The realities of a study year abroad: leeds students

For students at Leeds, the option to flee the North and embark upon a year studying abroad at some of the world’s best universities is a huge attraction and is one which draws many prospective students to the university. Each of us will know at least a handful of people who have embarked upon an overseas adventure or who at this time of year, are in the midst of the battle to grasp the most desired hotspots. Almost nine hundred students leave each year in search of new cultural experiences or simply the opportunity to study their subject for another year, although in reality, many people wish to return to the heady days of first year in search of new and infinitely hotter people than England can provide. But perhaps more importantly, they seize an opportunity providing a legitimate excuse to travel and postpone the nightmare that is third year along with the prospect of deciding what to do with life for another year. It’s not surprising that the scheme is inundated with applications every winter.

With opportunities to live and study in Europe or even as far as America, Canada and Australia offered by most schools, the US and Australian places are often the most hotly contested. However there are plenty of reasons to stay closer to home said Amelia Barry, studying History in Copenhagen, Denmark “I think people have this perception that you have to go really far away in order to have a really different or worthwhile experience but that isn't the case. Copenhagen is one of the best places I've been to; it’s such a cool city and has got so much to offer.”

With a forty per cent pass rate required to successfully complete the year, and your mark having no bearing on your overall degree, it provides the perfect opportunity to travel to bordering countries and roam about as you please. Whilst study abroad is by far the most popular option, fewer people are aware of the option to work abroad for a year, which also provides a great opportunity to escape Leeds, but with the added perk of a year’s salary. Although this takes a little organisation on your part, there are plenty of schemes on offer with work placements teaching in European schools being one of the most popular.

Romantic tales are plentiful recounting brilliant and exciting years living and travelling abroad from almost everyone that tries it. Yet that’s not to say there a few thoughts to seriously consider before signing up, packing your suitcase and jumping on a plane which are not so frequently told.

Although it may appear glaringly obvious, it is crucial to give some actual thought to your chosen location. One student returned to Leeds in the New Year and signed up for one of the few remaining places to study at a European institution having researched her destination very little, right up until she arrived in her new home. Although by no means a disaster, her initial experience of moving to a small rural town with few English speaking students or locals proved a challenge discovering there was a distinct absence of things to do or places to go, and was extremely different to what she had imagined.

Despite having squeezed a Rosetta Stone CD into her final week before leaving Britain, she still found the language barrier troublesome and made meeting friends and general living difficult. She said “A little planning would have gone far, I’d definitely recommend looking closer into where you plan on moving to, or even just mentally prepare for it being really quite different to home.”

Whilst it may sound dry, hunting for tales which reveal how local laws, requirements and customs translate into reality can make a real difference to living abroad. Georgie Baxter a final year Leeds student spent a year in Columbia, South Carolina at one of the highly sought after American universities. Like many, she was aware of the twenty one and over alcohol laws which operate in many US states.

However, she discovered a significant difference in how the law was implemented. Whereas in Britain the punishment for underage drinking often amounts to the Police confiscating the offenders bottle of Strongbow and providing a welcomed lift home to their parents, in the US Georgie was faced with much sterner consequences. With a choice between paying a $720 fine to take an 'alcohol education' course which included counselling and community service, or a $1400 fee to get a lawyer and contest her case in court and potentially leave the US with a criminal record, she had to accept the ‘smaller’ fine.

Another student who took his trip to one of the furthest possible points is Joe Groszewski studying in Melbourne, Australia. Whilst having an amazing time and looking forward to travelling when term ends, he said “The price of living is probably the main issue, but Australia is generally more conservative than most people imagine. Alcohol is so expensive!” Finances are undoubtedly the most boring aspect of life but are inescapable and can really impact upon your experience.

Whilst nobody wants to spend time pondering over the realities or negative aspects of living abroad, it is worth speaking to friends who have taken a year out so you can understand what to expect, but also what you need to prepare for. Look up local cultures, costs and the general ways of life. Weigh up the logistics of how far you will be from home, how much of a culture shock you truly desire and most importantly, why you want to live in the location you have decided upon.

Once you have established a destination or even have an inkling of where you wish to go, search for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ‘Know before You Go Campaign’ for the essential advice while planning your move. Visit the ‘Travel and Living Abroad Page’ which can be found here with answers to the most common questions considered when planning to live abroad:

Next, download the ‘Plan.Pack.Explore’ App. Designed by students it compiles all the crucial information necessary for planning your move and also provides essential contacts for any support you might need whilst living in your chosen country.