Is the year abroad really the best time of your life?


I know you’ve heard the statement before.  Perhaps you’ve even made it yourself, “you’ll have the best time of your life!!”  Ugh.

People enjoy saying this as you embark on a big event, whether it be high school, university, a strange trip, a year abroad or a new house.  We’re always being promised that the next step will hold something that’s beyond our wildest dreams.  Frankly, I’m sick of it.

My year abroad has been many things, but the best time of my life is a bit of a stretch.  Sure, I loved my trips to Copenhagen, Berlin and Paris.  I’ve enjoyed my weekly pilgrammiage to The Bagel Factory; however, the amount of time I have spent complaining over a milky cappuccino, moaning about library closures or waiting on Italian bureaucracy solidly remove my time in Italy from the dreamy year abroad category.

If I dwell in the idea that every third year abroad student is having the best time of their life, I get a bit lonely.  From talking with other Erasmus student and overhearing conversations in English, I get the feeling that we’re all thinking similar: nope, this is NOT the best time of my life.

Luckily, it doesn’t HAVE to be the best time.  In fact, I’d be a bit suspicious if living alone in a country with a very different culture was the pinnacle of your existence.  I wouldn’t believe you if you told me you enjoyed the challenge of getting an Italian visa.  Not in the slightest.

Here’s the thing: living in a very foreign country is HARD.  There are going to be miscommunications, misunderstandings, cultural affectations that bother you, personal cultural affectations that you didn’t know you had, foods you miss, stores you realize you can’t live without, friends who are too far away, awkward time differences and a feeling of otherness.  None of this stuff is bad, but it’s not exactly fun.

The conversation that sparked my reflection on this overused and erroneous statement was an overheard conversation at Costume Cafe.  My English-starved ears heard some Americans discussing their day.  They were in Paris, bored and wanted the comfort of their university back home.  observing their meal at a brilliant third-wave cafe in Paris, I would have thought they were jubiliant to be abroad.  No matter what the trappings are, living abroad is hard.

Of course, it’s these difficulties that make it so important.  How can we know our own culture if we don’t seize the opportunity to live in another one?  How can we understand our indentity if we don’t know about people who are different from us?  It’s all part of getting comfortable by being uncomfortable.

So, no, the year abroad hasn’t been the best experience of my life.  Seeing as the next couple weeks are going to be filled with exams, I don’t think that’s going to change.  My time in Italy has opened my eyes to many things, but I’m thrilled to be turning to Bristol next year.  A city which, despite being abroad, certainly feels like home to me now.

What do you think of describing an even or an experience as the best time of your life?


2 thoughts on “Is the year abroad really the best time of your life?

  1. The Well-Travelled Postcard

    I think that in a year or so with hindsight you may start to see you the year abroad in a more positive light & to remember the good parts. One’s memory is incredibly good at forgetting the stresses & worries and only remembering the good things, which is why lots of people look back on big events & say that was ‘the time of their life’. At least that’s my take on it! It is incredibly hard to truly appreciate what you have until it’s no longer there, in your case it’ll be when you leave Italy…

    1. Emilia Post author

      That’s fantastic to hear. I’m definitely starting to think that I’ll be able to more clearly form my thoughts about Italy when I don’t have the country around me. It’s also an interesting point about how we forget the stress and worries. Maybe the best time of our lives is partly in the act of remembering? 🙂


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