10 things to know before you take a year abroad
By Tom Grant
I’ve lived in Amman, Jordan since August as part of my year abroad programme as I study Arabic and German at UoM. If you’re considering a year abroad as part of your degree or are going to be jetting off later this yea, here are some of my top ten tips to being prepared and making the most of your time in a new country.
1. What is the University going to be providing?
It may sound boring, but check what the exchange university is providing for you. Are they providing insurance (health or property), accommodation, or your university place? It means there’s less stress on your plate when you know what’s being taken of already.
Be sure to double-check the following:
- Does your health insurance cover everything? In UoM’s case, only over £100 in medical costs is covered.
- Do you definitely have accommodation, or do you need to find your own? If so, what areas should you avoid?
- Are there any bursary schemes that can offer you more financial support during the year?
2. Check local customs and traditions, along with the laws
Always make sure you read the laws of the land before you jet off. However, reviewing local customs is just as important. For example, in Jordan and most other Middle Eastern countries, it is customary for women to cover their legs and shoulders in the street. While it may not be illegal, it is deemed disrespectful to not do so, so be aware of other little things that may be really important for you to know.
3. It doesn’t have to be the time of your life…
Everyone, and I mean everyone, will tell you that this is about to have the time of your life. But that doesn’t mean it has to be.
At first, the pressure to love it can feel like too much. You may even feel as though you’re not doing enough to make the most of your time. That’s okay. You have a lot to adjust to in the first few weeks, and if it still doesn’t stick, listen to my next point.
4. It is only temporary
You’ll be back in Manchester in a year! Most placements abroad occur in third year at UoM, and you’ll be back in the city before you know it. Your placement isn’t you emigrating forever, it’s just getting a glimpse at what life is like elsewhere. If you’re not enjoying yourself, that’s alright, you’ll be back with everyone you love before you know it.
5. Sounds obvious, but research where you will live
What’s it like? Who frequents the area? Does it have restaurants? Could you find a similar place for cheaper elsewhere? Is it going to be noisy and constantly filled with tourists? Are you going to be amongst other expatriates or is it going to be locals who live there? Have a look at where is also best according to your needs and interests
6. Speak to other ex-pats and students in the same place as you
This is a lot easier than it may sound, as there is a Facebook group with the name ‘Expats in [your city]’ in just about every major city on the planet. This will be filled with people in the same situation as you, and you may find it beneficial to find information in this way from people who have been through the same thing. It may also be nice to hear a familiar voice once in a while.
7. Get a Monzo or Starling card
No one wants to be paying international bank fees whilst abroad. It’s an unwanted added expense. Although both banks are cost-free to open an account, I would personally recommend Starling, having had a Monzo card. Monzo only allows you to take out £200 in cash every 30 days without a withdrawal charge, whereas Starling doesn’t have a cash withdrawal cap.
8. Take home comforts with you
Whether you feel homesick or not, personalising your room is a must-do when moving elsewhere, especially if you’re alone. Whether it be a beloved photo of your family, your favourite football team strip, or the LED lights from halls… Having something to make your room yours, is always great to have.
9. Learn some simple phrases in the country’s language before you go
I guess this makes sense if you’re not studying a language, as by the time you go on your year abroad you will know the simple stuff. ‘Hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘thank you’, ‘please’, and even ‘can I get the bill?’ are always great simple starts which will not only often surprise native speakers, but make you feel that little bit more at ease in your new country. Asking ‘do you speak English?’ doesn’t hurt either.
10. Always remember, you’re not alone
A countless number of people have been in your position before, and a countless number will be in it in the future. Your friends and family are always a call away, and there are bound to be people you know in your country, if not in your city. Sticking together can be a great help, and if you find yourself needing serious support, learn the national emergency dial number and British Embassy number just to be safe.