The run up to leaving for your year abroad is full of copious amounts of talks, research, paperwork and advice. Perhaps the most emotionally exhausting preparation session we had was the annual ‘Year Abroad Conference’ run by the university. It begun with expectations being raised high as previous year abroaders reflected on their past year, so keen to promote the experience it was only natural that everything said had a rose tinge to it. Excitement grew nonetheless but this quickly plummeted as a year abroad mentor lectured us, in an admittedly rather comedic way, about culture shock, placing alarming emphasis on how much we would cry and feel homesick. Several other talks about finance and language learning ensued and we desperately tried to cram it all into our brains. Yet of all the things that really struck me it was the claim that due to limited language skills we wouldn’t be funny abroad. This was devastating for someone who relies very much on her sense of humour in social interaction!
What posed as a helpful resource in preparation for this all important year rather left everyone, or at least me, feeling emotionally drained, physically confused and inherently more panicked than I had ever been before. It was undoubtedly necessary and provided invaluable guidance on practical matters, but mentally it created a lot of expectations.
The superfluous lengths you go to ensure the transition, not just to a new country but also to a new culture, is as smooth as possible means that you pile crushing amounts of pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly; pressure to obey all those Year Abroad Rules you read in blogs, to come back with no regrets, to actually have the best year of your life. Throughout this term that pressure has clung to the back of my mind, frequently voicing itself – a bit like that mucus monster on the Benylin advert where he can’t shake it off- and it can be quite exhausting.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I have not done everything right. I should have spoken German with everyone from the beginning, as I now have to jokingly tell my ‘hostmum’ off every time she speaks English to me, or just pointedly ignore her until she speaks German. Maybe I should have travelled a bit more and learnt vocab a bit more regularly. I confess that I have broken the Golden Rule of the Year Abroad of not saying no to an opportunity on several occasions; not on the grounds of potential danger as it should have been, but simply because the opportunity just didn’t appeal to me.
Yet despite all these embarrassingly common mistakes that I was so warned against – and I do intend on rectifying them – I refuse to let them blind me from what has really been a pretty darn good term. There is a reason people make these mistakes over and over again. We can take in all the rules available but sometimes we just have to experience things for ourselves to discover what works for us. Every year abroad experience is unique so we should be prepared to do it our own way; advice is undisputedly good, but it should always be followed as a guideline not a rulebook. If we get too caught up in all the rules then we might end up missing actually living our year abroad. Besides, it’s not all bad. I AM funny in Germany! Either that or they are laughing at me and not at my jokes.
So watch out for the next post where I refuse to have regrets and will thus reflect on the highlights of my first few months in this physically and culturally beautiful country.