One of the biggest challenges for many first-year students is moving away from home for the first time. Imagine the next step, which is to live outside your country without your family for the first time.
At the end of my undergraduate degree, study abroad was an opportunity which I thought has slipped past me. Fortunately the opportunity came for me to do my postgraduate degree at the University of Stirling with a transfer to Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.
This article will outline what benefits the experience of studying abroad gave me.
Self-reliance outside your comfort zone:
Without a doubt, the most important benefit to come from living abroad was forcing me to become more self-reliant in dealing with day-to-day challenges. If you live in another country for enough time you begin to understand some of the cultural norms which we take for granted can vary profoundly across the world. For example, the perception of walking across the road when the green man is not on is very different in parts of Europe than the United Kingdom, which I found out by getting pull up by a passing police officer!
With regards to my postgraduate programme, we were not allocated any student accommodation so each student had the responsibility of finding their own place. It was then that I found a host of potential roommates advertising on social media pages in different major cities. Due to complications I had to find not one but two homes in Barcelona, without a lot of guidance to point me in the right direction.
Self-reliance is ultimately about two things: (1) instinctively know where you can go or what you can do to get answers, and (2) persisting when you do not get the answers immediately or make mistakes.
If you move to a country with a different language than your own, you will soon find out that the barriers of communication can be broken down with persistence and a little common sense.
It is easier for native English speakers to move throughout the world. However, there is a lot of ice under the water that on can miss if they do not immerse themselves to see beyond the tip.
I worked to learn Spanish before and after I arrived in Barcelona, but I wholly underestimated the scale of the work which had to be invested in learning a new language, and I quickly became de-motivated when I tried to balance it with my five university modules.
However, I learned enough to greet people politely, as were things were in a shop or if I was looking for directions. Other ways that I was able to communicate was to use pictures on my phone if I was asking for an object where I did not know the exact name. Google translate became an invaluable – if not completely reliable – tool to help me navigate around Barcelona.
Nonetheless, the experience has made me determined to learn a language again. Due to this I’ve studied French at the Alliance Francaise institute in Glasgow, and set myself the specific goal of passing the DELF and then the DALF exams set by the French Ministry of Education as qualifications for French proficiency in 2018.
Encouraged to connect with other cultures:
Despite my good fortune that I could communicate with many people in Barcelona just using English, the experience of living abroad motivated me to learn a new language nonetheless.
I was the only person in my class of 26 who did not speak at least 2 languages. Some of my best friends on the course spoke up to 4, and it became clear from listening to them speak to each other in languages apart from English, that by learning another language you do not simply learn a direct translation of your own language, but how to express yourself in ways that reflect a different culture and ways of understanding the world.
Challenge yourself under new academic expectations:
Adaptability is by far the most important person trait when it comes to surviving and thriving as you encounter new challenges.
Different national education systems and even different universities within one country can have different expectations when it comes to the intricate methods and processes by which you undertake assessed pieces of work. By finding yourself in a situation when you are working towards different standards only those who are prepared to adapt sufficiently will excel.
In Barcelona, I would have several deadlines each week for work that had to be submitted on the University portal, which was a big jump from the United Kingdom where I was accustomed to working towards a few very large assignments and doing reading for seminars in-between. The experience was most beneficial for forcing me to add to my habit of daily reading and note taking, with daily writing, editing, and reviewing.