I wholeheartedly recommend getting to know as many people from the local area as possible, for a number of reasons. Firstly, they know the place like the back of their hand and they can tell you all the best places to go. Secondly, you can (try to) practice the language of the place where you’re living. Thirdly, and perhaps the most useful thing of all, if you just can’t deal with speaking in a foreign language anymore, they can order for you at a restaurant or book tickets for you. What are friends for? Besides, I still keep in contact with most of them now, which is useful for asking for help with assignments (worth bearing in mind). Going to see them also happens to be the perfect excuse to travel. The possibilities are endless.
This can seem very daunting at first, but it’s a great opportunity to try something new and improve your language at the same time. On my year abroad in Germany (at my undergrad uni I was lucky enough to do a year and a half abroad), I took up Swedish for beginners at my local Volkshochschule (adult education centre), and not only did I meet some great people, but now I can say some basic phrases in Swedish.Danke schön, ‘Los geht’s mit Schwedisch A1’! What a textbook that was. Then in Russia there was good old Russky Klub. Singing Soviet classics like Kalinka and Katyusha, drinking tea from a samovar and eating Russian biscuits, playing Mafia with locals. Now, that is cultural immersion at its finest.
When I met with my Italian friend in Venice on my year abroad, she said the best way to explore the city is to get lost in it. I can totally see what she meant and travel is the best way to broaden your horizons. Also, from a purely practical point of view, unless you’re on a remote island, you’re perfectly geographically positioned to explore new parts of the world and to make the most of local student discounts. You can also just wander around, taking in the sights and sounds of your own town or city, soaking up the atmosphere. I encourage you to fully exploit every discount and travel opportunity available to you. After all, you only get one life and it’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.
Go to see that band you’ve always wanted to see, visit that monument that’s always inspired you, try that local delicacy. Your time abroad may be short, but these are memories that'll stay with you forever. I also like to collect tickets and make scrapbooks of my time abroad, which is a great way to look back on all the crazy and exciting times.
Finally, as crazy and exciting an experience your year abroad will be, it is important to remember that you will have both good and bad days. And that’s ok. There’s a lot of pressure to make the year abroad the ‘best year of your life’, but, in reality, it’s a mixed bag. Give yourself time to adapt and work out what activities are best for you, then it’ll soon feel a lot more like your second home.