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InternationalStudent experienceStudy abroadUndergraduate

Should I stay or should I go?

And no, this isn’t an article about The Clash (or Brexit)

The cover shot was taken at Yangshuo, China.

The idea of living a year away from home can be daunting, almost as daunting as knowing you’ll come back to Durham as a fourth year, to find many people you knew have graduated. Can the adventures you’ll encounter outgrow that feeling, though?

Talking from my personal experience, definitely, but you are probably hoping for a more helpful explanation as to why.

Firstly, going abroad, either to study or on a placement, will help you put your future and what you want to do with it into perspective. Maybe you will study a module that was not available in Durham that will convince you to take a particular career path, or maybe you’ll come to the realisation that what you were sure was the job or master’s for you, isn’t (that was my case). Going abroad will help you explore new fields, talk to people from backgrounds different to your own, and will give you some time to think about what will make you happy in life; what success means to you.

Furthermore, you most likely will find a second place you can call home, and that doesn’t only lead to free accommodation during holidays. Immersing yourself in a new culture will broaden your horizons. Finding people that share your interests but haven’t necessarily had the same upbringing can make you better in your field of study, a more competent sportsman/woman or even a better cook. You don’t realise how much there is to learn until you have left your comfort zone and burst the bubble. I believe there’s no need to mention the aspect of friendship in great detail; you will make lifelong friends whom you’ll share crazy memories with and with whom you’ll most likely want to skype every day when you’re back!

Palais de Versailles, France

Your degree can wait one more year, it’s not going anywhere. You’ll come back to some old friends and many new ones. Being a fourth year in Durham means you know the city quite well, and are ready to explore other parts you maybe hadn’t seen before. Your year abroad will have been a breath of fresh air, and you’ll return more motivated than ever, ready to pursue a career you will know for sure you want to embark on.

There are obviously many other aspects to the year abroad: trying new foods, exploring new places and landscapes, taking up new hobbies or picking up some old ones, getting work experience, enhancing your CV; but as much as I believe all of these are of great importance, personal growth is the aspect that will stay with you the longest, if not forever.

Where to go?

The world is an immense place, and Durham offers endless exchanges with many universities. My personal advice is to follow your gut. You’ll have heard it plenty of times, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you don’t want to be pragmatic about it. Don’t let university league tables guide your decision, because that will not matter as much at the end of the day.

Simatai area of the Great Wall, China

Durham only offers exchanges with the very best universities, so close all the tabs on university rankings, and listen to your heart. Is Australia a place you always wanted to go to, but never had the money or time to visit? Does having champagne in front of the Eiffel Tower ring your bell? Or would you rather live in a remote village in rural Peru and take up Spanish? There is no correct answer as to where you should go, so apply where you feel it’s right for you; you will probably have an amazing time regardless. If you are unsure of where you want to go, use the internet. Search for opinions on people’s past experiences, read articles on what each university or city has to offer. Inform yourself.

The application process is long and sometimes discouraging. Just remember, even if you don’t get your first choice, or second, there is most likely a reason for that, and there will be great things awaiting you wherever you go. When I started my placement year, little did I know I’d end up living in four different countries, in three separate continents over the span of twelve months. Now, looking back, I am beyond grateful I followed my heart and not what people had to say.

If you decide to get on board the adventure of going abroad (see the rhyme I did there?), be ready to leave your prejudice behind, prepare to face new experiences, cultural shock, unforeseen turns of events and brace yourself for what will be one of the best years of your life!

More information about study abroad is 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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