Arguably, the biggest factor that influences just how good your year abroad is, is the country you choose to do it in. Leicester has links with universities in 25 countries, across six continents (no links with any Antarctica-based universities, unfortunately) so the choice is pretty broad. Fortunately, your options are reduced slightly for you because you’ll need to select a university from your departmental list – these are the universities that your department has links with, rather than just the university as a whole.
For some people, myself included, the choice is easy. One of the reasons I applied to Leicester was because the geography department had links with two Australian universities, and I so desperately wanted to go to Australia for my year abroad. So whilst I had seven countries to choose from (Australia, Canada, USA, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and Finland) I didn’t really look into the others at all. From there, I had two choices: Flinders University in Adelaide, or Macquarie University in Sydney. I looked into them both, and both had their advantages and disadvantages (the cost of living is much lower in Adelaide; there is a lot to do in Sydney, etc). For me, though, the best option was Macquarie – the thought of living in Sydney for a year was too much to pass the opportunity up.
If you’re less certain of where you want to go, I think there are a lot of factors to consider when looking at each country. These are some of the ones that friends of mine considered:
- The language – universities such as those in the Netherlands, Germany, and Finland all teach some courses in English, meaning that you don’t need language proficiency to go there. For some people, this was great because it meant they could try to learn another language, and still be able to learn in English. For others, it was a bit off-putting – they found it really hard to pick up new languages and weren’t keen on living in a place for a year where they couldn’t understand the language
- Distance from home – for some people Europe is ideal. You can immerse yourself in a whole new culture and still be close enough to home that you can go back in the holidays, and people can still come to visit you. For others there was a draw to places far away because they liked the idea of living in a far-flung destination for a year, and they thought that it would stop them from going home too often.
- The climate – Leicester has links with countries in the Arctic Circle (Canada, Norway, Finland, Sweden) and also countries that are pretty hot for a lot of the year (Australia, Mexico, Colombia). Then they have the universities that fall perfectly in the middle, like many of those in Europe and the US. So that means that you can find a place that will suit you and your sun-seeking self or snuggling-up-in-front-of-the-fire self.
- The culture – we all know that culture shock is a thing and if you’re planning on going something wildly different from the UK, it’s worth looking into. If you don’t think you could cope with eating a diet that doesn’t have many parallels to a British one, or if there are some customs you don’t think you could adopt, then certain countries might not be for you, and that’s okay.
- Things to do – is the country full of things you want to do and places you want to visit, or is it a good base to then go and explore that region of the world? If so, it may well be a good bet.
There are a lot more things to consider, and it does depend on the person, but that’s a few things for you to start off with. It’s also important to consider the university itself and what the course is like – it may only be one year, but studying will still take up a lot of your time, and, no matter how great the country/city is, your enjoyment of the year will be hampered if you’re spending half the time enrolled in modules that just don’t really float your boat. So make sure there’s some things on the list that interest you.
Your year abroad may well be one of the best years of your life, so go out there and do the research needed to make sure you end up in a country that you’ll be happy to call ‘home’ for a year – it really will make the year.