Unfortunately as English speakers, our reputation precedes us when we travel abroad. We’ve all cringed at the documentaries on drunken brits abroad or at footage of Americans baffled by the fact the waiter doesn’t speak no matter how loud they shout. We may find it amusing, if a little embarrassing, but when you face such people as part of your day to day reality it doesn’t seem so comedic. It’s the locals who are left tired and frustrated at the lack of respect for their town, language and culture. While I like to think that lager louts are the minority, you have to understand that it is by the stereotypes formed as a result of this minority that we are measured. Locals will be as sceptical of you as they were of me upon first meeting. Don’t be offended by sweeping judgements – as respectful, cultured polyglots, it’s our job to try and break the negative perceptions surrounding our nationalities.
The Year Abroad Party Animal
For some, the Year Abroad will be their first experience of living overseas and, for them, it’s tempting to view it through the same lens as they would a holiday. That, coupled with the fact that the Year Abroad usually has less weighting in terms of your final degree classification, can mean that some dismiss it as a year that ‘doesn’t count’. While it’s all well and good to sample the social scene – you wouldn’t have had a full experience if you didn’t – there is definitely more to the Year Abroad than how many jugs of Sangria you can drink. If you’re on placement, you can gain practical work and life experience which, if you impress, could land you a graduate job on completion. If you’re an Erasmus student, think how much of a god send those well-honed study skills and that academic vocabulary will be in the final year! Make goals, exceed them!
The Super Keen Students
You’ll find them in every corner of the globe. Those who pour over English grammar books, watch endless American TV shows and pay through the nose for language lessons, all in the hope that one day they’ll speak fluent English. Then they find you. The foreigner with no native friends. A native speaker they can spend hours practicing with, if they can just get up the courage to invite you out. While these can become some of the most fulfilling friendships you’ll have on your Year Abroad, proceed with caution! Make sure the language help is reciprocal – half hour of English and half hour of your target language (or whatever works for you!). Break the English speaking cycle before it becomes a habit!
The Absent ‘Back Home’ friends
The Year Abroad can be seen as a mini introduction to post-uni life. It’s a sad reality that one day all your closest friends will spread and you’ll all live different lives and make different choices. The Year Abroad is but a taster of this strange world where the people you care about most are more than a 5 minute walk away and where nurturing friendships takes constant and consistent effort. You’ll find that solid friendships may wane or become stronger than ever while you’re away – you’ll soon see who will stick by you and it’s as valuable a lesson as any.