So you’re in second year of university, looking at the endless opportunities of things you can do on your year abroad. Should you study or should you teach? How will I make friends? What if I have a terrible time?
Fast forward eight months and you’re on the flight/train/boat/hoverboard to the new city you’re moving to and you have your headphones in, unable to talk, your mind racing about what the next day, week and month hold.
Fast forward three months and you’re having a pot luck dinner with your friends from all across the world in a tiny apartment on the fourth floor of a European house. Or, you’re visiting a museum in a town near yours with your native friends, using your language like it’s your native one.
What no-one thinks about is the nine months ahead of that. Of course, it would be really bad to think too far ahead, but maybe it’s important for year-abroaders to know what happens when you come back.
There are great bits, and there are terrible bits to every year abroad. I’d be very surprised if a year abroader didn’t have at least one hour when they sat and cried and wanted to be at home. But unless your year abroad was completely full of those hours, your memories of a year abroad will mostly be positive (and you’ll remember thinking during them embrace this moment, because it won’t last forever).
And I suppose it’s the same with everything, you’ll always look back at memories and feel nostalgic about them. Maybe your 18th birthday you were surrounded by friends and had a great night, or you feel nostalgic about the moment your sister had a baby.
But the memories of a year abroad are different. Very different. This is simply because you know you can never relive that moment, and perhaps you’ll never have moments that will compare (not as in the level of greatness, but you’ll literally never have an experience that will compare to it).
For example, you know you’ll have another birthday surrounded by friends, perhaps sadly not the same friends, but still friends. Your sister might have another baby, or your cousin will, or perhaps even you will. But you will never be able to live in that country with so much help and so much carefreeness ever again.
This is a sad fact, and one that I’ve found is very hard to get used to.
I’ve booked flights back to France this summer, with the intention of moving to Paris and living and working, and zero intentions of coming home. You would think this would compare, no?
No. Although I’m very excited to be going back to Paris, my nostalgia is even stronger about my year abroad. I know I’m going to have to work very hard in order to keep myself above zero and that means I won’t have time for the endless nights of drinking and eating cheese with friends.
During a year abroad, you have a crazy amount of free time. I spent hours learning French, reading French books in the local park, going out and speaking to real life French people (mon dieu) and of course drinking a lot of wine.
Even if I quit my job back home, and gave myself this amount of free time, it’s just not the same, is it? The year abroad allows you to play more hours than you work. It gives you time to explore old and new passions. It gives you time to make strong connections with people. It gives you time to embrace the culture and language head-first.
That’s what’s so great about a year abroad. And what’s so awful about it being over.
It’s, of course, important not to dwell on the past too much. We all know this. But when it comes to a year abroad, it’s hard not to – especially when final year exams are looming.
You might have a terrible year abroad, and you might have an excellent year abroad. Either way, make the most of every day you’re there and seize every opportunity. When you come home, that’s when the real difficulties start. Back to university, back to classes, back to exams, back to cold weather and back to not making any progression with your language.
This post is not intentionally to depress any future year abroaders, it’s simply stating the reality. I hope that not everyone feels as great a longing to return to their year abroad as I do, but at the same time I do, because it means you will have had a great year abroad.
All great things must come to an end, right?
Talk about pessimism – the paradox being one of the best things I gained during my year abroad was my optimism! I blame exams.