Case study: comparing work and study placements
Filling the 15 months or so we have to play with for our Year Abroad is undoubtedly a daunting task. Fear of returning in October with nothing to show for myself coupled with a niggling guilt at not quite diligently memorising all those weekly vocabulary lists spurred me on nicely exploit this time fully. So off I flew to Paris to work as a waitress in Disneyland, followed by a term studying in Tours, France and since January I have been working as an intern at a language school in Madrid called Inhispania. My tasks here range from the more mundane archivando (filing) to the dizzying heights of market research and promotion or marketing y promoción if you will and so far I am really enjoying it. With this diverse combination I hoped to experience as many of the benefits and learning curves of the Year Abroad as possible.
So what have I learnt?
You quickly muddle together a friendship group if you flash your best smile; secretly everyone wants friends as much as you do! The big advantage of being at uni is that you are immediately surrounded by likeminded people: keen Erasmus students and the tougher-to-crack native speakers are always hovering about taking cigarette breaks or selling you brownies to raise money for their association! Potential cohorts are ripe for the picking at the various meetings you are likely to attend at the beginning of term and trips organised for Erasmus students are the ideal opportunity to see the sights and meet new folk.
Making friends at work is trickier as you will most likely have to do it in the target language and your colleagues may not be your age. However, most placements tend to have more than one intern and I have found that a network emerges surprisingly quickly as friends of friends become your own and you introduce them to the people you’ve collected along the way. Just remember to turn on the charm appropriately!
Functioning in a different language at work can be harder than university as you have tasks and responsibilities to fulfil rather than listening in a lecture and looking up the vocabulary for the homework later. Cringing now I look back to my first awkward week when a whole trip was cancelled for the students because a mistranslation on my part meant I neglected to make a call. However it was my 21st birthday so in my head I was untouchable, didn’t get too upset and now of course I accomplish everything with aplomb. Important lessons will come with both placements so the benefits depend on which you value more: work experience and earning or the opportunity to study the philosophy or ancient art you never could?
3. Time management
This all depends on your personality. The seemingly huge advantage of a study placement is the lack of contact hours, late starts and the opportunity to just skip class if you’re that hungover (our secret, shh) but in hindsight I couldn’t have coped with a second term. My 9am to 2.30pm routine, with the weekends and afternoons all mine, is now comforting after 6 months of quite exhausting variety. I’m the last person around to criticise spontaneity but it is worth bearing in mind that you might only be able to last so long!
Overall my advice is to make the most of your time. Don’t just go to your lectures and expect that to be enough. You should make trips with different people, every night and every day. Visit a gourmet food festival, watch a beatboxer perform or just have a good old fashioned night out boogying. You genuinely will improve your speaking skills and pick up vocabulary.
Let’s face it, when are you ever going to have an excuse to get away with having as much fun as possible as good as “I’M AN ERASMUS STUDENT”? Your favourite TV show can wait until next year.