Top 10 tips for surviving your year abroad

So you’ve decided on your year abroad. You may have it all planned out or you may still be a bit confused about the whole thing.  WanderingBrits has plenty of tips and articles that can help you with planning but here are our top 10 most useful things to think about, to help you survive (and hopefully enjoy) your year abroad.

1. Get your finances in order

If you are using grants, student loans or bursaries, ensure you have submitted your applications on time and that the money provided will actually cover your living expenses. If you are moving with your current employer, or getting a new job, it might be a good idea to ensure you have all the documents that they require so that there will be no delay in adding you to their payroll. It is also a good idea to have an emergency fund like some savings stashed away or a very generous parent on hand to bail you out if everything goes wrong.

2.Make friends quickly

You may be the kind of person who doesn’t see the need to have constant social gatherings but when you first move abroad you will have no network and no support system. Sometimes the type of people you become friends with abroad are different to those you grew up with back home but there’s nothing wrong with that.  It is really important that you have people you can talk to or visit new places with. Some people find it very easy to make friends at the office, but others may use social media groups or hobby classes to connect with others. To get the most out of your year abroad you definitely need some company to share it with and it is ok if it takes time to find the perfect overseas buddies as long as you are making an effort.

3. Be open to change

Moving abroad is a big life change and a lot of your preconceptions just won’t fit into your new life and may even get in the way of adapting to your new surroundings. Fitting in requires a bit of self-awareness. The manners and ideas that you grew up with and that you thought were right and wrong are not the same everywhere. In the UK we love to stand in a queue and wait our turn but in some cultures everyone just stands in a semi circle and remembers who was there before them. Things just work a bit differently especially in social situations so it’s important not to take things personally. If somebody’s shouting at you it may just be because you are not following their social norms. The same way that you may be disgruntled at somebody breaking rules that you consider to be polite. Relationships with friends and colleagues can also work differently so be patient and observe what others consider to be the norm. If you are very confused you can always ask someone – your foreign language teacher may be especially helpful when understanding the differences between cultures if you have one.

4. Research public transport

It is worth spending about an hour before you move abroad figuring out how the public transport works in your new city. If you are lucky, you will stumble across an excellent blog or forum that will tell you everything you need to know. At the very minimum you need a map of the public transport network, the name of your local station and an idea of how to purchase tickets. Apps like Deutsche Bahn can be really useful for helping you plan out your route no matter what city you’re in.  At main train stations in cities you may also find that the staff on the help desk can speak English and may be able to tell you which ticket would be best for you. However you will need to figure most of this out yourself. You should also be aware of how expensive the local fines are in case you get the wrong ticket.

5.Plan the fun stuff

A year abroad may turn out to be the best year of your life so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to enjoy the experience. Make a list of all the things you want to see and do in and around your new city. Be a tourist for the day, visit museums, zoos, cafes, tourist attractions, amusement parks, cinemas or anything else you happen to be interested in.  You can use Tripadvisor to create trips with all the places you want to visit. You may also find that your new city is much closer to other places that you have always wanted to go.  A novelty for Brits is being able to catch trains across borders or even take the train to your holiday destination. If you are on a budget you can even find bus tickets that take you hundreds of miles for as little as 20 Euro.

6. Learn the real language

At school you learnt how to tell people your name, how to ask people where they live and how to ask people their age.  Think about it, if you were in the street of your home town and a foreign person approaches you there is no way on earth you would tell them your age or where you are currently living and you probably won’t care what their name is either. What you learnt in school was probably a great introduction to the language but it may no longer be fit for purpose. The main vocabulary you will need is probably related to ordering food in a restaurant, translating menus, reading food packaging at the supermarket, paying at the supermarket, getting around on public transport and recognising place names and areas in your new city. You may also need some work-related vocabulary depending on your occupation. Maybe you could try writing a lists of useful words or if all else fails, install the Google Translate app on your phone.

7.Say Yes

Obviously you should always keep yourself safe and avoid doing anything illegal but beyond that, you should try to say yes to as many new experiences as possible. Your new colleagues may invite you to a folk festival that you’ve never heard of or some of your expat buddies may be taking some outdoor yoga classes that you don’t think is your thing but it’s worth giving most things a try. Even if you hate it, it may provide you with a very funny story to tell your friends back home.  If your new friends see you trying to make an effort to get involved with what they’re interested in, they may be more inclined to come with you and try out your thing.

8.Be aware of the 3 month slump

About 3 months into living abroad a lot of expats feel a bit down. The novelty has worn off and you are beginning to truly adapt to your new life abroad. Although everything may feel difficult, the skills you are gaining at this point will last a lifetime. The adaptation process provides you with the cultural awareness and empathy that you came for. This is your biggest chance for personal growth so be kind to yourself but keep going. Keep trying to make friends, keep trying to practise the language and keep trying to adapt because after a few more months you will have mastered almost everything. Having an awareness of this feeling will help you to acknowledge it and overcome it.

9.Plan for missing home

Even the most well-travelled and experienced expats miss their home comforts from time to time. Before you leave home make sure you have a few treats in your suitcase and some photos of whatever you need to make you feel more at home. There are plenty of companies that you can find that will send British food out to your new home abroad for those times when you need it. For this reason WanderingBrits set up our very own WanderBox to send you some home comforts every month. It all depends on what matters to you.

10.Prepare for reverse culture shock

You may not have even considered what happens after your year abroad. You have experienced this wonderful life-changing event and you have learnt all about a new culture. You’ve even adapted your way of thinking to be more culturally sensitive. You will have hundreds of stories about all the things that you have seen and challenges you overcame but surprisingly even your closest friends and family don’t seem to care. Your friends may ask how it was and be really interested for a few minutes  but they do not want to hear about it for days or even weeks after you’ve returned. This will take some getting use to but eventually you will find a balance. You can also start your own blog, vlog or Facebook page. You can even submit your stories to WanderingBrits to help others who are beginning their journeys.

Everyone’s experiences are different but hopefully you will find some of these tips useful. If you’ve thought of anything else feel free to add to the comments below.


WanderingBrits founder. Several-times Expat. General culture and travel enthusiast. Loves tea and makes the best Welsh cakes.

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