By Linus Rushworth.
Bonjour! My name is Linus and I have been invited by the wonderful creator of this blog to provide a first-hand account of what it means to study abroad whilst at university. Some of you may already know (from passing mention in other posts) that I currently reside in the French city of Caen, after having left the University of Sunderland for a year to study the French language and culture.
Studying abroad is a conversation starter. You’ll likely find that many people will take an avid interest in your experiences because many people don’t always have the opportunity to explore the world at such a young age. As this is my first blog post I’m just gonna answer questions which I’m regularly asked both at home in the UK and also abroad by other students as well as the charming locals of Caen.
Why did you choose to study abroad?
As a languages student, it was never really choice for me to study abroad, it was always inevitable, but where better to study a foreign language than in the country of its origin? For me, that meant living in France for a full academic year (three semesters) studying at a partnership university. I actually opted to study in the south of France in Aix-en-Provence, but I missed the application deadline to apply, so I ended up in my reserve choice of Caen (a town I actually found I preferred!)
How far in advance did you start planning your trip?
We were recommended by Sunderland to start ‘thinking’ about the placement year around Christmas time (naturally I didn’t) supposedly looking at possible places to live, flights and means of transport etc. To my recollection, we only discussed the financial information for studying abroad about 2 weeks before the end of second year! I did feel somewhat rushed to get everything sorted, since my tutors were supposed to help guide us through the process. But whatever, by the summer I was pretty much sorted with somewhere to live and how I was going to get myself to Caen from my hometown of Huddersfield.
Were you nervous about leaving?
Abso-bloodly-lutely! It only seemed to dawn on me the night before that I was actually moving to France. Up until then it seemed like a lifetime away, which meant that it hit me hard… like a train. I remember walking through security at Manchester airport looking back at my family, and nearly vomiting on the man patting me down. I’d never felt so scared in my life. It was the first time I’d truly felt like I was on my own.
Yes, I’d moved away from home to go study in Sunderland, but it’s still England and only 3ish hours drive away… this was across international borders. I didn’t remotely ready for this challenge in my life since the past 20 years of my life had been pretty easy until then.
How could you afford it?
As a UK student, government funding was the main reason I could afford to study abroad. As far as my experience was concerned, due to my financial status at my parents’ house combined with me going abroad, I was entitled to the full amount of student maintenance loans and grants.
This may not have been the case for some of my friends who have wealthier parents than I do, but there is also an Erasmus grant available (don’t hold me to this!) to all UK students who are moving to an EU country for academic purposes. We were given instalments at the beginning of every semester and even if that money ran dry, we could also apply for hardship funds from our home uni.
How did you cope with the language barrier?
Honestly, I didn’t. The first two weeks were hell. I felt useless. The first meal I purchased was a McDonalds thinking that it would be a breeze to order since the names would still be in English. How wrong I was. Yeah the names were in English, but were the workers used to hearing orders in a Yorkshire accent? Nope. I felt so embarrassed that I couldn’t even order “English” food.
I think by the third day I just cried for an hour at how crap I felt, and not being able to talk to other people in a language I had been studying since I was 12. Luckily for me, the Erasmus society at the uni of Caen, had numerous events and parties to try and integrate all the exchange students with other French students.
With a little bit of wine (around two bottles) I found that my confidence greatly improved when talking to people in French and so I could actually relax and enjoy myself. Also, being integrated with other non-French students, the pressure of talking perfectly was reduced since everyone else is making mistakes too.
By the end of the first semester my fears of speaking French were almost non-existent and I knew that by the end of the year I would feel fluent.
What are the best/worst aspects of studying abroad?
I consider myself something of a social butterfly. I love meeting new people and finding out about them and their lives and what matters to them. Studying abroad brings a whole new range of people for you to make lifelong friendships with, across dozens of nationalities. Never in a million years did I think I’d be great friends with people from: France, Germany, Spain, Finland, South Korea, Russia, Bulgaria, USA, Australia, Poland, Norway, India, China, Indonesia, Brazil…
The list goes on. And of course, this means you have a free place to stay for that round the world trip you’ve been planning since you were 16. Which brings me to another great aspect of studying abroad… you get to TRAVEL!! So many people live and die in the same corner of the world they’re born in, but this opportunity often gives the freedom to explore the planet we live on, as cheesy as it sounds; the world is your oyster! And staying in a country in Europe gives you the freedom to hop across a border with no need for visas or documents if you’re an EU resident. Bonuses EVERYWHERE.
As far as difficulties are concerned, I would say that homesickness is the biggest issue after the language barrier troubles. It’s very easy to feel out of touch with your family and friends, and sometimes Skype conversations don’t cut it. The main way I coped with homesickness was to throw myself into meeting new people to take my mind off the nagging sadness I was ignoring in the back of my head. I found that after a while you don’t tend to feel homesick until you go back for any period of time. For me, that was Christmas of 2015 and then the following New Year where I spent so much of my time running around the UK trying to see as many people as I could before I went home, which as a result doesn’t give you much time to actually enjoy seeing the people you love the most.
Can you describe your first week after moving abroad?
My first week was… an experience.
The language barrier was a killer. I’d never doubted my linguistic abilities until I arrived in Paris and needed to get a train to Caen. If there’s one thing I hate whilst being abroad, it’s looking like a tourist; you attract the wrong attention from locals and I personally hate being a stereotype. This went out of the window after an hour in Paris, I just wanted to get my train. Regretfully I spoke the little French I could force out, then due to nerves I’d speak English. Disgraceful. But I didn’t care. I successfully managed to navigate the Parisian underground system and eventually I caught my train to Caen.
Once I arrived at my accommodation I had to explain why I was in fact moving in a week earlier than the official move in date. I had no idea I was early. I also had no internet connection as the accommodation internet runs on the university log in details of each student, and as I had not registered with the uni I had no internet, for over a week. I ended up having to pay extra for the nights that I had stayed prior to the move in date. I also then had to go to a bank and set up my own student account so that I could register for room insurance in my accommodation (something else I was unaware of). So yeah, that was fun.
I think the worst part about my first week was that I was alone in my residence since nobody else had moved in yet. That hit me pretty hard, and to not put too fine a point on it, I spent most nights sobbing into my pillow. Happy days.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before you moved abroad?
Personally, I would have liked to have known about the necessity to take out room insurance for French student accommodation. I would also have enjoyed knowing that I would have to pay my year’s rent upfront before I even arrived. I’d have quite liked to know that arriving early would cost me money.
Would you recommend studying abroad?
As much whining as I’ve done during this post, I would 100% recommend studying abroad to anyone who’s thinking about it. Even if it’s just for a semester in another English speaking country, the benefits and life experience will be worth every penny! I feel I’ve really grown as a person, as well as having made some incredible friends, been to some wonderful places and of course, improved my French speaking abilities. From my experience, the pros definitely outweigh the cons, although the cons can feel overwhelming at times. But with the cons, you feel triumphant in hindsight, potentially having come through some difficult moments that you can laugh about in years to come. Spending this year abroad has definitely inspired me to continue living in other countries around the world during my twenties and ever decreasing years of freedom before the ‘adult’ responsibilities really take over.
I really hope this has provided you guys with an idea of what life can be like whilst studying abroad. Of course, everyone will have a different experience to what I’ve had, it really is what you make of it that counts! If you are thinking about studying abroad for any length of time I really recommend it, but my advice would be to do as much research as possible before you leave to reduce any risk of nasty surprises later on, and when you arrive at your destination, throw caution to the wind and have a blast!
If you’re interested in seeing what I get up to on a day to day basis feel free to check out my Instagram!
Until next time…