Things to prepare before your year abroad
Taking a year abroad can be one of the most exciting things you can do during your higher education. Talking to people about your year abroad can be one of the most annoying things you can do during your higher education. Either way, you’ll have lots of experiences to share. This short guide is hopefully here to help you ensure that those experiences aren’t too stressful (or at least, less than they need to be).
Probably the most important thing to keep in mind is bank accounts. Sometimes it might not be necessary to open a new bank account in the place you’re going to study, but for some countries certain grants are given to you as a student if and only if you have a bank account in the country. For example, France allows you to open one as soon as you secure accommodation, and with it you can apply for the CAF, a bursary of a few hundred euros a month to go towards paying accommodation. Other countries may have different arrangements so I’d highly suggest looking at a student guide for the specific country, or even region you’re going to study in.
This point is slightly more skewed towards those taking an intercalated year abroad, meaning that the year is graded as either “pass” or “fail”. From this, a student can tactically make decisions to best enjoy their time abroad, rather than getting bogged down acing every exam as some students usually prefer to do. Therefore it is important to do research as to how the particular institution you’re studying at handles passing and failing. It may require you to get a passing grade in every module, perhaps only in certain particular ones, perhaps a few modules are grouped together and you have to pass them on average. You can save yourself a lot of hassle by finding it out sooner rather than later.
Another great idea is to talk to other Erasmus students before you arrive, so you can have a small network as soon as you get there. You can search for the university on Facebook (or find out whatever social media they use in the country you’re going to) and put the year that you’re going there or in some cases the year that you would graduate from there if you were a student there full time. This should come up with a group where you can ask questions and get to know people, or at least the vibe of the place, before you turn up and get shocked by how everything is.
Finally, bear in mind that things will go wrong. Accept it, make peace with it, and be ready when it comes. Maybe you’re there for a few weeks and you still don’t feel like you’re making friends or fitting in. Maybe a few months. Maybe a whole term. It’s not uncommon, and it’s not abnormal. Some cultures are more or less accepting or inclusive of foreigners. There are certain cultural facts that are taken for granted in monocultural communication, an example is how sarcasm is often lost on certain Americans, so you feel like you can’t really talk to them how you really want to. A language barrier is an even more obvious example. Think of it this way: it takes much more effort to talk to you than anyone else, so don’t feel bad if they choose not to. It sounds kind of depressing, but it’s important to be aware of. A lot of people say “the people here are so cold, we’re so much more open in the UK”, when in actual fact it could be that if you just spark up a conversation with someone they’ll talk back to you. Because you’re at a relative disadvantage compared to natives you have to take the initiative. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, make yourself look like a fool. It all works out in the end.