Thursday, 5 April 2012

Consejos para tener una buena experiencia en el extranjero

Some tips for a successful year abroad that I wish someone had sent me when I was nineteen:

Figure out what you want to gain from your time abroad before you go.

It sounds like a really simple piece of advice, but you need to be clear about what you want to achieve from your time away before you get on the aeroplane. Do you want to learn a new language? Experience a new culture? Meet new people? Gain more independence? Or do you simply want some time away from it all? Remember that being clear about what you want is the only way you'll ever succeed in getting it.

Check that your goals are realistic and plan how you're going to make them happen.

It's all very well saying you're going to learn Spanish/ German/ Chinese whilst you're away, but how likely is fluency in 6 months? What steps are you going to take to learn as much as possible? Get on the internet, do your research, ask questions and then make it happen.  
And for God's sake, please don't make one of your goals 'finding yourself'. Surely if you lost yourself you'd look in places that you'd already been rather than running off to another continent? As the poster on my bedroom wall says: 'life isn't about finding yourself, it's about creating yourself.'

Go alone
It's always nice to have someone with you when you're doing something scary. Just like it's always preferable to have someone you know sitting next to you on an aeroplane (if only so you won't spend your dying moments clutching the clammy hand of a complete stranger if the engine fails). But at the end of the day, the only way to ensure your control of your experience is to do it solo. It might be the one time in your life when you don't have to compromise with anyone about anything, which is about the most liberating thing ever.

Live with locals

The most tempting thing to do when you move to a foreign country is to latch on to other foreigners. You discover your new environment with them, you party with them, you share your problems with them, so why not go the whole hog and live with them too? Bad move. No-one can give you more insight into a place than a person who has lived there for years, and you will reap the benefits of living with a native speaker if you're trying to learn another language. Try for flat shares in France and if you're looking for compañeros in Spain.

Keep in contact with the people who matter

In this digital age, there's no excuse for not keeping in touch with your friends, family and loved ones at home whilst you're off on a jolly. Chat on Facebook, video call on Skype (or buy a Skype phone subscription that allows you unlimited phonecalls to anywhere in the world for a very reasonable fee), send emails, start a blog, send postcards and write letters. Actually, write LOTS of letters.

Don't get romantically involved with anyone from your peer group unless - 
1) you're in love with them
2) you enjoy living a life similar to a soap opera.

Anyone who's done Erasmus/ language teaching abroad will know what I mean here. It's a completely unexplainable phenomenon, but the majority of people seem to transform into pigeons in heat as soon as their toes touch foreign soil. So A gets off with B on Friday night, B gets off with C on Saturday night, A is jealous and gets off with D, B gets off with E to show A that he doesn't care that he got off with D and then B and D are awkward around each other because they've both got off with A. And A and C want to fight each other because they both really want to be with B. Confused? Just imagine this were your life.


The internet is a wonderful resource while you're away. Facebook will inevitably have a group for foreigners in the city you're living in, you can find clubs and language exchanges on and is a godsend to meet awesome new people.

Don't get paralysed by fear

The one question everyone always asks me when I go to a new place is: 'What happens if you don't like it?' Well, it's quite simple, really. I get on a plane and I go home. There's absolutely no shame or weakness in walking away from something if you're not happy with it, there's only a problem when you don't try something at all or stick it out in order to keep up appearances.

Listen to Mark Twain

'Sail away from the safe harbor
Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Wise words indeed.


Luc said...

There's nothing wrong with some harmless shifting. I like the rest of your points though, even if I'm really bad at following them!

Claire said...

Ha, you were the Erasmus Shifting King!

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