It’s often said that spending a year abroad is an opportunity of a lifetime: you can experience an entirely different way of living, while being young enough to fully adapt and enjoy it. But there’s lots of things I wish I’d known before heading off on my travels. Here’s my advice to those considering taking the plunge in future!
Learn the language
Even in touristic locations like Madrid, it’s impossible to get by without any Spanish. Knowing a word or two here or there will help you out massively: from ordering lunch to sorting out housing, understanding the language is key and will make your life so much easier! And once you arrive at your destination your language skills will only improve.
Research the culture before you go
When travelling from one European country to another we don’t often consider the wide cultural differences. A holiday is short enought to briefly adapt to minor changes, but spending a year somewhere is very different. Small things such as shops closing in the middle of the afternoon to people habitually saying ‘bye’ instead of ‘hi’ when they pass you in the street will hit hard if you aren’t expecting them. Just be aware of the way of life in your country (and city) and your transition will be that much smoother.
Plan monthly catch-ups (at least)
Even if you’re used to spending months at a time away from your family and/or friends, being oceans apart can be really tough even for the strongest of us. Make sure you set dates for catch-up Skypes or halfway-point meetings. We all need to hear a friendly voice from time to time. Making new friends at your destination is important too, but make sure to keep up those strong relationships at home so your transition back at the end of the year is a simple as possible.
Be prepared for admin hell
The administrative part of a year abroad is probably the worst. From passports and visas to residency documents, there’s a lot to be done. Sometimes the guidelines won’t be clear so make sure to do as much research as possible before you tackle an admin task so that you’re fully equipped for every eventuality. Joining Facebook groups for other people abroad such as Erasmus students or Citizens Advice Bureaus will help you solve most confusions and save you time in the long-run.
If you’re prepared for things to go wrong sometimes, your year abroad will be so much more rewarding! Stay positive and enjoy yourself: it’s an opportunity of a lifetime 😉