I don’t think you can ever say you’ve really ‘mastered’ living abroad. That’s the beauty of it; there’s no rule book, not one way of doing it. There are, however, some snippets of advice that I wish I had known before embarking on my 10 month move to Trieste, Italy. Therefore, I feel it’s only right that I share some tips that I have picked up along the way with you as future year abroad students…
Moving abroad is always going to create mountains of paperwork, but Italy takes the biscuit for their love of bureaucracy. The best precaution you can take for this is to be ready. Try to find out what paperwork you will need, complete it and bring it with you, not only for your job or university, but for things like your codice fiscale (fiscal code) and of course, setting up a bank account. Useful hint: bring passport photos in abundance. You’ll need them for everything. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your student card, you’ll save loads of money on everything from buses to museums.
-But no matter how organised you are, you must prepare for DISORGANISATION.
Italian university left me dreaming of British efficiency. But that’s part of the fun of living abroad. Be aware that exams in Italy are nothing like exams in the UK; you may only find out the location the day before, you could find yourself waiting several hours to be seen by the examiner, and most exams tend to be oral. But that’s no bad thing – examiners can easily tell that you are an Erasmus student in oral exams and they are generally more understanding and generous to foreign students.
That dreaded word. You might find yourself at a bit of a loss with how to organise yourself a place to stay in your new city – I know I did. One thing I would advise is to try to live with native speakers of the language you are learning; it means you are surrounded by your target language so you get used to everyday tendencies of the language. As a student who both lived with a family (on my term abroad in Bordeaux) and with other students in Trieste, I would strongly recommend the home stay. It’s the best way to integrate yourself into the culture and learn real life language skills. Plus I really enjoyed the support of family life.
-MAKE THE MOST OF IT!
Like with everything, your year abroad will most likely fly by so make sure you plan your year carefully so that you can fit everything in. In the first few weeks you’ll probably want to explore the area you’re in but it’s easy to settle down and not utilise your time. Some of my best memories from my year abroad have been from weekends away – what better time to explore Europe than when you’re living so close to so many fascinating destinations. I travelled to places such as Florence, Sardinia and Bologna. I was also really lucky to be in Trieste as it is so close to Slovenia and Croatia – I would definitely recommend a visit to Ljubljana, Slovenia if you get a chance.
-JUST SAY IT!
There’s just the small issue of learning another language when living in a different country. It is daunting putting your years of hard work into practice and talking to actual native speakers in your target language. But remember: no one cares nearly as much as you do if you make mistakes. You will make mistakes, but most people just appreciate your effort to speak their language – they may not be able to speak another language themselves. Be prepared to embarrass yourself, that comes as a given on the year abroad. But after all, you’re there to learn a language and the best way to do that is to just speak it – who cares what anyone else thinks.
If you remember nothing else on your year abroad, just remember those five tips. But really, no matter how much you prepare, nothing is quite like leaving life as you know it and experiencing the peculiarities of another culture. It’s terrifying, it’s exciting and it is certainly a year that you will not regret.
Written by Belinda Johnston – University of Trieste