In five weeks’ time, I’ll have left Santiago and arrived in Madrid. When I was in Granada, I spontaneously booked flights and a hostel for a three-day trip to the capital…alone. It seemed like a great idea at the time. From there, I’m flying back to the UK, and then that’ll be it. It’ll all be over. As my friend, Ella, said recently, “we are so nearly there”. (You can check her year abroad blog here. It’s great and far less rambly than mine.)
It’s a strange thing, year abroad. It is preceded by a build-up spanning, literally, years: everyone who considers studying languages at a UK university knows that the course includes an obligatory year abroad. So potential applicants tend to be aware of its existence at least two years before starting university, which is two years more before actually having to go abroad. Potentially four years of preparation.
Then, in first year, tutors will occasionally mention it, often by way of reassuring students that the year abroad is the time when their spoken language will really come into its own (which, judging by my experience, is the truth). As a first year, you’re blissfully aware that you’ve still got a whole year to think about it before actually having to go. Getting into the swing of student life takes priority.
Then, before you know it, it’s the start of second year and there’s suddenly not that long to go. The faculty starts to host language-specific talks; emails advertising internship opportunities come fast and furious; deadlines start to fly by. The people who decide to do British Council (working as a Teaching Assistant) have it relatively easy in terms of organisation: they fill in one form and, to an extent, they’re sorted. I suspected that British Council wouldn’t be for me; having worked with children in France, I can confirm that my suspicions were correct. Don’t quote me on this, but I would guess that roughly 50% (?) of Oxford students decide to do a British Council placement. For those who study abroad, the university has a fixed number of places available at certain European universities (including Salamanca, SciencesPo, and the Sorbonne); alternatively, you can choose to sort yourself out with a different university. I don’t really know a whole lot about either of these options as studying wasn’t something I ever considered.
In terms of arranging a work placement, a lack of fussiness helps. I knew I wanted to work but I wasn’t really sure about the specifics. I was just keen to get something organised. I saw the advert for Langue & Nature, thought it sounded fine, and applied for it. I was told that my application had been successful in January, and that was the first six months of the year sorted. Sighs of relief all round.
August rolled round and that was it: I was off. I don’t want to use the word “anticlimax” because it wasn’t at all, but I can’t think of an alternative for describing the realisation that, after so much preparation, this was it. I was doing my year abroad.
Because of how things worked out (my family has been dealing with a difficult, unexpected situation for the past few months), I ended up organising the Spanish half of my year abroad when I was in France. To be honest, knowing what I do now about the Spanish lack of urgency, it would have been a miracle if I’d been able to organise anything before then. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I found the Granada hostel through Workaway; I then found ESN Santiago through a website called Erasmus Intern. I would really recommend both websites; with hindsight, the former is definitely better suited to people wanting an excuse/reason to travel than it is to year abroad purposes, but the latter is perfect for students looking for work placements.
By the time I got to Spain, I was almost 2/3 of the way through because I’d only managed to organise 14 weeks for Spanish in comparison to 24 in France. That’s 38 weeks in total (A-Level Maths right there) of which four weeks remain. How?! This year, with all the build-up and preparation, is almost over. I don’t feel like I’ve wasted time at all, but it’s still difficult to believe just how quickly it’s gone by. In a few short months I’ll be back in Oxford attempting to tackle finals. In all the rhetoric surrounding year abroad, people have a habit of skimming over the fact that you have to go back and sit what are probably the hardest exams you’ll ever do…and all after a year of (and I think I speak for most people when I say this) doing very little academic work.
This post has turned out to be a bit longer than I was expecting, so I’ll leave it there. There’s not really a lot more to say in terms of updates. Saturday’s trip to the Islas Cíes was rescheduled, as predicted, due to bad weather, and I can’t go on the new date which is a very sad state of affairs. Instead, I went to A Coruña for the day for some sightseeing which was cool. I also ate some great octopus but sadly didn’t get a picture.
A friend I made in France is currently hiking the camino de Santiago and is due to arrive on Saturday so I’ll be spending the coming weekend with her which should be fun. There are few things I enjoy more than playing the tour guide. Having visitors is also a great excuse to go out for dinner. Although, what with spending so much time alone, I’m finding that I don’t really need much of an excuse to do that anyway. Whoops.