There are many ways to describe a year abroad. You could start with the positives; the ‘Fantastic Opportunity’ and ‘Amazing Experiences’ that all of your friends and family gush about upon hearing of your impending adventure. Through their eyes, you see a magical world of colourful culture, where you will be swanning smoothly around your new home, taking in the new spectacular sights and smells with wide eyes. Whenever you think of your year abroad in this light, you will feel a sense of hope and anticipation that your new life will be so much more that you ever dreamed of, and even more than what your family dream it will be for you.
But then, reality hits. What your family don’t see are the to do lists (note:plural) or the copious emails sent, sent and sent again off into a vast atmosphere that you hope will someday reach the relevant recipient. You start to become acutely aware of all of the minor details involved in creating this wonderland in which you can discover new languages, new friends, or indeed yourself… Suddenly, your year abroad feels like two years – with the first consisting of laboriously setting up the next, a dark cloud of ‘what-if’ doom settling over your subconscious all the while.
But maybe there is something to be learnt from all that goes into preparing your ‘perfect’ year. The self-discipline and commitment required for this process is perhaps what makes it all the more sweet when you finally reach your destination. The knowledge that you have been the one to facilitate yourself with booking flights, taxis, accommodation, documents, visas, scholarships, personal statements, banking – (the list goes on, it really does) means that, despite the hair pulling and screaming, hindsight provides you with an immense sense of gratification through which you may step out into your wonderland – and indeed the rest of your life – feeling capable of taking on the world.
The main thing to remember is that, no matter how much you think you know what to expect from your YA, there will no doubt be many surprises along the way. It might be food poisoning, discovering an unforeseen love for a food previously regarded with repulsion, or even a new cultural rule realised one second too late and landing you in hot water… whatever happens, your year abroad will be perfectly imperfect – and that’s the fun of it.