Finding your Year Abroad Dream Destination: Country and Culture

Isaac Avery

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So, you’ve decided you want to do a year abroad – what’s next? The world is your oyster, now it’s time to choose where you want to go. But how do you narrow it down to a handful of countries? I’ve put together some country and culture-related factors to consider when trying to decide where to spend the upcoming year.

1. Language

¿Hablas español? Parlez-vous français? Spreek je Nederlands? 

Choosing an English-speaking country may make settling in, making friends, or getting a part-time job easier. However,  if you’re up for a challenge and want to dive into learning a new language, you could choose a non-English speaking country. Immersing yourself in a country’s culture is the best way to learn to speak the language. On top of this, many places have dialects and slang that can be really interesting! Understanding how and why they came about and learning to speak like a local was one of the things I found really enjoyable.  This will not only improve your linguistic skills but also help you immerse yourself in the local culture. If you want the best of both worlds, a country where English is widely spoken – but not as the first language – could be a good option.

2. Time Zones/Distance

Another key factor is how far away from home you want to be. Moving to a country on the other side of the world will mean you can’t just pop back home on the weekends and there may be a large time difference.

When I arrived in Canberra, Australia, on my year abroad, I was nine hours ahead of the UK. After the clocks changed, this became 11 hours, which meant I was getting up when my family were going to bed. I didn’t always find it easy being so far away from home and was sometimes jealous of friends on their year abroad in Europe who could go home for a weekend. However, it gave me the opportunity to really throw myself into the year. It forced me to spend most of my day not talking to people from home and meant that I made the most of travelling to new places in my free time and solved problems by myself.

3. Lifestyle and culture

Choosing a country with a similar way of life to what you’re used to may make it easier to settle in. I found it relatively easy to move to Canberra because it felt like a mix of the UK and US with familiar shops, restaurants, and home comforts. However, choosing somewhere with a different culture gives you the chance to experience a whole new lifestyle – from language to cuisine. Countries like Egypt and Brazil offer rich experiences for people willing to take the plunge. 

You could also consider what activities each country has to offer. If you want to surf, Australia should be high on your list If you want to perfect your skiing, consider Canada, France, or Switzerland. Every country has something unique to offer – it’s about finding the one that’s right for you!

If you’re planning on driving abroad, be sure to check the rules of the road – most countries drive on the right-hand side of the road (unlike the UK)! In some countries you can drive for three months with your UK licence, after which you need to apply for a licence from that country, but make sure to double check this first – especially now that we’re living in a post-Brexit world.

4. Climate

Whether you want to escape the British weather and come back with a tan or if you’ve always dreamed of living in a winter wonderland, considering the climate of your new temporary home will help narrow down your list of choices. 

If you want to hedge your bets, you may want to consider a country that has a varied or temperate climate. It’s worth knowing that the seasons in the Southern hemisphere are the opposite to the UK – the coldest part of the year is June and July and the warmest around Christmas. It’s also worth finding out which animals you need to be wary of – warmer climes could mean there are more creepy crawlies; however, I didn’t see a single snake or spider while in Australia.

If you choose to go somewhere cold like Canada, consider investing in a heavy-duty winter coat and sturdy footwear. North Face  has some great clothing for this sort of climate.

5. Travel Opportunities

Ever wanted to ride a motorbike in Vietnam, go snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, or hike around Patagonia? Your year abroad may be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.

Although you’ll spend most of your time in the country you’re studying, it’s worth making the most of the opportunity to travel to nearby countries and regions. Location with regard to the rest of the world is something you might want to bear in mind.

With all these factors in mind, it may be worth drawing up a list of pros and cons to rank your different options. But remember – there is no right or wrong way to choose a destination for your year abroad, just lots of possibilities! So, don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be happy wherever you go and come back with a suitcase full of memories.

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