After a brilliant semester studying at university in Bordeaux, I am now spending the second half of my year abroad working at a school near Barcelona, in a small town called La Garriga. As a languages student, the year abroad is a compulsory part of my degree, but has also turned out to be the best and most fulfilling year of uni so far – I would recommend the experience to anyone who has the opportunity!
Whilst organising for my year abroad, I had a lot of unanswered questions that made me feel unprepared and daunted by the prospect of moving so far from home, but I soon realised that these nerves are completely normal. I now feel so happy to be living abroad and making the most of my time here, and so thought I’d write a Buzzfeed-style list of some of the challenges I’ve come across during my year as well as some of the best things to look forward to.
- Accommodation – Although my accommodation here in Spain was included in my work placement contract, I went through the daunting process of finding housing in Bordeaux – once was definitely enough for the year! I failed to sort anything before my arrival, and so found myself staying in hostels or with friends for the first two weeks there, which was certainly a disheartening and stressful period. My advice to anyone planning to go abroad would be to do your research about the place you are going to in advance of arriving there. I was not aware that housing in Bordeaux is always difficult to find and usually runs low even a couple of months before the beginning of semester… perhaps if I’d known I would’ve saved myself a lot of stress! Either way, don’t panic and be open to living with anyone – it may turn out to be great for practising your language or learning more about the local culture!
- Paperwork – Again, this part was relatively easy here in Spain as my school is used to receiving Erasmus students so dealt with this efficiently… so more on France! Sorting my Erasmus paperwork involved a lot of chasing staff around the university in Bordeaux, being sent from one office to another and waiting in queues just to be sent elsewhere again in search of one signature. I’m sure the experience will be different wherever you go, but persistence really is all you need to get the grant sorted eventually. Make sure you print any documents you think you might need before you leave – printers may well be hard to come across!
- Not speaking English – Everywhere you go, you’ll come across people who speak English – either native English speakers or those who want to practise. It’s therefore easy to fall into the trap of speaking English despite living abroad. If living with locals is not an option, I would advise going along to language exchange evenings (organised in most European cities) and taking every opportunity to practise your foreign language – be that in classes, shops, restaurants, banks etc. It really is a case of you’ll get out the experience what you put in; so don’t be afraid to give it a go!
- The people – during my year I’ve met so many new friends from all over the world (including France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Slovakia, Lithuania, Greece, the US just to name a few!), and everyone from Erasmus is in the same boat – this year is such a good way to meet new people and practice other languages!
- The travelling – your year abroad is the perfect opportunity to explore a bit, and transport is generally quite cheap if you book in advance. This semester I have made trips to the four main cities of Cataluña, and have plans to travel further afield too – make the most of it whilst you’re there!
- The weather – as much as I love Sheffield, I do not miss the weather there one bit. Arriving in January, I was shocked to be greeted by a 20oc sunny day and look forward to the long, hot days of a Spanish summer here!
- The food – Your year abroad may not be good for your waistline but is certainly the perfect opportunity to enjoy the local cuisine. In both countries I have been to, it’s been relatively cheap to eat out, and Erasmus organisations often put on evenings where you can come along and try some local food and drink for reduced prices. Eating and drinking out regularly his is definitely been one of the aspects of the Erasmus lifestyle that I’ve enjoyed most!
- The culture – since being here I have learnt so much about different traditions that are celebrated here in Cataluña and around Spain. Living abroad gives you the great opportunity to experience these traditions that you may otherwise never hear of first-hand – my favourite so far being ‘Carnestoltes’; a week of carnival where the kids came into school dressed as something different every day.