Sometimes a holiday abroad doesn’t satisfy your longing for adventure. You will find yourself thinking: What else could I do to have more of this? There are many options for extended stays abroad. Some people do an exchange year at school, some do a gap year between school and university. Some people spend a semester at university abroad, some their whole degree. But the opportunities don’t end there. After university, you can do internships abroad, work abroad, work in a job requiring travel. Basically, there are more opportunities than I can name to spend more time than just a two week holiday abroad.
While I certainly haven’t done all of these things, I have done some. During my Master studies I spend a semester in Norway. Afterwards, I moved to the UK to work as a doctoral researcher. In this article I’ll tell you about my experiences and list some pros and cons.
Spending a semester abroad
While studying, spending a semester abroad is a great opportunity to improve your language skills, meet new people ad have some adventure. If you live in Europe, the ERASMUS programme is the perfect opportunity. You’ll get a stipend to go abroad and the courses you take will accredited at your home university. This means you will not have to do one more semester and there will be no gap in your CV. Universities usually have a range of contracts for each degree, so there will be plenty to choose from.
Going abroad with ERASMUS certainly makes things a little easier than organizing everything on your own. Before you leave, there will be info workshops at your home university to help you with the paperwork required there. Once this is all sorted and you officially have the place at the university abroad, they take over from there. In most cases, you will get housing in student halls or assistance to find something else. They will send you details about registration to city authorities and everything you need to know. Once you have arrived, there will be more info workshops, treasure hunts and barbecues around your new home with other international students and much more.
While I was on my semester abroad in Trondheim, it definitely always had a feeling of adventure to it. Knowing that my time there was limited, I tried to be as active as possible. I went on different hikes, explored the Norwegian cabin culture, had bonfires at a lake, visited museums and churches and went on a big road trip from Trondheim to Tromsø.
Nevertheless, it was not a long holiday. I also had to attend lectures, give presentations, write essays and pass exams. Universities have strict rules in place to prevent students from just going on a paid holiday. Usually they expect you to take courses giving you the same amount of credit points you’d be earning at home and they also expect you to pass them.
Apart from all the great things I can say about ERASMUS, there is one downside: It may be rather hard to actually get in contact with local people. Since everything is so tailored to the needs of an international student, you will mostly meet other ERASMUS students. They are much more open than locals who already have their established social circles and will not be attending at of the things set up for international students. If you really wish to meet more locals, you need to actively leave the international circle. There are many possibilities – go to a sports club, take part in a non-university workshop, join a choir. Once you are there, everybody will be welcoming and helpful, so just do it!
When you plan working abroad, no such thing as ERASMUS is in place to make your life easier. This means you will need to do all your research yourself. Luckily, you will most likely not be the first person to move to a certain country. If you do a search on the internet, you will probably come across many reports or forums that give you some useful tips. Nevertheless – don’t fully rely on those reports! Especially when it comes to topics such as paying taxes, health insurance and so on, you should research official documents provided by the government. This will give you the most accurate information. In terms of actually finding a job, there are websites listing vacancies for almost every country. That will not be much different than looking for a new position at home.
One thing that may be a bit difficult is finding accommodation without actually being able to do a viewing. However, if you are willing to live in a hostel for a few nights or rent a room for a few weeks before moving into a more permanent home, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. A lot of countries, for example the UK, have rooms and flats on the market with immediate availability.
The difference to an ERASMUS semester also becomes obvious once you have moved country. You will need to make sure you register everywhere and have all the forms ready without having a guide through this process. Once you’ve managed this, you will feel very strong and independent though.
It is also still difficult to meet people and make connections when you move somewhere for work. You will obviously have colleagues at work, but they may not be your age, they may live somewhere else and commute or they may simply have their friendship circle established already. My advice is: Join a group or team for your hobby! After moving to the UK, I joined a local photo society, and it has been the perfect decision! You meet open-minded people with similar interests and they will probably give you some insider tips regarding your hobby. Another advice is: Take initiative! Invite people for a dinner, suggest to go to the pub or something similar. In contrast to ERASMUS however, the friendships you make will likely be with locals, since you integrate into the society and are not only there for a short time.
One downside of working abroad is definitely that you settle into a daily routine just like you did at home. Compared to my ERASMUS semester, I definitely do less activities in Southampton. It just always feels like I have so much more time here and don’t need to do it all now. I’ll see where that will lead me in the future!
Both an ERASMUS semester and working abroad are great options for extended stays abroad. While ERASMUS has more of an adventure feel to it, working abroad is more like simply shifting your life to another country. Both have their pros and cons.
In summary, I would say that an ERASMUS semester is relatively easy to organise and you will get to do lots of things. On the downside, you are in an “international bubble” and it is hard to get in contact with locals.
When working abroad, you will feel very strong and confident after going through the whole paperwork by yourself. Meeting people is still not easy (is it ever?), but the ones you meet will most likely be locals and you will establish a permanent circle. A disadvantage definitely is, that you will settle into a daily routine.
My final piece of advice is: If you want to go abroad, do it! Don’t always dream, just take matters into your hands and go ahead. I have done it and I don’t regret a thing.