Toulouse, France - bureaucratic, strikes, more strikes, CAF
Toulouse is a good party city, though French students are not that friendly towards international students. The Université de Toulouse II is rubbish. I had bureaucratic nightmares every day - bank, CAF, housing, university, utilities, having to provide documents that didn't exist in order to achieve the most basic of activities. There was a notable reluctance of anyone in authority to try and help, really. I travelled around the region to places like Carcassonne and Albi, but travel outside was really expensive and it would have been cheaper to fly from England rather than get a train from Toulouse to other parts of France! If you have the option, don't go to France in the second semester; they always go on strike. In fact, I’d suggest that you avoid France altogether and go somewhere else French-speaking.
There was loads of stuff to do and lots of people to do it with - Barcelona was a really exciting place to live for a year. The biggest difficulties for me were finding a decent and affordable flat, and not really knowing any Catalan when I arrived - I'd recommend finding a language partner ASAP as you'll improve and you might even make a few friends out of it. Whatever you do, enjoy it! Take every opportunity you get to speak the language and meet people. And be very, very careful about rent and contracts and all accommodation-related hazards.
If it weren't for my year abroad, both my level of Spanish and my career path wouldn't have improved as much as they did - I got some really goof work experience in marketing whilst I was there. My initial difficulties were in finding accommodation and with contract issues for my work placement, especially as I found that I was consistently given the wrong information by the British embassy. But all in all, once I’d organised myself, Madrid was one of the easiest places to settle into. With two major universities and Erasmus students round the corner, it’s easy to make a fresh start. The social life was an important factor in what I was looking for. As I worked hard, if it wasn’t for the lively number of bars and clubs, it would have been much harder to meet anyone. I didn’t do a course out there or anything, I went into work and sat at my desk from 9 til 5, but it's a small world and after a few phone calls to friends, I started meeting people for drinks and quickly made a lot of acquaintances. Erasmus students there are all in the same boat; very rarely are there any who already have family and friends there, so people are very patient and welcoming and eager to be friends. Although after a while you realise which ones you actually like, the whole experience is refreshing.
I would definitely return to Berlin, it's a brilliant city with so much going on and a great atmosphere. It's a laid back city, packed full of activity. Finding somewhere to stay was difficult though, as at the beginning of September there are so many students looking for housing. It took me 3 weeks to find a room to rent. I'd recommend going out just before September or trying to organise something via email. I would definitely recommend Berlin; it's very cheap and good for students. There are quite a lot of English speakers there; you have to be quite disciplined to speak German, so make the effort to speak it was as many people as possible.
Moscow has no shortage of wonderful opportunities! I visited St Petersburg, Yaroslavl, Kostroma and Suzdal while I was there which was great fun, the only restraining factor was money really! Don't study just because you feel you have to, just do what you want to do – use it as a chance to develop career opportunities or experience something new.
Granada, Spain - beautiful, different, fascinating, surprising, interesting
There’s a vibrant social scene in Granada as it's a university city, and something of an intellectual town as well, so there are lots of things to do and it's not too hard to get to other parts of the country on train, plane, or coach. I went to a few other cities in the south of Spain - Seville, Cadiz, Malaga, Jerez, the Alpujarras and Almuñecar - but I didn't really have time to go on longer excursions. When you arrive, don’t forget that things will sort themselves out quickly, so don't stress too much if it doesn't go 100% according to plan straight away.
My year abroad was a fantastic and more-than-worthwhile experience; there is just so much on offer in Berlin and always something new to do. I met some great people there thanks to a really good language assistantship network - I'd really recommend it as you make friends really quickly. Berlin's also quite a friendly city with loads of places to go socialise. Definitely tell others to go!
Berlin is teeming with an amazing range of cheap places to go out and is a very young, lively, interesting city. There's loads to do, with some great bars and clubs to explore. My advice would be to arrive early, do a bit of research before you go especially on accommodation and bureaucracy, and try your best to find a free language course while you’re there. That way, as you learn new vocab and grammar you can compile a list of questions and then have the answers explained properly by a native speaker.
Moscow was brilliant; an amazing, hedonistic atmosphere, the friendliest people I have ever met and I had the chance to make connections I'll maintain for a lifetime. Such a fun place to explore too - I drove to Suzdal and Vladimir which I highly recommend. Whether you're working or studying, the key to making it work is to speak to people! Don't be shy or refuse a night out - that's your chance to meet new people.