No matter how much meticulous preparation and practical research goes into your year abroad, you can never be fully ready for the obstacles that living and studying in a foreign country will throw at you until you are experiencing it for yourself.
Despite the weekly "year abroad" meetings leading up to my trip (in which I was bombarded with endless information about applications, travel grants, university life, accommodation, and all manner of concerns), I still felt pretty clueless about what to expect.
A taste of life abroad
Lucky for me, as a student of two languages I was required by my university to undertake a three-month term abroad in Granada, Spain. It served as a sort of trial year abroad, in which I was able to adjust to the realities and challenges of living and studying abroad for an extended period of time.
Despite the weekly meetings leading up to my trip (in which I was bombarded with endless information about applications, travel grants, university life, and all manner of concerns), I still felt pretty clueless about what to expect.
That being said, I’d be lying if I pretended that I didn’t have a pretty good deal in Granada: Attending Spanish language classes with the same teachers Monday to Friday, in a group of fellow Leeds students, with a fixed schedule that left afternoons and weekends completely free. Sounds good right? The temporary nature of my residence in Granada, dream of a schedule, and the advantage of being there in the warmer months meant that it felt more like a holiday than a study placement. There was no room for homesickness—just the joy of furthering my Spanish and witnessing Spain's rich and vibrant culture.
The dolce vita?
After a whirlwind summer at home in England I was suddenly living in Verona, Italy and trying to become settled abroad all over again. The comfort of living at home had made me forget what it was like to be thrown in at the deep end. The initial feeling of being out of my depth (particularly as my Italian isn't as strong as my Spanish) has been hard to shake off.
As much as I adore the quaint cobbled streets, beautiful buildings, impressive piazzas and Italian culture in general, I struggled to find my feet in my day-to-day life—particularly my university studies. Unlike my experience studying in Granada, I don't have personalized classes with the same group every weekday and am just a regular student, meaning there's less guidance.
Now, I’m not saying that I expected to be spoon-fed information (I’m a very independent person). But even the simplest of tasks (for example, finding a confirmed list of academic term dates) has proven to be challenging. Even the timetable of lectures is not set in stone and professors make up their own schedule according to what suits them: They cancel lectures, change the time and place, and even finish the course early without prior warning. It’s almost as if they think we can read minds.
At first this really threw me off track; the haphazard nature of the Italian university system frustrates me (and my freakishly organized mentality) and makes me miss the structure and familiarity of studying in Leeds. But I’m gradually learning to not let it faze me and just accept that this is the Italian way doing things. After all, the whole point of studying abroad is to experience a different academic culture—however challenging it may be at first.
Although I have no idea what to expect in my upcoming January exams, I feel surprisingly calm about the situation. Unlike at English universities, here I have three chances to take and pass the exam, meaning that it’s not the end of the world if I fail (not that I’m planning to). It seems that the relaxed, easy-going Italian lifestyle is slowly starting to rub off on me, I’m learning to just go with the flow and I couldn’t be happier.Add this article to your reading list