Being on a work placement or a year abroad can create feelings such as isolation and of being disconnected from the student community both in Durham and in the host city. We often take for granted the ease of meeting others our age when we are in a university environment and therefore it can come as a shock being on a placement year and not having the same support system around. However, there are things you can do to minimise these feelings and stay connected with students back home and with others who are in a similar position.
One of the best ways to get involved with a student community while working or studying abroad is to attend the Erasmus Student Network events that are hosted in your city. Even though I am a language teacher this year and I am not studying at the University of Alicante, I have been able to make friends with many different people by attending these events. The events hosted by the Erasmus Student Network range from language tandems to improve your language skills in the host language to cultural activities such as tapas evenings and longer trips to other cities in the host country. These events are very popular so it is important to sign up as early as possible to avoid missing out. One such example of a positive experience I have had at an ESN event was when my flatmates and I attended a karaoke night and met new people from all around the world.
If there are no Erasmus events in your city or town, an alternative way to find student communities could be by using Facebook and other forms of social media. Even before I had heard about the ESN community in Alicante, I sought out Facebook groups with other people doing the same scheme as me and other British people here. Being abroad is an incredible opportunity to meet and get to know people from all over the world. However, it can also be comforting to seek out and meet other people from the UK who have a similar lifestyle and culture.
Another thing you can do to remain within the Durham community while away is to remain a part of university societies. For example, being a part of The Bubble exec has allowed me to practice the hobbies I enjoy such as writing whilst at the same time building friendships with other members of the team. In addition, I am Publicity Officer for The Ugly Fruit Group which has introduced consistency to my week. At the same time, the placement year or the year abroad is the perfect opportunity to explore new interests. This year, I have taken an additional role as a Foreign Correspondent for PalTV. Joining this role has been very useful as all of the team are also abroad so it is nice to know that I can share any worries or concerns I have and that other people will relate or have similar experiences.
Furthermore, depending on how settled you feel in your new community, at some point you could think about planning a trip back to Durham to see all of your friends. This idea is greatly dependent on how homesick you have been while abroad as it may not be the best idea to go back for a short weekend if you know that you will be sad when you fly back. However, visiting Durham can also be a great way to hang out with the people you don’t text every day. As well as this, attending a ball or an event while back in the city can remind you of what you have to look forward to in your final year. on the other hand, trying to arrange for some of your university or school friends to come and fly out to see you can be another way to stay connected with them. For them, visiting a new and often warmer place is probably a well-deserved break from all their coursework and their visit doesn’t come with as many feelings of homesickness as visiting Durham may do. Having someone else visit and showing them your favourite locations also makes you appreciate the small things that you probably have taken for granted in your new home.
If visits are not possible, there are other ways to stay in contact with your other friends. A good Facetime call is always the best way to catch up. However, another recommendation that my friends have begun using this year is Letterloop. Letterloop is a question-and-answer website which you fill in every few weeks. You can recommend a new TV show you have been watching or something you are looking forward to. Each person is sent an email with everyone else’s answers. This is a great way to catch up and find out what others are doing as the prompts are created for you and can act as conversation starters.
However, if you are having more serious mental health side effects as a consequence of moving abroad do not forget that you still have access to college and university community support. There is always an opportunity to email a member of college or the university counselling team to book a phone call to talk about how you have been feeling. No problem is too small to discuss and having the extra level of community support can sometimes provide more help than distracting yourself with other activities whilst away.
Despite being physically away from Durham for a year, it is important to remember that you can still be a part of the student community by taking part in various activities and keeping in contact with your friends and other members of the university community. This, in my opinion, is the beauty of being on a year abroad. The fact that you can experience life after university whilst still benefiting from the support that Durham offers is a unique and privileged position to be in.
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