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How To Tackle Your Study Year Abroad

BlogStudentsTips and AdviceUniversityYear Abroad

As I sit here in Café Nero on Princes Street in Edinburgh, reminiscing about my previous year spent living in France, I realise that there doesn’t seem to be anyone around me speaking English; Spanish and French are all I can hear and something about it is making me feel strangely relaxed and at ease, as if I’m back in the beautiful city of Lyon.

Every year, thousands of students around the world embark upon their muchly anticipated year abroad, excited at the prospect of living and working and/or studying in a foreign country. With all the hysteria around your upcoming time away, it can be easy to forget about the challenges that you might stumble across along the way, but don’t worry, with a little thought and reassurance, these are easily overcome.   


 Before heading off to wherever your studies may take you; first things first - leave all those expectations you have behind. From little things such as what days the supermarket will be open to the more essential things like understanding your new university system- there will be a lot more to adapt to than you may have realised. Don’t get too worked up when you arrive to discover that your university doesn’t have a clue who you are or even that the metro system is unlike anything you’ve ever come across before; this is all completely normal! Uprooting your life to a strange and new city takes time so make sure you give yourself plenty of it to settle in and never have expectations of how long you think this should take you. Understanding the system of a new university and studying there isn’t an easy job so make sure to take advantage of all those around you who can help. Your home university, alumni and native students are all a great asset when looking for advice, there could also be an international office at your new institution so be sure to familiarise yourself with them and ask for help when needed. Don’t be shy, it’s what they’re there for! The chances are they’ve dealt with some pretty serious cases over the years so asking for a little guidance on what classes to take is no big deal.  

person on bed with study materials on lap

Language Barrier    

Whether you are studying a foreign language (like me) or not, going to a country where the native language is different from your own is a very daunting experience. Without sounding like a negative Nelly, you will probably be completely taken aback when you first move away and soon realise that you are not as fluent as you might have thought. Yes, you can impress your school friends by rhyming off some big fancy phrase in French but it’s not quite the same as having a full and concise conversation.  

However, fear not, everyone makes mistakes. Reassure yourself that it is okay and those around you really won’t be phased with how much of their language you know, just try your best! Don’t allow yourself to get too bogged down in perfecting the little grammatical things now. One of the best ways to learn is by putting yourself out there, chat with native speakers as much as you can, don’t say no; your confidence will soon start to grow and before you know it, all those little things you stressed about will go without you even realising.    

When learning to overcome a language barrier, it is important not compare yourself to others, especially not native speakers. I subconsciously did so for too long and held myself back as it threw my confidence. Learning a language is a slow, gradual process and everyone will be on different levels so just embrace it, learn from your mistakes and have fun!   

  two girls facing each other talking


Everyone gets stressed. It's normal. It would be weird if we didn’t. But the last thing you want to do is spend a year away from home feeling worked up and overwhelmed. We all have our own ways of destressing but for me, health and fitness have always been my go-to. It’s no secret that regular exercise, in any form, releases endorphins (known as the happy hormone), boosting your pleasure and decreasing any pain or stress. Of course, working out isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, sometimes it isn’t even mine, but there’s no denying that the sense of relief and achievement after surviving a gruelling workout is next level. Signing up to a gym in your new hometown or joining a sports club at university are both are great ways to mingle with others and immerse yourself in the local way of life whilst keeping fit, even if it’s just once a week. If you find gyms an expensive option there can be so many other alternatives; online home workouts, personalised body plans or simple running; anything to keep those endorphins flowing!   

Whichever route you decide to take, it can be very essential in helping you keep your mind off deadlines and escape the stresses of everyday life. Not only will you feel more energised and motivated but also have a more positive mindset on how to face some seemingly overwhelming situations. Joining societies and sports teams are also great ways these stresses can be relieved by giving you another great opportunity to immerse yourself with your new peers and keeping yourself busy. These opportunities will, more importantly, allow you to make friends and take advantage of the whole experience after all a year isn’t that long!    

Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity for many, so don’t get too hung up on things you can't control, seize every experience you can and make the most of it, you are not only there to study, so build relationships and create memories. Studying in a different country opens many other doors for you as well, it is a great way to see if you would want to try and secure a graduate job abroad, something you may have never considered before hand.Things may seem tough at times, of course, that’s just life; it’s how we handle these tough times that shape us into who we are. Don’t let them get you down and define your year away, sweat them out and just go with it! 

people running in gym wear along a bridge with a flag on it

Enjoyed this blog? Take a look at: Unpacking Your Year Abroad or  Studying Abroad With A Disabability:How to Prepare 

I am 4th year International Business and French student at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. Out-with my studies, I enjoy going to the gym , playing netball and spending quality time with my friends. I have a real passion for travel, hoping to see a lot more of the world once I graduate.

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