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Sitting in a massive lecture theatre brimming with over enthusiastic language students, just like me, gushing over the year that is to come. "I'm off to South America," boasts one girl. "I'm headed to China" beams another, already anticipating the oohs and ahhs that are to come. People always tell you that the year abroad is the best part of your whole uni experience. The year is supposed to be a holiday basically—you fall in love, you meet people, have amazing experiences, yada yada yada. The problem with these things is that people place such high expectations on single events that when the time comes you find yourself somewhat unsatisfied. Social media piles the pressure on even further; you're always left comparing yourself, sizing the others up, zooming and stalking and eventually throwing your phone in exasperation. This my friends, sums up part 1 of my year abroad.
Plonking myself down into my aeroplane seat, knees touching my chin, child behind me attempting to Karate Kid kick through my chair, Jess Glynne singing that bloody song, yet again (why Jet2 why), I was ready. Best year of my life, here I come. Off to Cannes for a whole 10 months. In my head I had the absolute picture of luxury, bring on the yachts and partying, exactly one month later I found myself fired, homeless, single and very very skint. To top things off my laptop packed in resulting in me losing all my work documents and having to start again in 3 different languages (magnificent) oh and then my phone got nicked (better). I recall a day where I went into my friend's kitchen, painfully hungover and just sat staring at the wall thinking "hm." Just "hm," I wasn't emotionally capable of anything else at that point so a simple. "Hm so this is my life now," *dramatic stare into space* was all I could muster. Next stop: new job, new town. Lille. What a downgrade.
My dreams of sun, sea, and glamour were immediately shattered, I arrived in Lille, grey sky, rain most days, bloody freezing, was I back in Leeds again by accident? Oop no, past me wafts the overpowering scent of BO and French trap music blares out of some guys headphones on the metro. Definitely in Lille. I'm over exaggerating here; it wasn't THAT bad, the buildings were pretty nice and I loved my job the main issue was the social life. Or lack thereof. I had a grand total of 4 friends and most weekends were spent in bed or taking Sunday walks in the park (Am I 90 years old? You ask. Just about). So that was life for 5 months, living for work and the promise that it would eventually be over. February came and I got the hell out of Lille, I think I turned up to the train station about 3 hours early just to ensure that I would most definitely be leaving that dreary place.
After my time in France I completely dropped all expectations for my next stint in Spain. No more fake year abroad notions of what's to come, no more scrolling through Instagram and burning with envy at my fellow course mates who always seemed to have boatloads of friends and ridiculously cool adventures. I was going to take the next part day by day, attempt to find happiness in dark spots and just generally throw myself into it in the hopes that it couldn't get much worse. Then came Spain, the 6 month long holiday I was waiting for. Spain was like a breath of fresh air after France. I had friends for one, good friends that made me laugh until I cried, friends I know I will most definitely have all my life, I had adventures. I went bloody paragliding, camel riding in the desert, surfing, camping, BBQing, whale watching. I fell in love, I watched my friend poop in the desert (don't ask. It's another bizarre story for a rainy day), I began many a dance off whilst heavily under the influence—these dad moves just can't be kept in their cage. I had the best time in my life and the best part is it never would have happened if I hadn't have been fired back in Cannes. I was never supposed to be there but shit happened and that's where I ended up and it worked out!!
Point is, if you go into things with other people's reviews in mind, thinking they had the best time so I will too, they did this so I will too, nothing is ever going to seem like enough. You will always be comparing, always expecting, always unsatisfied. If you take things as they come and stop expecting, stop being disappointed and stop overthinking, good things will come. Take everything as a lesson. All my drama in France taught me that I'm pretty strong, I overcame everything all on my own and it was HARD. There's no denying there were several times where I could've just crawled home to my mum, curled up on the couch and wept until it was all over. But I didn't, I got through it and at the end I was rewarded with the best time in Spain and the ability to appreciate everything that happened because I'd given up on the year abroad expectation and just sculpted my own experience.
Things will never go to plan, and they never should. Life throws surprises sometimes good, sometimes bad but always leading to something better. So, anyone out there heading on a year abroad? Block out the noise and do it for yourself, don't worry about everyone else, make your own year abroad. Choose 10 things that you want to do and go out and do them. Whether alone or with new friends, take something from every moment.
Thanks for listening,