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Eureka! : Why UK Students Are Being Tempted Across The Channel

04/09/2013 11:55 BST | Updated 03/11/2013 10:12 GMT

Whenever we turn our minds to the gap year or year abroad, it is hard to forget a certain YouTube clip. The video, which went viral within a few months of being posted on the site, shows Orlando, a floppy-haired, bright young thing who tells his friends that he is unable to come shopping with them because he is in "Purr-ah" on his "gap yah".

While the "Orlando effect" may be responsible for putting some people off years abroad, others have found that, thankfully, there is more to be gained from venturing outside of Blighty than mastering the art of "chundering everywhere". When I was preparing for my year abroad, dreaming of lazy sunbathing sessions on a Spanish beach with an 80:20 ratio of sun-seeking to studying, our lecturer reminded us of the employability of graduates who have spent a year abroad due to the life skills they have picked up while working or studying on foreign shores and their comprehensive knowledge of a foreign language.

Ruth Wood, a student at Cambridge University who is spending her year abroad in Austria, explains that an advantage of the year abroad is the opportunity to acquire greater, if not complete, fluency in a foreign language. "After nine years of studying German, I'm regrettably still not fluent. In the UK, it's so easy to just study in class and see language as a chore in all other areas of life - in short, to avoid speaking it. This is my chance to get out there and force myself to live my life almost entirely in German, giving me the best possible preparation for my two final year language papers."

Another attractive prospect is the chance of greater independence, and the idea that being self-sufficient in a foreign country may make the prospect of post-graduation life less daunting. "Once you've set up your life in a foreign language with a phone contract, bank account and accommodation, the prospect of doing the same thing again after graduation is no longer so frightening." Ruth, who is considering moving to Berlin after she finishes university in 2015, adds that the pen-pushing that graduates can expect after moving out of university, complete with tricky bureaucratic mazes to navigate, can also be easier to deal with as a result of a year abroad: "I've got loads to sort out, but at least it's in English and I can understand every word on the form this time!"

Despite its familiarity and its relatively close distance to Britain, Europe is not the only destination that university students are considering for a possible year abroad. Emily Tarbuck, who is going into her final year of an English and Spanish degree at Nottingham, spent four months in Barcelona before moving to Argentina to work for an English-language newspaper in Buenos Aires. She lists the fact that she was able to interact with people from around the world as one of the main benefits of the year abroad. "I was lucky and lived in the centre of Barcelona in a big flat with six other people from all over the world. I was able to travel around Spain and Europe, and explore Barcelona's wonderful neighbourhoods."

The following five months that Emily spent in Buenos Aires offered a chance to see a different continent, culminating in a tour around South America after her internship at the Argentina Independent newspaper. "As an intern I had a lot of responsibility and met some great people who are now some of my closest friends. The city, even with its questionable transport system, has amazing food, and was like nowhere else I've ever been. The place sucks you in and as I was told over and over again, it doesn't let you truly leave." Sarah Allidina, who is spending her third year as an Erasmus student on the Hispanic Studies course at Valencia University, agrees with Ruth and Emily that the advantages of spending a year in a different country include "getting close to fluent in the target language and making new friends, while learning to fend for yourself." Despite remaining conscious of possible drawbacks such as safety in a foreign country, Sarah maintains that she is looking forward to the next twelve months. "I'm really excited to be going on this journey although naturally I'm a bit apprehensive too."

Championing the benefits of a relaxing and rewarding third year, Sarah believes that it is "the best time to travel, learn new things and enjoy yourself before the big bad world of work." She compares the appeal of the year abroad to a "productive gap year, where you have to work, study or teach", although presumably, anyone embarking on their year abroad this September hopes that it won't feature quite the same escapades as those enjoyed by Orlando and friends.