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My year abroad, and how the pandemic has affected my plans

As you may know, the third year of all language degrees in the UK is dedicated to spending time overseas, developing your language skills and immersing yourself in the culture of the countries whose languages you study. This has been a bit different this year due to what has been happening in the world. In this blog I will talk about organising the year, the highs and lows of moving abroad, and how the pandemic has affected this year for me.


The planning for the year abroad began nearly a year before we were due to go – although this could sound stressful, it was completely the opposite as we had loads of time to consider what we wanted to do and to apply. At Durham, you have to spend 4 months in each country if you study 2 languages. The year abroad can actually be more than that if you want it to be – once exams/resits are over, everyone is free to do what is most beneficial to them until the following October. We also had a lot of independence and freedom in terms of choosing our placements and there is no set rule on spending four straight months in the same place.

Trekking on mount Etna, Sicily

To start the year, I spent a month volunteering on a horse trekking centre 1000 metres up Mount Etna in Sicily. Although these kinds of placements sound adventurous, they can actually be really easy to secure – there are loads of websites through which people who need volunteers and in exchange can offer accommodation, food, etc. can be connected with people who want experience or to learn the language. For me, this was a perfect start to my year abroad as I had already been to the centre volunteering the previous summer. That would be my first tip – if you can, go abroad on your own for a shorter time first, it will make the whole year seem a lot less intimidating.

Erasmus programme

In September, I started an Erasmus semester at the University of Cologne in Germany. I chose Cologne as it is a relatively big city and is really centrally located, so getting to loads of cool places and exploring is super easy. (Which brings me to my second tip, make the most of Flixbus and student travel tickets!) The placement was arranged through the universities’ partnership so that part was easy, but finding accommodation was a little trickier. Thankfully I was lucky and was allocated university accommodation, but this wasn’t confirmed until about two weeks before I was due to leave, so I went through a lot of the apartment-hunting stress. My tip would be just to remember that you will get it sorted eventually, even if it means making an Airbnb your home for a while.

Cologne Cathedral

Naturally, I was a bit nervous before I went but my tip again would be always to have faith that things will work out, and to do your best to help them along the way. During my time in Cologne, I made lots of new friends but unfortunately not so many German ones. The Erasmus network and the department were really good for organising events for exchange students. Although of course this wasn’t so good for my developing my German skills as English is the language of most exchanges, I don’t regret it at all. It enriched my experience so much meeting so many people from so many different places and this was by far the best thing about my time in Germany, as I know have lots of new friends to visit and catch up with all over the world.

I would recommend Cologne to anybody as it is such a cool place with lots of things to do and a real sense of regional pride. It is known as Germany’s carnival city as the countdown to carnival begins on 11th November so you always see people popping up in costumes in the months before the big 5-day event which the whole city celebrates. It was a really crazy experience that I would encourage anyone to go to if they’re ever nearby.

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Brescia, Italy.

Changing plans

My plan after my Erasmus semester was to do an internship at a translation company in Brescia, Italy. I had found this placement via the internet and applied and done a video interview. At first, it seemed a big task to go out and find a job anywhere in the country, so I narrowed it down by the region in which I’d like to live and what task would be most beneficial for my Italian linguistic skill. Having never been to Brescia, finding somewhere to live also seemed a bit daunting, but I based my search off how close each apartment was to the office and made sure to video call my landlord to view the apartment in real-time before agreeing to anything (tip number three!). Thankfully, my landlord was really nice and was happy for me to give her the deposit and sign the contract in person once I arrived. Unfortunately, I only managed three days in Italy before the region – and two days after that, the entire country – was placed into lockdown. Again, I was so grateful that my landlord was such an understanding woman as she gave me my deposit back and cancelled the contract, though telling me I was welcome back if and when the situation changes.

Now, at home in lockdown, my year abroad seems much different to how I ever imagined it. However, the University has put together an emergency programme for students who have been affected and I have been looking into doing internships and translation remotely, which, if truth be told, I had never considered before. Chaos breeds innovation as they say.

All in all, so far this year I have learned a lot and experienced even more, despite it not turning out ideally. It has been said a thousand times before but really the only thing you can do is try your best to make the most of all experiences and, whether good or bad, they all enrich you.

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Cover image – Cologne cathedral and Hohezollernbrücke across the Rhine river.

Ant Macauley

Hi! My name is Ant and I am a third-year languages student (German, Italian and French) at St Cuthbert’s Society. I grew up in Whitley Bay, near Newcastle.
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