"My year abroad was an invaluable experience and one I would recommend to anyone. Despite solid grades at school and countless language classes in the first two years of University it was only having lived in Germany for an extended amount of time that I could really say I was fluent in the language. My stay in Göttingen, as well as being one of the happiest times of my life, was also one of the most productive.
This being said: take a look at the “work” I was doing: hanging out with my mates, going to choir rehearsals, meeting up for drinks and watching football (the World Cup was also on at the time). I was basically, doing all of the things I would have done at home. Except in German.
I was an assistant teacher in a school which meant I was working for 10 hours a week, with the rest of the time my own. This was probably the laziest, and yet the most beneficial year of my life. In terms of language learning, it is the informal, slang-y phrases which show you really KNOW the language and most endear you to foreigners. These can only be learned in relaxed conversation in the country itself.
In my immediate career after graduation I got a job in finance with KPMG, arguably to a large extent on the basis of being able to speak fluent German. I immediately spent a year-long secondment in the Hamburg office. If money is your motivation, surveys frequently show people with a language consistently earn more than people who do not speak another language.
I now live and work in Berlin planning, performing in and hosting comedy and music events while training as a singer. Again, my German skills gained in the year abroad are the main reason I am able to do this.
The move from London to Berlin, and the change of career was massive but I’d done it before on my year abroad so I wasn’t daunted. My quality of life is immeasurably higher as a result. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t “invested” the time talking to my mates in the pub in Göttingen.
My advice would be to embrace all the opportunities a year abroad can bring; try to live with natives if possible, or people for whom the foreign language is your common language, follow your interests – join sports or music clubs, take dancing lessons – whatever your hobbies are. This will give you a routine and help you settle in while meeting like-minded people. Don’t avoid other ex-pats. It’s good to know some other English speakers: just don’t make this your only group of friends, and make sure you are open and enthusiastic: put the effort in to meet people early on as this will soon pay off.
Wherever you go, have a great time on your year abroad. You won’t regret it!"