Don't just take our word for it! Work-v-Uni Case Study
Santiago, Chile by Patrick Coe
Anna Salmon studied French and Spanish. She decided she wanted the best of both on her year abroad, working in Paris and studying in Santiago, Chile.Find out what she had to say to ThirdYearAbroad.com about her year abroad...Why did you choose to work/study on your year abroad? I chose to both work and study on my year abroad because I wanted to have both experiences. I thought my year abroad would be a good opportunity to get some work experience under my belt, but I also wanted to experience what it would be like to be an exchange student in a foreign university!
What do you think you gained from working on your year abroad? Well, work experience to put on my CV most obviously! But also an understanding of the French working environment. When I first arrived at my internship in Paris, my French needed a lot of work, but after a few months it had improved drastically because of the large amount of contact hours working in a French environment. It was hard at first, but with the help of my colleagues and many opportunities to practice I felt more confident dealing with French customers and translators.
Did you feel that 6 months was long enough to gain valuable skills from your work placement? It was enough for me to notice a considerable difference in my French, but as there is always room for improvement, I would have ideally liked to spend another six months. (Obviously, due to time constraints that was not possible)
How easy did you find it to adjust to your new working environment? It was hard at first because my French was not very strong, and at times it felt like I had been dropped in the deep end... But, with practice and help from my co-workers I felt that I improved a hell of a lot in my language and confidence in speaking French!
What were the advantages/disadvantages of working? The biggest advantages were the language results. I had to push myself hard to meet the job requirements, but it was worth it in the end. I came out with stronger French, a knowledge of work vocabulary and some translation skills to boot! The disadvantages of working were that it was a full-time thing, and being a languages student I was very used to having a lot of free time and flexibility in my weekly routine! It was also hard work to adapt to a new environment, and I felt a lot more pressure than being a student. I was a representative of the company and had different responsibilities compared to being a student—but the confidence I gained was well worth it!
How useful did you find the Leonardo scheme? The Leonardo scheme was quite useful in finding a work placement. The International Office at Bristol helped me with a list of previous employers of Bristol University students. I wrote to a selection of employers on this list, and also to some employers not on the list. I got offered a job with one of the previous employers, in the end, thanks to a phone interview. Practise your spoken skills too!
Was your home university helpful when it came to you working abroad? My university offered several meetings for students doing the Leonardo scheme, which were slightly useful but still lacked a lot of useful information. The International Office staff were also helpful if you had any queries or problems and tried to resolve them as quickly as possible.
How did university life abroad compare? What did you learn/perfect at university abroad? Studying abroad was great as I got to grips with life in a foreign education system. Studying abroad and being in an environment with people of my age was a good opportunity to socialise more easily with the foreign students, to gain an inside knowledge of the student local culture. Definitely a lot of fun!
How easy did you find it to adjust to university abroad? I found it quite easy to adjust to university abroad. Most obviously because I was already used to a university environment. The university itself also did a lot to make exchange students feel welcome and integrated, which of course was a great help in the first few weeks (orientation meetings, social events, international office).
Was your home university helpful when it came to you studying abroad? In my case, I chose to study abroad in South America, so there were only really two exchange programmes available to me through my home university - Mexico or Chile. The application process for the foreign university was quite straight forward, and I had a few meetings with a member of the International Office to make sure there were no problems. Once again, any queries or problems I had were answered as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Did you prefer to work or study? Or did you like both? Why? I think I preferred to study just because the experience was the most fun and laid back!! It was a very different social experience to be an exchange student. In terms of improving language skills, I think that I learnt the most when I worked, just because there was more pressure on me to develop a working/business vocabulary. But, having said that, as a student, I learnt a lot of colloquial expressions and improved my informal Spanish—and that’s always useful!
If you could do it again, would you do the same thing? I would definitely still do both university and working, as I think it was very beneficial to experience both. In terms of work though, I maybe would have taken more time to see if I could have got a better work placement. Don’t leave it to the last minute—seriously! Also, I’d probably opt to work in a smaller and less busy city than Paris.
Any useful tips for someone who's planning on doing the same thing? Useful tips: if you want to work, start looking and applying well-ahead of time. Sometimes employers may take a while to reply. Also, be persistent and follow-up unanswered letters/emails. As for university, try to get tips from previous students who went to the same university - especially tips on where and how to look for accommodation. Actually, try to get tips on accommodation (if it’s not offered to you) from previous students wherever you are going!
How do you think your choices have impacted on your CV? I think that perhaps the work experience I did on my year abroad has been the most useful thing for my CV, but my university exchange has also been useful as it shows that I can adapt to change and different learning systems. I took some pretty off-the-wall courses, like Quechua!