The year abroad is something every language student looks forward to during their first 2 years at university. Whether you study Italian, French, Spanish, or like me Russian, I’ve been thinking about it every day, and now I've experienced it! But whether you’re in your spoken-language’s country to just work or study, you should make the most of it, as its probably the first time many of us have lived abroad for a long period of time. Here, I’ll mention how I’ve been trying to make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Travel – it’s an obvious one. If you’re placement is in one city, you have the rest of the country to explore! Yes, you might be busy during the week working or studying but take some time on the weekend to travel outside of your city, to the countryside or to another city.
This is easier said than done for me. Russia is a huge country, and I only had the weekends free, but I still made the effort to visit other cities like Ufa and Yekaterinburg, because staying in one place would just get boring! You’ll meet interesting people along the way, like on the bus or train, who are interested in who you are and what you are doing in the country.
In my travels, I went with my work colleague who was also a foreigner. We would stay in cheap hostels, check out the local cuisine, visit a few museums and other attractions. And then in the evening we would find a good bar, meet people and have a good laugh. The only problem with travelling in Russia is the fact that its such a big country and everything is far away. To get to Yekaterinburg, it took us 8 hours from where we were. I’m sure people in the European countries won’t have that problem, so make the most of it!
This is important too. Some of you lucky people would have gone on placement with a few of your other coursemates. But I was in Magnitogorsk by myself, so if it was a Friday night, I would have nothing to do.
But it’s important to socialise and expand your social circle, make some friends with people that you work with, or people that you study with and then you won’t be so bored. And this would be a great way to practise your spoken language!
One of the problems with being at university with other foreign exchange students is that you’ll resort to just speaking English and hanging around with them a lot. So, in a sense I was lucky to have the opportunity to just speak Russian with the friends that I made, as I had no choice – most of them didn’t speak any English! Through socialising I improved my colloquial Russian, learning new slang and sayings, and in ways we can’t be taught in the classroom!
Most of you will go abroad either to work or to study. Luckily, I did both. Studying in the mornings and working during the day. But this in itself is interesting. To see the differences between our higher education system and the Russian system, or to be given the opportunity to work in a different country outside of your own. To meet other foreign exchange students in your course, to hear their story on how they ended up here. I was always very intrigued to find other foreigners, and the first question I would always ask them, like other Russians asked me, was “Why Magnitogorsk?”.
Working or studying abroad will widen your perspective on how things are done outside of your country. Of course, have fun on your year abroad, but don’t forget why you are there in the first place – to study and develop a deeper understanding of your target language! You’ll enjoy the benefits for many years, as you see when you come back for your final year just how much you’ve improved!
Immerse yourself in the Local Culture
As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, immerse yourself in the culture of the country. Attend some local festivals or engage in holiday traditions! Even just the little things like learning how to cook the local cuisine, or watching films, TV, or listening to music of the language.
Explore the culture’s renowned authors, singers, athletes, or actors and check out the current events. This way, you’ll already feel like you have a connection with your new home, rather than feeling like an outsider who is only there to learn the language, and you’ll be well-read in a few topics of conversation.
So, I hope you will take a few tips from someone who's been looking forward to his year abroad for years, and doesn't want any minute go to waste. You'll love it too, so make the most of it!