The Truth Behind the Year Abroad: Planning & Preparation

If you know someone spending a year abroad in Australia, you may have noticed that the dribble of year abroad posts on social media has already begun. Prepare yourself: it will only get worse. In fact, in less than a month, I will be flying halfway across the world to start my own year abroad in the US, and so, I’ll soon be adding my share of posts to the collection. But what many people aren’t aware of is that there is so much that goes on behind the glossy travel pics – so much stress, research and paperwork that begins way before we even know where we’re heading. Some may find it surprising, but the reality of the year abroad is often much less palatable than the pictures make it out to be.

Preparation for a year abroad begins in the first term of second year, with all prospective year abroad-ers having to submit their top eight choices of partner universities by early December. Along with this, Exeter makes all students submit a selection of modules that they would be interested in studying at each of their eight chosen institutions, resulting in a UCAS-esque hell of research. However, little did I realise that this was not going to be a one-off task: I soon found that the year abroad admin would be endless.

When I got my email telling me that I had been accepted into the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), I was thrilled, despite the fact that this was only my third choice university. Popular countries like the US and Australia are typically quite difficult to get into, due to their being over-subscribed – but there are plenty of other options on offer, such as all the partner universities in Europe and Asia. Something I wish I had known sooner, is that Exeter allocates partner universities based on two criteria: a student’s overall mark in first year, and whether they have already got ‘with study abroad’ in their degree title. When I attended the open day in Exeter a few years ago, I was confidently told that it would be easy for students on my course to transfer to the ‘with study abroad’ course during their second year – so I applied for the standard English degree. However, they didn’t tell me that this would put me at a disadvantage when it came to selecting partner universities, and so, if I could go back in time, I would certainly have applied for the ‘with study abroad’ course at the very beginning.

Pretty soon afterwards, I was expected to fill out a mountain of paperwork for USM, ranging from your average passport details to a rather invasive series of bank statements proving that you actually have the amount of money you’re expected to need over there (it’s a horrendous amount, but I’m confident that their figure is a worst-case scenario estimate). Later came the VISA application process, ending with an interview at the US embassy. This was, most definitely, the scariest part of the whole application. In my mind, I had expected to be grilled about every detail of my finances, CV, and intentions when I arrived in the states – but, in reality, all I got was a kind American man who laughed at me when he saw I wanted to leave England to study English in the US.

One of the most exciting parts of the process was when I managed to get in touch with the other two girls from Exeter who are also studying at USM next year – one of whom, it turns out, is also my room-mate for next year. I firmly believe that having someone to turn to when I was baffled by one of the questions on the application, or stressed about my upcoming visa interview, saved me a lot of tears and breakdowns!

Currently, with less than a month to go, there is still a lot of admin that I need to sort out. However, I feel like the biggest chores are now over: I have a university where I have been enrolled in classes, accommodation when I arrive, flights and a visa. I’m finally allowing myself to look forward to what the upcoming year might hold. I can’t wait to meet lots of new people, and to try a new sport (they don’t play netball over there, so I’m resolved on this one). I’m excited to attend classes in a different country for the first (and last) time, and to (once again) reach the drinking age when I celebrate my 21st birthday. While I’m a little anxious about all the admin I still have left to sort, and very sad to leave behind all my amazing friends who will graduate without me, I now simply can’t wait to get on that plane.

– By Alice Walters 

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