Common myths about the year abroad
Since I am entering my last full month here in Germany, I feel this is the appropriate time to reflect on all the common myths and preconceptions surrounding a year abroad (YA) – and assess how relevant they were to my overall experience.
1. By the end of your time abroad, you will become fluent in the country’s language.
This is probably the most wide spread preconception of a YA, and is related to the question I get asked the most – "so are you fluent now then?". Whilst I definitely have improved my proficiency in German dramatically, I hesitate to label myself as fluent. During my semester at the University of Cologne (first half of my YA), my language skills only developed slightly. Yet when I began my internship and acquired a German flatmate, my ability in the language improved significantly. I thus feel that it depends on what you’re doing on your YA that influences how greatly you improve. Those that immerse themselves in the new country, befriend natives and speak as little English as possible are far more likely to achieve fluency than those that don’t.
2. A year abroad will be one of the best years of your life
If you read anyone’s blog about their YA, chances are they’re going to summarise it as one of the best years of their life – and I would say exactly the same. These past 9 months have been nothing short of spectacular, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Spending a year in a foreign country has enabled me to experience a wealth of new things that I’ve never had the chance to experience before, for example: going on a ski trip in the French Alps, doing an internship abroad, sleeping over in a castle and getting a Vespa tour of the Italian countryside. Similar to my last point, I feel if you make the most of the opportunities available to you, the YA has the potential of being one of the best years of your life.
3. It’s expensive doing a year abroad
From my experience, this statement truly depends on the country you go to. Anywhere in Europe will likely be a far cheaper option than spending a year in America, Asia, Australia etc. my travel expenses to and from Cologne were marginal compared to my friends that jetted off to Australia (can’t go wrong with €9.99 Ryanair flights!). In addition, studying/working in Europe is also supported by the Erasmus scholarship (although this may change in the future), which has fortunately covered most of my rent this whole year. Therefore, you have to weigh up what country fits your budget and seek out what scholarships are available, as these two factors will strongly determine how expensive your YA will be.
4. A year abroad is basically one long holiday
If you only look at someone’s YA on Instagram/Facebook, then I completely sympathise with this statement. However, the reality of one is far different. Admittedly, all of my social media posts about my YA showcase only the positive experiences, but there has also been a plethora of challenges and difficulties to overcome. Competing with thousands of students for a space in a flat, applying frantically to internships, living my daily life in a foreign language and taking exams completely in German are just a few of the major challenges I’ve faced during my YA. For these reasons, my YA has been far from ‘one long holiday’ and in some ways it has proven tougher than my 2 years at Warwick.
So that’s my take on the most common preconceptions surrounding a YA! If any of you reading this have also undertaken one yourself, it will be interesting to hear what your experience was like and how relevant it was to these preconceptions. Was it the best year of your life? Did you find it really expensive? Were you fluent in a foreign language by the end of it?
Until next time, auf Wiedersehen!