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The Biggest Mistakes to Make on Your Year Abroad

The first rule of elitist intercontinental travel is "never own a travel wallet". I know. Unfortunately I saw this one and it had a Swedish flag on it and two Ä's and it was practical. It has slots for both of my passports, a nice area to keep my Swedbank security device, a place to keep a spare credit card and the 4 public transit stored value cards I'll use on this trip as well as 5 of the currencies I'll need and of course some spare SIM cards.

I usually just shove all of this stuff into a pocket of my backpack or jam as much as I can into my wallet and it just doesn't work out that well. This will function much better.

Fjäll Räven Travel Wallet
Credit: mroach

To some, year abroad is an embodiment of a year long, adventurous holiday to look forward to; to others, it is a social and academic inconvenience that has to be endured. The only objective fact about it is that you will not graduate unless you go (with minor exceptions). It can be more or less successful, and again, this is subjective. Success can mean gaining fluency in the language, getting this dream internship, having fun, or simply coming back uninjured. Whichever path you chose, there are two main traps you can fall into that can stop you from reaching your potential.

Trap one: not being aware of the “system”. This one is controversial and can be long polemicized about. However, how crucial is it to succeed! We are all different, and I bet the British Council Assistantship is not the best option for a lot of those who opt for it. It is, in fact, the most pertinent example of what I call “the system”. “The system” is an advertised path that wipes out all ideas you would otherwise have. Why not accept an easy and safe option, even if it may be boring and not for you? And I don’t only mean teaching English here! I mean all the highly competitive internships that come up first in search engine or conveniently arrive in your inbox with a laid out application form. They tempt. They also create disappointment and scare you if you don’t get what you applied for. Because, you see, chances are, A LOT of people applied. And if this wasn’t exactly what you wanted, you may think that better positions are just not for you.

There is only so much you can do to minimize the possibility of life going in the wrong direction, and the best advice I have received, is to do all you can to prepare, and go for it.

Well, they are for you. Let me enlighten you – the best positions are not advertised. The most exciting year abroad stories have not come from an ordinary internship. This path is certainly more difficult, as it requires more creative thinking. Did you enjoy watching Formula 1 when you were a kid? Why don’t you just make sure the Formula 1 drivers or managers don’t need a hand in Monaco? In most cases, contact emails and phone numbers are online. As unreal as it may seem, these people have probably never heard from a student, and they might take you, just to see what happens. If you always wanted to try to get your own business up to speed, year abroad is the time for it. If you still think this is impossible, you are deeply rooted in the system, and may want to reconsider moving on from where you are.

Trap two: being afraid. If you, for various reasons, accepted an internship that you believe is not what you hoped for or are not happy doing the job you are doing, check your contract. Do not be afraid to approach your boss and renegotiate the conditions. If you are allowed to, consider quitting. Year abroad is there for you to enjoy and try new things. There is no reason to believe that once you’ve got a job, you are grounded. Because you are not. It will certainly be a big step to decide to resign and go through all the stressful process again, but the outcome might well outweigh the risks. It may also not, but you do not only learn when working. Real life skills are also what the year abroad is about.

There is only so much you can do to minimize the possibility of life going in the wrong direction, and the best advice I have received, is to do all you can to prepare, and go for it. The worst thing you can do is to sit back and endure. While your university is still taking care of you, your parents still treat you as not-quite-adult, there is room for making mistakes and learning from them. This will be more painful in real life!

To conclude, let me tell you that you are freer that you think. Take advantage of it.

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