I am a strong advocate of the fact that any form of study abroad programme – be that a year in Singapore, an Erasmus semester, or a work placement anywhere – is bizarre. Completely and utterly. ‘Let’s move you abroad for a year, hope you make some new friends, possibly all in a different language, and hope that everything’s the same when you get back,’ said absolutely nobody, ever. It’s been two months almost since my one-way flight here – minus that quick holiday at home – so now is the time to impart some of my sage(ish) wisdom to you, dear reader.
Make plans, all the time
I don’t mean have a summer of interrailing planned in the middle of November – but cool, if that’s the case. Little things to look forward to can make the most mundane days abroad worth it. Skype calls, weekend breaks, treating yourself to a nice hot chocolate with a pile of whipped cream after work/university. For me, there are about twenty other assistants in the local region, and we try to make plans each weekend – even if that’s just getting a bottle of wine in, or getting a bottle of wine out. Wine. It gives you something to focus on, especially if you’re struggling with your placement. If you’re prone to missing friends/partners/family/pets at home, schedule your Skype or FaceTime calls as something important in your day. You don’t have to spend a ton of money (especially with the current state of that pound-euro exchange rate) to make plans – it can be as easy as just checking in with a someone and having a good, old fashioned catch up.
Take care of yourself
There is a lot to organise when you find yourself plopped in another country. Stuff you didn’t think about before – I just sort of assumed I had always had a bank account – becomes necessary and even more difficult with a language barrier. It can take enough brain power just navigating the supermarket in French, never mind doing Important Things. It’s easy, and we’re probably all guilty, of getting home after a busy day and wanting to remain horizontal for as long as possible. Get up, take a shower, and cook something you know you like. Do your washing, for God’s sake, even if the launderette is a little walk away. Remember that seemingly basic tasks are Important Things, too.
Stop being so hard on yourself, thanks
So far, you’ve spent at least two years in a classroom with other language learners. Most of your conversations in the language will have been with other learners. You will make mistakes. You will relearn how to pronounce words you thought you’d mastered at age fourteen. People will hear you speak one sentence and automatically reply in English. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Of course, it’s frustrating. You’re here, in whatever country you’re in, and you want to speak the language. It can be annoying, yes, but I’ve been just as guilty in Scotland. As a language assistant, it’s literally my job to encourage people to speak English. I, and others, wouldn’t have done our job properly if students were still struggling. Take encouragement, not offence, that there are people out there who are just as keen to practice their skills as you are.
I suppose this applies in reverse, too, to those who have come to Glasgow to study. It’s going to be difficult whatever way you look at it, and I’m not claiming to be an expert – far from it. If you really are not enjoying the experience, at least remember that it’s not forever. Your work contract will end, and university passes a semester at a time. I would, however, recommend Facebook (and if you’re one of the three people who don’t have an account, just set one up for your period abroad). If you’re in Scotland, find a university society for your language or country to connect with people in a similar position. If you’re in Europe, most university cities have groups called ESN (Erasmus Student Network) that run social events open all Erasmus students. Facebook groups can help you connect with other international students, or speakers of your language.
If you’re having a brilliant time on your exchange, I’m incredibly happy for you! Nobody deserves to have a shit time. But, if you are, it’s okay too. You’re definitely not alone, even if social media makes you feel like you’re having the shittest year abroad ever. Regardless, look after yourself, and keep going. It’s only a year, at the end of the day.
[Amy Shimmin -@amylfc]