When I was finishing my degree, at the grand old age of 21, I didn't feel ready to off into the real world. It wasn't because I felt I wasn't ready to find a job, move into the real world or anything like that, it's just that I didn't feel I'd finished studying. I was in the process of finishing a Law and Politics degree and although I'd adored the politics side, I'd hated the law side. Of course, the law side had been the majority of the degree. I wanted to learn more politics, it felt like my last chance and so I knew that doing a Masters degree was one of the ways I could fit in learning a bit more.
Faced with not being able to afford to carry on in Cardiff to do a Masters degree, I made the choice to head abroad. I'd loved Holland on a small holiday when I was 18 and it kept cropping up as a choice. It was a relatively cheap choice (at £1,400 for a year's tuition compared to Cardiff's £5,000), was taught in English and did the course I wanted to do. Not only that, but it was only a 45-minute plane journey from Birmingham and from home. Of course, there was quite a lot of drama around the whole application process which meant that I found out I'd got into my University of choice only two weeks before I was due to start. If you've ever moved countries in two weeks, you might be able to guess at just how stressful that was. But it's how I ended up living in Leiden, the Netherlands, for a year of my life.
I'm not going to lie, when I first decided to move to Holland, I thought it would be a bit like my freshers year at Cardiff - a bit of a jolly. Um no. It was bloody hard work. It takes a long time to adjust to a new city, but it takes even longer if you don't speak the language, have to adjust to getting lost and can't speak the right language on the train. It can hurt your head when you have to work out the best way to buy train tickets - a process which you just know back in your home country. Even the smallest treats, like ordering a takeaway, become much more of an ordeal.
YOU'LL MISS THE WEIRDEST THINGS
I could handle being without Cadbury chocolate for most of the time, but I missed being able to go to the shop and pick some up easily. I missed eating out, which is something we'd done a lot at University - cheap pub food was readily available for hungover pub lunches with my housemates, but in Holland it was expensive and it just wasn't done, unless it was picking up street food. Aside from the food, the thing I missed the most was being easily able to buy cosmetics. Holland doesn't do cosmetics like we do, the choice is rubbish, the stores are rubbish and what choice there is is twice as expensive. My usual shampoo which cost around £3.50 in Superdrug would cost £7.50 in Holland and I couldn't go out and treat myself to a nice new cleanser or a Sunday night face-mask. First world problems, yep, definitely.
IT CAN BE REALLY LONELY.
The loneliest I have ever been was when I first moved abroad. It was really difficult to make friends with people, as communities often stick to their own and there are obviously language barriers. Not only that, but because things are done differently it's hard to work out where you should make friends. When I first started Uni in Cardiff for example, I found friends during freshers week or through societies or with my housemates but when I was in Holland, there wasn't a freshers week as such and the choice of societies was much less - especially with the sorority and fraternity system which I wasn't a part of and had no intention of becoming a part of.
YOU'LL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN.
You'll spend the rest of your life starting sentences with "when I lived in Holland...". I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing - it shows the breadth of experience I had when I lived there that I'm still able to talk about it 4 years later - but it might get a little annoying for my friends here.
YOU'LL LEARN THE ODDEST THINGS ABOUT YOUR NEW COUNTRY.
I think the easiest way to demonstrate this is would be the ultimate head-fuck that was spending my first Christmas in Holland. The Dutch have the tradition of Zwarte Piet who accompanies Saint Nicholas to give out presents to children and the whole tradition includes a lot of black face make up. I have never seen anything quite like it, and I don't think I'll ever see anything quite like it again.
YOU SHOULD LEARN THE LANGUAGE.
Easier said than done of course. Every time I tried to speak the small amount of Dutch I was learning at the time, Dutch people would speak English back at me. I did try, but to be fair to me, have you ever heard people with a Brummie accent try and speak Dutch? It's not a great sound. But learning the language will really help when water starts coming out of the floorboards of your dodgy student flat and you have to run three blocks away to summon your nearest friend who does speak the language to call the plumber.
THE WAY YOU DO THINGS ISN'T ALWAYS THE BEST WAY.
In England, I would never have cycled anywhere. Going on my bike was considered exercise only. In Holland, it was a way of life. If me and my friends ever went anywhere, you always cycled together and I would have been completely left out and often stranded without my bike. Obviously the cycle infrastructure in Holland is completely different and much easier to navigate, but I've brought home with me how much easier it can be to cycle somewhere in England than walking or getting the train - even if it is a little more stressful here in London!
ITS BLOODY GREAT FOR YOUR CV.
If you gain nothing else from the experience, it's been the guaranteed question I've had at every interview I've had since I left Uni. Employers seem genuinely interested by the experience and what I learned from my time in Holland and let's face it, having something positive to chat to an interviewer about is never going to be a bad thing!
I learned a lot from living abroad, even though it was just for a year. Admittedly, one of the things I did learn was that I'm glad it was only for a year and not forever more - I can definitely say that I hated and loved living in Holland all at once, but that England is my home for life.
Has anyone else lived abroad and can agree with my experience?