From one placement abroad to the next: what I have learned

From one placement abroad to the next: what I have learned At the Holi festival

This article was written by Alex Whait, published on 18th August 2016 and has been read 1235 times.

Alex is studying at French and Spanish at Glasgow University, and spent her year abroad as a Language Assistant in Laval, France. She is now doing a second placement as an Erasmus+ Trainee in Valencia. Here's how her experiences of living in France led her to approach her second period of time abroad differently.

As a Modern Languages student at a Scottish University, my degree will take five years to complete, and Glasgow University approaches the division of time spent in each country slightly differently from the norm. Last year (my third year of University) I spent the entire academic year in Laval, France, where I was a British Council Assistant in three Primary Schools, and after two semesters back studying in Glasgow, I am now in Valencia, Spain on an Erasmus Traineeship for one semester. Based on what I learnt during my year living and working abroad I have approached this second chance to spend time working overseas very differently. I have therefore made a short list of things which I wish I had known before starting my year in France and which I feel will allow me to get the most out of living in Spain.

1. Be prepared for your time abroad to be totally different to how you pictured it

The phrase ‘best year of your life’ is something I heard frequently in relation to the Year Abroad and my subsequent expectations of my new life in France were very high. I pictured myself enjoying a café and croissant in the sun whilst conversing easily with all my new French-speaking friends. In reality, arriving in a completely new place in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere and having to start from scratch was massively daunting and hugely stressful at times. I did however, really enjoyed my year despite it bearing no resemblance to my predictions. For my time in Spain, I refused to put the pressure on myself to have ‘the best time of my life’ and as a result I have been far more relaxed and open-minded this time round.

2. Don’t compare your year abroad experience to that of others

This follows on from my first point as it was another mistake I made early on in France. Seeing friends on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, enjoying the beach in Barcelona or the night-life of Paris made me feel I’d been given the short straw with my new life in a small, quiet and rainy commuters’ town. I quickly realised however that everyone will only publish the exciting parts of their new lives but also that the year abroad is different for everyone and that there are benefits to each experience. I made some great friends in Laval, and its village – like feel meant that not only were people more willing to chat but that noone spoke to you in English and my French improved massively. In Spain I have been concentrating on maximising my time here rather than wasting time envying other people’s situations.

3. Do your research 

Apart from a brief google of the town (which helpfully brought up the town of the same name in Canada), I did very little research before arriving for my year in France. The schools I was working for suggested accommodation and as it was fairly straight-forward to arrange from home, I signed myself up. Had I been slightly more thorough, I could have found accommodation in a far better location in the town and for a cheaper price. Before arriving in Valencia, I spent a lot of time reading blogs and asking people who knew the city about the benefits of living in each area so I was able to make a more informed decision. If you are going to study or to work, don’t be afraid to ask for contact details of previous students as it is so beneficial to have insider knowledge before arriving.

4. Have a ‘bucket list'

The year abroad is the perfect opportunity to travel and explore and each area has something interesting to discover. It can be easy however, to let the time slip by and to suddenly realise you have been abroad for 4 months and that you cannot really answer the question, ‘what have you been up to?’ Having three or four ‘must-dos’ to tick off during your time abroad is a great way to make sure you are making the most of your time but also can be something to look forward to during the times you are feeling down. Research places nearby but also consider places slightly further afield that are much more accessible now you are abroad. 

A bucket list can also be a great way to make friends as it’s more than likely those who are also there for a year will want to explore as much as possible and equally the people you meet who are local to the area will probably be keen to show off its highlights. As I am only in Spain for three months I plan to tick one thing off the list each month.

People always say hindsight is a wonderful thing and I’m lucky that I got a second time abroad and that I can use what I learnt the first time round to really make the most of my time in Spain. I hope these tips can help you to enjoy your own time abroad and remember that each experience is unique – appreciate it for what it is as it’ll fly by!

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