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My year abroad experience

When I talk about my year abroad, it often seems fragmented, a bit all over the place and it tends to confuse people. Do not stress, I am here to lay down every step I took in the crazy 14 months I spent away!

First of all, I took my year abroad as a compulsory part of my Combined Honours degree, as one of my subjects was French. I did the year out with the Modern Languages (MLAC) department, rather than the International Relations (SGIA) one.

When you study French your first instinct is to go to France, but in an attempt to not become a cliché during my year abroad I decided I instead would do Belgium. Then I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to study or work. As someone who had spent the last 4 years studying ‘abroad’ (I’m from Barcelona), I thought working would allow me both to explore the options in the market and gain a better understanding of what I wanted to pursue after graduation. Whilst the MLAC department has many options to teach English in French-speaking countries, I wanted to find an internship that fitted my interests.

After weeks of searching, I stumbled upon a front office trainee job for the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Brussels. Following a very light-hearted interview and many questions on why an International Relations student would want experience in hospitality, I got the job. The next step was to get the MLAC department to sketch a contract between Rezidor Hospitality and the University. Seeing the randomness of the placement, this took a bit of convincing but with their support we managed to do this.

The placement was to last 6 months, was paid (as an intern, so not very much) and would start 1st August 2018. I’d underestimated how hard working in a hotel would be. The Radisson team became a second family, and my French significantly improved, but that wasn’t without a few challenging experiences and the need to quickly mature and become more independent. In spite of the ups and downs, I felt a lot more adult when I finished my job in Brussels.

As I only study one language, I’m required to do a minimum of 7 months in a French-speaking country. After this 6 month traineeship, I had one more compulsory month to fulfil. When I was a little girl living in Barcelona, I’d heard a lot of important people talk about the beauty of Paris and the prestige of the SciencesPo. I became very passionate about a summer course they offered on Human Rights and Global Development, as it was the area of International Relations I wished to specialise in. This scheme was not part of the options offered by the University but I was still able to pursue this by contacting the MLAC department to see if they’d accept it. They agreed although I was to cover the costs of the course myself. Knowing the fame and reputation of the SciencesPo, I was unlikely to get a spot, and the languages department assured me they had some other options lined up was I not to get in. But my stubbornness and determination persisted, and within a few weeks, I got an offer to study in the SciencesPo July 2019!

What did I do between February and July you may ask? Well, I headed on an adventure to Argentina, Buenos Aires to be specific. As a native Spanish-speaker, I’d been wanting to visit Latin America for some time, and when an opportunity to intern for a small NGO opened, I took it straight away.  I must note all of this was organised without the university, this was just extra stuff I decided to do during my year abroad, rather than go home.

After my time in Argentina, I spent a few weeks home, got my C1 examination in French, renovated my C2 in English and passed my driving test (productive, I know). I also got First Aid certified. Then it was time to head to Paris.

SciencesPo was everything I had imagined and more. Not only were the courses incredibly interesting, but we were taught by world-leading experts, including a special-rapporteur from the UN. I met the brightest people I’ve ever known, that also happened to be great friends and who I remain in contact with. Overall, living in Paris was like being in a movie set: we tried every ‘patisserie’, visited all the tourist spots, every church, took countless pictures of the Tour Eiffel and even managed to make it to Versailles. It was a very intense yet eye-opening month, that also concluded the compulsory duration of my year abroad.

To bring this to an end, I can say my year abroad was incredibly chaotic and packed with highs and lows. I got many language certificates, passed my driving test, missed some flights, studied at another one of the world’s most prestigious universities, saw a lot of penguins, was at ‘the world’s end’ and met some incredible human beings that changed me (for the better, I hope)! And this is only a fraction of what I did.

If you are hesitating about doing a year abroad, or have any questions on where to go, what to do, visas, costs or just want to ask me about how I randomly ended up in China, feel free to contact me through Instagram. I am more than happy to solve all your doubts and cannot stress enough how much I recommend you follow in my footsteps.

To read the full story of my year abroad in detail head over to my own blog Agree to Disagree.

Most courses at Durham offer a year abroad – download our prospectus here.

Marina Mestres-Segarra

Heya! I’m Marina, a Combined Honours 4th year from Grey College. I’m from Barcelona but have a lot of experience living abroad and travelling to random places (which means I know plenty of useless facts). I breathe and bleed coffee, so you’re most likely to find me in town, having some liquid goodness, dancing around or fundraising for charities. If not, check the airport, it’s always a good bet too. Follow me on Instagram @wheretofindmarina
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