My year abroad was a remarkable, yet challenging, adventure. It changed me completely as a student, and most importantly as a person. Everything I went through made me become who I am now – a hard-working and critical student, and a strong and independent person. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity which helped me to understand myself, and the world around me, better.
I went to Jena, a charismatic university town located in the valley of the River Saale in East Germany. I could not have picked a better location as Jena is thriving with local culture and customs. This historic town has really sparked my interest in German history and culture. In terms of language, I felt that my knowledge of German was sufficient, as I studied it for GCSE and as a part of my A Levels. As a non-native English speaker, I also had the experience of learning a new language by having to study in that language. I had high expectations about going on my year abroad – the idea of making new friends and seeing new places made me feel very excited. I thought that it would all be very easy and enjoyable.
As a student of Religion, Culture and Society with Philosophy, I found it challenging to find the exact match for my degree. This gave me the opportunity to try a variety of subjects from various fields – Sociology, Economy, Ecology, Language and Literature, and Media Studies to name a few. The opportunity to choose various subjects made me feel more excited about studying. I studied religion-based subjects in German and other subjects in English. With little experience in independent research, I discovered my own ways of researching and studying. The opportunity to also study a few master’s level modules made me believe in myself and my own abilities. Despite my enjoyment of studying, I felt that I was missing out on the social aspect. I lived off-campus and had to commute by tram. This made me feel less a part of both the international, and home student community. My social life was limited to interacting with other students in class. It was not until the second semester when I decided to become more open towards new people.
Spending most of my time alone made me discover new possibilities and widen my interests. As an active person, I missed sports that I previously engaged in. I started doing yoga at home, in my free time. Hiking and walking became a part of my everyday routine as a way to relax and forget about my worries. Singing and drawing helped me to cheer up during hard moments. I also began to experiment more with food and cook healthier meals. Most importantly, I noticed how much I enjoyed learning something new every day. I tried new things and challenged myself. I realised that each of the subjects I studied has also changed my perspective about the world around me. My commitment and motivation led to more academic achievements. I began to see my strengths and weaknesses – something I found invaluable in my final year back at UCLan.
One of the most important things I have learned during my year abroad was to take control of my emotions. I felt homesick and lonely quite often but keeping in touch with my boyfriend and close family helped me to get through any difficulties. Maintaining a long-distance relationship also helped my partner and me to appreciate every day of our time together. Long video conversations were a commitment which brought us closer. Due to him studying for a year in Japan and me studying in Germany, we were also able to go on a wonderful holiday. We have travelled around Japan, Poland and Germany for two months, and made exceptional memories which will last a lifetime. We visited remarkable places, tasted delightful food and met wonderful people.
In spite of all the challenges, my year abroad was an amazing and unforgettable experience. My advice for anyone who is considering going on a year abroad would be: don’t hesitate, seize the opportunity and challenge yourself. As Les Brown rightly pointed out “too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears”. If you decide to go - consider all the pros and cons, and be ready for the unexpected. Simply make the most of your time and all the opportunities you are provided with as a student.