If there is one thing you should try in life, it’s living abroad for a year. Apart from the obvious (that it’s a glorified extended holiday), it opens up your cultural awareness and lets you into a foreign world that you never before realised existed. I was fortunate enough to spend a year in Gran Canaria in Spain, as part of my Modern Languages degree; among the many tips I learned along the way, here are my top five to consider if you are planning such an adventure:
1) Learn to speak the language (if you don’t already). I know, I know, everyone speaks English nowadays. But that doesn’t matter! If you can speak to the locals in their language they will appreciate you even more for it, and will be willing to give you more of their time. Believe me, I’ve tried and tested it. It never fails. It’s also a good achievement to say you’ve learnt a new language. Why not try an exchange class? You can offer to teach English to a local person in exchange for them teaching you their language.
2) Adopt local customs. There’s no point in going to live abroad if you continue to act as if you were on home soil. If you are living and working within someone else’s environment then the least you can do is appreciate their customs and ways of life. For example, the majority of Spanish businesses take a siesta from 2pm until 4 or 5pm. Shops shut and people go indoors. This is mainly because it’s the hottest time of the day. They then re-open and don’t shut again until 8 or 9pm. If you go abroad to work, it’s norms such as this that you will need to adapt to.
3) Try the food. Food is my guilty pleasure in life and so the mere thought of trying new and exotic foods excites me. Take the opportunity to try local delicacies, drink included! Try and keep an open mind as some things may seem strange to you, but to the locals they are perfectly normal. In a lot of Spanish bars, when you purchase a glass of wine or a beer you will receive a tapas dish. This can be anything from cheese stuffed croquettes, to garlic prawns. A favourite Spanish drink of mine is Calimocho, which is basically red wine mixed with coke. Even years after returning back to the UK I still regularly drink it.
4) Attend local events. Whether you’re living abroad for business, as a student, or just for the experience, there are always some local events or classes you can attend. This provides you with the opportunity to meet new people and learn a bit more about life in the area.
5) Become familiar with local terms. Depending on where you are in the world, each region has their own words and jargon that may not match the standard of the language you know. For example, in Gran Canaria the word commonly used for a bus is “Guagua”. This is a mainly South American word but is used widely in the region. The only word I ever knew was “Autobús” so you can imagine my confusion when I first heard the ‘G’ word. And that was after six years of studying Spanish. You will never cease to be amazed or taken by surprise when living abroad.
Nowadays, options for life abroad are endless and more and more people are choosing to uproot themselves in search of job opportunities, the chance to travel and see the world, and even just to experience a change of scenery. Think and plan carefully if it’s something you’re serious about. When you decide to take the leap, you’ll wonder why you waited so long…