As a language student, a year abroad was a requirement for my university course. I had to visit two countries - one Spanish-speaking and one Portuguese - for authentic language exposure. Having the choice between a study abroad and a work abroad option, I decided to go for both! I studied at the University of Lisbon for the first term and worked in Peru as a translation assistant in a law firm for the second. My experience both working and studying abroad, as well as the differences between living in Europe and South America, taught me some valuable things that I hadn’t considered the importance of beforehand. If this is something you’re thinking about doing, whether it be studying a year abroad somewhere you don’t speak the language, a gap year or working abroad independent of university, hopefully this can help!
1. Choosing where to go
Before anything, it’s important to decide on your destination. Do you want to stick to somewhere in Europe, which is slightly closer and benefits from facilities such as EHIC (until the end of the Brexit transition period)? Or, would you prefer to explore another continent? If you are more inclined to stay in Europe, your adventure is no less exciting! One benefit of staying in Europe is that English is widely spoken in most European countries; so if you’re planning on a year abroad that's unrelated to language acquisition, that's something important to consider. Some universities offer English-taught modules, so you can get the year abroad experience whilst studying in a language you know. However, that’s not to put you off if you do want to travel across the world! There are many study and work abroad opportunities in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However, even spending your year abroad in a non-English speaking country, you can put it upon yourself to learn the basics of that language before you go, and make it part of the experience. Most workplaces will speak their own language, so it could be a good opportunity to learn a new language and strengthen your skills in a native environment!
Of course, it is also sensible to consider where you want to go in regard to how feasible it is. Staying in Europe has the obvious benefit of being closer to home, making it easier (and possibly cheaper) to fly home or have visitors fly out. However, it’s important to research the cost of living in your chosen destination and figure out if you are able to afford living there comfortably. As of 2020, the most expensive countries to live in are the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Iceland and Denmark, with other European countries coming in the top 20. So, although the flights may be shorter and cheaper from the UK, it can be more financially viable to live further afield! If you are studying, can you get a student loan? Or, are you working for a comfortable wage in that economy? It could be a good idea to put your wage against the national minimum to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of.
2. Choosing what to do
So, you’ve decided on a location! Now it’s time to decide what it is you want to do for your year abroad. Finding somewhere to work far away, like South America, is incredibly difficult, and I only did so because we had family friends there. One route that a friend of mine did for her year abroad was teaching English in China, an opportunity available in many far-away countries which allows you to work for money whilst meeting other English teachers. If you’re brave, you could even go and find a job when you get there!
3. Don't overlook the admin!
A final consideration before embarking on your year abroad is the entry requirements for your chosen country. Until Brexit, European countries allowed you to enter without a visa, but this may change by the start of 2021. If you are working abroad, you have the right to work in any country in the European Economic Area (EEA) - and Switzerland - without a work permit as a UK citizen until the end of the transition period. It is also important to take into account the added risks involved in travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic. You must be prepared for the possibility of second lockdowns and restrictions on transport. This could mean not being able to visit home as often as you would like, or having to leave a country earlier than intended. ALWAYS double-check the government travel advice for each country you visit before-hand.
Non-EU countries will allow you to enter on a work or study visa that may need confirmation from your workplace or university. These visas can also cost money - but usually, a tourist visa is free. Entering and working in a country under a tourist visa may be illegal in some countries - so check with your chosen country’s embassy before you go! And finally: check how long your visa is valid for! If you overstay, you will have to pay a fine (at best!). It’s best just to give the embassy a call and tell them your plans for them to advise you the correct route to take. Once you’re there, some countries such as Spain require you to register as a resident if you stay for more than 3 months - check Gov.uk for country-specific information for you to follow.
Overall, before going on a year abroad of any kind you must make sure you do two essential things: that you’ve done your research and you are financially able. Living alone in another country leaves you far from the comforts of home, and also far away from help if you ever need it. Make sure you know the 999 equivalent number in your country, and most importantly - enjoy yourself! There are countless Facebook groups for other travellers in the same city to meet each other so you can be social, but make sure to stay safe. Time abroad in any capacity is a fantastic opportunity, so make the most of it!
Did you know that travelling abroad can help you develop a great deal of employable soft skills too? Don't forget to add them to your digital CV in the Fledglink app!