Paris, the MMLer's holy grailWalkerssk, Pixabay

It's okay to be sad or worried about going away

Before I left, I was pretty worried about the whole year, which (from others I’ve spoken to) is completely normal. Moving to another country is a big deal, and I’m sure most people who have done it have felt slightly daunted at one point.

Try to find ways to make it as easy as possible (for example, maybe look at accommodation before you go, so that seems a bit more straightforward), and research ahead for exciting things to see or do in your new city/town.

Barcelona's Arc de TriompfMattia Felice Palermo

I was also sad to leave my friends and family, but I arranged a couple of evenings with friends just before I left. A few also came to visit me around three weeks in, (Cambridge terms are short – your pals have no excuses for not coming) and this also gave me something to look forward to when I’d just arrived.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to do a Year Abroad

If there’s one thing I wish I’d known, this was it. I worried at first that I should have worked instead of studying, but I know others who worked and had moments when they wished they’d chosen to study – teaching, studying and working all have their benefits.

Similarly, there are advantages to various types of accommodation – university halls can be far out and have lots of international students, but are really social; staying in an apartment with a couple of other people can make you feel more immersed in city life, but can also work out more expensive, and you're taking a chance on who you live with.

It’s important to meet great people and make friends – many go on a year abroad wanting to just make friends with people from that country, but it’s also really fun to spend time with international students, especially as they’re doing the same thing as you. You’ll speak the target language loads anyway, so if you end up having a few English-speaking friends it'll only keep you busy and make the year more fun.

Put yourself out there and get involved

The easiest way to make and maintain friends is to be proactive. If you meet people who seem fun, suggest things to do together: you really have nothing to lose, and if they say no, you probably won’t see them again anyway.

Try out the Erasmus events – I only went to one, but it’s a good way to meet people, and the people there tend to be really social and chatty.

Make sure you keep busy, especially if you’re studying or doing British Council. Join a sports team or a society, as these are also a great way to meet different people and use the language in a different context. You’ll have a lot more free time than you did in Cambridge, so try out something you’ve always wanted to do.

A lot of people also choose to get a part-time job, which can both improve fluency, and provide some (often needed) extra funds – although maybe wait a bit before this and gauge your workload before adding more responsibilities.

Make sure you explore

You (probably) picked your new home for a reason, so make sure you get out and see it. Especially early on I spent a lot of time just wandering around Paris, and I found later that I’d seen much more of the city and knew it much better than other international students. When you meet up with friends, suggest going somewhere you haven’t been before – you want to come back with the feeling you’ve really got to know the place! Day trips to nearby towns and cities are also a great way to feel that you’ve seen more of the country – particularly if you’re going further away, make the most of being there and try to see as much as you can.

Make the most of being away and try to see as much as you can.

Look after yourself

Years abroad are so much fun, but they can be stressful and difficult at times. You may have financial, social, or logistical worries, especially at first, but I promise it gets easier.

Be easy on yourself, and reach out to others, as they're probably going through something similar – it can be really reassuring to know that others are also worrying about the same thing! Seek support networks, such as the CUSU welfare resource set up by a group of 4th year MML and AMES students, offering support on accommodation and self-care, and country-specific advice.

Do whatever makes you happy, such as calling a friend, going for a run, or watching your favourite film. Many MMLers (including myself) came home at several points during the year, and while I wouldn’t advise doing this every week, go home as much as you’d like – I missed my friends from home, so going home for me was something I really looked forward to. 

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