The best years of my life were those when I either studied or worked abroad. As a BA HONS French and Spanish student, a year abroad was strongly advised, so I decided to spend a year studying in Alcaláde Henares, a city next to Madrid and three magical summers at Disneyland Paris. Here are several reasons why I recommend a year abroad to anyone, regardless of whether you study languages or not.
Before working abroad, I was quite shy. I barely spoke in conversation class and rarely did things out of my comfort zone. When abroad, I learnt how to survive alone. I admit, I absolutely hated the first week in Spain and at Disneyland due to many issues but stuck at it and became stronger for it. When I arrived at Disney, I barely understood a word they were saying. My French was shocking. I couldn’t even have a basic conversation. Someone asked me ‘Ca va?’ And I replied, ‘’je suis très bonne merci’’ which translates to, ‘’I am very sexy thank you’’.
You become more independent. Dealing with long delays, getting stuck in train strikes and exploring new places alone at weekends toughened me up. I remember getting the wrong bus at 2am in the morning near Disney and getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. These experiences made me a stronger person and I learnt how to face challenges alone. I will now travel anywhere alone.
Living abroad helps you gain skills that will help you to make friends with anyone regardless of their background. When I was working at Disneyland Paris, I quickly adapted to working in a multicultural environment and made friends with people from over 30 different countries.Today, companies always look for employees who can fit into a multicultural team. One of my best friends from Disney was from Vietnam. He told me how polluted his city was and that there were no fish in the river. We went for a picnic by a lake and he was in shock when he saw a swan as had never seen one before. Having friends from countries across the world enriches your mind and makes you open to forming friendships with anyone.
I became more adaptable in Spain as I ate dinner and lunch at Spanish time. When I went to Toledo, I asked for the lunch menu at 12am. They looked at me in shock. ‘’Already?’’ I ended up with some yummy churros con chocolate, left over from breakfast. In France, it was difficult to get used to the fact that nothing was open on a Sunday. I often found myself confused whilst locked out of a huge shopping centre. ‘’Oh damn, it’s Sunday!’’. Living abroad pushes you to the limits and you just have to get on with it. You accept differences and a new way of living.
The aim of learning a language is to communicate. If you are not fluent at the end of your degree, you are going to struggle to find a job in the working world. In order to become fluent in a language, spending time there is essential. There is no way that I would be fluent in another language if I hadn’t spent time abroad. I quickly found local students who practised their English with me while I practised my Spanish. My level of Spanish improved immensely. Mixing with the locals helped me to pick up phrases they used in conversation. It also helped that very few people in Alcala spoke English, Spanish was the only option. My confidence levels were constantly up and down. In France, in the beginning, the French often asked me, ‘’PARLEZ-VOUS FRANCAIS?’’ They always tried to speak in English to help me out but I constantly replied in French. It was really difficult but I kept at it and became fluent.
Before I lived in Spain I had only been to the tourist destinations. I had never been to Madrid. It was an adventure. On my year abroad, I discovered the ‘’Real Spain’’. My first trips included: Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca and Avila. All four places were stunning. Segovia was high up in the hills and boasted an Alcázar, a cathedral, an aqueduct and numerous other monuments. I remember looking over the Alcázar walls below to the countryside, it was incredible. The city shone at night. Another place I remember well was Buitrago de Lozoya, a little town in the Madrid mountains. From the town walls you can see the river meander into the hills. I once followed a stream in Beaune in France and discovered acres of beautiful vineyards. Living abroad allows you to discover places you would have never discovered. Exploring expands your mind.
It’s funny what you miss and appreciate when you live in another country. You always assume that it is better to live abroad but having done so, you appreciate life in the UK. The Spanish often demonstrated against spending cuts. The price of food increased massively but wages hadn’t. Unemployment was at 70% for under 25’s in Andalucia. Spain was in a mess. Many young Spanish fled to other countries to find work as there was no hope. I even have friends today who have a Masters in languages and are struggling to find jobs. Salaries in Spain are also a lot lower than the UK but the cost of living is too.
And of course, there are the silly things that I missed. Supermarket garlic bread, cider, English pubs, English parks, cheese, milk, sponge cake, dressing up on nights out, curry! It was 43 degrees when I arrived in Madrid, a bit of a shock from having left Luton airport at just 12 degrees. Madrid was like a desert. I loved flying over lush green fields when returning to the UK.
Living abroad pushes you to the limits, you expand your mind and grow as a person. You will change for the better. The skills you develop in this short period of time are life skills that will help you to survive and become the best person you can be. You will face many challenges and overcome them, a skill needed to do well in life. Living abroad will broaden your horizons and make you accepting of other cultures, something that will enrich your life. Not forgetting that you will be a lot more employable than the average person, possibly become fluent in a language, discover some amazing places and taste some delicious food! You only live once, spend a year abroad.
by Danielle Boaler
Danielle is an NTU Alumni Fellow. You can find out more about how to get involved with the Alumni Fellowship Programme here
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