Hi all, I’m Sauri and I study Politics and Spanish with a year abroad!
In this first blog post, I would like to address the preconceptions, stereotypes and expectations associated with the year abroad. I think the principal stereotype associated with the year abroad is the idea of it just being a sort of “gap yah” for languages students. The very term “year abroad” immediately evokes imagery of the typical generic Instagram photos, pictures of the Louvre and shamefully choreographed photographs of Barcelona’s city streets. However, I believe there is a massive difference between what is broadcasted and reality. The stereotypes of “students abroad” neglects the realities faced by students confronted with financial insecurity, especially those that come from working or lower middle-class backgrounds.
The purpose of the year abroad is supposed to be a chance to become immersed in your target language, culture and society. However, in truth, this goal is hard to satisfy for economically disadvantaged students facing the realities of the sheer cost of moving abroad. The fact is, moving abroad is expensive and incurs a lot of financial insecurity. For students who don’t have the luxury of the bank of mum and dad to depend upon, the year abroad can sometimes be less of a period of carefree self-discovery, and instead develop into an immensely stressful experience, with serious effects on mental health. For that reason, I want to break the stereotype of the student abroad that somehow, alongside working full time, manages to be brunching in a high-end restaurant in Marbella and lounging in Nikki Beach Ibiza after a long night in Amnesia the next. I hope that my experience as a placement student, living on a serious budget and working multiple jobs to make the ends meet, will be a relief for those that also don’t feel that they fit into the filtered photos of Morrocan beach trips or guided tours of the Chilean mountain ranges.
The first obstacle I encountered as I begun to plan my year abroad, was the lack of paid placements available. In Spain, after the economic crisis, youth employment remains at one of the lowest rates of the European Union. As such, a lot of the work offered to students on Erasmus is oftentimes low paid or not paid at all and marketed as volunteer work. This lends itself to my second issue when abroad on work placement (regardless of salary), the student loan is reduced by nearly 4x. This was a huge issue for me, as I rely on my student loan heavily alongside part-time employment to support myself at university. This combined with the stress of having to fork out your deposit from your own pocket and a month’s rent (oftentimes before you get to see the property) alongside flights to your host country is frankly incredibly disconcerting, the usual hardships of moving to another country notwithstanding.
Personally, I spent many nights anxiously searching the web for a guide written by someone who had been in a similar situation, but after a while, I realised that there were next to none. As such, let my experience be your guide to rising out of the swamp of debt (albeit slowly) and allowing yourself to begin your year abroad with kind of confidence that’s normally only enjoyed by people doing placements in investment banking, or whose parents form part of the 1%. My first piece of advice? Believe in your own abilities to persevere regardless of the situation.