When the Year Abroad gets tough – OurWarwick
OurWarwick

When the Year Abroad gets tough

Hola a tod@s! Since last writing, I have been non-stop, as my Mum and Brother came to visit me, and I travelled with them to Colombia’s coffee regions, and the Amazon rainforest in between Peru and Brazil, all of which has been incredible. However, due to a delay across the Atlantic in getting the photos to me, I have decided to wait to write about all of those of adventures in favour of something a little different. I have wanted to write this blog for a while, as it has been something I have been conscious of during my blogs throughout my trip. 

I think we are all aware of the issues of social media, and how they can distort the way we present ourselves and view the lives of others, however, I do believe we have a tendency to only show the positives, and perhaps in a way to forget, we don’t reveal our individual struggles. Make no mistake, my time in Colombia has overall been fantastic, but I’d like to share with you all the challenges I have encountered throughout this experience, and I hope that it will not put you off doing a Year Abroad yourself, but instead open your eyes to possible difficulties, so you can prepare yourself. If you are already doing a Year Abroad, perhaps you will be able to recognise your own challenges in mine and feel comforted by not being alone in struggling sometimes. 

Note: Throughout this article, I will be interspersing points with dogs, as I do believe in the power of puppy therapy, and Colombian canines are some of the loveliest dogs I have encountered in the world (and trust me, I have high standards).

Let’s start with Tomas, a wonderful dog who lives on a farm in Pereira, Colombia’s coffee regions, where I stayed last week. Tomas has recently become a father to 3 puppies!

1) Expectation

Before moving here, I had always lived in England and studied in English, and even though I have been lucky enough to travel to some exotic places before, nothing could prepare me for how much of a cultural shock Bogotá would be. This meant that I couldn’t imagine this experience before doing it, meaning my expectations were somewhat warped; I had heard so many older students discuss their Year Abroad, saying things like “it was the greatest year of my life” and other superlatives. Whilst this did make me so excited for Colombia, it also made me quite confused when sometimes it wasn’t so great, and I felt that it was my fault for not trying hard enough to make the most of the trip, and that was why I wasn’t always enjoying it. Nothing can prepare you for this, and that is what is so great about it, as it is just one surprise after another, sometimes good and other times, bad. This strengthens and matures you so much, and as cheesy as it sounds, some of my favourite memories of my time here have been when I have noticed how much more confidence and tenacity I have as a result of facing different problems.

Round 2: A loveable stray we met outside of Zipaquira’s salt mine. This photo was taken in the 2 minutes he allowed himself to say hello, before returning to play fighting with the other dogs. 

2) Exaggeration

This is a weird one, but it is a feeling other “Year Abroaders” have also felt. Essentially, because there is so much hype surrounding your Year Abroad, and the fact that it involves moving to a new country, studying at a new university in a foreign language and cultural shock, the highs and lows of daily life seem way more intense. Sometimes, the smallest setback would occur, for instance, the ATM I wanted to draw money at was broken, and I would feel like a failure, even though at Warwick, I would just fix the problem and move on. This means, especially in the beginning, you’re riding quite the emotional rollercoaster, which can be quite draining. However, as I became more settled into a daily routine here, and there were less unexpected surprises, life become a lot more mellow, and I am quite happy with the comfortable life I have carved out here.

Here we have a wonderful dog I often see outside my local fruit and vegetable shop. Let it be known, he always carries his own lead, and he is very independent!

3) Isolation 

This may seem like an obvious one, but regardless of if you are in France or Colombia, being in a different country to your usual support network can be incredibly isolating, especially in the beginning when you have to fight your way through the unexpected and the bureaucracy of moving abroad. Of course, the Year Abroad is one of the best ways to make new friends, and thanks to Skype and FaceTime, the Atlantic can sometimes feel so short. However, it’s important to remember that it is natural to feel homesick sometimes, and not to put too much pressure on yourself to be the person you are in England whilst you’re abroad. The bonus is that with the friends you make here, as well as the connections with lecturers and other daily acquaintances, you will find that your support system will widen. Moreover, Warwick, with its Wellbeing Service and Personal Tutor System will always be able to support you even when you are away.

Forgive the fact that it is blurry, but this wonderful and fluffy dog was seen happily jumping through Medellin’s Parque Arvi, and I had to take a photo, regardless of how much zoom it needed!

4) Language and Confidence

This is a more personal one, as I have always struggled with confidence with my Spanish, especially speaking, before coming to Colombia. The problem I found here was that I didn’t need to pass my modules at university, so academics were no longer the most important part of my life. Of course, this is a really helpful decision, as it allowed me to focus on my Spanish, my other languages, do volunteering, travel, and make this experience a complete experience, instead of just an academic one. However it also meant that I lost an anchor, and I naturally looked for a replacement, a role that my Spanish took. Unfortunately, regardless of how long you study a language, you will always make mistakes, as being fluent does not mean you speak like a native, meaning that with this new pressure, I really struggled to accept my errors, and lost confidence and desire to speak Spanish. Moreover, just because you’re incredible at debating nuclear weapons in your speaking class doesn’t actually mean you are capable of always following banter in a room full of Colombians, something which initially made me quite embarrassed. I found that I thought that my language restrictions meant I appeared as a watered down version of myself, because I couldn’t engage fully in the conversation. However, doing this has taught me that you have to trust that your personality will come through, and people are kinder and more patient than you think.

Carli!! Ok, so technically she isn’t a Colombian dog, because she belongs to my Brother’s Girlfriend, and lives in Chicago, however, she’s too cute to not include!

So there you have it, some of the main challenges I have encountered and attempted to overcome during my year abroad. As I have already mentioned, the lessons I have learned from experiencing difficult periods here are really important, and even though the Year Abroad can provide you with so many happy times and fantastic Instagrams, I do truly believe these lessons are equally crucial, if not more. I hope you have been able to appreciate some of the challenges, and perhaps if you travel or study abroad in the future, you can prepare yourself for all of the experiences, wonderful and difficult, to come.

Big love 

xx

  • Meredith Whiting
    Meredith Whiting Global Sustainable Development and Sociology

    Hey Catherine! Just wanted to say thank you for articulating this so well – I’m in Canada on my year abroad currently, and although the language isn’t a big part of it here, everything else you’ve described is so accurate! Hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Colombia! x

    Reply

    • Catherine Osborne
      Catherine Osborne Modern Languages

      Thank you for your comment Meredith! I’m glad you can relate too, I think it helps when we realise we’re all in a similar boat. Hope you have an amazing time in Canada!

      Reply

  • Lily Groom
    Lily Groom Psychology

    I really loved this article Catherine! It’s really useful to have an honest perspective on a year abroad and not to sugar coat things, especially when thinking about my year abroad next year. Hope you continue to have a fab time in Colombia and please share more dog pictures! xxx

    Reply

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