I think it was in 2017, that I went to Spain to do my compulsory year abroad. For those of you who are familiar, it’s also called Erasmus. It was a year full of ups and downs, and along with the usual shebang of attending lectures and completing group projects, a huge part of the year abroad was about meeting new people, seeing new places and trying things that you never tried before (coughsurfingcough). I think that morning when I woke up for the airport, I was like a scared little lamb - the airport was hectic, I was the only person from my class heading to this particular university, and on top of that I was horrendously sleep deprived. I ended up sitting beside a fellow passenger who was also an Irish native but had moved to our little Spanish city two years prior. It helped to have someone I could speak to about my upcoming programme, and I was able to iron out little nitty gritty things like how to open a bank account and get a bus pass etc. It was a year full of experiences, and even though it’s all over now, I can honestly say from looking back that I learned so many different things. It helped me pick up new skills and also hone in on and develop on ones I already had. Here are some little bits and pieces I’ve picked up and learned from my year abroad:
You CAN cook!
I’m a real homebody and while I did have a few goes at cooking myself, it was usually not an issue that cropped up when I lived with my parents (who lovingly cooked for me) . By literally living by myself in a foreign country, I was forced to learn how to cook properly, and also allowed me to experiment with different flavours and recipes. I think it was during this year abroad that I finally learned how to make meals and and with regular practice, this crucial life skill was eventually cemented into me. Of course, I am still not a complet pro, but I am not put off when having to cook impromptu meals for myself. As well as this, it turns out that I am a naturally creative person, and as a result enjoy and am willing to put the time and effort into cooking a nice meal. I think cooking is one of those things that you just get better at with time and experience, andit’s definitely something that has stuck with me to this day.
Independence and self-discipline
Sometimes when people move out for the first time, they worry they won’t be able to cope with the sudden responsibility. There’s no one at home to crack the whip and tell you to get up, or eat your dinner or anything. The only person who is responsible for yourself is you, and you get to call all the shots. Sure it takes a while to get used to it, but I think over time one can achieve a great sense of accomplishment when they realize they have the power, literally, to do (virtually) anything they want. You can go to class if you want to, you can sleep in if you want to, you can party all night every night if you want to! Studying and living by yourself involves a balancing act. Ideally you’d want to have a good balance between your academic and personal life. For me this took a bit of trial and error, but overall I think this experience really helped me grow as a person. It’s quite exhilarating to know that you have total control over your life and although it can be scary, it is ultimately worth it.
I learned to spend money wisely, something everyone should learn! It’s so easy to spend money without thinking when you see cute things or nice food that you want to try. While it is important to eat properly and look after yourself, it’s good to keep in mind the amount of finances you have available. I did a very rough weekly budget when I was away, and listed all the spendings that happened day. At the end of the week I would add it all up and see what it totalled at.
Other people - the joys of communication
Living with other people is not easy, and when you are in an unfamiliar and foreign environment, this can be doubly hard. However, it can also open up new opportunities and help you step outside of your comfort zone a bit, since you spend so much time with people from all sorts of backgrounds, with all sorts of histories. I think what I enjoyed about living in a multinational flat share was learning about the types of foods they ate, how their home countries looked and also learning about their cultures and traditions. Yes, it can be hard adjusting to a new environment, especially at first but I do think it holds many rewards for those who persevere. And of course, since I was living in Spain at the time, it was a new experience for all of us, enabling us to try new things together and then talk about our experiences. I think when you are immersed in a different culture, you pick up so many things regarding traditions and language that you may not have been able to pick up if you were just in your home country. My Spanish was at a very basic level back home and for reasons I still don’t know, I was unable to move past that initial hump to becoming more fluent. When I went to Spain and spent enough time there, I noticed my Spanish suddenly improving so much, and to be honest it just came so naturally, I didn’t have to consciously force myself to learn new words from a book like I did back home. It’s amazing what being immersed in a foreign environment can do, if that’s what you want.