How to make the most of your third year abroad

Around this time two years ago I began counting down the days until I would depart for what has come to be one of the most important and enjoyable years in my life. Choosing to extend the length of my degree by studying abroad in Hong Kong is easily one of the best decisions I have ever made and I am ecstatic that third years abroad are becoming an increasingly common part of the university experience.

If you’re one of the students who are adventurous enough to take on this opportunity, a year may seem like an incredibly long time to spend away from home, however as someone who has done it I can testify that your time there will fly by. In light of this, I have created this guide to help you set upon your third year abroad with the confidence that you’ll be making the most of it.

Do your homework

Im a big believer in learning as much about a country and its culture(s) before you reach it. While it is of course exciting to discover new things along the way, an experience can greatly be improved by having a simple knowledge of a destination’s customs, belief systems, and ways of life. Doing your homework on your third year abroad country not only reduces the risk of awkward unpleasant encounters during the first few days in your new home, but can also open you up to opportunities and interactions that will make settling in just a little bit easier.

Alongside learning about cultural factors, it is also valuable to find out some practical information too. I recommend researching how to get from the airport to your new accommodation; entering the country with some local currency incase there are any issues with exchanging money at/nearby the airport; having an idea of where you can purchase a local mobile sim card if you plan on doing so; and keeping note of any key contacts at your new university incase you have any problems upon your arrival.

Start a travel blog/vlog

I started Travellr during the final month of my third year abroad, and many of my early posts on here are recollections of the journeys I had taken while living and studying in Hong Kong. The blog has been a great way to provide friends and family with a visual and detailed insight into what my time abroad was like and has also acted as a great personal and creative outlet.

If I could go over, I would have started my blog a lot earlier and written more about my time discovering Hong Kong and my day-to-day life there. When you return from your third year abroad, a blog can also act as a digital memory box, full of stories and photographs of what may come to be the most enjoyable year of your life thus far, what more, with the demand for unique travel stories, tips and experiences, it may turn into something much more!

Learn the local language

For those studying languages, time in a foreign country is a compulsory part of their degree program, however for some of us its just an excuse to discover a new culture, explore academic subjects that we can’t study at our home university, or just have a bit of a break from it all. While in Hong Kong, I took Mandarin lessons as an optional class alongside my major for the year, while Mandarin isn’t the local language of Hong Kong, it bears some similarities to the native Cantonese that is spoken there and made some of my interactions with locals much easier and much more enjoyable.

Taking the time to learn local language is an excellent way to enhance your time in you third year abroad country and is also an excellent addition to your CV.

Use social media to your advantage

One of the biggest worries for many when starting their third year abroad is the fear of not making new friends. Moving to a new country is a huge feat in itself, let alone doing by yourself. Social networking sites are a great way to meet people before you go, whether they are from your home university, others in your home country or just other brave students heading to the same country as you.

Before your third year abroad begins it is extremely likely that there will be plenty of pages and groups, specifically on Facebook, designed for departing students to get in touch with one another, make plans to meet when abroad, and to stay up to date with parties and social events.

Socialize with full-time local students

During the early stages of your third year abroad, it can be easy to float to those who are from your home country:  they speak the same language; share the same cultural references; and help to deal with any pangs of homesickness, however, while it’s great to meet with other students who are in the same third year abroad boat as you, it’s also worthwhile to spend time getting to know full-time local students at your new university. While there may be some hesitation in that your relationship with them may not last very long, or you suspect there could be language or cultural barriers, more often than less, these factors are easily overcome.

Integrating with the locals open you up to gaining a greater understanding of the ways of life in your new country as well as an expert insight into daily (and nightly!) life. What more, its a great opportunity to make new friends for life, and if you ever choose to return to your third year abroad county, you know you’ll have someone to stay with!

Travel to nearby destinations

For me, one of the worst things you can do while spending your third year abroad is limit your discovery of new horizons to a sole location. By moving your base to a new spot in the world, you’re also putting yourself in close proximity to tons of other new places to explore. If, like me, you choose to study in Asia, you can easily discover other countries in the region at around £100 a pop. During my time in Hong Kong, I also travelled to nearby destinations such as Indonesia, Vietnam and North Korea as well as others.

For those choosing to spend their year in Europe, cheap airlines such as RyanAir or easyJet provide flights between the likes of Italy, France, Germany and Spain for as little as £6. Additionally, if you don’t have the time or the money to travel beyond the national borders of your third year abroad country, be sure to at least go beyond your local limits and explore all the different areas that it has to offer.

Leave unnecessary baggage at home

I’m a travel blogger, not a relationship blogger, and I don’t plan on diverging into the latter field anytime soon; however if there’s one point I have to make regarding the relationships of those embarking on their third year abroad it is that if you’re in relationship that’s giving you unnecessary stress in your home country, don’t check into your flight to the new country.

Your third year abroad should be about being open to meeting new people, discovering new experiences, and generally being free to enjoy yourself and take up any opportunity that is presented to you. Fulfilling these while missing loved ones who are back home is difficult enough; those in happy stable relationships can have down-days that impede on their embrace of the full third year abroad experience, so imagine how much you could miss out on when dealing with the issues raised by a problematic partner. Your third year abroad is a chance to focus on you and you alone, so make the most of it.

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