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Let’s Talk About: The Year Abroad

While moving abroad might seem daunting, Alex Burgar reminds us there's also a lot to look forward to

I have a confession. This piece is completely different to the one I initially wrote. You see, when it comes to the year abroad, I feel like most articles are either startlingly anxious or very impersonal. Not that there’s anything wrong with being out about the year abroad (it would be untrue to say I’m not), but, equally, fear isn’t my overriding emotion.

Nearly two years ago, when I was asked in my Russian interview how I’d view spending eight months in a country where it’s “very cold, gets dark at three o’clock, and you’re hundred of miles from your family,” I said I thought it would be an adventure. This is still what I think about the year abroad. So when I started writing this, I got two paragraphs in, and then realised I wasn’t writing what I actually thought about the year abroad. I was writing what other people wrote about it.

It’s now less than a month to go until I leave to spend eight months in a town called Yaroslavl’, north of Moscow, in Russia. This means that while my Oxford friends are only really halfway through the vac, I’m nearing the end of mine – frantically doing admin, making packing lists, and buying those last few things I’ll need. Somehow, I’ve got to get everything I need for eight months in Russia into a 23kg suitcase and hand luggage, and I’ve got a frankly silly number of packing lists.

So why am I going to Yaroslavl’? I’m on the ab initio Russian course (my other language is German), and our year abroad is in second year rather than the normal third year, which means by the time we get back we are, in theory, caught up to the post A-Level students. We go to Yaroslavl’ to study a course designed especially for Oxford students, which is pretty similar to the first year post A-Level course.

This will involve literature, translation, grammar, vocab, and, of course, we will be speaking Russian 24/7. We will have to deal with things like paying rent, taking public transport, and talking to our host families in this still unfamiliar language. Hopefully this will improve my Russian beyond what I’ve managed to plough through in first year. My conversational skills are still limited to fairytales and biographies of composers and writers, thanks to the slightly odd Oxford syllabus, but soon I will be able to have a proper conversation.

I feel like so often, the year abroad is seen as a big, scary hurdle in a degree; something to be overcome, especially since people normally go in third year, when their friends are graduating. For me, this image is significantly lessened by it being in second year. I’ve always enjoyed speaking different languages in other countries, and the year abroad was part of my motivation for doing my degree anyway. Whilst that means that this hasn’t made for a particularly sensational read, it feels kind of refreshing to write about the opposite side of what I’ve always read about the year abroad, and what I believe a good chunk of students about to take flight are really thinking.

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