As a Spanish student, I was required to spend a year in a Spanish-speaking country between second year and Junior Honours. I spent my time in Barcelona, and it was fantastic. This word may be bandied around by many past year-abroaders and lecturers, but I genuinely did have a great time. And the reason why I think my time was so great was, essentially, down to planning.
Amid all the excited chatter of year abroad/Erasmus fairs, and lecturers keen to get rid of us all for a year, I began the planning stages of my year away around this time in my second year. There were three possibilities: go teach, go study or - the ugly sister of the three - go work.
This working option is, for some reason, often glanced over. Essentially you are allowed to spend your year working abroad, but would have to find your own internship or placement. I was beginning to see why this might not be the most popular option, but I figured the reward could outweigh the extra effort and so I started searching online for paid internships.
Now, I was half expecting Google to send me a message of disapproval along the lines of “Hey Euan, have you seen how fucked up Spain’s economy is just now? Read a bloody newspaper!” as I clicked the search button. Yet it didn’t take too much effort to find a few companies that offered exactly what I was looking for – the chance to get valuable work experience and a pay cheque, at the same time as learning a language.
There was another reason I was so keen to work during my time away. I’d heard the horror stories, such as the one in the last issue, about the teaching placements way out in the country where trains ran once a week, where they still hadn’t heard about Franco’s death and where that dial-up internet sound was the hottest new thing in town (apologies to any freshers who might not get that last reference). That was why I was so keen to make sure I’d go to a city.
As simple as it may sound, I think one of the factors that will determine if your year abroad is a hit or a miss is whether or not you find yourself in a city, or at least a large town. We students are used to cities. Heck, most of the universities in the country are in a cities, or at least near enough as makes no mind. Without digging up my old standard grade geography notes on the “urban versus rural” debate, I think it’s fair enough to suggest that students simply need to be in a city. Many of us choose our university on the basis of these buzzing cosmopolitan areas. Our year abroad should really be no different - unless of course you are the country type, up for the good ol' fresh air and long hikes for a whole year.
Basically, my advice is this: when planning your own year abroad, don't just think about what you want to do - but also where you want to do it. If you need to be someplace with an ATM at every corner, or with more than one pub to drink in, make sure you consider that when applying. Otherwise, it might be a miss.