Colette: Studying Mathematics and Biology and spent a year teaching English in primary schools in southern France.
Catherine: Studying English and Philosophy, and spent a year teaching English in a secondary school in western Germany.
When did you decide you wanted to do a year abroad?
Catherine: I think I decided almost at the start of second year that I wanted to do a year in industry, mainly for a bit of a break from uni work and to develop my CV, but it was only in late November I even considered finding a placement abroad. At first I was terrified at the prospect of the language barrier, but the benefits of an interesting job, an Erasmus grant, and all the unique experiences available when living abroad helped make my decision.
Colette: I heard about the possibility of a year abroad whilst attending my post-offer open day tour at Leeds University, it was one of the drawing factors that brought me to Leeds! From day one of studying here, I told myself and my tutors that I would find a way to spend a year in France as I was determined to become fluent in French…I just needed to organise it.
How did you find your placement?
Catherine: I knew quite a few people who were applying to the British Council as part of their foreign language degree, and I thought it sounded like a great opportunity. The eligibility criteria for the job is really straight-forward, and after reading a few different testimonies on what it’s really like, I decided to apply. You can find all the information here.
Colette: I second that! I heard about the British Council through a friend who was on her placement year in France from Sheffield University. I was at the stage of giving up on finding a placement but then looked at the British Council website, found out that I didn’t need to be doing a degree in the language, I fitted the criteria and it all went from there!
What was the hardest thing about working abroad?
Catherine: If you don’t study a foreign language, I think it is probably your anticipation of the language barrier. I was convinced by the first day that I was crazy for doing this because I was surrounded by other assistants who studied German. Initially, I was paranoid about their superior language skills, but I soon realised that, in practice, no one has the time to insist on saying everything perfectly. I knew I met the entry criteria, so I focused on that in times of doubt.
Colette: Indeed that language barrier can bother you but you just have to try your best, I found that my French was better than their English so that was good for my confidence. I found it a challenge initially adapting to the different lifestyle and working day in southern France- I soon realised that having a two hour lunch break to fill up on excellent food, wine and coffee was part of the normal routine and I didn’t complain!
Would you recommend it to other non-language students?
Catherine: As somebody who immediately ruled out a year abroad when it was first suggested to me, I understand that the natural response for many people could be “Nope, I don’t study a language, I can’t do it.” But I plead with you to take a couple of minutes to really think about the practicalities, because it’s actually a lot easier than it sounds, and so incredibly worthwhile. The language issue is really tiny in comparison to the multitude of benefits, and ultimately you should be asking yourself when else you might get the chance to live, work, and integrate into an exciting new culture (and get paid for it!).
Colette: Of course! It is an opportunity you get only once and the benefits are huge. I made so many, can now speak fluent French and will always treasure memories of one of the best years of my life!