You will often hear people describe a year-long placement or year abroad as one of the best years of their life, and sometimes it seems like a gross over-exaggeration, but let me tell you, if you are thinking about it, it really is going to be one of the best years of your life!
I am currently completing my year-long internship in Madrid, where I am working as a business developer in an international British school, King’s Group. For this blog, I am going to look at the pros and cons to spending a year abroad, this is all based my own current experience.
We will start with the pros:
- You get to experience a different culture
This is a classic statement in all go abroad blogs and I wrote this in my list to my parents. My mother then asked me, “Why don’t you just go on a holiday to Spain?” and said “Go to a Spanish restaurant.”
Ah-ha, caught me there mother. But having been here in Madrid for 6 months, I can tell you that it’s so different to going on holiday. For starters, I am not eating Spanish food all the time. I am vegetarian and the traditional foods of Spain such as paella and jamón are not particularly kind to vegetarians.
However, there are so many amazing non-touristy places to visit. Spain’s culture and festivals are incredible and there is a parade involved in most of them. This is a photo of a friend and me at the Three King’s Festival parade, which celebrates the Three King’s arrival in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus. In some parts of Spain this is the equivalent of Christmas Day.
Seeing all this amazing culture and exploring the city now is great because I have time available and not as many responsibilities as I would have if I were to come here later on in life, when I’m no longer a student. Living here for a year means I get to explore the non-touristy areas, get to know the locals and find the best spots hang out and eat.
- You get to gain a different perspective to life
Sometimes if English is our first language, we forget that it might be others’ second or third. I have had to speak slower and be more patient when people from different countries speak English and now the roles are reversed when I try and speak Spanish. As I am currently in Spain, I really appreciate it when someone is patient with me and allows me to make mistakes. This is a great lesson in empathy and develops both my teaching and learning skills.
- Even though you are away from the University, you are still a University student and get access to all the resources
You might be abroad, away from the University, but you are still a Warwick Business School student and you can contact the University whenever you want with any issues or questions you may have, which can give you peace of mind especially if you do decide to spend a year abroad. You also still get access to the WBS CareersPlus service, as well as the resources online you can still get 1:1 support by organising a telephone or Skype call no matter where you are in the world!
- It will be stressful (but worth it!)
Why is this in pros? Do not worry, we will put it in cons too but hear me out on this one.
Being in a new situation and in a new country without knowing anyone, of course, can be hard. I would be lying if I missed this point but you have to be resourceful and solve as many problems as you can by yourself. If you get through the first couple of weeks and solve those problems, the feeling of accomplishment is amazing, because you really are doing everything yourself. Give yourself those pats on the back. When I first understood what a waiter was saying in Spanish, I was so happy. If you can survive those difficult moments, trust me you can do almost anything that comes a-knocking. Having this confidence is going to make your general attitude to life and final year so much easier*.
Disclaimer: I am still on my year abroad!
- It will be stressful! (part 2)
There are obvious difficulties you will face when living abroad. It is, however, made far more difficult when you do not know the language. I assumed, very ignorantly, that everyone speaks English. Luckily my manager from work went with me to documentation interviews, so if you can, ask your company or the university for help.
It is important to know what stress-relievers work for you, such as sports you enjoy doing, or trying a new activity. I have always been interested in hiking and Madrid has many mountains about an hour away from it. Fun fact: Madrid is the highest elevated capital in Europe at 669m. Having a strong support system amongst your family and friends, so you can ask for advice or simply vent your frustration if needed, is also very important.
Don’t worry – if you find it stressful at first, it does get easier. People more often than not are willing to help and actually like it when you take an interest in their native language.
- Learning a new language
To touch on the language issue a little more again, as I said, I didn’t really speak Spanish prior to moving to Spain. The one bit of advice, which honestly I am trying really hard to practice in my own life, is that it’s okay to make mistakes. It becomes so annoying when a sentence you can say so easily in English or another language you know, becomes hard all of a sudden.
In Spain, there are intercambios or language exchanges, often held in bars in the evening, where you can go and practise your languages with other people in a relaxed environment. I am sure they exist in other countries but in Madrid specifically, they are very common and useful!
I have spent 6 months in Spain so far and I have made so many new friends and visited new and beautiful places in and around Spain. I often stop to think how differently life could have gone if I had not decided to do a year abroad, and I know that I wouldn’t change this decision for the world.
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