How To Make the Most of Your Year Abroad

Isabel Morris

Whether you’re already on your year abroad (or gap year), about to leave or just starting to plan it, making the most of every last minute of your time overseas is a must!

Whether you’re swanning about in the Spanish sun or freezing your toes off in the middle of Siberia (or cramming both into one year), having the time of your life or feeling totally terrified, your year abroad is sure to be one of the most formative years of your life.

Your year abroad can also help you stand out to employers. Language skills, knowledge of international markets and intercultural awareness are highly sought after in the business world. If you spin it right, the way in which you spend your year abroad can make you invaluable to employers. So, it’s worth thinking about how to make the most of it.

To those taking gap years – many of these tips are applicable to you, too!

1) Get out of your comfort zone

If you’re only going to remember one thing from this article, remember this: say ‘Yes!’ to adventures and new experiences, even if they are a little daunting! When opportunities come your way, take them – you never know what you stand to gain.

In overcoming the challenges that your year abroad presents, you’ll become a more mature, resilient and self-reliant person, able to adapt to new situations and learn new things. International experience signals to employers that you’re confident and open-minded – just the kind of person they’re looking for.

2) Immerse yourself in the local language

If you’re finding it hard to get away from the many English-speakers you’ve somehow managed to surround yourself with in a non-English speaking country, don’t stress – you’re not alone.

It’s actually very normal to find yourself surrounded by people who speak English on your year abroad. If your classes consist of solely international students, English will often be the classroom lingua franca; if you’re teaching English, contact with the language is a given. Technology gives you an unlimited ability to chat in English with family and friends back home.

So, here’s how to maximise your exposure to your target language:

  • Find a language exchange partner. Meet someone through online language exchange groups, your host family or university, who is keen to help you practice conversing in the local language in exchange for you helping them practice their conversational English. You’ll learn things they don’t teach in class – from local idioms to the current slang.
  • Flatshare with locals. Not only will you make new friends, but you’re also sure to use the local language at least a little bit everyday.
  • Immerse yourself in local culture. Watch TV, listen to the radio, read newspapers and go to local theatre shows and movie premiers in your target language.
  • Ensure your placement involves the language. It’s too easy to end up with placements where English is the lingua franca – working, for example, as an English teacher or in an international organisation. Aim to secure a placement where you’ll use your target language everyday – in such a setting, you’ll learn quicker and become more culturally aware.
  • Join local activities. Sign up for a local yoga or dance class, join a community club or group or try online dating in your new community. Do something – anything – you love in a way which will get you interacting with locals.

3) Find work related to your target career

Your year abroad is a great chance to get a taste of what it’s like to work in different jobs and sectors, especially if you’re not yet sure exactly what you want to do after university. Apply for internships and temporary work, or volunteer at an organisation that sparks your interest. You might discover the career of your dreams.

If you’re sure about what you want to do after university, you can use your year abroad to get work experience in this area – whether that means working at a law firm, a TV station or even a zoo! These experiences will make you stand out from your peers when you’re applying for jobs after university, and – who knows – you might decide to return to work in your year-abroad country in the future.

4) Build your international network

Especially if you’re considering working internationally or with international organisations, your year abroad is a fantastic opportunity to build your professional network.

Don’t forget, networking doesn’t have to be scary! People are usually happy to talk about their work, and being enthusiastic and open with your colleagues, acquaintances or even flatmates can open doors for you down the line.

You don’t have to be super outgoing to network well – even a simple chat over coffee in the lunchroom might do the trick.

5) Write a blog

Think creatively about how to share your experiences with people who might learn from them. The year-abroaders who come after you will have some of the same questions, concerns and expectations that you did – so do them a favour, and pass your insights on. You’ll keep your friends and family back home up-to-date with your travels and experiences at the same time.

Writing a blog throughout your year abroad can also be a great way to highlight your self-reflection and communication skills to your future employers. Not only will your blog track your experiences and personal growth throughout the year, it can also serve as a testament to your creativity and way with words!