Embarking on a year abroad is no easy feat. I wish that had been hammered into us a bit more by the university before departing for Germany last summer. If we were constantly reminded that we were still officially students of Durham, surely they would want us to be equipped with the right tools in order to best represent the university.
The support provided to Durham’s year abroad students has come under fire recently and has been accused of not supporting its students well enough. While I luckily have not had to ask for support so far, I have heard many a story of those supposedly in charge of our well-being back in Durham not answering calls and emails (sometimes in desperate situations) for days, even weeks – sometimes not at all. What happens when our lecturers go on strike in the coming weeks and we are in a position requiring support?
On top of offering a better support network, like those provided by other UK universities (Warwick does a weekend residential trip for its students in Germany and Cardiff flies a member of staff out to meet up with students in accessible cities in Germany), I truly think that if we had simply been forewarned and reminded that it was not going to be easy, I would have been better prepared mentally. Perhaps the department steers clear of this approach in an attempt to not scare students, but it can be a real shock to feel lonely and so physically far from anyone of anything you feel close to, let alone familiar with. Being at a university like Durham, you are constantly surrounded by people and are never more than a ten-minute walk from a friend’s house. If we were simply told the obvious (that this would not be the case) and that a feeling of loneliness may in fact persist periodically throughout your whole placement, despite you still having a fruitful and enjoyable time, I feel I would have been better prepared.
Moving to a foreign country that speaks a language that you have only ever learnt in a classroom is no doubt going to be overwhelming. I’m not saying I want someone to hold my hand the whole way because that would defeat the point of learning so much more than just a language. I’m saying that it would be nice to feel that you would be supported if you happened to trip up at some point along the way.
Finding your feet, most importantly a place to live and a job, in a completely unfamiliar environment at the age of twenty is naturally going to be hard. Yet, I feel like these facts that have now become so obvious to me after spending over six months abroad in two different countries were not instilled enough by the university. We should certainly demand more of our university. After all, where does our tuition fee of over £1385 for the year abroad go?