The Year Abroad: The Best Year of Your Life?

I am currently living the roller-coaster experience that is officially labelled ‘the Year Abroad’: those 9-12 months of your 21st year of life that will make you into a cultural language genius. Fresh out of the Bathtub in September 2022, this explorer did not know what to really expect on her travels, but the true colours of the Year Abroad finally showed themselves – it is truly an experience filled with highlights and challenges. I would like to share with you a ‘bonne bouche’ as it were, into all things Deutsch and Français. 

To be completely honest: living abroad is turbulent. For the first time for most of us, we are learning how to live by and with ourselves, many miles away from familiar surroundings, friends and family. It may feel like a holiday at first, but what quickly becomes apparent is that this small thing of learning to live in a foreign country is not such an easy task, particularly where McDonald’s is concerned. Picture this: you finish a 9pm lecture at Sciences Po Paris (yes, they really do finish at 9pm) and are expected to attend a marketing event in the main hall (with lots of wine). All you need is a fix ‘au McDo’ and you walk into the closest one you can find… can you imagine my disbelief when I discovered that a European McDonald’s does not have the Chicken Select Menu! Neither in France nor in Germany! This is quite shocking to me, and I am still looking for one…so if any of you do happen to find fried chicken on your travels, please do let me know!

In all seriousness, French cuisine really does a splendid job of providing fresh pain (the bread, that is), macarons (not Macron) et vin (drink up). These are also particularly useful if you have a full university timetable and exams each week… but not to worry, life in Paris is a whirlwind that can be easily fixed with Netflix, the Eiffel Tower and feasting on the banks of the Seine – a real Emily in Paris moment. Acclimatising to a new city does take time, and the added pressure of finding good accommodation and opening a bank account can take its toll, but I assure you, there are no thorns without a rose.

Up until the end of June, I continued to navigate my way through this cultural labyrinth in Bonn, Germany. If you are worried about the rising cost of living, I have a solution: leave the UK and live near a German bakery. They are not that hard to find as there are something like 12 per street (it’s true!). The multiple bakeries, high quality of the food and generous food portions are a welcome treat when you step off the plane for the first time! Now I am no beer drinker, but even I cannot deny a €2,50 glass of home-brewed ‘Kölsch’.

Admittedly, I have had a few cultural surprises on my travels that I will always remember with a mixture of embarrassment and laughter, especially in the spa and wellness industry. I have always enjoyed a sauna and steam room following a swim or just to relax, but I never knew just how intimate these activities are in Germany, and my first sauna experience will always be one to remember. Swimming costumes? Not a requirement! Much to my surprise, nude saunas and pool areas are very common and universally enjoyed in Germany, a custom that did take me – a ‘reserved’ Brit – a while to become comfortable with. Despite this, it may be a promising solution to promoting body positivity and openness, who knows? 

Lastly, I should tell you that your new nationality in Germany will be Dutch due to the Brits’ reputation for their linguistic ineptitude, so I would strongly recommend visiting Amsterdam beforehand to get into character. Additionally, I would bring a coat to work, even if it is sunny because the windows (they are basically doors) will always be open. But first, sauna anyone? 

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