By Megan Gosling, Business Management with Marketing student at UWE Bristol.
As part of my degree, I made the decision to take a study year abroad rather than a work placement and this is certainly a decision I don’t regret. Surprisingly, I got accepted to my first choice which was the Berlin School of Economics and Law. Looking back after such a turbulent year it’s hard to remember how it felt to arrive in a new city all by myself but I definitely had some experiences that will stay with me for a very long time.
Arriving for the induction day felt like starting 1st year all over again crossed with being on holiday and I was meeting people from all over the world which was exciting and truly one of the most unique days of my life. Following this came many welcome activities organised by the University and these were the perfect way to get to know other students and the city; things such as brewery tours, football games, bar crawls and history tours. If you like beer and modern history I really recommend considering Berlin, not to mention the nightlife which really was beyond anything I have seen before. The clubs were open all night and in some cases, all weekend. There was so much vibrance and edge to the city as well as expansive forests and lakes and to be able to see it all with such ease and cheap accessibility and to call it home was one of my favourite bits.
Of course, as cliché as it sounds, the most special experience for me was the people that I met in Berlin. I really made some friends for life, no matter how far apart we are. With these people I had the opportunity to explore other parts of Germany and Europe. I visited the Christmas Market in Leipzig, the beautiful city of Krakow, the sketchy neighbourhoods of Hamburg and more. Of course certain events thwarted my plans for more travel, but this didn’t stop me having an unforgettable year.
Naturally, it’s not all fun and games and there is a lot of administrative work that goes into a study year abroad both before and after you arrive; especially in Europe and even more especially in Germany. In fact, the bureaucracy was probably the biggest culture shock for me at the beginning. However, as long as you remember to get the right people to sign the right documents, both UWE and your host institution will handle the rest.
Although the study year abroad is all about you discovering things for yourself, there are definitely three tips that I would give to those considering making the move; things that certainly would have made my life easier at the beginning too. The first surrounds accommodation. This will vary country to country but if you’re not going to get accommodation through your university, find alternatives well in advance. Whether this is private student accommodation, private rentals or finding housemates, it’s really best to do your research a few months before you move so you have something solid when you arrive.
The first few days are stressful enough as you find your feet at university and it will make your life so much easier if you don’t have to move from Airbnb to Airbnb with all of your possessions. My second tip would be to take full advantage of your location if you can. I can only speak about Europe but there’s so many buses and trains to take for very reasonable prices. Of course it is important to attend university and to complete your SYA project as this will really help you for final year, but also don’t miss opportunities to see more of the world around you while you are there.
My final and most important tip would be, don’t be afraid to be the first to speak to people. This can be daunting if you’re not naturally extroverted. You may feel like everyone else knows each other but in reality, most people around you will be in the same boat. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people and ask them if they want to explore the city or have pre-drinks etc. I know I found it quite difficult initially moving from a city where I had a strong group of friends to a place far away where I really knew no one. Had I had more confidence at the beginning I think it would have really prevented some of my early struggles and enriched my experience. So, don’t be shy, and you’ll meet some great people.
Not only did I have an amazing year learning and exploring, but I continue to feel the benefits that the study year abroad has brought to my life. Firstly, my confidence has grown immeasurably. Throughout the year I found myself being pushed out of my comfort zone quite a lot but in such a positive way and now I feel like nothing scares me anymore, especially when it comes to giving presentations and talking to strangers. As well as confidence, my independence and perseverance have really grown. Going from living with my parents to then moving to university I feel like I always had my hand held, however moving into a place on my own in a country with a different language (which I couldn’t really speak) forced me to figure things out for myself, make more of my own decisions and just have much more responsibility for myself, which I know I’ll need when I graduate.
Furthermore, from living in such an international environment and having the opportunity to study courses such as intercultural communications I feel like my eyes have really been opened to the world and the people around me. I have so much more knowledge about and understanding for others from all walks of life. Although a study year abroad isn’t “work experience” I wouldn’t let that put you off.
Confidence, perseverance and cultural competence and understanding are some of the most important skills you can acquire both for life and career-wise and I certainly don’t think I would have gained these had I not taken this opportunity. I wouldn’t change my experience for the world and I can only recommend this adventure.
To find out more about studying abroad with UWE Bristol, visit our website.