“Your year abroad is what you make it” is a phrase often repeated by lecturers before their students embark on a semester, or a year, abroad. Whilst this sounds clichéd, upon starting a year abroad, everyone quickly learns that putting in the effort with the language and the culture helps you reap the rewards. So just how do you do that?
The chances are, wherever you spend your year abroad there will be a large network of international students in the same position as you. For example, most European cities have a very well-organised Erasmus community who hold a variety of different events every week for international students. Even if you are choosing to work for your semester or year abroad, you can get involved with these events as they are a great way to meet other year abroad students from around the world. The events they organise are anything from language exchanges and tandems, to weekend trips to other cities and bar crawls, so there are events for everyone.
For students who go abroad specifically to improve their language skills, there are many ways to do this, they just require a little bit of effort. If you find yourself with other students from the UK, no matter how tempting, you should attempt to speak the target language together as much as possible as it helps improve your everyday language, and you can learn a lot from each other. The same goes for with international students – the two common languages tend to be English, and the target language.
Yes, it is very tempting to speak in English for ease, however, even if you try just for half an hour each day to speak in the target language, your language skills will improve rapidly. Regardless of whether you spend your semester or year working, studying, or teaching – make sure to do things that challenge your language skills. Whether it be choosing a tricky literature module at university, or using the telephone at work, because within weeks you will notice a difference in your language skills which, in turn, will boost your confidence!
Finally, if you are going to an English speaking country to work or study the same applies regarding attending as many social events as possible, as meeting people is the easiest way to adapt to the culture and it really does help to cure any homesickness. Surrounding yourself with people who are in similar situations to you can be very useful as you learn how each person adapts differently to living in a new culture, and it certainly helps you to adapt much quicker.
So the best way to take control and make the most of your year abroad is simply to get involved and speak to as many people as possible!
Featured Image by Universität Salzburg (PR), Embedded Image by Bruno Girin via Flickr