The year abroad experience feels like putting both a pause and a fast-forward button on your life. On one hand, the experience of working in a full-time job has felt like a vision of what my life could look like after university. At the same time, I get the opportunity to return in a year to Durham and experience the highs and lows of the university lifestyle with the hindsight of having lived in another country.
Having come straight from school to university, this is my first year of life outside of academia. I have now been in Alicante, Spain for one month and have felt so many emotions and have had so many new experiences being here. I have tried new food, been to the beach more times than in my whole lifetime and I have adapted to a new routine. Life in Spain is more relaxed than what I have experienced in England and I appreciate the time that I have in a day. Everything stays open till much later and rather than staying in for the night at 8 pm, a day feels incomplete without going for an evening walk or making the most of where I am.
I have also found increasing value in spending time alone. I love going out with my flatmates and other friends here but because everyone has a different working and studying routine, I have found myself grabbing something to eat alone or visiting a museum without anyone else. In England, I rely far too much on co-dependency and I far too often have a mindset that there is not as much value in experiencing something without someone else there.
There are downsides to being on a year abroad. I have made so many friends and have met so many lovely people who no doubt will remain in my life even after the year is over. However, I didn’t realise how exhausting making new friends can be while you are also dealing with everything else that comes with moving abroad. The paperwork that comes with moving overseas for a year is no laughing matter and has been a long and tiring process. There have been many late afternoon rushes to a photocopying shop and early mornings trying to book appointments.
The worst feeling by far has been the FOMO that I occasionally feel while I am here. While 95% of the time I have been extremely happy and grateful to be here, once every couple of weeks I miss being at university in Durham with all my friends who I won’t get the opportunity to stay with again. It is very important to share these feelings with other people as it has only been through speaking with one of my friends that I have found out that she is also experiencing the same FOMO from being in Durham and seeing people who are abroad. Hearing her speak about the same feelings but reversed was a reminder that the reason we miss people is because we care about them and it is not necessarily a bad thing to be sad sometimes. The friendships which last while you are abroad are the ones that matter the most. I know that when I return to university next year I will no doubt be jealous of my friends who are travelling and they will probably be jealous of me being still at university. The grass is always greener on the other side.
In the past, I have found it difficult to deal with negative emotions like FOMO but being here has made me focus on the positive sides to my situation abroad and to appreciate the small things. For example, in Durham I could never imagine wearing shorts at this time of year. Last term I shared my worries that I would struggle to catch up with other third-year students after taking a break from my studies for a year. The professor I spoke to told me that some of his best-achieving students had either taken a gap year or a year abroad. Sometimes there is so much emphasis on speeding through life and completing qualifications without taking a break for yourself or appreciating the value in what you are studying. I am a lot more excited to return to academia next year than I ever would have been if I hadn’t taken a year abroad. I may have moved straight into a graduate job thinking that it was the only option. This year is teaching me that maybe life doesn’t have to move in a straight line.
For those who are considering a year abroad, it is such a unique experience that I would recommend it to everyone. However, for those who are currently living in another country, it often feels like there is an expectation that everything must be incredible every day. It is important to remember that just like everywhere else, there will be low moments that come alongside the highs.