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How to Get the Most Out of a Year Abroad

02/07/2014 12:27 BST | Updated 31/08/2014 10:59 BST

So you're going on a Year Abroad. You're probably crazy excited but really effing scared. You might still be slightly in denial that it's happening at all. Your tutors say they expect you to (depending on your degree subject) drastically improve your language skills, embrace another culture, and become independent. All big (and pretty vague) goals, but as I learned during my Year Abroad: sort out a few basics and the rest will fall into place. So whether you're studying or working, and wherever you spend the year, here are four failsafe ways to make the most of it. The rest is up to you.

Say yes to any invitation or offer

....no matter how unappealing it may seem. Whether it's the work colleague you don't know that is inviting you to lunch with their family or your flatmate bullying you into a massive bar crawl with people you've never met, just go along with it. If you don't enjoy yourself you don't have to do it again, but chances are you'll have a much better time than you expect. If conversation dries up, playing the novelty foreigner card usually works. In my experience, Brits abroad are met with fascination and derision in equal measure, so use this unexpected notoriety to your advantage.

Live with natives

Compared to finding a place with a group of fellow year abroaders this can definitely seem the more intimidating option, but languages students should definitely do it. Your linguistic skills will improve quicker than you ever thought possible, plus your flatmates will serve as free tour guides and provide a ready-made group of native friends. Perhaps most importantly, you'll also enjoy the smugness that comes with knowing you took the harder choice and nailed it. Admittedly most of the YA kids I knew in Spain lived with other Brits or Americans and don't feel they missed out, so fair play to them. Just remember that the whole point of this YA business is to throw yourself face first into the language and culture of your host country, which really does get a lot harder if you shack up with other foreigners. Also living with British people doesn't always guarantee that you'll get on with them better than you would with French/Spaniards/Germans/you get my point. Having said that...

Make friends with some of the other foreigners

This might seem a bit of a curve ball after what I've just said, but some of the best friends you make this year could be native English speakers. There was a big group of British, American and Canadian language assistants in Murcia who provided some of the best nights out of my Year Abroad. Regional and national holidays that are a massive novelty to you might not be so exciting for your flatmates who see them every year, so a touristy day out with the Erasmus crowd might be a better way to experience them. More generally though, speaking a language that isn't your mother tongue all day and dealing with all the cultural quirks of your host country can be draining - sometimes meeting up with people in the same boat is a very necessary break from it all.

Remember that blogging it all isn't compulsory

Lots of people feel a desperate need to document their Year Abroad, and blogging is undoubtedly the most popular way of doing it. I flirted with the idea too; I posted my first entry in October, but it was late February by the time I managed a second. This isn't a bandwagon I'd rush to join again though; of the countless YA blogs that flooded my Facebook feed only one or two of them were actually worth reading. As cruel as it might sound, the only people happy to read a blow-by-blow account of your Year Abroad are your grandparents. Send them some pretty postcards instead. What's more, you may well find yourself lacking the time or energy to commit to blogging regularly. Between your placement, exploring your adopted hometown and having a social life, dedicating time to writing a very public diary about it all can be a self-inflicted burden. And quite sad.

Right now it might seem a long time to be away but this nine month 'year' abroad will go by much quicker than you expect. Moving to another country with little idea of what awaits you will be one of the scariest but most incredible things you ever do. Your tutors won't admit it but this is a chance for you to be very silly for a year, and say quite legitimately that you've learned a lot while doing it. It's devastating when it all comes to an end, but much easier if you can come away knowing you got everything out of it that you wanted.