Picture perfect view, right?
I came back from my Year Abroad in June. I had spent 9, wonderful months in Estepa; a small village of 12,000 people, two hours east of Seville. When you imagine traditional - middle of nowhere - white piso Spain, this place was it.
From a young age I had always wanted to live in another country; where no one knew who I was, where I could dive head first into the culture and completely surround myself with a new language.
Last year was just that.
But, before you get there you are faced with, what I can only describe as - the biggest amount of emotional stress I've ever had to deal with in my life so far. I thought I was being dramatic, until I was contacted by a few people who are actually doing the same thing this year, and facing a few similar problems. So this is just a little blog post on how to get through your Year Abroad, the lead up, the essentials etc!
Before you go - Goodbye's. Packing. Photocopies.
If you're as nervous a person as me... Um, good luck. I found the run up to leaving horrific. I wish I was kidding. BUT - you WILL be okay. Once you get there, I promise you will wonder what you were ever nervous about. If I can do it and come out the other side smiling, so can you!
Packing - pack light. I didn't. In fact I brought two 22kg suitcases, and then an extra suitcase back with me every time I went back - making moving back home... well, interesting. Thank you sinmaletas!
So - back basics, pack winter clothes, yes, it will definitely get cold, even if you're in the South of Spain, Sam, take a rucksack / travel bag if you plan on travelling around your country, laptop, dictionaries, notebooks, camera, ear plugs (in case you have extremely noisy neighbours), a check list of places you want to visit to keep you busy. If you're working in a school maybe think ahead and make a presentation on your home-town, again, something I didn't, but they loved it when I finally got round to doing it. The rest you can buy out there. Supermarkets and cheap 'chino' stores have literally everything you could ever need, from furniture to fancy dres - and if you're lucky you won't have to travel for two hours to get to your nearest H&M like I did.
Photocopies - If you're going to Spain, the one thing you will have to do when you get there is apply for an NIE - National Insurance number equivalent. There's more fuss made about it than necessary, so don't panic. Before you go make two photocopies of your passport. bank cards, driving license, get passport sized photos taken, anything you think important - photocopy it! Leave extras at home in case you lose things, too. All the forms I was given, were wrong, when I got there I had more to fill in and only needed two pictures - so, don't panic. There are always people to help you there.
Investigate - Luckily for me I found two lovely American girls via Facebook Auxiliares Group. They then became my house-mates and work-mates! Even in such a small village there were around 15 of us foreigners; Americans, Brits, French, so never feel alone. Start searching now for other people in your area - there definitely will be someone! Even if you can't find them beforehand, I'm sure you will find each other during the year. Also, get in contact with the old Year Abroad students, your university should have supplied you with a list of emails - and I'm sure they will be happy to help.
Must Haves - Passport. Money. European Health Insurance Card.
With these three things, no matter what you've forgotten, you can probably sort it out (money being the main one). I personally took around £1,000. Being in such a small village paid off, as everything was ridiculously cheap, but as long as you have enough money for a flat deposit, first months rent and enough money for a month or so (just incase your erasmus/loan/wage doesn't come through immediately) you will be absolutely fine.
Communicating - Mobile. Internet. Skype.
Year Abroad Blues not passing? Feeling homesick? Friends, family, boyfriend, girlfriend, dog - they're only a few clicks away. I didn't use Skype too much, but I never felt far from home. Once you realise you can get home in around 2-3 hours via flight, which, is sometimes quicker than generally travelling in the UK, family only feel seconds away.
A few companies that I can recommend (only to people heading to Spain, sorry!) are Yoigo for ridiculously cheap, international texts - even to the USA and cheap mobile phones. I wouldn't recommend Vodafone, for some reason their rates are through the roof. Sprint for contract free, 25 euros p/month internet and for all you TV lovers out there, download 'Expat Shield' you can then watch catch up / live tv from your home country... You can thank me later.
Keep busy -
I signed up to a gym whilst in Estepa, which opened up new language skills to be learnt, new friends, and most importantly it kept me busy and focused on something else other than missing home. Think of whatever hobby you can and do it. Even think of new ones, join dance classes, learn to cook, anything! Your mind can be your best friend or your worst enemy, use it to learn and the homesickness will vanish, I promise.
Once You're There - Unpack. Enjoy. Explore.
You're there! Living what is possibly a dream for you. As scary, intimidating, unusual and new everything is - go out and take advantage. The months will fly by, I'm still wondering where my time went. Check out the local bars, where, I'm sure there will be a lot of interested locals who want to meet you. Drink the wine, eat the tapas, make new friends (beginning to get jealous typing this). Get out and soak it all up.
Yes, there will be days when you feel home sick, where you can't get your point across in your target language, where you feel frustrated, alone and a bit sick of being stared at like the foreigner you are - but that will pass. Stick at it, do something you enjoy, and just remind yourself why you're there. The benefits linguistically of Year Abroad are more than enough of a reason to keep going.
Remember, this may be the only time in your life you ever do something like this - or, it may be the start of a lot of travelling for you. Either way, enjoy it to the absolute max. Spend less time worrying and just live in the moment.
You will love it!
Got any questions? Let me know.
Happy Year Abroad!