Year Abroad Accommodation Options
My name is Ellie and I lived in host families in both Russia and Guadeloupe. I really enjoyed my experience and would recommend it to anyone on a Year Abroad.
● Language: In terms of language, there is nothing better than living in a host family. You are forced to speak the language all day every day, even when you’re just chilling at home for the day. My language improved exponentially in both places thanks to my host family.
● Support: My host family were an amazing support to me and helped me to feel less homesick. Both of my host families helped to integrate me into the local communities and introduced me to many different people. This helped combat loneliness and also was just comforting knowing that someone would be there if you had any trouble.
● Cultural Immersion: Outside of the language, the cultural immersion is something that is ideal with living with a host family. You cannot shy away from their opinions, cultural festivals, food: you name it, you’ll experience it. It is the best way to truly immerse yourself in a culture and experience it all.
● Local knowledge: when you first arrive in a strange place, those little bits of local knowledge are invaluable. Which is the cheapest supermarket, the best restaurant etc. These are all things that feel very minor or silly but help contribute towards you feeling at home much faster.
● Free stuff: Obviously, you have to pay for a host family (though if you’re lucky like me and wangle an au-pair style arrangement you’re winning), but living in a host family brings perks of not having to bring your own towels, having your bedding washed, having your laundry done for you (literally, I know), etc. It saves those little stresses of having to go out and find things as soon as you arrive- you will have a comfortable space to begin with.
● Less independence: Staying with a family is like living back home again. Of course, this varies according to who you stay with, but you can’t exactly host pre-drinks with a group of friends or have a friend over for dinner without asking their permission first. Both my host families would call or text me when I was out late asking when I was coming home, which was of course reassuring for the support but at the same time, felt a little strange after two years of being independent at university. If you’re not ready for this to be a potential factor of your year abroad life, then I wouldn’t advise living in a host family.
● It is a lottery: Most of my friends had very positive experiences staying in host families, but many others also had some terrifying stories. I myself had my own horror stories from a different trip prior to my Year Abroad, so I was very nervous before I went away because I didn’t know what it would be like. Rest assured, you will never be forced to stay somewhere where you are uncomfortable. Talk to friends, administrators at your course / work/ look online: there are always ways out. Don’t let the potential negatives put you off.
I’m Kate, and I lived in a flat with other Erasmus students during my year in Italy: 2 Portuguese girls for the whole year, and then a Greek girl for half of the year and a German girl for the other half, meaning English was our common language. I was very happy there and would recommend it, but there were also lots of negatives to consider.
● Independence: Living in a flat means you are completely in charge of your own schedule and what you do when. Although of course if I wanted to have lots of people over I needed to check with my flatmates, it meant not worrying about coming in late at night or leaving early in the morning, being able to change my plans last minute etc. Especially in Italy where things are organised at such late notice I really appreciated being able to decide what I was doing spontaneously without having to fit in with other people or a curfew.
● Personal space: I’m someone that really needs time on my own and personal space, and I found this to be even more the case on the year abroad when day-to-day life is so much more intense and sometimes overwhelming. If I wanted to spend a whole day in my room without talking to anyone, no one judged that, expected anything else or bothered me.
● Support/shared experience: As international students, all of us were going through the similar experience of living in a new country away from our family and friends, so we found a lot of solidarity through that. We were able to advise each other on practical things that we’d each discovered like the best supermarkets to go to or how a particular bit of bureaucracy worked, and we also had the emotional support of knowing we were struggling with similar things.
● Friends: I got on very well with my flatmates and spent quite a lot of time with them. Any opportunity to make friends on a year abroad has got to be a positive one, so I really enjoyed that!
● Speaking English: Although one side of this is also in my cons section, it was often a relief to be able to speak English when I came home after a long day speaking Italian. It can be so exhausting having to function in another language that often I really appreciated the English time.
● Language: I initially hoped to find a flatshare with Italian students and it was a shame not to have the constant practice speaking in Italian as being surrounded by the language can make such a positive difference.
● Practical difficulties: When things went wrong in the flat (blocked plugs, water malfunction etc) it was our job to liaise not only with the landlord but also with the relevant plumber, electrician etc to fix it; this all had to be done in Italian which was a challenge! It was also frustrating that it always took a long time for anything to get fixed because of the lack of organisation in Italy.
● Flatmate difficulties: If you are sharing with people you’ve never met before, it is a lottery and you may find yourself with people who you don’t get on with or who you struggle living with. In our flat we had difficulties with the differing levels of cleanliness that each of us thought was appropriate, and it led to some disagreements, which is difficult when you’re all living together. It can also be difficult working out a system of joint shopping for toilet roll and other necessities – we found a good way of dealing with this was to have a pot into which we each put €2 every week, but I had friends who found that harder. Of course, these are the same difficulties of sharing a flat as you’ll find back at home, just with the added problem of being in an unfamiliar country and culture!
We are Chloe and Ana, and we lived in a flat together in Milan for 4 months during the second half of our year abroad. We were both based in different countries for the first half of the year, living with other Erasmus students and alone respectively. We really wanted to live together in Milan and had an incredible time, but we are glad that we both got to experience different types of living situations as well.
● Independence: We could both come and go as we pleased, in contrast with Chloe’s previous experience of Erasmus student accommodation which involved lots of rules regarding the number of days spent away from the accommodation, group parties and a curfew after which the building was locked for the night.
● A friendly face: Ana and I worked in different places so we spent the day apart during the week. Coming back to a friendly face in the evening made a huge difference. We did not have to arrive home after a long day at work and make an effort with strangers as we were already comfortable enough with each other to sit, watch TV and properly chill. We both understood what the other person was going through and were there for each other during the more difficult times. Living with someone else from Cambridge also allowed us to maintain a link with our university lives, we felt less alienated and suffered less from FOMO as a result.
● A reminder of home: Although we both loved meeting people from all over the world and learning about Italian life and culture, we also loved having someone there who reminded us of our lives back in England.
● Speaking English: After speaking Italian at work all day, it was amazing to come home and be able to speak English. Despite what everyone says about the importance of “full immersion”, this is definitely not for everyone and you should not blame yourself for not wanting to do it 24/7.
● A friend for life: We were friendly before we went on our year abroad but living and going through the year abroad experience together brought us much closer. Although we are at different colleges it is lovely to know that we have each gained a best friend who will be there for us during our last year in Cambridge.
● Language: We did try to speak Italian together a few times and to watch cringey Italian dramas on TV but this, predictably, failed. You could argue that this is a con, but as we mentioned above, it was also a huge plus.
● Flat mate difficulties: Living with anyone for 4 months brings about a few little arguments but we got on extremely well and loved living together – but this is definitely something to consider when choosing flatmates, not everyone may be as lucky as we were!
● Meeting other people: As we already knew each other and got on so well we definitely had to make more of an effort to meet and socialize with other people. Luckily we both worked in different places so we made different friends through work. We had to put ourselves out there a bit more in order to achieve this but we probably found this easier as we had already both gone through the process separately in the first halves of our year.
My name is Ana and I spent half of my year abroad living in a dreamy studio in the Marais neighbourhood of Paris. It was pretty much my only choice as I quickly found out that no landlord or flatmate would rent out his place for only 4 months when they have so many others queuing up for the full year’s rent. I was lucky enough to find this apartment which was charming and modern but the living situation impacted massively (more than I expected to be fair) on my enjoyment of the whole experience.
● Space: Having the whole place for myself meant that I could easily bring whatever I wanted. I am also a bit of a neat-freak so not having to deal with messy strangers and judgmental frowns when I cleaned meant that I could live my own lifestyle very easily.
● Freedom: The landlord lived off-site and so I had no one counting and checking my comings and goings. I made sure the building had a good level of security and so I felt safe and free to go out whenever I wanted.
● Ideal for guests: This is something I know some others living with host families or in uni accommodation often struggled with. Having my own place meant that I often had friends and family staying over. I made sure to ask people in advance if they wanted to come and at one point I ended up having 4 weekends booked back to back which was great fun. For those in long term relationships this is quite helpful as it meant I could have my boyfriend come over for as long as I wanted without justifying anything to anyone.
● Quiet: Except a few episodes involving noisy neighbours and some construction work, I was in charge of my own schedule and could have quiet hours when I wanted to focus on YAP or research. It was very good in terms of this, I ended up getting loads done, which I probably wouldn’t have if I lived someplace else where I would have been more easily distracted.
● Sociability: Basically, I had no choice but live solo. The uni I went to did not have a campus or hall accommodation and due to the short period no landlord wanted me. One thing this impacted was the meeting-new-people side of things. I found it really hard to make friends in Paris and living alone definitely played a part in that since it’s the most organic way of bonding quickly and finding people to do fun things with. Sometimes it was really hard coming back home to an empty apartment, especially after being used to sharing in college the year before.
● Lack of structure: I have quite a procrastination-prone personality and I actually work and generally have a healthier lifestyle when I’m surrounded by other people. There were way too many nights when I would stay up way too late sucked into an internet black hole. Had I had a roommate I’m sure I would have had a better sleeping pattern, diet and probably exercised more because ultimately misery likes company.
● Support: After a hard day when you just can’t seem to speak the language, the bureaucracy of the country you’ve just moved to is giving you migraines and you’ve been catcalled by a sleazy man for the 10th time, you just want to get home put on the kettle (or pour some wine, because France) and vent to a friend. I think it’s been proven that complaining is the best way to break the ice and make new friends, which means that I’ve passed some stellar opportunities to bond with hypothetical roommates. Especially if you share with other international students I can imagine you can quickly create a support group for when you need someone to listen to you or advise with all things year abroad.
● Expensive: Last but not least, let’s get to the practical side. Living by yourself, especially in big European capitals, will cost you a lot more than if you’re splitting the cost with some mates. I paid a small fortune for the (necessary) luxury of having a place all to myself, which was just not very practical, especially given the fact that I had not qualified for the Erasmus grant. I think it’s a point worth taking into consideration and researched as in advance as possible when you might be able to find decent places within your budget.
● Good way to meet people: living in communal accommodation is undoubtedly a good way to get to know people.
● Cheap: often university accommodation is much cheaper than renting privately, which can be a very good deal in larger cities where rent prices are high
● Location: some university accommodation blocks are in prime locations in large cities, allowing you to have a good experience of the city. However, allocation to accommodation may be at random, with little concern for your preferences, so it is always worth trying to find out in advance what the accommodation is like.
● Independence but are not totally alone: helps you to feel safe and secure when you are not completely alone in a foreign country. Good to know that if something happened to you, someone would be looking out for you.
● University will help you: if your dormitory is university-affiliated, generally the uni will help you out with maintenance issues- good to know so that you don’t have to be searching frantically in online dictionaries for “fuse” or “plunger” etc etc.
● Don’t have to deal with landlords: As above, it is useful to not have to combat challenging landlords in your second language
● Basic rooms: rooms in university accommodation can often be dirty, and very basic. Many students had little to no furniture, where you they were expected to buy everything (even light bulbs)
● Lack of space/ having to share a room with another student: you may not have the freedom to Skype home when you like/ come and go when you wish, if you are sharing a room.
● Lottery of who you live with: could be all super-friendly students who speak the target language, but could also be all be unfriendly international students whose common language is English or even another language, meaning that you have no common ground
● Bureaucracy in order to pay bills
● No personal freedom: often there are restricted hours on having guests, the front doors may be locked after a certain time and there may be a certain number of nights that you are allowed to be away from the accommodation. Communal accommodation can also be very loud.
● No Wifi: a common problem regardless of country.
● Bad location: Many university dormitories are far away from the university campus and/or the city centre, where you might want to spend the majority of your time. They may also be in an undesirable area, and transport links may be poor.