By Sam Saunders
This week’s column is on a topic very close to my heart, taking a semester or a year abroad during your time at university. When I talk about my year abroad with other students, I’ve found it’s very common that they say they regret not taking one. I think it’s a massive shame that more people don’t take time out of their studies to experience new ways of learning, new cultures and being completely out of your comfort zone in a foreign country. So, without further ado, let’s get into my advice for going abroad during your degree.
I hope you’re reading because you’re already interested, but I’ll do my best to convince anyone who isn’t at the moment. Taking some time abroad during your studies offers you the chance to gain a bit of perspective, live differently, try new things and meet some pretty amazing new people, just to name a few advantages. For example, on my year abroad, I took up skiing and snowboarding for the first time, as well as trying other sports, such as climbing and mountain biking. I met some great international students from other European countries, some from South America and some really friendly people from other UK universities as well! I ate a lot of French cuisine, developed a love of cheap, but good, wine and studied some politics, which is something completely different to my BA of History and French. It was a great look at how university works in France, and their very particular university culture, however, 8am classes were not fun. There’s also the chance to gain experience in certain fields by choosing to work during your year abroad, as internships and other work placements are offered and would look good on a CV. Finally, think about how much a year abroad makes your university experience stand out against those of other people. Whilst it’s a huge shame more students don’t choose to spend some of their studies abroad, with just over 15,000 students from the UK participating in Erasmus + in 2013-14, there’s a huge opportunity to help make you stand out from the crowd during, and indeed after university.
We’ll start with the basics, how to find out about the possibility of taking a year abroad and where you can go. I myself had to do a year abroad, but the best way of finding out where you can go as part of your course is to either contact your school office, or by popping along/emailing the Global Opportunities office, located at 51a Park Place. They’ll be able to inform you of everything you need to know about taking a year abroad, how it could fit into your course and how to sort out visas if necessary.
This one is entirely up to you. Obviously, the whole point of a year abroad is to experience new surroundings, new cultures and new ways of looking at the world. By going anywhere, you should experience all of these things. A lot of students would worry about the language barrier when thinking about going, but that shouldn’t be a stumbling block. Firstly, there are plenty of places that you can go that have English as a major language, the US, Canada and Australia immediately spring to mind. If these don’t appeal to you, or you’d like to be closer to home, many European countries, such as the Netherlands, do offer the chance to study in English. It was quite odd to hear from some French students who had been to Amsterdam or the Scandinavian countries that they returned knowing almost none of the native language, but their English had improved. All that said, I would really recommend using the year abroad as an opportunity to learn a language, as there is no better way of doing it than speaking it every day. Languages For All therefore offers a great way to get some learning done before you leave, as they offer classes in most modern European foreign languages and cater to complete beginners, as well as those with more advanced skills.
Apart from language, this is one of the biggest hurdles that students face when choosing to study at university, let alone moving to a foreign country to study abroad with all the costs that naturally entails. You should receive more funding from student finance when you go abroad, but this still might be insufficient. The costs do of course depend on where you choose to go, as the cost of living differs from country to country. I found Italy was much cheaper for food than France, where meat in particular was more expensive than in the UK, even taking into account the current exchange rate. However, help is at hand if you choose to go to Europe or further afield. For Europe, you can make use of Erasmus +, an EU scheme (that other countries are also part of, Brexit ahem…) that gives bursaries to students who choose to go abroad; those who study can receive up to €350 per month, which rises to €450 if you decide to do a work placement/apprenticeship. There are also bursaries available through Global Opportunities at Cardiff if you’re going further afield, as well as paid schemes offered by British Council, a programme that provides a placement for British people to teach English abroad.
Finally, accommodation is not the most pressing issue, but is still very relevant. In my opinion, I’d advise living with natives in your country of choice, as they’re a good sounding board if you need to get anything administrative done, or if you’re confused about the public transport, for example. If you’re trying to learn a language during your time away, this is also a great opportunity to practise your language skills on native speakers. There are many websites for finding flatmates that I’m sure Global Opportunities will be able to give you. University accommodation is also a cheap and usually good option, however, the quality can differ quite vastly from place to place, it certainly did in France.
As always, I hope that you found this column helpful and that it has hopefully made you think about taking a year abroad. Thanks for reading and see you next week.