Now that I have finished my year abroad I feel that it is only right for me to give my opinion on how best to make the most of your Erasmus year (or similar), and to give my thoughts on future prospects for Erasmus students.
Let's start with the dos:
✓ Speak the language - try to make friends with local people and meet up with them regularly to practice the language. Remember that these people, whether they be classmates or people you meet on nights out, can become friends for life and can open up doors for you whilst on your year abroad and in the future as well. If you don't speak the language enough you will regret it. Even if languages isn't your main study in your country of origin, it is my personal opinion that you shouldn't waste the opportunity that you have been given. If you're surrounded by the language and don't learn it then you may as well have stayed at home as far as I'm concerned.
✓ Live with natives - it is important to live with people who speak the language you are trying to learn because that way you speak it every single day. Living with a mix of Erasmus students can also be a good idea as long as there's at least one person who speaks the language natively in the house and that language is the one "majoritarily" spoken.
✓ Watch local television and radio - these days with the Internet it's pretty easy to watch the telly and listen to the radio online but if you're in the country it's even easier! Turn on the TV or radio every morning when you're getting ready or eating your breakfast because I promise it will improve your language skills leaps and bounds.
✓ Socialise - Get out of your flat and have fun as much as you can. You don't want to be cooped up inside and not venture out apart from when you go to university. If you are in a place where it rains a lot then that may be difficult but don't let that stop you. Invite friends round or go to someone else's place. The social aspect of Erasmus is one of the most important. If you want to you can meet people from all over the world and you can even learn their language if you so choose. Take advantage of being away from home. Try new things - food, drink, take up a sport or other hobby. The world is your oyster!
✓ Study - make sure you actually get some studying done because unless you're one of the lucky few that doesn't need to attend class or pass any exams (what a waste of time and money!) then you'll need to pass to the host institution's standards. This tends to be a bit harder in France as far as I can tell, but if you're in Spain you still need to pull your weight and not all tutors will take into account the fact that you're not a native. If your home institution allows it, you should try to take some classes that are slightly different to what you usually study. For example, I study business and languages and in Murcia I took classes on exportation/importation, tourism, translation and interpreting. Although they were still related to my area of study, they allowed me to broaden my knowledge of business and languages and to discover areas that I hadn't had the opportunity to study before.
✓ Take note of new vocabulary on the go - at the start of the year I bought a tiny wee notepad to write down new words that I learned, words that I saw and didn't understand and words in English that I thought of and didn't know/remember how to say in Spanish. Do this from the very first day because when you arrive you'll be setting up bank accounts or buying phones and many other things which will undoubtedly teach you new vocabulary.
✓ Travel - try to explore the country as much as possible. For many, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity so save us as much as possible to make sure you have money to travel. You can't go to every city in the country, but you can pick the ones that you think are most important or of most interest to you. The local Erasmus groups should coordinate trips to various cities at a reduced price so go with them and see what's out there.
✓ Take photos - don't forget to buy a camera before you go. You have to take your own photos and capture your own memories instead of taking other people's from Facebook. You could make a collage when you get home and put it on your wall - a task I have pending still.
✓ Manage your money - first of all you should gather as much money as possible before you go abroad so that you can live comfortably and enjoy yourself as well. You should try to make a list of everything that you intend to buy each month with a rough cost guide and then adapt that after the first month. I did not do this and I struggled some times - I wasn't the only one. Take into account the fact that your first month may be more expensive if you need to buy things for the flat.
✓ Get a job - my advice to any student studying abroad is to find a job when you are away. Any extra money you can get your hands on will only allow you to do more things during your year. I got a job tutoring English through speaking to people and spreading the word that I wanted to teach. In Spain there is a website that you can use to find pupils searching by region: http://www.tusclasesparticulares.com/ (clases particulares = private classes).
And now the all important don'ts:
x Don't speak the language too much...- Yes, it sounds like a silly thing to say. However, one thing that REALLY got on my nerves while I was abroad was anglophones speaking to me in Spanish. Saying a few sentences or choice words Spanish was done often amongst my friends there but we never had full conversations in Spanish unless there were Spaniards present who didn't speak English. Language is meant to facilitate communication and I think that speaking a foreign language between your friends doesn't really help you to learn too much as you pick up each other's mistakes. Another point I want to make is that in order to make friends that speak the language you're learning, you may often need to give in and speak your native language for a while. In my experience, these things need to be an exchange otherwise people tend not to want to talk to you. If they aren't learning your language then you have no problem. I would say 70-30% Spanish-English would be a could percentage as a rough guide as to how much of the language you should speak. You will be in their country and one day they will have, or will already have had the opportunity to do the same in your country.
x Don't live with people who speak your own language - I do think that it is a good idea to make friends with people from your own country because if you ever need some support or a break from the foreign language, then it will be there for you. However if you live with them then they become a crutch and you end up speaking your own language more than the one you're trying to learn. Pointless isn't it? You can still have your friends close, just don't live with them for the love of God! It's not as scary as you think. I remember being worried about living with people I didn't know and who didn't speak my language but it's an amazing experience and teaches you a lot. It's not as hard or as scary as you think before going, trust me.
x Don't party too much! - it is important to find the balance between partying and studying. I saw a lot of people going out every night and getting drunk. While being abroad gives you an amazing sense of freedom, don't go overboard! You don't want to get to the end of your year and realise that you don't remember half of what happened.
x Don't study too much! - my lecturers at Strathclyde University were always saying to us before we left that we should remember that Erasmus is not a holiday but a year of study. I completely agree with that but if you study too much then you miss out on so many amazing opportunities. Especially if you are in Spain, get out of the house and enjoy the weather. Why not study outside when you get the opportunity?
If you have studied abroad then you are automatically a more attractive candidate to employers than someone who has not. There are many jobs out there that are being advertised with foreign languages due to the global nature of the market especially in big cities like Edinburgh and London. Aside from the language aspect, employers actively recruit students who have spent time abroad due to the cultural skills that you can build up whilst away. You will probably find that you come back from your year a better and more well-rounded person and employers are very interested in that. Therefore, when you get home, reflect on your year and on what you have learned, put your Erasmus experience on your CV and start selling yourself as an intelligent, well-educated and cultured individual.