Before we dive into the different questions year abroad students were asked, I want to begin with an answer from Thomas Clarke to the question ‘if you could give yourself one piece of advice before going abroad, what would it be?’ He encouraged you guys going abroad to:
‘Try to reduce unnecessary stress as much as possible. It may be a big thing and a first time, but nearly everyone eventually finds their way.’
Based on my experience abroad, this quote resonates most with my experience and reinforces why you guys have made the right decision to a year abroad. Firstly, the year abroad is and will be stressful, God, even all the paperwork you guys are currently occupied with is no doubt stressful. But crucially, that stress does pass and it helps to simplify and plan things out every step of the way. You will have many different bureaucratic tasks on your hands, now and next year, but if you plan and set deadlines for yourself, and stick to that plan, the stress slowly disappears.
Secondly, as to why you guys have made the right decision, a lot of people will naturally be discouraged from living abroad because very few of us have prior experience of this. but, as Tom says, ‘nearly everyone eventually finds their way.’ The stress of paperwork and foreign bureaucracy passes and you will experience a world many of your peers in History have chosen not to pursue. A world of unlimited potential and challenges which themselves reap unquantifiable benefits. You will live truly alone for the first time; you will become even more independent than you are; you may travel and see some of the finest beauties of the world; you may learn a new language; you will create connections and network across the world; you will embrace a new culture; you celebrate, dance, maybe drink into the night with your new European, American, Australian, Asian friends, thinking how far you’ve come to be in your allocated location. You will begin a new chapter of your life that’ll make you wonder how you ever lived 19, 20 years before without it. You will not recognise yourself in a year, but in the most positive way possible.
But to reap these benefits it comes with stress and challenges. And that is the purpose of this article, to help you deal with those stresses and overcome the inevitable challenges.
With that in mind, I will show you the following questions and a couple responses to each.
Did the year abroad meet your expectations?
Eleanor McDonnell, Endicott College, Boston, U.S.A.
“The year abroad went above and beyond my expectations.”
“When I first arrived, I did feel really daunted that this was where I was going to be for a year, but after getting settled for a couple of days, it began to feel normal. The year abroad gave me so many opportunities to travel around America, and this was made accessible through the Turing Scheme which everyone has access to on their year abroad and also a part-time job I had on campus.
“I was pleasantly surprised about the amount of opportunities I got to travel whilst I was there. It was such an exciting year, there were always things going on and trips to look forward to, but also it hugely developed my confidence and resilience adapting to life in a different country.
“It went really quickly and so I would encourage anyone to really just embrace the time you are there and do everything you can do!”
Jasper Watkin, Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, U.S.A.
“The best thing about my year abroad was definitely the friends I made that weren’t from the UK, especially as these are connections that have outlasted my time abroad and means that I never feel too far away from that incredibly special and formative period of time.”
“That’s why I think the most important thing to focus on when you are abroad is finding likeminded people from different cultures as that is what is going to make the experience far more valuable, rather than just sticking to other British students. That’s not to say to ditch the Brits for the sake of it, but don’t feel the need to be socially restricted.”
“Another great thing about my year abroad was the opportunity to get into nature more than I would in the UK because of the proximity of the university to mountains, rivers, and beaches.”
“The university would run a program that took students on hikes every week, so whilst that won’t be true for every university, it’s a sign to engage with the extracurricular activities that the university clubs and societies are running for its students as they will know what is best to do in the area, especially I think if you’re in the USA or Canada!”
Thomas Clarke, Albert-Ludwigs Universität, Freiburg im Breisgau
“The travelling you can do whilst there. Day-trips are worth it.”
How did you find the process of making friends, was it difficult and what opportunities were there for socialising?
“I was lucky enough to be attending the college with one of my best friends and housemates but we didn’t actually arrive at the same time, so I had a week settling in on my own.”
“I was also lucky because the college I was attending was quite small, and so it was a lot easier to make friends. The international office at the college were really supportive and gave so many opportunities to meet people, and also facilitated opportunities to connect with the other Birmingham students before we arrived.”
“I think it is a really good idea to try and seek out if there are other Birmingham students going to your university! There were five of us in total from Birmingham and I think you can become really close with each other, because you have such a unique shared experience, and we are all still really good friends.”
“Having said that, there were many opportunities to meet American students in classes, as well as other international students, and we regularly socialised with other students too.”
“Especially with European Universities, there were plenty of Erasmus events to meet other foreign students.”
“These, however, shouldn’t be the only source of friendships.”
“An attempt should be made with local students. They know more about the area, have better advice and you can learn from them.”
“This usually isn’t too difficult to do. You can meet locals through university seminars, sports, housemates etc.”
What advice would you give someone navigating the paperwork and bureaucracy of the year abroad eg. visa, residency permit, setting up a bank account, phone number, finding a flat?
“The best thing to do in this regard is utilize the study abroad services at both UoB and your host university, with the latter probably being the best source of advice for local queries and admin – that was definitely the case for me.”
“Also, things like phone numbers can often be best advised just by any friends you make that are local to your host university.”
“For bank account, it’s likely easiest to just set up an online bank in the UK because they’re usually international. For example, I used my Monzo the entire time in the USA and never had a problem. Another possible option is Starling Bank, or Revolut.”
“Especially now that we have left the EU, when you want to go to an EU country the bureaucracy is far worse than it was before.”
“Although this should become more streamlined as time goes on, there still remains a lot of hoops to jump through.”
Robbie Sweeten, Albert-Ludwigs Universität, Freiburg im Breisgau
I would advise creating a list of all the bureaucracy you have to sort now and will have to when you go abroad. For example, this might look like this
· Visa – start researching and asking yourself questions like: what documents will I need to complete the application? Do I have to go to London for my appointment, if so how can I get there? Do I need to show proof of funds? If so, how much exactly?
· Accommodation – has my host university emailed me yet about accommodation? If no, then email them. If you still haven’t heard about accommodation by July/August, I would encourage looking up renting a room in the town and city with natives (which Tom did). (If you want more advice with this, get in touch via my email at the end).
· Do I need healthcare coverage? Does my EHIC cover this? If not, what are the best health insurance companies in my country?
· Do you have to register as a student at your university (if you’re studying)? For example, as a German student you will need to matriculate as a student through your host university’s online portal (you will be made aware of this, so just monitor your email(s) at all times)
With the visa, I would separately encourage researching this ASAP. Find out everything you need to complete the application to reduce stress closer to the time.
I would also encourage you all to review your ancestry and see if you have any European roots. I know many who were able to acquire Irish, Italian etc passports which made going to Europe infinitely easier. As with travel outside of Europe, from my knowledge, a European passport wouldn’t help as much.
· Is there any paperwork I have to complete once I’ve moved in? For example, where I was in Germany we had to register as a resident in the city (which was simple but nonetheless had to be done)
· Do I need a bank account? If so, what are my best options? Follow Jasper’s advice with Revolut, Monzo, Starling Bank. Personally I used Starling Bank and had no problems. Admittedly, there are many different options, but don’t overthink it; just choose one.
· Do I need a new phone number? Personally, I didn’t and everyone I knew in Germany didn’t. But you will certainly need to check the terms of current phone contract. I was allowed to data roam. Maybe this isn’t the case for you, so check yourself
· Is there any paperwork UoB needs me to complete? I can’t speak much to this, as I imagine a lot has changed but consider what the Year Abroad Outgoings team want from you. Email them. Check the Canvas page.
· Misc – do I need pots, pans, bed sheets? If you do, DO NOT buy these before going abroad. It’s a waste of space in your suitcase and I’d only ever consider this if you’re parent(s)/guardian(s)/friend(s) are driving you to your location. The accommodation I lived in last year offered a package with bedding, pots, pans etc so maybe check this closer to your departure.
On top of all these things, make sure you have physical as well as digital copies of all your documents, including passport(s), health insurance, student registration at your host university, visa. Everything.
In all, I implore you all to plan, plan, plan. But also make sure you plan concisely on one or two pieces of A4 (physically or on a laptop) so you can see everything you need to. As Tom implores us to do, try reduce your stress as much as possible. Make everything manageable.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice before going abroad, what would it be?
Samuel Burns, Denton, Texas, U.S.A.
“One of the main issues I encountered was the isolation of being situated in a small college town, located an hour north of Dallas. The sheer size of America and particularly Texas, with its vast expanse, made it challenging to explore and experience the country fully.”
“Public transportation was limited, which hindered my ability to travel and participate in different social and university activities, leading to a sense of repetitiveness and restriction. Whereas in the UK the idea of clubbing and pubs are situated directly next to accommodation.”
“In retrospect, I would advise future study abroad students to research the location they will be staying in, particularly whether it is a centralised, major city or a small college town. Choosing the former would likely provide more opportunities for cultural immersion, social activities, and (normal) university explorations.”
“However, you do have to make the most of it, despite these setbacks I immersed myself in sporting, educational and social culture of Texas which I keep with me a year on.”
“Perhaps I would do a bit more research into the university and place I was going to.”
“Although I was in no way disappointed with what I got (quite the opposite), it still probably would have been better to have been more informed.”
What did you learn from the year abroad – academically, about yourself or anything else?
“I learnt that it is probably easier than you’d expect to move somewhere new.”
“Although there were problems along the way; they all became exceedingly relative.”
“The ability to live abroad, create new habits and routines, converse regularly in a foreign language, as well as organise your life on your own make you a far more independent, confident person.”
“Crucially, even if you don’t learn a new language or don’t feel you’re doing perfectly; maybe you feel nervous, anxious or depressed throughout various points of the year, take a step back and remember what you’re doing.”
“You’re completely isolated from home. You have no friends from home, no parents. All of your staples of comfort are gone. And, in the face of all of that, you’re surviving! Surviving is achieving.”
“At the same time, don’t be afraid to push yourself. Don’t aim for survival before leaving to go abroad. Aim to thrive, but know you can always fall back on survival as a form of (relative) achievement.”
“This year is a free hit. It’s worth about 6% of your degree. It’s a time to start over, if you like; become someone new. You may never get this opportunity again.”
“Academically speaking, the learning conditions and expectations in the US are so different to the UK.”
There is far more consistent assessment that contributes to your final grade like tests and class participation rather than one final assignment being 100% of your mark. As a result, I had to adapt my methods of study to this and apply my learning much sooner in an assessed environment which resulted in a need for a better analysis of materials.”
“The workload overall is just greater, and I learnt that I was capable of covering a lot of material under greater time pressure.”
“Personally, I learnt the importance of prioritising my own experience, on opportunities like the year abroad, as there would often be times early on in the year where the desires of people, I felt the need to keep close conflicted with mine and would therefore hinder the experience of both parties.”
When you’re given an opportunity to go abroad and meet new people from a different culture it’s definitely best to release yourself from the comfort of those you maybe came with, if you’re only sticking to them because you feel you have to but you don’t click as much.”
I hope this advice has calmed you and given you tangible ways to tackle your year abroad. If you would like more pointed advice, please email me (at RXS1016@student.bham.ac.uk) and I will try specifically to your queries, or direct to others who could help.
If you still feel lost, I would point you to the recent issue of the Linguist which you can access through the following link (https://issuu.com/thelinguistmagazine/docs/issue_46_march_23). Consult page thirteen with the title ‘A Year Abroad Survival Kit for Second Years,’ by Freya Richold.
Otherwise, give me direct feedback and I will try my best to get you the advice you need! Email: RXS1016@student.bham.ac.uk
Thanks once again to the contributors of this article!