How to Survive Your Year Abroad

   By Antonia Vladut.

Coming to university is a terrific, yet thoroughly frightening experience. On one hand, you get the thrill of moving away from home for possibly the first time, starting a new life as an adult, and submerging yourself in the world of debauchery and late night Dominos that is university. On the other hand, you need to wash your own clothes, learn to cook at some point (hopefully), and actually attend the courses that you are continuously gathering an incredible amount of student debt for. Delightful, isn’t it? But once you arrive at uni, you realise that life is not too bad; you make a great deal of new friends which you can go out partying with, you sign up for countless societies and sports clubs (most of which you’ll never ever attend anyway but hey, they were giving out free lollies at their stall!), and last but not least, get to become a more intellectual and creative person due to your course. While this sounds pretty amazing, some people just can’t get enough; they want to challenge themselves even more, and that’s when a year abroad opportunity comes chiming in.

A year (or term) abroad is an excellent opportunity for students to thoroughly expand their area of expertise. It gives you the incredible chance of attending a new university in a different country, and engage in their curriculum. With the help of a year abroad, a psychology student may get to enhance their understanding of cognitive memory in New Zealand, an economics enthusiast gets to experience local finance in Canada, whilst a politics undergraduate can make his voice heard in the United States of America.

Although studying is an essential component of enrolling in a year abroad, it is not the only perk. A year abroad allows you to travel to, and live in places that you would not have even dreamed of exploring. It also offers you the freedom to experience life as an international student, which could be particularly appealing for students who might have never had the chance to leave their home country. It is more demanding than a holiday, yet less nerve-racking than moving away forever. I had the wonderful opportunity of going away to Melbourne, Australia for a whole year, where I enriched my creative writing skills by incorporating modules from more practical areas; this gave me more insight into my future choices, and encouraged me to pursue a career into the advertising or media field. I firmly believe that, had I not gone on this exchange program, I would have had less comprehension of what sort of work I would like to indulge in further. But let’s talk a bit about the more practical aspects of a year abroad, narrated from my perspective.

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Photo credit: Antonia Vladut

After around twenty-four hours of connecting flights, I landed in Melbourne halfway through July 2015. If you think July would be warm, well… you’re wrong. Seasons in the southern hemisphere are reversed to the ones in the northern side of the world, which means that my flimsy leather jacket stood no chance against the one singular degree currently encompassing Melbourne. Having asked around, I was under the impression that my host university’s campus was located in the city. It was only after the fifty-minute taxi ride when I realised I might have been mistaken. I settled into my new room in the halls, met my forty new flatmates (quite a difference from Essex, and I even used to live in South Towers!), then went about exploring.

The rest of the year was a combination of trying to find my way around this beautiful metropolis without the help of Google Maps, since the city’s network of trains, buses, and most importantly, trams, had not yet been incorporated in the app, and learning a new language, whose basics I foolishly thought I had already mastered through my knowledge of English, and which is simply called: Australian. When I applied for my year abroad, one of the main reasons why I was drawn to an exchange program in Australia was that I could already communicate in the local language, or so I thought. Australian slang beats any other language I have ever heard, and the thick accent that most of my flatmates sported made it even harder to understand them. Whilst it is a rewarding skill to achieve, be wary of the strenuous process that you may have to go through once you have moved to a different country. After residing in Australia for a year, and having the wonderful opportunity of meeting people from all over the continent, I still cannot say for certain that I am a fluent speaker of “Australian”, yet I am continuously learning and improving.

But that is just the beginning! Tune in for the rest of this story, and how I managed to survive a year in a strange country, and what I have learned from this experience.

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