6 Ways To Make The Most Of Your Year Abroad
Going on a year abroad can be a really exciting part of student life. Whether you've already done one, are about to leave or are just thinking about it, this post gives some key advice on the ups and downs of a year abroad.
So you’ve got to spend 8-12 months swanning around in sunny Spain (or freezing in snowy Siberia – your choice). You might be feeling terrified, excited, anxious, impatient to get there; or some combination thereof. It’s a great privilege to learn more about God’s world and the countries and cultures he’s made. But a year abroad can be tricky, and so it’s worth thinking through how to survive it and thrive in it. Here are my top tips:
1. Make church a priority.
The Bible’s clear that we’re not meant to try to make it on our own as Christians. Getting stuck into a local church is vital for our spiritual health when we’re away from home – and is also one of the best ways to make native-speaker friends and practise the language. For me, this meant resolving at the start of the year to make getting to church on Sunday mornings a priority – even if this meant missing out on a few European mini-breaks with my teaching assistant friends.
Get stuck in with serving, and look for opportunities to share the gospel and bring friends along to church. You may be in a country where very few people have heard the gospel clearly explained, but where the harvest is plentiful! A good way to do this if you’re in a university town is to get in touch with the local IFES movement (www.ifesworld.org/en). Being involved with GBU in Spain was easily the highlight of my Year Abroad.
2. Prepare to experience cultural differences
I found this particularly at church; in my Spanish church, for instance, I found people to be much more ‘touchy-feely’ than in my church back home. For a fairly conservative Christian Englishwoman, it was quite a shock to have boys in the young adults group put their arm over my shoulders in social settings! Be prayerful and remember that cultures do interpret things differently. Don’t be afraid to have respectful conversations about what you’re finding strange, especially if you feel at all uncomfortable. And remember: cultural differences between Christians are a great opportunity to find out what unity in the gospel really looks like.
3. Maintain accountability and friendships with Christian friends at home
I agreed to Skype two close Christian girlfriends once a week to catch up and pray together. I cannot emphasise how great this was. Do it.
4. Don’t freak out if you’re not having fun
A Year Abroad won’t always feel like the best year of your life. It may well not be. That’s OK! Trust that God is sovereign, turn to him, and be honest with your friends about how you’re doing. It’s totally OK to not to be having The Best Time Ever.
5. Prepare to be out of your comfort zone
I ended up being asked to help out with teaching PE in English at my school – I genuinely nearly cried (sports have never been my thing). However, it turned out fine, as it did in the other situations where I felt totally out of my depth. God is God in Spain, France, Russia, you name it; we are not left alone.
6. Maintain/build relationships with other linguists in your year
Quite frankly, you’ll need some friends in 4th year! Also, they’ll be able to get what you’re experiencing in ways other friends probably can’t, and you’ll be able to do the same for them. Arrange visits to share your experiences with each other and explore each other’s temporary homes.
Above all, ask God to use this time abroad to shape you and bless others; and take comfort in the knowledge that wherever you go, he is with you and he is for you!
“If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.”
Emily studied French and Spanish at Cambridge and spent her year abroad in Granada, Spain; where she returned for another year after graduating. She currently lives in South London with her husband Jake, working as a French and Spanish teacher, baking more cake than she should probably eat and hoping to live in Spain again at some point in the future.