What’s a year abroad really like, anyway? Past and present MML students talk travel, dating, and finding their feet in a foreign country.

Alastair Smith – French and German (Post A-Level) – Munich

I had been warned before moving away that year-abroad romances do not work – and yet this did not stop me from promptly downloading Tinder upon my arrival in Munich (supposedly the singles-capital of Germany) and swiping away. Alone in a new city, all I wanted was to meet people and immerse myself in the local culture – the prospect of falling in love (and getting some distance from less successful romantic ventures back in England) was just a bonus. Very soon, I found myself in a bustling Biergarten with a rather attractive, interesting German whom I had met through the app. It was only after a few weeks of casual dinner dates and Bavarian-brewed beer, however, that I noticed something strange: when the two of us spoke in German, I was keen to carry on the conversation; when we spoke in English, I questioned whether the two of us had any chemistry at all. Was I interested in the person, or simply in their language? Soon, I was forced to admit to myself that, in my desperation to have an “authentic” German experience (and, of course, improve my language skills), I had forged a romantic connection with someone I was completely incompatible with, all because their mother tongue was the language I happened to be learning. I realised that this German – a very decent person – must feel completely and utterly used, and thus our relationship fizzled out with no small amount of guilt on my part. But at least I learnt the word for “cheese-grater” along the way.

“In my desperation to have an ‘authentic’ German experience... I had forged a romantic connection with someone I was completely incompatible with.”

Nadya Miryanova – French and Latin – Paris

Studying the relatively niche degree of French and Latin (it does exist, I promise!) left me with a choice in second year: I could either stay on a pure Classics three-year course or I could go on a year abroad and stick with MML. I always knew that I’d opt for the latter, and consequently chose to stay in France – specifically Paris – for the full year (the Vatican and ancient Rome were unfortunately unavailable destinations). I’m currently working as an editorial assistant at Hermès International, where I edit and translate a wide variety of their communications materials, including press releases, invitations, brochures, city guides, and even dinner menus. Though I was initially nervous about being plunged into a fully French working environment, it’s been an amazing experience; my co-workers are incredibly kind and welcoming, and there’s a lovely community of interns!

Miranda Stephenson – German (Post A-Level) and History – Hannover

I remember attending a year abroad Zoom meeting, about six months before I shuffled my way on board a one-way flight to Hannover. This was a meeting run independent of the MML faculty, where returning students bestowed their hard-won wisdom on unworldly MML second-years, and absolutely no questions were barred. In that meeting, one student told the story of how he’d found himself homeless for two weeks in Paris. I’ve actually thought a lot about this story over the past month, because the apartment I initially moved into is only available to rent until the end of November, and finding a new place to live in Hannover isn’t easy. Finding a new place to live in Hannover as a foreigner during term-time? Trust me, that’s harder still.

The typical German living arrangement for people in their 20s is called a “WG”, which is essentially where you move into a shared apartment with a group of people who hope to function as your new best friends and surrogate family for as long as you carry on living together. What that means is that I’ve spent the past month writing application after application to prospective WGs, attending dozens of hour-long getting-to-know-you sessions with potential flatmates. It’s been a long slog, but I’ve met some unforgettable people along the way: a 35-year-old man who only wanted to flatshare with women 25 or younger, an international table football champion, and an 18-year-old Belarusian art student who sang me her national anthem before I’d learnt her name. Now that I’m finally about to sign off on an apartment that’ll last me until June, I can look back on the whole WG search with a funny sort of pride. I was pushed to take responsibility for myself in a very ‘real-world’ way, competing with native German speakers to sell myself as someone interesting to be around. I would say, though, to anyone preparing to go abroad, do try and sort out long-term accommodation as soon as possible. Trust me again: you’ll save yourself a lot of stress.

“Try and sort out long-term accommodation as soon as possible. Trust me: you’ll save yourself a lot of stress.”

India Marshall – Spanish (Post A-level) and Portuguese (Ab initio) – Madrid

So far, I’m having the absolute best time in Madrid. The visa situation definitely made getting here a little more difficult than anticipated, and enrolling in the university here (Complutense) was a bit of an administrative nightmare – but even so, the workload is almost nonexistent compared to Cambridge. This leaves me with lots of spare time to explore the city, see friends, and travel (so far I’ve been to Barcelona, Seville, and Malaga, among others). And I am even in France right now visiting friends from Cambridge! During the summer, I was worried that Covid-19 restrictions would make it a pain to get around and socialise, but everything is open as long as you wear a mask indoors. I feel really safe in Spain, and I’d say that Madrid is an ideal year abroad location, as it’s a city but still feels quite “Spanish”.

Emily Moss – French and German (Post A-Level) – Paris

Perhaps unlike the majority of MML students, I was never particularly looking forward to the year abroad. As much as I love travelling, it wasn’t quite enough to console me about missing out on third year, as the majority of my Cambridge friends are studying on three-year programs. On reflection, my worries were unfounded. Paris – where I’ll be studying all year at the École Normale Supérieure – was a destination I only decided on in late January, after initially wanting to spend my year in Berlin or Vienna. Until I arrived, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it. Having never lived anywhere larger than Cambridge before, I wondered if a capital city as intimidating as Paris would be isolating – but thankfully I was (so) wrong!

My experience so far has surpassed all my expectations. Yes, Paris is intimidating sometimes, not to mention expensive, but it feels like such an enriching experience. It’s invaluable for learning life skills that I’ve never been able to learn in Cambridge, like paying rent and bills, dealing with landlords, and doing all of my own household chores. Making friends hasn’t always been the easiest, since being a part of the international student community at ENS often makes it harder to befriend French students, but the other international students are in the same boat, so I’ve made some lovely friends from Germany, Switzerland, the US and the UK (oops), and share a flat with two other Cambridge students. The endless things to see and do in Paris are sometimes overwhelming, but it also means life is never, ever boring, and I’m always busy doing something fun. In a few short months, I already feel like I might have grown up more than I did in two years at Cambridge – I guess living in the big city does that to you! I’d whole-heartedly recommend Paris (especially ENS) to any French students looking for a few months of fun (and very little work…)!

“In a few short months, I already feel like I might have grown up more than I did in two years at Cambridge.”

Anonymous student – French and German (Post A-Level) – Leipzig

I decided to spend the first half of my year abroad studying in Leipzig. Despite struggling a little at first with the notorious German bureaucratic system, most things have been plain sailing. The city is wonderful, with the centre displaying an interesting mix between its more distant history, its recent East-German history, and more modern developments since then. In terms of my studies, both the content and the teaching styles here are different enough from Cambridge to keep things very interesting! The only downside to Leipzig so far has been that it seems to be one of the worst-effected places in Germany’s recent Covid-19 resurgence, and the thought of further restrictions being imposed on me while other students are enjoying more freedom isn’t one that fills me with joy. However, as things are, it’s been an overwhelmingly positive and exciting experience, and I feel very excited to be out here at all, experiencing Leipzig every day.

Esmee Wright – French and Russian (Ab initio) – Paris


Mountain View

The Brightness of Berlin: Working during the Year Abroad

My year abroad was actually slightly closer to six months abroad. The only reference in my phone calendar to one of the most panicked days of my life, in which I tried to pack six months’ worth of stuff into one within-the-weight-limit suitcase, is the cheerily peach-coloured notification saying ‘flight CDG to London 8.30’. The next note is in a more appropriate red: ‘Lockdown UK, 23rd Mar.’ Nearly two years on, I would like to say that this experience taught me to always make the most of the moment, and that I now confidently say yes to any and all opportunities to go places and do things.

However, when you move somewhere for a long time, you have to learn that – whilst some weekends you get to be a tourist with a long list of things to do – a lot of the time you will just be living your life. My favourite part of the year abroad wasn’t one thing, but rather the cumulation of Wednesday cinema trips and 10pm coffees afterwards, weekly visits to the same Italian restaurant with parmesan saltshakers and endless bread baskets, and walking around BHV, the Liberty’s of Paris, lusting after purple Le Creuset pots. I don’t regret not doing everything on my bucket list for France, and frankly I hope that if I do return, I continue to not do everything, but to keep going to the same boulangerie where I got breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner for six months straight. Learning to live somewhere does require actually living there, not just travelling through it.