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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Five top tips for students heading on a year abroad

If your course involves spending your third year abroad, let me just start by letting you know that you’ve hit the jackpot. I’m a Durham student who spent my third year abroad, working with the British Council in Paris. Whether you’re about to head abroad to Europe, South America or even the Middle East in the next month, there are a few tips you should follow to avoid disappointment or disaster!


1. Live with natives.

You’ve probably heard your lecturers banging on about the importance of having housemates who speak the “target language”. Yes, it’s definitely easier to sort out accommodation with a mate from your course, but as much as you swear to one another that you’ll both chat exclusively in the “TL”, you won’t – trust me, you just won’t. It might seem daunting at first, but living with locals is really the only way to truly experience the culture and fully develop your language skills.

2. Have money to set yourself up.

You’ll realistically need about €1,500 (about £1,100 or $1,700) to get everything sorted in the first few weeks ­­– the last thing you want to be stressed about is money, especially when you’re traipsing around unknown territories, trying to find flats that are only a little bit grimy (you know, in a charming kind of way). You’ll most likely need money for the first month’s rent, plus a deposit, money for a travel card, basic house supplies, and enough to tide you over until your Erasmus grant comes in or you get paid, either of which is unlikely to be before the end of your first month.

3. Be wary of the banks.

Not that they’ll try to swindle you, but you should be aware that their work culture is very different to that of the UK. Often, they tend to lack any sense of urgency with general admin procedures. You can expect those in France, Italy and Spain to close up shop for two hours on weekdays, and not to be open to the public on Mondays. They don’t like Mondays. In France, it is normal to pay an annual fee for a current account and to not have any interest rates in return. Research what system the banks use in the country in which you’ll be living before you go to get an idea of what’s normal and which banks have the best rates.

4. Make a to-do list.

You might experience a shock to the system to find yourself living in a foreign city where you don’t know a soul, having become accustomed to living with and being surrounded by friends approximately 24/7 at university for the past two years. It’s normal to get a bit lonely (*sob*) at first, so don’t panic if you feel it. A good thing to do is to make a list of all the fun things you want to do and places you want to visit during your time abroad before you go. Your year will fly past, and on days when you’re not sure what to do with yourself, it’s good to have a list of activities at hand.

5. Get Facebook stalking!

There are groups set up every year for Erasmus and other university students who are planning to spend a year abroad. Groups include those for students heading to a particular city, for students who will be working for the British Council in specific regions, and for students who will be spending a year studying at another university. These groups provide a great support network, and are a good way to meet people and learn about different events and parties that are taking place in your area for students. 

Good luck!

Article written by Ruth Thompson, TARGETjobs Editorial Intern. Connect with Ruth on LinkedIn