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Category Archives: Year Abroad

“It’s the best year and the worst year of your life”

“It’s the best year and the worst year of your life”. Those words meant nothing to me this time last year, but a fourth year quoted them as I geared myself up for the elusive year abroad. As a language student, it’s something you’ve looked forward to since you were about 14. You fantasise, you plan, you lust. Where could I go? Who will I meet? Study or work? What’s out there? It’s all a complete fantasy. And yet now we’re here – we’ve all gone and moved abroad. This isn’t a holiday; we live here. And we’ve completed the 6 tonnes of paperwork to prove it.

I’m now 4 months into my year abroad and currently studying in Beijing but I’ll be off to work in Madrid in the summer, before whizzing back to Durham to start my final year.

China has been the definition of weird and wonderful. I’ve done some truly incredible things… I’ve hiked up the Great Wall as the sun set, camped overnight, and woken up at 4am the next morning to watch the sunrise. I’ve visited South Korea, a place I never thought I’d go, and even got to see North Korea with my own eyes; a surreal experience. I’ve been flown to Shanghai to perform a medley of British songs including the Spice Girls and Rick Astley for Britain’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. And watched the National Flag hoisted at dawn on historic Tiananmen Square. Between us, we’ve dined with the British Ambassador, visited China’s answer to Blackpool, starred in Chinese adverts, watched the Olympic medal winning gymnastics team practise, and even popped to Inner Mongolia. Plus, our cleaning lady costs £4 an hour.

In addition to the novelty extras, it’s the reason we’re really here that most of us find the most rewarding – learning that language. It is genuinely so gratifying to see your language skills put to use and improve every day.  I only started learning Chinese when I started at Durham, and now I’m surviving in Beijing. Classroom learning is one thing, but I’ve learnt so many more practical things by immersing myself in the language here than I ever could in Elvet Riverside. This week’s goal was to find out how to order my single shot latte. Tick!

Speak to anyone on a year abroad though and you’ll discover what lies behind the façade of the great Instagram picture. For all the highs, it can be hard and we’ve all had a couple of wobbly moments. Friends aren’t as easy to make as they are in Durham, the language barrier is real, as is loneliness, the time difference can really suck, and you miss all the 21st birthday parties. There’s also no Flat White in Beijing, squat toilets have become the norm, and Brexit has made the pound really, reallllly weak. We can claim it’s character building all we like but sometimes life seems pretty tough and we long for the comfort and familiarity of Durham.

But we don’t live for comfort and familiarity. The more you see of the world the more you realise there is to see. There is so much out there; you just have to burst the bubble. As cliché as it sounds, this year is hands down the best thing I’ve ever done, and if I had the power I’d make everyone do a year abroad. A holiday is one thing, but by living and throwing yourself into a country you get to discover a whole other side to the world you thought you knew. I’m nowhere near halfway through my year (terrifying or lucky?), but I’m already grateful for how much my time here has shown me. I’ve met some really cool people, been to places I never thought I would, and challenged myself to do things I wouldn’t previously have dared. A year abroad is a unique and inspiring experience, and a challenge I’d recommend to all. It’s easy to see every day how much I’m growing as a person… no thanks to the dumplings. 谢谢!