Go on a year abroad, they said. It’ll be the best year of your life, they said. These were phrases I heard many a time before jetting off to Germany for the year to teach English with British Council. My expectations of the year abroad were quite high, therefore I was quite disappointed when I actually didn’t have the best year of my life. Here are a few reasons why:
After having already left home two years previous to my year abroad and after having spent my summers living in various Spanish speaking countries, I thought I wouldn’t be hit by homesickness at all. I was wrong. For the first month, I really struggled settling into my new life and spending my 21 st birthday alone definitely didn’t help the matter. I think the most daunting thought was that that would be my life for the next 9 months. Having gotten very comfortable in St Andrews during my first two years, I was completely out of my comfort zone and whilst that should be an exciting prospect, I found it terrifying more than anything. Thankfully my host was very caring and spent as much time as possible with me during the first week.
2. Cultural differences
I did find that Germany and England are quite similar in certain respects (except that everything is closed on a Sunday in Germany!) however my friendships with an American and a French girl (my flatmate) didn’t last as long as I had hoped due to personality differences.
I was placed in a town similar in size to St Andrews, only without the student community, whose residents were mainly school pupils and elderly people. I had great fun at Spanish class on a Tuesday night where I was by far the youngest one there, but it would have been nice to see some more people of my age. My town was also on the opposite end of the country to where my best friend from St Andrews was living, so visiting each other involved spending 12 hours on busses and trains! If I got the chance to go back in time and change my application, I would have chosen to be in a city where there would be plenty more opportunities to meet people.
4. British Council work hours
Although I did really enjoy my job as an English Language Assistant and my school were so welcoming and caring, I would have much preferred to work full days at the school and not just 12 hours a week. It was great having lots of free time (it no longer exists in Junior Honours) but it actually turned out to be too much free time. Having so much free time only lead to further homesickness as I spent so much time alone.
5. Personal issues back home
Unfortunately, whilst I was away, a family friend lost his long battle with cancer and a good friend and colleague of mine from Scotland suddenly passed away. The fact that I had to deal with this alone in Germany with no one around for comfort and support made it a lot harder to come to terms with the reality of what had happened. These were also the first funerals I ever had to attend in my life.
6. I missed the UK!
I quickly realised that living abroad wasn’t for me and I actually missed England and all its home comforts. Realising this so early on made me fall out with Germany and resent the next 7 months I had agreed to spend there. So, there we go, a small insight into a year abroad experience which unfortunately wasn’t the best. I feel like very few people talk about the bad side of what happens on the year abroad, hence why I chose to write this article. The reality is that there will always be bad times when you’re abroad, I, unfortunately, seemed to experience them more than the good times.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not written this article to put anyone off going abroad (I learned a lot whilst I away), but I just think it’s important to consider that your year abroad may not be the best year of your life. Go with an open mind and get yourself involved in as much as possible and I’m sure there’ll be plenty of good times!