A week in the life of a year abroad student

My name is Emma and I am currently on my Year Abroad. As I study French and Spanish in the UK, it’s compulsory to live abroad for a year to practice my languages and immerse myself in foreign culture. This is how I found myself living and working full-time for six months in Paris, before flying all the way to Chile, where I am now studying in Santiago.

Studying means my life is a lot more unpredictable – and interesting – than working a full-time job, so there isn’t always a “typical” week in my life. But here’s a little summary of what I’ve been up to for the past week.


A early start to the week sees me getting up at 7am, shivering for a few minutes under the duvet (central heating isn’t common in Chile and we’re entering the winter months), and throwing on a smart-casual dress and two layers of cardigans. I then catch a bus, followed by a metro, followed by another bus, in order to get to a rural school located around an hour and a half outside the capital city. As part of the university programme I’m doing, I work part-time as an English language assistant. I travel to this rural school once a week, where I’m confronted with the stark difference in resources and wealth between the capital and the surrounding towns. The kids here don’t have projectors in their classrooms and haven’t had many opportunities to venture beyond their home – especially not to other countries, the class teacher tells me, remembering that one of her students thought that Brazil was in Asia. It’s good, then, that this programme means they get more regular contact with a native English speaker than most Chilean students.

I participate in a few activities with the students, have lunch from the school canteen there, and then take the long bus trip back to Santiago for a lazy evening.


Tuesday is another busy day. I spend the morning at my desk, attempting to do some studying, get an empanada for lunch from a little café on my street, and then head to campus for an afternoon of classes. I spend 1.5 hours studying the differences between English and Spanish grammar, 1.5 hours attempting to translate economic texts into Spanish despite the fact that the rest of the class are native speakers, and then learn about the psychology of learning for the final 1.5 hours. It’s a long afternoon. I get the metro home and do a little more work (and a little more Netflix) before bed.


Usually I have Wednesday mornings free, so I make the most of it this week by doing some much needed grocery shopping followed by a trip to Pablo Neruda’s house in Santiago, named ‘La Chascona’. It’s only a ten-minute walk from my house, which is nestled at the foot of the San Cristóbal peak, and from the street it looks like it could be an ordinary house. However, when you walk through the gates, you realise that Neruda’s masterpiece of a house is set across three buildings and levels on the hillside, each hidden from the street below by copious amounts of green foliage and winding steps. It’s quirky and beautiful.

I then have to run to the university in the rain (the weather is so changeable right now and I forgot my coat), where I conduct a one-hour English speaking practice session with a Chilean student, and attend another psychology class. Wednesday evening is a welcome treat after a busy afternoon: dinner at one of the oldest vegetarian restaurants in the world, which serves the most incredible quesadillas.


I begin Thursday with the most unexpected part of my Year Abroad: I host an hour-long feminist radio show on the university’s radio channel. This week, I’m talking about green feminism and what feminism has got to do with the environment. Each week requires a fair amount of research and I’d never have thought I would enjoy speaking live on radio, but I’ve found that I really enjoy it.

I then have lunch at the university canteen (really cheap, delicious Chilean food) and attend another long afternoon of classes.

In the evening, I abandon my plans to do some studying and instead end up somehow going to a live jazz concert at midnight with my flatmates, drinking wine and swaying to the music. It’s surprising and spontaneous and I love it.


I have a lie in for the first time this week, and then decide to get some life admin done before lunch. As well as studying and teaching here in Santiago, I have to write an 8,000-word dissertation for my home university, and I also try to keep up a few other commitments. Sometimes it can be hard to remember that a Year Abroad isn’t all wine and concerts; sacrifices have to be made just the same as at university in England to strike the right balance.

The afternoon, however, is another cultural whirlwind. I go to a museum about a famous Chilean folk singer-songwriter, take a walk in a gorgeous central park called Santa Lucía, and then go for an incredible chorrillana restaurant for dinner – basically cheesy chips made a thousand times more delicious.

Saturday and Sunday

The weekend is a time for catching up on work, calling friends or family in the UK, and maybe even fitting in a couple of museum trips. This weekend I’m staying in to do some studying on Saturday, before meeting a friend for pizza and a couple of drinks. Then on Sunday I’m going on a long walk with visiting family members.

The best thing about being on a Year Abroad, though, is that every week is a little bit different. Even when you settle in, there’s no escaping the fact that you are in another country, sometimes literally across the other side of the world… and you still have essays to write.

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