I've been back in England for nearly a month now, and have only just settled back into the routine of life here. For the past three weeks I've been waking up at 7 under the impression I've managed a lie-in until 10, I've been nervously checking my bag to ensure I have my papers on me before leaving the house, and I've been outraged by the price of food, drink and transport in England. However, now I've finally become a real English person again, it's probably time to cast a summarising eye back over the year.
Just as with France, my time in Russia has proved that there is nothing as valuable for language-learning than spending time abroad. From a position of having low confidence in speaking day-to-day Russian, 18 weeks of classes conducted solely in the language have left me happily declining nouns and conjugating verbs with little thought or recourse to a grammar book. And who knew that by the time I left I'd be able to explain the expenses and hacking scandals in Russian to our media teacher (and be understood, no less).
Lifestyle-wise...well, Russia took my camera, laptop, bankcard and phone, at varying points along the journey, so you'll understand that it wasn't necessarily the smoothest of rides. You'll also understand, then, how amazing the experience was, if despite all this, I say it was still the best four months I've ever spent. I've met brilliant people, seen astounding sights, and been introduced to – and fallen in love with – a totally unique culture and way of life.
Overall, I've been lucky. I spent the first semester living in the Mediterranean, in a house with a pool, and the second living in the historic heart of one of the most culturally interesting cities in the world.
However, your time really is what you choose to make of it. To get the most out of a year studying abroad, you have to work hard, be realistic in your expectations (I'm looking at you, French administrative system) and be prepared for anything. As much as anything, just be mentally prepared that it's not necessarily going to be THE BEST TIME EVER.
But oddly, the minute you DO start to prepare yourself for all eventualities, and greet the odd bump in the road with a shrug of the shoulders, then it does start to become one of the best experiences you can have. I'd fully recommend it to anyone, especially if they're fore-armed with the advice I've been trying to give here for the past few months. So bite the bullet and do it. It's been an intellectual improvement for me, but it's also made me more employable, more self-confident, more independent, and, well...really just a happier person.