The most life-enriching thing I’ve ever done? Study abroad

Was I excited? Well a bit, I guess. I was beyond gutted (meaning a lot of tears) to find out that I would be the only student from my UK university studying at my German university (which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere), but equally excited to know that my friend and I had been selected to study at the same Spanish university.

So emotions were mixed but I put what I thought would be the worst experience ever in Germany to the back of my mind whilst packing for my first semester abroad in the south of Spain, ready for the Erasmus (an EU student exchange programme) experience!

I arrived and went to as many Erasmus events as possible where I met other students from all over the world and quickly got used to life in sunny Spain. However, I soon came across my biggest obstacle: I had arrived at university, ready to attend Spanish translation, history and German classes (yes, that means continuing to study German, but in Spanish) and my Spanish language skills just weren’t good enough to keep up in class.

You’ll be surprised how quickly you learn
I started beginners Spanish at uni, rather than from the start of secondary school, like most of the other international students, and my lack of vocabulary became very apparent. I knew I was going to have to go above and beyond to pass my classes. I sat in lessons, wrote down the vocabulary that I didn’t know (which was a lot), went home, translated and practiced the words and then started doing my homework. I did tandem classes with a Spanish student, translated Spanish song lyrics and practiced over and over again whilst my friend went through grammatical rules with me. (For which I am forever grateful – thank you.)

It sounds like a lot but when you are living in a new country, you absorb the language like a sponge. A little (or a lot of) effort goes a long way and when I returned for my final year of uni, my grades increased by 10%.

Cultural integration
I had already been to both countries so was aware of some cultural aspects, but living somewhere is very different to being there on a 2 week holiday.
I enjoyed the Spanish Botellón (which is pretty much pre-drinks outside in the warmth) and became accustomed to eating tapas at around 9 or 10pm for dinner. I did struggle with shops often being closed between 2 and 4pm, however I do miss the Mediterranean diet and 6 years later, I still eat a lot of fresh tomatoes with salt and olive oil.

Adjusting to the culture wasn’t too hard but it was definitely an eye-opener. I would always recommend mixing with the locals as this is the only way that you truly come to respect and experience a culture.

After one semester in Spain, I was no longer dreading going to Germany. I was nervous to be going on my own and would definitely miss the weather, but I also knew how much fun I could have.

My biggest regret
My biggest regret until this day took place within the first week of arriving at my German university. I found making friends nerve-racking and was pretty quiet at first, which is the complete opposite of my actual character. Within about 30 minutes of meeting a group of other Erasmus students, one of the girls invited me to go to Copenhagen with them. How nice! Guess what? I turned it down. Like seriously… what the hell!? I was a new student in a new country and it would have been the perfect opportunity to make new friends and see new places. I don’t regret turning it down because we never became friends, I actually went to Hong Kong to see the girl who invited me earlier this year, I regret it because I turned down an opportunity out of fear, and fear doesn’t do anything apart from hold you back.

So here’s some advice: Go for those drinks even though you’re tired, go to that dinner you were invited to, and ask if you can go to the party that was mentioned. You need to push yourself out there, not hold yourself back.

Travel
My real love for travelling began during my Erasmus year. At the end of each semester in Spain and Germany, I packed all I could into my small rucksack, booked a few hostels and set off with my friends to see more of the countries we had been living in. Both trips were no longer than a week but they allowed me to become more independent, shed fear and develop a new love for travel. We travelled on a budget and headed back without much in our pockets, but it’s better to broaden your perspectives than to look back and think something like “Why didn’t I just go to Copenhagen?”

If studying abroad wasn’t a compulsory part of my course, I honestly don’t know if I’d had gone. But it was a pivotal moment in my life that defines a huge part of who I am today and it majorly exceeded my expectations.

After all that fuss about studying on my own in Germany for one semester, who would have thought that six years later, I would be living in Frankfurt indefinitely!? Looking back, I can only urge anyone else to study abroad.

I promise you won’t regret it.

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Flensburg, Germany – July 2012

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Amelia Larkin says:

    Love it Alisa, beautifully written! You’ve accomplished so much all because you were willing to take that leap…and now look at you! Go girl!

    Liked by 1 person

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