Did you know I went on a year abroad? I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before…
I’m not even ashamed to admit that I’ve become one of those annoying people that loves to talk about their year abroad at every given opportunity because fyi it was literally the best year of my life. So you best believe I’m going to milk it.
So I thought why not put this annoying personality trait to good use and actually help some budding travellers out there who are thinking of going on a year abroad themselves. As someone who knows exactly how terrifying the prospect of moving to a foreign country for a year can be, I wanted to make the post that I myself was frantically searching for on google last summer. The questions I had all answered in one place, neatly tied up in a little blog post. Ah, that would have been nice.
I’m going to try to keep the answers to these questions somewhat short and sweet, because otherwise we literally would be here all day. I’ve compiled a list of questions that I myself had before I left the UK, and just general things that I think are good to know! So without further ado, let’s calm some nerves…
How did you find accommodation?
I must admit I wasn’t the best at finding accommodation, and without my amazingly organised flat mate and best friend from home taking the reigns, it would have been far less plain sailing. We were both heading to Toulouse for our year abroad so we looked for apartments together, and eventually came across one on a website that was perfect. There are websites you can use for finding accommodation in France and there will be similar platforms for other countries. Otherwise you can try applying for university accommodation, living with a host family, or even going to flat viewings once you have moved out there (although friends who did this said it was quite stressful so be warned). Also try looking on Facebook pages for people moving to your city, there are always new apartments being advertised on these platforms.
Be very careful to make sure you aren’t being scammed. I know of people who turned up in their new country to find that their accommodation never even existed…Obviously it’s not always possible to go out and visit your accommodation beforehand, but try to take some precautions, such as contacting previous tenants, checking the credentials of your landlord or going through a reputable agency.
Did you open a bank account in your new country?
I did open a bank account in France, but I did so for the sole purpose of getting my CAF money (which I will talk about later on). Otherwise, I didn’t touch this account, in fact, I don’t think I used my card once the entire time I was out there. Also, France is renowned for it’s tediously and unnecessarily long admin processes, so despite never using this account, I still had to sign about 3 million pieces of paper in order to open it. So personally, unless you need one, I would avoid this if you can.
Instead, I used something called Revolut, which I highly recommend, particularly for anyone living in Europe. All you have to do is order a card, and set up the app on your phone. Then you can use the app to load money onto your card straight from you bank account. You upload money in your chosen currency and then the card can be used to pay in pretty much any other currency in the world! So I uploaded pounds onto my card, but the money came out in euros as I was in France.
I love this app because it is SO easy to use, plus it gives you full analytics of your spending and notifies you every time you make a purchase of the cost in the foreign currency and its equivalent in your home currency. Obviously euros aren’t that far off from pounds, but this feature can be SO useful for when the new currency is much different from your own, allowing you to keep an eye on what you’re spending.
Is it better to work, study or teach?
This is a very subjective question. I think there are benefits and drawbacks to all three of the options…
With working, your language is likely to improve the most as you are thrown into an environment where you need to communicate, however the hours can be long and you may not get paid very well.
Being a student, (in my experience anyway) you have so much free time. For me it honestly felt like a year long holiday where you don’t need to spend much time worrying about your course and can just enjoy the year and spend time travelling. Naturally you aren’t forced to communicate as much in this situation and tend to find a lot of friends from your home country so you may not improve as much as you would in a more pressured environment. Also all university experiences are different, sometimes they are painfully unorganised- read about my honest opinion on French university here.
Teaching strikes the balance of few hours and still getting paid. So you end up with free time and a little bit of money to help you out on your year abroad which is great. One thing to be very wary of with teaching is the location you get given, as sometimes, although you choose a certain region, the school you are given is in a tiny rural about 2 hours outside of the city. You may like the idea of country life, but for some this can be very isolating and boring.
How did you make friends?
I was very lucky that I got to move to Toulouse with one of my best friends. So admittedly that took away a large part of my nerves at the beginning. But otherwise, I got in contact with others from my home university who were heading to the same location. I also joined Facebook groups of people who were moving to Toulouse and Erasmus communities and spoke to some people online before I left.
When in France, I went to loads of Erasmus events with my university and this allowed me to meet lots of new people and do some really fun things! I also highly recommend living in shared accommodation because not only can this improve your language skills, but it means that you automatically meet people when you move away which can be very comforting.
How did you improve your language skills?
Improving your language skills is a very long and frustrating process that can sometimes be pretty awkward. But ultimately you get out of it what you put in. I did find myself falling into the trap of speaking a lot of English and having lots of English friends. Plus, in Europe it can be very hard to avoid it since everybody seems to speak English these days.
I tried going to language cafés in which you essentially go to a venue and spend the evening talking to natives in your chosen language, something that was slightly terrifying at first but ended up being great! I was also lucky that my friend has French family that I was able to visit with her. As they don’t speak English, this was a great opportunity to spend the entire time speaking French which not only helped me improve loads, but was very rewarding!
Your best bet is to make friends with natives who will speak their language with you (something I unfortunately didn’t really do), you can do this by living with them, or meeting them at university or the workplace!
Is it expensive to study abroad?
Again this varies from place to place. If you’re moving to a high living cost country then you’ll have to take this into account, and obviously if you’re going to the other side of the world then flights will be very pricey. However, there are some things that can help you with the cost of moving abroad. For instance, moving somewhere in Europe entitled me to an Erasmus grant, which is a sum of money given to you to help your finances on your year abroad. You don’t have to pay it back and it’s usually given to you in two instalments over the year which I found so useful when I was away. Unfortunately, due to some terrible decisions made over the past few years *cough cough Brexit*, the fate of the Erasmus grant for future language students is unknown. If you are lucky enough to still be eligible however, then this will definitely help you out.
There are also country-specific things to help you financially, such as the CAF benefits in France. These are monthly payments that help to cover your accommodation costs. I must warn you, the process of getting your CAF is nothing short of a nightmare and you’ll probably find yourself at the CAF office so often that it basically becomes your second home. But if you can stick it out to the end, then you will (eventually) reap the rewards.
Another great money-saving tip is to sign up for an Erasmus Network (ESN) card. I’m not sure if this was specific to France or not, but you essentially pay €10 for the card, and this entitles you to 8 flights with Ryanair with 15% discount AND a free suitcase. This was amazing for me because it meant I could fly home for so cheap during the holidays and it really helped when I was moving home with all of my stuff at the end of the year!
Did you get homesick?
Getting homesick at times is a perfectly normal part of going on a year abroad. I found that I would get homesick, not necessarily because I wanted to be at home, but because I missed the people that were at home. I was really lucky to have a great group of friends and flat mates out on my year abroad so I absolutely loved living in Toulouse and didn’t find myself feeling homesick often. Don’t get me wrong, back in January when my flat was so cold that I could see my breath when sitting in bed, I definitely missed the comfort of my own home, but generally I felt really settled in France from the moment I moved there.
I think the key to beating homesickness is to keep yourself busy. Make time to explore, travel, meet people and just generally get out of the house. The more you do with your days, the less time you have to focus on missing home. There is so much to discover on your year abroad, particularly when you move to a big city, so try as hard as you can to make the most of it!
Do you recommend a year abroad?
Yes, yes YES! I 100% recommend going on a year abroad, as mine was the best year of my life so far! For me, it was one of the last years where I could basically enjoy my life without really having any responsibilities and if I’m honest, it pretty much felt like one long holiday! I have so many friends who did years abroad all over the world and they have all had amazing experiences. Obviously, there are going to be tougher times during the year, but that’s all part and parcel of big life decisions like this. I can’t say that everyone will have the same experience and that everything on your year abroad will be perfect. However, I can say that in my experience it has been the best decision I have ever made and I was (and still am) so sad to leave Toulouse. From the lifestyle, to the travelling, to the friends I made out there, it was definitely the highlight of my university experience!
(There are so many more photos I could insert here but these are just some of my favourite moments)
I also asked you guys on my Instagram story if you had any questions you wanted to see on this post, and here’s what you wanted to know…
Did you find it hard making friends and being on your own?
I was lucky because I wasn’t really on my own since I moved to France with one of my best friends. However I was still keen to make friends of course! Like I said above, I just tried to go to lots of Erasmus events and connect with other people from my uni / going to my new uni and soon enough I met some great people. I must admit, I found it difficult to actually make French friends and so this was something I kind of failed at, but it’s very hard not to fall into the Erasmus trap and inevitably make friends with people from your own country!
Did it make you wish you were staying there to do your final year?
In terms of university, definitely not because the university I went to was a bit of a shambles. However, in terms of general lifestyle, it made me want to stay there forever if I’m honest. I still get so sad thinking that I’m not going back there anymore!
TELL ME ALL
As much as I’d like to tell you everything, I think that may be an impossible task. If I told you everything, then we would literally be here all day, maybe even all week….
You can find posts about all sorts of things to do with my year abroad on my blog so maybe have a little scroll if you’re interested!
How did you manage to take all your stuff over to France?
For a chronic over-packer like myself, this aspect of the year abroad was stressful to say the least…
Basically, I went to France with two big suitcases and one small one at first. Then as it gradually started to get colder, I used my free Ryan air luggage to take home summer stuff and bring back winter stuff. And then vice versa when it got warmer towards the end again. Obviously I was lucky that I could get home so easily. However another thing I did that may work for others who can’t get home so easily is use a service called Send My Bag. This service picks up and delivers your suitcase from door to door, which from France to England only took a few days! I found it to be better value than Ryan air luggage prices and the service was very reliable, with an app you can download to track your suitcase. So I definitely recommend this if you can’t get home easily or you simply have too many cases to carry like I did…
Well, that whole ‘short and sweet’ thing didn’t really work out did it. Believe it or not I did actually attempt to keep my answers brief but I guess I just have too much to talk about. If anything, at least it means that this post can become your comprehensive guide to the year abroad, so we can forgive me for the word count.