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Thinking of doing a year abroad? Here’s five reasons you absolutely should

After all, what else is third year for?


It’s midway through first semester and while it probably feels like the year just started, for many in second year it’s now time to start thinking about whether you’ll choose to embark on a year abroad or not.

SWAY’s application process opens in under a week (November 1st!), closing on the 15th, and whilst for a lot of students (languages, I’m looking at you) it’s a compulsory part of your degree, there will still be a lot of students wondering whether or not to take the chance and apply.

As a certified year abroad girly – i.e. I talk about nothing else – I’m here to give you five reasons why you absolutely should, or at the very least, apply.

1. It’s humbling

Bit of an odd reason and not the one most people would think of immediately, but I stand by it. If you’re a languages student, you’ll be placed where you’re supposed to speak the local language but you’ll realise very, very quickly that what goes on in George Square is actually quite different to the day to day conversations you’ll be having in your host country, not even accounting for regional dialects and accents.

Even if you’re placed in an English speaking country or host institution, I guarantee there will be mistakes you make or situations you end up in simply because of a miscommunication. Being placed somewhere with a completely different system and culture is the number one most humbling thing I have ever done, but it is also the most character building.

I promise you that by the end of the first semester at least, things that used to make you die with anxiety will now no longer seem like a big deal and navigating your new city or maintaining conversation with the people in your local supermarket will deservedly feel like big wins.

Besides, it makes coming back to Edinburgh, a place that’s familiar and full of people you already know, feel like living life on easy mode. Like what do you mean I can type my essays now? And I don’t make a hundred faux pas just ordering my coffee? It’s great.

Besides, it makes coming back to Edinburgh, a place that’s familiar and full of people you already know, feel like living life on easy mode. Like what do you mean I can type my essays now? And I don’t make a hundred faux pas just ordering my coffee? It’s great.

Simply put, it’s an adventure. A holiday. Yes, it will be marred with the infinite stresses of finding accommodation, potentially securing a visa, budgeting for a new place and yes there will be some form of work you’re expected to do but all of these things, especially when winter comes, will feel so much more exciting simply because you’ve changed location.

Doing my university essays felt a lot easier when there was sunshine and a happy-hour Aperol spritz waiting for me at the end of the day and I was more motivated to get my work done during the week because I knew it meant I could spend my weekends going to museums and clubs and beautiful places, rather than rotting away in my very cold Marchmont bedroom.

You’re going to worry about money and you’re going to feel FOMO and you’re going to have life dramas no matter where you are, so there is simply no reason to not take that leap and feel all those things whilst also exploring somewhere brand new.

And if you’re going to be sad, you might as well be sad in Paris.

3. Everyone will be there when you get back

Don’t even worry about it. The beauty of a place like Edinburgh University, with the majority of students doing four year degrees, means that you’re not choosing between a year abroad and graduating with all your mates.

I did feel very sorry for some of my friends at English unis, who would return to a much emptier house than they left behind, but here, this shouldn’t even be a factor in your decision.

Besides, lots of your friends are probably bound to go away, or tempted to apply, so the idea of third year you’re hanging onto will still be different to the reality. You’ll stay in touch with everyone and it can be quite fun to be kept in the loop on third year gossip as a kind of worldly, wise friend abroad, only to grace everyone with your presence when you return.

In other words, the year goes by quickly and you’ll be back before you know it, with a bunch of fun stories and new drinking games.

4. You’ll make amazing friends

There’s nothing like being on a year abroad to cement the most amazing friendships. Whether these are people in other countries you would never otherwise have met, or people from uni that so happen to be with you for the ride, the kind of friendship formed in the humbling, nerve wracking and exciting year that is being away is the kind that goes the distance.

I met people on my course in Edinburgh for the very first time on my year abroad, and now I can’t imagine my uni life without them. It also gives you an excuse to go and visit places and universities you may not have had a reason to before.

Year abroad is unlike first year in that the usual stresses of flat hunting for next year and the pressure of finding “your people” are removed. You’re not looking for a group to define your uni experience. Everyone is only here for a limited amount of time, whether that is a semester or a year, and nobody really has the time to be weird or petty, and if they are – you have every freedom to steer clear.

Your social circle may be smaller, but by no means will it be less lovely.

5. Why not?

And finally, why not?

Truly, this may be one of the only times where not only are you able to just pack up your life and go abroad, but it is also the time that you’re the most supported and guided through the process.

Nothing is perfect and I can’t say there won’t be moments where a visa application makes you tear your hair out, but, as a fourth year now looking at the looming prospect of jobs and responsibility, this is a golden opportunity.

You’ll still have access to your maintenance loan and other means of funding, the university will be on hand if it all gets too much, and you’re not taking a year out of education or work to do it.