I’m a French, Spanish and Italian student on the first stop of my year abroad in Toulouse. I spent the entirety of my second year scouring the internet to help me plan my year abroad (as sadly, universities are being honest when they say it’s all down to you). Having spent the past two months learning to adapt to my new student life in the South of France, here are some of the tips that I would give to anyone going on a year abroad in Europe!
GET YOUR HEALTH SORTED
I made the grave mistake of waiting until the week before flying out to try and obtain enough medication for the entirety of my stay in France. Word of advice: don’t follow in my footsteps. Visit your doctor at least a couple of weeks in advance, and ask to speak to the Head GP of your practice. You should be able to obtain up to 3 months of medication, and if you have any serious conditions, ask your doctor for a medical letter to bring with you abroad. If you aren’t able to go back home halfway to obtain more medication, this letter makes things a lot easier to sort out! Make sure you have enough to last you at least a good week, just in case! Most universities have a nurse on hand in case you have any problems or queries so, if you’re in doubt, just ask your personal tutor or Erasmus association how to get in contact with them!
GET YOUR ACCOMMODATION SORTED
Start looking for accommodation early – there’s nothing worse than arriving with suitcases and holdalls and having nowhere to go. Try applying for student halls; often all bills are included and it’s a lot less hassle than trying to communicate with landlords and/or estate agents. If you would rather live alone, try looking on Airbnb, Erasmusu, Facebook groups for Erasmus students at your host university, appartager.fr and boncoin.fr (be a tad more wary of the last two as there are scammers out there). Either way, make sure you’ve got your accommodation by August (if you’re starting in September), or by January (if you’re starting in February) or you’ll find that everywhere has been snapped up!
GET EVERYTHING ELSE SORTED
Firstly, make a list of everything you need to pack and a list of everything you need to do! There’s so much to remember that it’s likely you’ll forget something. Make sure you have travel insurance sorted before you head out, in case of any emergencies, and don’t forget your EHIC! Check your contract from your landlord or accommodation service – it usually lists the documents and/or forms you’ll need to bring with you on your year abroad. Also, make sure to fill in your forms right as some countries won’t accept documents if they’re not completed correctly!
Bring countless passport photos (you will always need them), photocopies of your passport and birth certificate, any forms from your university that your host university need to sign (and copies in case you’ve filled in your forms wrong) and guarantor information, if needed by your accommodation (this usually includes your guarantors’ tax records, payslips, written agreement and bank details). Come with a travel currency card if you’ve not yet set up a bank account, as carrying cash isn’t always the safest choice, make sure you buy any necessities (cooking equipment, toiletries, stationery etc), and if possible, try and meet up with any students from your university or another UK university so you can both settle in together – it makes life a lot easier in the first couple of weeks!
BRING HOME COMFORTS
It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived away from home before, or if you don’t think you’ll miss home too much – you will feel homesick. Despite being a 2 hour flight away, there’s something about being in a whole new country that feels slightly alien. Bring anything you can to remind you of home: photos, your blanket, your teddy, sentimental gifts or letters that your friends, family or boy/girlfriends have given you – there will come a time when you just need something to make you feel at home. Following on from this, if you have your favourite food comforts, bring them. When you’re feeling like rubbish and you’ve had a bad day (and believe me, you will have bad days), nothing is better than Dairy Milk and a good cup of tea.
PREPARE TO BE DISAPPOINTED
I mean this wholeheartedly! It really is better to go on your year abroad as a pessimist. This way you won’t be as disheartened if something goes wrong, as is likely to be the case. Don’t expect anything to be handed to you on a plate! In the UK, we have the luxury of having lots of support and guidance but it’s likely that this won’t be the case abroad! Things will take longer to do – forms, setting up bank accounts, setting up phone contracts, setting up WiFi, learning to get around uni and the place you’re living in, sorting out everything you need etc. Just keep in mind that everything gets easier in time, and sometimes you have to wade through a load of crap to come out on the better side!
MAKE SURE YOU SEE YOUR LOVED ONES BEFORE YOU GO
Of course if you’re studying in Europe, it’s quite easy to get a flight back if you really do need to see any family members, friends or your partner, but there’s nothing worse than going away feeling you haven’t said a proper goodbye. I left without saying goodbye to a family member and found out in my second week that he had become unwell. Luckily, I was able to see him during my half-term but it made me realise how important it is to catch up with your loved ones. Remember to stay in contact while you’re away too - there’s Oovoo, Skype, FaceTime and a whole host of other apps so make sure you keep up to date with everyone you care about. Just because you’re away doesn’t mean you can’t communicate!
MAKE SURE YOU MAKE MEMORIES AND HAVE FUN
Your year abroad, while it has its ups and downs, and sometimes all you want is to be at home, will be one of the most memorable years of your life. Visit as many places as you can! Go to galleries, museums, gardens, parks, cities – everywhere you can! As a student, it’s likely that travelling will be cheaper and a lot easier to fit in, compared to when you’re in final year or a working graduate! It’s probable that your Erasmus association will probably throw massive trips for dirt cheap prices too, so if you can, take advantage!
Moreover, make sure you document your adventures - whether it’s with a journal, blog or just taking countless photos; perfect for revisiting when you’re a fourth year suffering from post-third year abroad blues! Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of blood, sweat and tears but the main objective of the year abroad is to have an amazing experience that you’ll remember for life, so don’t feel bad for having a good time. Likewise don’t feel too down if you don’t come back fluent in another language, or if you don’t pass with a 1st. Time flies on your year abroad, and before you know it, you’ll be back, so live it up while you can!