Leaving home to start University on the other side of the country is one thing, but leaving the country entirely and spending a year abroad is another thing completely.
When I applied to university, I decided to apply to a lot of local institutions because I didn’t feel personally ready to stand on my own two feet and fend for myself, however when my third year came around, I knew it was now or never. I took the plunge, metaphorically speaking, and set foot in Spain (albeit not that far from home, but far enough that it was a terrifying prospect).
I had lived at home my whole life, relying on my parents and family for a lot of things that other students my age (and younger) had been doing for years. Granted, I can fend for myself, cook and use a washing machine, but I had never been in a situation where I had to do these things long term, which I guess is half the fun of leaving home.
There’s obviously a large amount of excitement and trepidation looming when you’re planning a year abroad – it’s a whole year you’ll be spending away from home, traveling and experiencing things you’ve only ever dreamed of doing, but it’s not all positive. Having never left home before I was terrified of leaving my family and leaving the safety and comfort of the home I knew, in exchange for a city I had never been to and never seen. The idea of a year abroad is to practise your language skills and expand your knowledge of the culture, as well as gain your independence and develop professionally too.
Having just entered my second semester on my year abroad, it is safe to say that all these things are true. In close to the five months I have spent in Madrid so far, I have met such a large number of international students, expanded my knowledge not only of the Spanish language, but also the Spanish culture – something that the classroom could never have shown me. When moving abroad I decided to move in with a host family, and experience true Spanish life in all of its authenticity, and this also helped me mentally and emotionally cope with leaving home because it gave me the comfort of a home, and I had no worries about complicated tenancy agreements, or the added stress accompanied with that. The family took me in for the year as one of their own, took me out to local restaurants, helped me expand my vocabulary and improve my grammar, as well as tell me the best places to visit in and around the city, as well as further afield.
In terms of studying, I went in with the knowledge that Spanish universities are quite different to those in England, and in terms of the organization of things that much is certainly true. Straight away we had to design our own timetables, having to swap and change modules and classes until we had five modules per semester that didn’t clash with one another. It’s no secret that this was quite a stressful process, but having the opportunity to study modules that I had missed out on in England, or studying something I recently acquired a passion for was a great second chance, and one I loved every minute of.
Aside from the studying, having the opportunity to explore Spain and visit some of the most famous landmarks in the country was by far the highlight of the year. So far I have managed to visit Valencia and Alicante and I’m hoping to travel even more this semester. This is an opportunity you may never get again once you finish your university course, and not taking the chance at doing something abnormal and completely out of your comfort zone is something I can guarantee you will regret.
That’s not to say that the experience hasn’t been hard. My first semester was tough, living in a country surrounded by a language I wasn’t that confident with, studying at a foreign university feeling quite isolated and alone, at least for the first week. However, I found that really was a temporary feeling and once the first couple of weeks went by, it became second nature to converse in a foreign language, and attend all my classes and sit the exams at my exchange university. I’ve met other international students from all across the globe, sat in lectures conducted by some very inspirational speakers, and practised skills and gained experience of a whole new range of things.
Looking forward to this semester, people have told me that they can already see differences in me as a person. I have gained more confidence, not only in my language, but in myself and my determination to succeed. It’s hard to set foot in a country and know you won’t be leaving for another few months, but it is the ultimate tool for personal growth, and that is something undeniably important to prepare you for your future after university. If you are given the chance to take part in a year abroad, or even a semester abroad, I would definitely encourage you to take it up. The experience will be difficult at times but the benefits and skills you will gain from it will outlive the fear you’ll feel.
After-all, you will only regret what you didn’t do.
By Faith Pring| Spanish and Linguistics NTU student