Lucy is studying French and Spanish at Lancaster University and is coming to the end of her year abroad at La Faculté de traduction et d'interprétation (FTI) of Geneva University, Switzerland, having already spent a semester at the Universidad de Deusto in Bilbao, Spain. Here's what she wishes she was told in the first few weeks of her year abroad.
1. It’s ok to miss home.
As soon as I stopped the ridiculous cycle of ‘I’m supposed to be having an amazing time but I’m not yet, which makes me feel like I’m a horrible and ungrateful person, so I feel worse’ I suddenly found myself feeling a heck of a lot better. It is ok to miss home and your home uni. Just remember that you’ve moved far away from the people who love you, you’d be crazy not to miss them at some point! You can’t have a good time until you appreciate that some days you might find hard, but then the next day is brand new and you get used to being away. Just don’t beat yourself up about having emotions!
2. You WILL be learning the language.
I struggled with the fact that everyone spoke English to me, when my home uni had emphasised the importance of speaking Spanish ALL the time, ALWAYS! In the first three/four weeks, you are processing a lot of information from places you don’t necessarily expect. Even if you don’t consciously read all the posters and adverts and signs, you’re still seeing them and your head is reading and maybe doing bits of translation without you even realising. Of course you have to speak the language and you should try to make an effort, but if you feel quite overwhelmed by the amount of information you’re processing in the first weeks, it’s ok. It does get better, and soon you’ll be amazed by how far you’ve come.
3. It’s ok to go to bed at 9pm.
My overriding memories of the first two or three weeks were of wondering why I was so tired! Well now of course, I realise it was a mixture of the emotional upheaval, the journey there, exploring the area, constantly wondering where my map was, trying to remember that culture shock is normal, dealing with the uni, and eating food that you could get in England but which wasn’t English (and there probably wasn’t much in the way of fruit and veg!) If you like to go out a lot and you’re desperate to try the nightlife, then great! But if you’re not feeling secure enough to go to town and be able to get yourself home again after you’ve had a few and the metro’s closed, then don’t worry. It is ok not to go out partying straight away, some people need more time than others to gain that kind of confidence, and there are other things you can do instead.
4. Start with the small things.
If taking a bus to see the next city that everyone raves about fills you with dread in the first few weeks, trust me I understand! There’s so much to think about, and if you’re a bit of a worrier anyway those are multiplied ten-fold. My advice is to start with the small things. One day, take yourself for lunch somewhere, and you’ll be amazed how good it makes you feel when you actually get what you ordered (sounds silly, but it’s true!) Then the next time, take a bus/metro/tram to another stop (doesn’t matter if it’s not the height of tourism), and have a coffee or lunch there and have a wander round. Then next time go a little bit further, find your way to the local tourist info, ask them for a map and if they can suggest a route round the place so you see everything. Before you know it you’ll have done a day trip like everyone expects you to, you’ll have plenty of pictures, and your confidence will have had a great boost.
5. Be honest with those who you love and trust.
Obviously you don’t want to worry your parents and friends too much, so this isn’t the time for an Oscar-winning performance. Don’t exaggerate, be calm, collected, but be honest. If you’re having an amazing time, then they love to hear about it and it will help them to know you’re ok. If you’re suffering from culture-shock, it helps to talk it over with someone and they can tell you that it will get better (because it does!)