Coming now towards the end of my year out of the UK, I cannot recommend taking a year abroad enough. Perhaps this is because I didn’t take a gap year before university, so having a year out of my usual education was exciting and out of the ordinary in itself, but also because leaving what you know (or think you know) is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for anything.
Spain only felt like it was down the road from England, so I initially eased myself into my year abroad by choosing to study at a university in Madrid for the first half before leaving to Chile. Studying was as tough as I had expected, but in between lectures and studying I had the freedom to spend a thoroughly enjoyable 5 months living in one of the most deliciously relaxed cities I’d ever had the pleasure of spending a prolonged amount of time in. Unfortunately, I was soon tearing my hair out in frustration when problems with my passport and the maddeningly nonsensical bureaucracy that followed cut my time short in Spain, and before long I was on a plane descending through deathly grey clouds, and I knew I was back home in London. Oh what joy.
Passport sorted, I was itching to leave to beautiful Chile. Once there, yes, I did experience some slight culture shock, but nothing that even half managed to override all the excitement that I was feeling. Working as a journalist in Santiago I didn’t have the time to feel overwhelmed; if problems arose I simply had to deal with them, but I was incredibly lucky to have been so warmly welcomed by the people I first met as soon as I arrived without whom my life there at the beginning would have been considerably more difficult.
Santiago compared to Madrid...there is not much of a concise comparison to be made. They are incomparable, apples and oranges. I tried fruits I had never heard of, heard words I wasn’t used to hearing, and travelled around the longest country in the world, seeing sand dunes, mountains, volcanoes, beaches and the Pacific ocean. Every Monday morning I looked forward to going to work, wondering who I would have the opportunity to interview, what event in the city I would be able to attend or where indeed I would end up that day. As journalism consists of finding stories, it was my job to know what was going on which turned out to be a great privilege. From art galleries to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, wherever I was sent I was like an awestruck child, drinking in everything I could before it would inevitably disappear.
It wasn’t long before I felt completely at home in Santiago, I felt like I was as familiar with it as I was with London, and with only 4 weeks left of my time here all of a sudden, I know it will be a rather painful goodbye. Undoubtedly there are many aspects of the city that I dislike, but to dwell on them seems unreasonable when I will leave with far more good memories than bad.
Once more I found myself having to travel for the sake of renewing my visa, so I was off to Buenos Aires for three days filled with sun, ice cream, art and wine. This bohemian paradise was just over the fence, but first I was to have the delightful experience of an unexpectedly intense grilling at the airport where, in a moment of anger, I decided that I actually hate travelling and will never set foot on a plane again, in fact staying in Buenos Aires forever would be preferable to ever having to deal with visas and airport lighting and sourfaced officials for another single second. But I did get back on a plane, and I suspect I will happily board many more.
Leaving the warm clutches of Buenos Aires after only a few days was surprisingly difficult, knowing that Santiago’s winter would be waiting for me. I am starting to deeply miss summer, or even just the slightest hint of spring. Travelling next week to Brazil will be a much needed break from what seems like a year long cold spell, and so I find myself eagerly wishing next week to arrive whilst simultaneously wanting time to slow down as much as possible.
I will leave my time abroad with a long list of beautiful memories and not a single regret or wish of having done something differently. Nothing could have prepared me better for my final year at university and the murkiness that lies beyond graduation day than this past year, because I’ve realised that the ‘real world’ isn’t anywhere near as daunting as I thought it was; you just sometimes need to put in an enormous effort for enormously satisfying rewards.