Why I’m (still) glad I started my year abroad early
Jasmine Zaman, Foreign Correspondent in Spain, informs us of her experience of a year abroad cut short and why she feels grateful for having embarked on it early.
With the majority of news focusing on the doom and gloom of the Covid-19 pandemic, I would like to shine a positive light on my year abroad experience. Perhaps some of the most important lessons this pandemic has taught me are to be grateful for the little things in life and to focus on what I have, rather than what I do not.
495 days, 71 weeks or 11,880 hours is the length of time I had between my final exam in second year and the start of Freshers’ Week of final year (hopefully). Therefore, due to Exeter’s requirement for Modern Linguistics students to spend 28 weeks on placement, they often have a significant amount of free time before, during and/or after their year abroad.
My main motivation for opting to work abroad over studying abroad was freedom. In other words, the freedom to choose where to go, when to go and what to do.
Having opted not to take a gap year before university, I decided to start my year abroad in mid-July so that I would have five months to travel around Europe and Latin America, as well as visit friends in Exeter and abroad this summer.
Despite having now returned home and delayed my travel plans until after I graduate as a result of Covid-19, there are several reasons why I am still glad I started my year abroad early.
1. I am grateful I completed the majority of my year abroad.
Modern Languages undergraduates look forward to (and worry about) their year abroad from the moment they start university. For some students, it plays a major role in their decision to study a foreign language.
I was fortunate to spend almost eight months living and working Barcelona. During this period, I had the opportunity not only to develop my language, employability and intercultural skills, but also to meet some incredible people leading to friendships which will hopefully last a lifetime. Although saying goodbye to the city and my friends was extremely difficult, I am very grateful for the opportunity.
However, several of my friends from Exeter and other universities had their year abroad cut short before they even reached the half-way point. Even worse still, some students may be completely stripped of the opportunity to study or work abroad as a result of Covid-19 and later Brexit.
2. I spent the summer in Barcelona which is, undoubtedly, the best time of year to go
Turning down a summer job in the UK, I chose to spend my summer working in Barcelona whilst experiencing what the city had to offer.
With its coastal location, warm weather and abundance of festivals, I felt this was an opportunity I could not miss. I even managed to squeeze in a weekend trip to Ibiza with my flatmates.
As my first six weeks in Barcelona coincided with the summer holidays, I was fortunate to have a few visitors and also see some familiar faces who were on holiday with their family and friends.
3. I arrived before the other Exeter students
Barcelona, like any major European city, is a popular year abroad choice. Consequently, I was apprehensive about spending the majority of time with people I already knew and in doing so not fully immersing myself in the year- abroad experience.
I arrived in Barcelona in July and for the first time in my life I was in a place where I did not know anyone. Moving from school to sixth form and later sixth form to university, I had several friends who made the same decisions I did. Unable to rely on pre-existing friendships from Exeter, I was encouraged to make friends from across the world both at home and work and gained a great deal of confidence and independence.
When other students from Exeter arrived, it was refreshing to see some more familiar faces and I was also able to lend a helping hand as they embarked upon their own year abroad experiences.
4. I got to experience working in a hotel during peak season.
As I previously mentioned, one of the main advantages of working abroad as opposed to studying is being able to choose what you do. With a keen interest in working in the hospitality and tourism sector when I graduate, I found a job in a hotel in one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations.
July and August are the most popular months for tourists to visit Barcelona with many hotels at full occupancy which presented me with a great opportunity to adapt to working under pressure, especially when answering inquiries from the guests.
As the months got cooler, the number of holidaymakers decreased and there was a higher proportion of business guests. Seeing the transition from high to low season provided invaluable experience for my future career aspirations.
Despite sounding like a cliché, my year abroad was one of the best experiences of my time at university and perhaps even my life so far, giving me the opportunity to grow as an individual both personally and professionally.
For those of you currently in first and second year, I really hope that you are not denied this opportunity and although starting early is unlikely to be an option, I would urge you to consider spending the summer after your year abroad or your inter-semester break in the country to make the most of the experience.