In two weeks time I'll be back in the UK and my year abroad will be over. The much-hyped year abroad I'd been gearing up to for years. The year abroad that turned out to be a million times better than I'd ever imagined.
Those of you who've been reading Handbags and Cupcakes for some time may recall the post I wrote back in July 2013, Pre-year abroad jitters, or maybe even this one the day before I moved to Germany in September. Yup, this time last year I was practically weeing myself with nerves.
But with a solid 12 more days here in Brussels it's not quite time for an emosh end-of-year-abroad post just yet. You've got that one to look forward to, chums.
No, this is the time for me to pass on some of my new-found wisdom to all the students about to start (or just starting) their own years abroad. I know some have already waved goodbye to Blighty and jetted off to more exotic climes (or at least Germany), and I imagine a few of you may be feeling exactly like I was - daunted, nervous and a little scared of the unknown (as well as excited, obvs.)
So, dear friends, here are a few pearls of wisdom, pieces of advice, and general insights which may just put your mind at ease and let you know what's in store. Of course your experience won't be exactly the same as mine, but I hope these may help you make the most out of your year.
Without further ado...
1. Living with native speakers is the best thing you can do to improve your language.
|With my Mitbewohnerinnen|
In both my placements - Bayreuth and Brussels - I managed to live with students, which has been awesome. I was with two German girls in Germany and seven (yes, really), French and French-speaking Belgians in Brussels. Doing this is the best because not only do I obviously speak to them in German/French, but I hear them speaking to each other which is brilliant for picking up colloquialisms etc.
Also, if you live with native speakers they're more likely to welcome you into their friendship groups, which brings me nicely on to...
2. Don't expect to automatically make loads of local friends.
|With ma uni galpals at Nuremberg Christmas market|
If you're studying at a uni, you will probably find you spend most of your time with fellow foreign students. As a language assistant, you tend to hang out with other language assistants. And as an intern, you may find yourself seeking out people your age, of which the easiest ones to find - and the ones usually most willing to make friends - are fellow year abroaders.
3. But it's totally OK to hang out with Brits.
|We love Schnitzel more than actual Germans|
It's inevitable you'll gravitate towards people going through the same thing as you, and that's OK. I know it was really comforting to share and compare experiences with nearby fellow English language assistants and I had such good fun travelling the country and generally making the most of the year abroad with them. Pretty sure a lot of us will be friends for life, and if that's not a fairly awesome thing to come out of the year abroad I don't know what is.
|The view from the stage in Bayreuth Christmas Market|
It can be daunting to go along to something not knowing a soul, but from my experience people will always be friendly and welcoming - everyone knows it's a scary thing to do! And don't be afraid to say, "Hey, I'm new here and don't really know anyone. Would you like to meet up for a coffee?"
5. Your language development might ebb and flow.
|It's hard to speak French in Brussels. Seriously.|
Remember it'll still be improving more than it would if you were back at home!
6. You won't regret travelling as much as you can.
Most of you will know I have been all over the place this year - Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands (posts from most are on my travel tab) - and I have absolutely loved it. I never thought I'd travel as much as I have done, but it may have been the best part of my year abroad.
You may have little money, but with a bit more time, it's easier to travel on the cheap than you might think. I have totally caught the travel bug, and I hope you do too.
7. Think about how you want to remember the year NOW.
|If only I'd taken a selfie with Barack...|
My plan is to make a scrapbook so have been collecting everything from tickets to coasters over the year, but there are lots of creative things you can do. Because trust me, you'll want to remember this year...
8. It really is true when everyone says your year abroad will be the best year of your life.
So far at least, anyway.
Everyone told me this, but a tiny part of me feared that I might be the one for whom it doesn't ring true. Well, a year on I can tell you my year abroad really has been the best year of my life. And I'm fairly certain yours will be too.
Good luck, new year abroaders! I'm jealous you have it all ahead of you.
Anyone have anything to add to my list?
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