I recently returned from my year abroad where I spent four months studying in Toulouse and six months in Siena. The year abroad is perhaps the most important and exciting aspect of the modern languages degree for the students as is it an opportunity to gain independence, meet new people and really improve language skills.
There are so many options available to students at Reading with the year abroad and there is so much help at hand with choosing where to go, what to do and how to make the most of our time away. As I am a joint honours student, I was particularly lucky in that I was able to go to two places: France and Italy. This is the case for any joint honours student based on the languages they study. It was an incredibly daunting experience, choosing which two cities I would be spending half of my third year in, however we were very fortunate in that we had the fourth year students who were more than happy to advise us and discuss their experiences with us.
Before going on the year abroad I had to make the important decision as to whether I wanted to study at a university or work during my Erasmus period, and I chose to attend a university in both places as I was eager to see the differences to the university system in England. This choice was a positive one for me as I really enjoyed the experience of studying abroad, however a lot of people chose instead to work and also had an amazing time, and of course were earning money, which is always a bonus!
When I finally arrived in Toulouse in early September and again in Siena in February, it was safe to say I was terrified, however it did not take long to make myself at home because I quickly met many Erasmus students who were in the same position as me. It was definitely easier to adjust to life in Siena as I had already experienced a big move and was slightly more experienced. However, what I found so amazing about moving abroad was how friendly people are and how strong the friendships you form become because everyone is in the same boat and everyone wants to make the experience the best it can be.
Studying in French and Italian classes and going to lectures was definitely a challenge but a good one as I noticed quickly how well my language developed, and through the classes I met other students, both English and international and it definitely helped form friendships with local students too. I would strongly encourage anyone going on a year abroad to really try and socialise with students from the country in which you are living because it is so beneficial for your language and it also becomes an excellent excuse to go back and visit!
For me, one of the best aspects of the year abroad was getting to know the culture of the two countries. Having studied French and Italian for so long, it was really nice to be able to spend some time in both countries to really understand and experience everything they have to offer. I used the time very well in my opinion, making sure I tried all the cheeses I could get my hands on and drinking all the different wines the regions made! It is safe to say, I will never eat a ready meal again.
The year abroad for me was a real opportunity to develop as a person, independently, socially and with regards to my language too. It is quite incredible what you can do when you are thrown into something and have to sort things out for yourself, whether that be finding an apartment, opening a bank account or sitting an exam. The people I met abroad have become some of my closest friends and will continue to be for many years to come, so much so that I am already planning to go back and visit in the next few months. It was the most daunting endeavour I have had to face so far in my life however I can now say looking back that I do consider it the best year of my life!