wad of paper. Tragic it may be, but research where you need to go and what you need to do before you leave. Book online instead of queuing alone for 5 hours. Don’t swamp yourself with small print alongside the myriad of other expat horrors awaiting your naïve, fresh-faced arrival. By the time you’re done you’ll probably also be as qualified as a secretary.

Thou shalt travel. Lots.

Here I am with a camel. You don’t get them in Berlin!

Exploit your year abroad. A year off of financed guilt-free travelling is not likely to happen again soon. European city breaks, hostels, flights, coaches and car shares… all ridiculously affordable. It’s likely that some of the most stunning European cities are only a couple of hours away. Make Sir Francis Drake proud.

Thou shalt neglect English

Take a leaf out of my book and bring your university work along with you.

Take a leaf out of my book and bring your university work along with you.

Any major European city hosts a horde of English speakers, or worse, those who use you to improve their English. *Shudder*. It may hurt, but it is why you’re there. Watch dubious reality TV, write down useful vocabulary, ask friends to correct you. If you feel awkward, reassure yourself that you sound spectacularly endearing. And remember, slang is still a foreign language.

Thou shalt say yes. Always.

They say tomato juice is great for low cholesterol

Be spontaneous. Channel Jim Carrey. Live gig? Tattoo convention? Rave in a commune? Just go. The probability that it’s less interesting than a 2007 episode of The IT Crowd on Netflix is highly unlikely. You’ll probably need some funny anecdotes for a social situation at some point too.

In conclusion: Embrace it. You’ll be absolutely fine. Probably.