Study abroad has been the campus buzzword of the last decade. For some, it means a glorified holiday, while others grasp the opportunity to be flung headfirst into a linguistic whirlpool. My time in Switzerland teetered between the two. There were moments when I thought, “Am I seriously getting credits for going sailing on Lake Geneva?” (the answer was no) but occasionally I found myself wondering, “I came all the way over here for this?”
If you’re considering heading overseas as part of your degree, you’ll have been inundated with overwhelmingly positive articles shouting about the benefits of studying abroad. I’ve left my rose-tinted glasses safely in their case in order to provide an honest account of my semester spent on the Continent.
Let’s start with something good: I can now speak French. Okay, okay, so technically I could speak French before. I’ve been learning it since high school and continued with it through university. But the regurgitated Frenglish that somehow got me through my oral exams has thankfully been replaced by something more perceptible. Plus I can almost say serrurerie. Almost. Those damn ‘r’s!
Something weird: Reverse culture shock is a real thing. First world problems alert! I’ve now decided that I cannot focus without my morning chocolate croissant. And without a Manor (the best department store in the world) down the road, where will I be able to go shopping?
Probably the worst thing about studying abroad is being lumbered with the Erasmus/exchange student tag and spending the whole semester trying to escape from its clutches. I was relatively lucky in that my university treated us in practically the same way as the “normal” students, but sometimes it was easy to be disregarded by the Swiss students, who were understandably more acquainted with their usual classmates. At the risk of sounding patronising, the only way to stop being known as the Erasmus/exchange student is to not act like one. One way of doing this is not whacking your bilingual dictionary out at every unknown word you hear; write them down and check their meaning after class instead.
You’ve heard enough about my study abroad experience for now; let’s hear about yours! What was the weirdest thing that happened to you when you spent a semester in another country?