Returning to Durham after a year away is a unique feeling. Whilst you were on your own adventure, learning about the world, others, and yourself, you come back to the realisation that this city is still the same. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect a red carpet upon my return, but it is a strange sensation to fall back into the routines of who you were before your year away. When you have changed so much, how can things go back to normal?
It was leaving Heidelberg, Germany and coming back to Durham that made me realise how much I value my year abroad, and why I think living in another country is one of the best things you can do. You learn about the world, yourself, and others through lived experience – whilst it isn’t always easy, it is worth it. So, if you are thinking about doing a year abroad, taking a gap year or finding a job outside of the U.K, let me attempt to convince you that taking the leap will be the right decision.
Firstly, the people I met were incredible. I was in Germany, but the Erasmus network meant I met people from all over the world. Communicating and creating relationships with people from Ireland, France, Brazil, America, and Australia (to name a few) was a refreshing reminder that the world is bigger than university. I learnt about new cultures and customs, and I am much more confident in speaking to new people. It sounds strange, but you begin to realise that people do want to talk to you! Despite different languages or ways of life, humans just want to connect, and making those friends becomes second nature after living abroad.
Practically, you learn so much when living in a different culture. It was only around two weeks prior to moving to Germany that I visited the country for the first time, and that was when I interrailed through Berlin – a city very different to Heidelberg. This meant that honestly, I was not expecting much of a change when I moved away. I was swiftly proven wrong. Sorting out residence permits, university enrolment and accommodation in a second language was not an easy feat, especially when in Germany almost everything is done by paper and in-person meetings, but I can hand on heart say I feel stronger after all that admin. There are fun cultural immersions too – playing outdoor games, Oktoberfest and the Christmas markets were some of my personal highlights from Germany. Experiencing these new customs is not only exciting, but it makes you adaptable for any course your future takes.
Photo by: Amy Gaffney
You learn so much personally too. I found that during my year abroad, I had the space to appreciate alone time and find the activities that make me happy. I rediscovered my love for painting, a hobby I almost entirely abandoned when coming to university. I went for walks and found out how much I love hiking (albeit this being slightly weather-dependent…). I read books I wanted to read, travelled to new cities and countries, and began to understand when I am doing something for myself rather than others. Moving to a new country is exhausting, and you soon realise that time to yourself is essential for enjoying time with others. As a previous sufferer of FOMO, my year abroad taught me the value of independence and my own space.
You gain a lot of perspective when living abroad, as well as when returning home. Durham continued to exist when I was away, and Heidelberg will continue to exist now. The stress of university can often feel claustrophobic and make you forget how big the world is, but moving away gives you that reassurance that there is life beyond the library. There is more to you than your work, and my year abroad taught me the importance of my friendships, interests and doing what I love. Your choices are your own, and life is too short in a world too big not to listen to yourself.
Living abroad is not always easy, and there will inevitably be lows that come with the highs, but I have no regrets in my decision. It has given me bounds of confidence, maturity, and knowledge I would have never gained otherwise, and I will forever recommend living in a new country to anybody I can.
Featured image: by Amy Gaffney