Preparing for study abroad

Looking back on my first ideas for my year abroad, I have to admit they might were slightly unrealistic. As a Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies student I was caught up with the idea of spending the whole year in South America, dreaming of living it large on Copacabana beach, exploring the Amazon rainforest and popping over to the Andes to visit the Quechua people with their llamas and freeze-dried potatoes. So, beginning with these wild expectations, where on earth (literally) would I end up? Well, a few months and a lot of planning later, I have finally bagged two placements in Spain and Brazil. And here’s my story…

During our year abroad lectures I realised that, with not a penny to my name and constantly living in my overdraft, I couldn’t afford to miss out on the Erasmus grant by spending the entire year in South America. So a compromise was called for! With only one university link between Newcastle University and Portugal (a Universidade de Coimbra), and with the challenging Portuguese job market, I decided to look for a placement in Spain. With absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, I first applied to the British Council Teaching Assistantship in Argentina and Spain but dropped out in January 2013 because I wasn’t keen on not knowing where my placement would be. Then, not really wanting to do admin, office or translation work, I decided that uni would be the best place for me!

I chose la Universidad de Murcia as my first choice because it ticked all the boxes. I had never heard of it before but it was mentioned in one of our lectures as a university where we could study art as well as Spanish. I studied art at A-level and have always enjoyed it so this seemed like an amazing opportunity! Also, Murcia isn’t one of the obvious Erasmus universities in Spain, but I’ve always seen improving my language skills as the main aim of the year abroad, so the likelihood that there would be fewer English speakers was a big plus. Also, very importantly, it is on the Mediterranean coast, meaning I could go to the beach! Paradise! In February I was told that I had got the placement and now I just needed to organise flights, accommodation, forms and module choices. With a couple of friends from the area I thought it should be easy enough and I was looking forward to visiting them when I got there!

In November and over the Christmas holidays I started researching placements in Brazil. I quickly realised that most of the job opportunities were again either office or translation work. I decided instead to look at volunteer placements. After a lot of hours searching on Google I found an organisation that seemed perfect for me. It involves teaching young people, which I have a lot of experience of and really enjoy, in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, a city which I have always dreamed of visiting. I filled in the application form, wrote a cover letter, got written references and updated my CV, which was worth it because I got a Skype interview in February!

I did loads of preparation, looking up common interview questions and tips for Skype interviews. The interview lasted almost an hour and a half, with some of it in Portuguese (SCARY), but I received an email a week later saying I had been accepted, which was amazing!

This Summer I am also planning to au pair in Spain. Also, I want to book flights to Rio as soon as they’re available to save money, so again I’ll have to think about whether to go from Spain or England. Other things I need to sort out are inoculations (think I can get them free on the NHS so this is next on my investigation list) and visas, insurance, Erasmus forms, getting my Rio placement accepted, choosing Uni modules, budgeting and accommodation. Also high on my list of priorities is to check out the FCO’s travel advice pages and the Know Before You Go I will also be signing up to their social media feeds so that I can get updates whilst abroad, on Facebook /fcotravel and on Twitter @fcotravel. I have learnt through my experiences that it is always best to be prepared. While these are trips of a lifetime, accidents do happen and, without adequate travel insurance or the necessary know-how through research, things can go wrong.