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Why You HAVE to do a Year Abroad During University (Insight)

StudentsUniversityYear Abroad

You've probably thought about studying abroad, but you need a nudge to make that first step. Well luckily, Laura Ash, a recent graduate from the University of Southampton, is here to implore every student to consider a year abroad. Read on for why (and how!)...

I think there are very few lecturers who profess that the best part of your university experience is the time that you don't actually spend in university. But, speak to the year abroad community – a group of ambitious students who just had the best time of their lives – and that's exactly what you'll hear. I was one of the lucky cohort who had the best time on my year abroad so I'm biased. Home from my travels and having now completed my time at university, if there was one piece of advice that I could give any student or student-to-be it would be this:

Just go on a year abroad. Please.

But why, you might ask? You've heard it from your older friends and now here I am – another happy-go-lucky ex-student drowning you in a sea of praise for the year abroad. Let me tell you, it's worth your time to listen because the year abroad is invaluable and not just because it totally destroys all the stereotypes that suggest uni only gets harder after fresher's. If you haven't considered a year abroad yet or are in the toils of deciding whether it's right for you, please allow me to persuade you.

Take a pin and burst that university bubble

Most people who choose to do a year abroad opt to carry on studying but let me tell you that university abroad is nothing like university in the UK. Think administrative chaos, Erasmus groups and late night lectures. Yes that's right, university abroad is a completely different board game. Now, perhaps I'm not selling it as well as I could be (I didn't go to a foreign university, so forgive me) but what I heard from my friends were things like:
  • Flexible module choices meant that they could pick up new areas of interest, such as starting beginners' Japanese, or find out more about topics that they really enjoyed which helped them to decide the topic for their dissertation in their final year.
  • They were able to socialise with different groups of people from within the country and other foreign exchange students.
  • They benefited from the long university terms meaning that they had time to travel.
So even when you decide to go to university on your year abroad, you're still getting out of the comfortable student life that an English university offers you. But some universities and different courses offer you different study abroad options. As an English and Spanish student, I decided to work coaching cricket in Argentina. I was not required to attend a single lecture but instead was able to get to grips with working in a foreign culture. My university also offered the opportunity to teach English with the British council. Each of these experiences is unique for their own reasons and you can still have a great time with whatever one you choose because you will still be taking advantage of being in another culture, meeting new people you otherwise wouldn't have, perhaps speaking new languages and learning to be independent in a whole new country which makes living back in England seem like a doddle. For me, bursting my UK university bubble was just so important to realign my focus. I learnt how to balance my personal and work life with the small requirements I had for my university at home, which meant that when I came back to study for my fourth year in the UK, I felt more prepared and was able to organise my life-work balance more efficiently.

Enter a new dimension

Going on a year abroad really can add a whole other dimension to your degree. I had friends who had applied and started a 3 year Law degree. In their second year, they decided that they wanted to have a year abroad, making their course 4 years long, and consequently graduated in Law with International Legal Studies – now how cool does that sound?! Studying abroad shows future employers that you are different to the rest. It shows that you are; ambitious, culturally aware, adaptable and that you also have a willingness to learn. What you learn on your year abroad will be what seems to crop up in endless conversations and will give you additional character when applying for positions, interviewing and also doing your newly acquired job!

Go, go, go.

When you're in a new country, it is very rare that you will stay there. I didn't meet a single person who, on their year abroad, decided that they would stay in their town for the entire year or term. Needless to say, your year abroad is a massive opportunity to go travelling. It is the best opportunity for you to take advantage of seeing the highlights of some places on earth that you didn't think you'd venture to. You learn so much about the region and it inspires you to explore. During my time in South America, I managed to go off on some trips to Uruguay and Bolivia. If I'd have planned to do that from England I would probably still be sitting here now waiting for the ‘right time'. The year abroad is a whole bunch of seemingly right times. And all this time spent travelling will give you plenty of time to think about what you actually want to do with your life or at least give you another year of playing that well-known record; "I don't know what I want to do with my life".

So, I've got you. You want to do a year abroad, but how?

There are plenty of universities in the UK that offer opportunities to do a year abroad but unfortunately, not every university does. See Global Graduates for more information. If you're already a student, your university may offer study abroad options to you, even if you didn't initially sign up to do one. Search your university website to find out what they offer or speak to the head of your faculty to find out more. If you are one of the few universities that do not offer study abroad options, fear not! There are normally plenty of opportunities to mingle with international students on campus and, of course, once you graduate the world is your oyster! For more information on taking a year abroad as part of your studies, go to UCAS's studying overseas page.
laura ash grb author

Laura Ash is a recent English and Spanish graduate from the University of Southampton. She has published for Barefoot Vegan magazine, The Costa Rica News and the Wessex Scene as well as on her blog; Plane Ride Stitches. She won the Year Abroad Blogging Scholarship in 2015-16 for her university and wrote about her experiences as a cricket coach in Argentina.

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