How to prepare for your year abroad


There are not many things in life that are scarier than deciding to pack up everything you know and move to a different country for a year. You probably won’t be able to speak the language and you won’t know the lecturers or the other students, and you won’t have a clue how to get around your new city.

On the brighter side, spending a year or even a semester abroad is an excellent way to make your CV stand out. It’s also a sure fire bragging technique, after all it’s likely that the weather will be better than in England. The first reason is probably more likely to impress a future employer, but the second is a great topic for conversation, so you’ll be an all round winner.

The most important thing to do before you venture abroad is to prepare, and plan for everything. There’s nothing worse than being kept up overnight, a week before you leave, realising your passport has just expired. The trick is to sort everything out in advance so there’s less to stress about – you’ll have a far better time that way.

One pretty important part of studying abroad is finding somewhere to live. Some universities will be more helpful than others for this – I’m going to study at Barcelona Pompeu Fabra University, and their method of finding accommodation for international students is a list of websites – primarily in Spanish. Although I am planning to learn the language while I’m out there, my linguistic abilities currently extend to talking about my weekends and hobbies. Not much use when it comes to renting a flat for six months.

A good place to start is to ask both your home university and your host university. There will almost definitely be someone you can gently harass for information, and they’re probably used to it too. Failing that, try and find students in the year above who have done your trip already – they would have obviously had to set up camp somewhere.

Some good websites for finding accommodation internationally are Trip Advisor ‘holiday rentals’ and AirBnB. A lot of companies will register their apartments on these and then redirect you to their own website. Another, simpler idea is to literally just type ‘{university} accommodation’ or ‘{city/country} student accommodation’ into Google. If you’re going as part of the ERASMUS scheme, like myself, there’s a whole website dedicated to flatshares for people in the same situation.

Once you’ve got a room sorted, it’s probably a good idea to book flights. Some universities can contribute towards these, and the ERASMUS grant will give you a bit too as a reimbursement (everyone’s entitled to this, but you have to claim it yourself). The earlier you book flights the better, as you’ll save a lot of money, but looking on SkyScanner will help you find the cheapest deals around for your dates.

The main things to remember to pack are basic essentials – your passport, EHIC card (if you don’t have one, apply for it as they offer discount medical care), an adapter plug and some ready changed up currency. The rates will probably be better abroad, but it’s good to have a small amount with you in case of emergencies. Other than this, make sure you bring with you contact numbers of your home university, and the address of where you’ll be staying! Don’t be ‘that guy’ who arrives at the airport with no clue of what their new address is – you might struggle to get there without!

The trick to organising everything is making a list of your day to day activities, and sorting out how you’ll complete them abroad. It might work out cheaper to open a foreign bank account, or you could get charged every time you take cash out from your existing account. A cheap PAYG phone may also be the best option, unless your current provider has a good deal. Vodaphone and EE both offer really good European travel options for this. Check your forms of ID don’t expire while you’re abroad, and if possible, try and tie up any loose ends of contracts at home whilst you’re still here.

The other big problem exchange students find is sorting out their current accommodation without having to pay for an empty room. Most landlords only offer 12 month contracts, and subletting is usually a big ‘no’ in your contract, so ideally try and arrange a 6 month contract with your landlord if you’re early enough. If not, arranging an exchange student coming to your home university to take your room is fairly easy. There are lots of Facebook groups for ERASMUS students looking for UK accommodation, so as long as you check with your landlord and rent via them, you should easily find someone to take your room. Don’t be surprised if you get charged another agency fee for all the paperwork – this is standard for landlords and essentially covers the annoyance of having a tenant move out half way through the year.

Studying abroad is an excellent opportunity and a great chance to expand your horizons. The ERAMSUS scheme means that, to a certain extent, you get paid via a grant to swan off to Europe (or further) for a bit, so it’s something everyone should take part in, given the choice. Good luck!

Photo: John Rawlinson / Flickr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *