Studying abroad: my expat story
Study abroad is a growing trend amongst the younger generation. I guess we are the lucky ones, for whom hopping on a plane and commuting from one country to the next is relatively easy, especially in the European Union.
I think young people nowadays are less afraid to take risks, leaving their cosy lives in their homeland and starting an adventure somewhere new and completely unknown. There is a certain bravery in throwing yourself into a situation where you have to re-learn and re-adjust to everything that you had once taken for granted – – the culture, the climate, the language, the people, the streets, the shops and whatever else you can imagine.
My adventure started when I was 19 years old and I decided, out of the blue, that I was going to do my Bachelor’s degree in Denmark. Freshly graduated from high school, having never been away from home for more than 3 weeks, I began my journey. Funnily enough, it turned out to be the best decision of my life. It has not been an easy journey but it has been worth every second.
First stop: Sønderborg, Denmark
I started my Bachelor’s degree in a small town called Sønderborg, in the region of Southern Denmark. The town itself was beautiful and the university was great.
At first, I was mortified because the degree was taught fully in English and every time I had to speak I felt like my heart was about to jump out of my body with nerves. After 2 weeks, I had gained more confidence and in time I realised that the Danish education system suited me perfectly. Their engaging yet conservative way of teaching was a refreshing experience and I learnt a great deal.
As for socialising, I met people in Sønderborg who I now consider friends for life and also my other half. I learnt to understand another culture from inside out, to trust myself and my instincts, despite being thousands of miles away from home. Most importantly, I have realised the importance of self-fulfillment.
I moved 3 times during my time in Denmark, experiencing both “dorm-life” and renting an apartment. The Scandinavian lifestyle is more laid-back than the life I left behind in Estonia. But I realise now how resilient people are in terms of adjusting to a new life, and this is exactly what I did. Occasionally I had moments when I really missed home, which I think is completely normal. I missed the most surprising of things, that only other Estonians could relate to. For example, I often craved kohuke which is a sweet quark dessert covered with chocolate, (expats in Estonia, take note!)
Off I go again: Erasmus semester abroad in Barcelona, Spain
During my 5th semester I decided to do an Erasmus exchange in Barcelona.
The educational experience was completely different to what I was used to in Denmark, and I have to be honest, I didn’t like this new system. I had to do my exams without any extra material (in Denmark I could use all my books, notes and even Google during my exams). Switching back to the old way of studying (from my school days in Estonia) was extremely difficult for me, but luckily I passed all my exams because I knew I had to work that much harder.
As an Erasmus student, I had so much time for social events, exploring the city, going to the beach and travelling. I met so many people from around the world and I am still in contact with a few of them. Everyone that I know that has done erasmus reminisces about a fun and crazy experience. It is the time when you take it easy with your university studies for the time being and enjoy what your new country has to offer.
Gap year in Madrid, Spain
Right now, as I am sharing my story with you, I am sitting in an office where I am doing my editorial internship. I came to Madrid to pursue my gap year which I am dedicating myself to gaining practical experience in the workplace. This is my second internship in Madrid and I am extremely happy. I knew that I needed a change after graduating and Madrid is definitely a great place to reflect on all that I have achieved, as well as being a city with so much to offer. And what’s next? I am currently trying to decide whether I want to return to Denmark or Sweden to complete my Master’s degree. But honestly, time has yet decide.
I never thought that I would be the kind of person that could handle constantly moving from country to country. No matter how hard you try to ignore it, all expats experience nostalgic flashbacks and they have to say goodbye to new and old friends alike.
Living abroad has taught me to appreciate the little things around me, accept the changes in life and live my life to the fullest without any regrets. So, my advice is if you find yourself hesitating about whether you could handle studying abroad, stop hesitating and go for it. This experience will give you the ability to grow in so many unimaginable ways and experience a whole new side to life.
To be honest, the life of an expat student is awesome, you will meet so many weird and wonderful people, you will learn and grow, and from here you can begin your quest to explore the rest of the world.