How to make the most of a year abroad as a language assistant

How to make the most of a year abroad as a language assistant by isobrown

This article was written by Rosemary Maher from The University of Leeds, published on 9th September 2015 and has been read 4477 times.

Rosie Maher studies French at the University of Leeds and spent her year abroad as a Language Assistant at Lycée Blaise Pascal in Colmar, France. Here are her tips for making the most of your year. For an insight into life as a language assistant, check out her blog.

This time last year, I was trapped in my own little bubble: I knew I was leaving, but the reality of it all hadn’t quite settled in. Like everyone else, though excited, I was also petrified of what might happen on the extraordinary year abroad journey. If future me could have told past me not to worry, that it would all be fine, then I would have saved myself a lot of stress. What if it just wasn’t what I hoped it would be? What if couldn’t express myself properly in French? What if I just turned out to not be very good at my job?

It’s only since returning from my year abroad, that I’ve realised just how much those two words (and their obligatory question mark) – What If? – can affect our perceptions of a year abroad. After all, there’s really no ‘if’ about the year abroad: just do your best, and make the most of any situation you find yourself in.

Don’t waste time 'what if?'-ing your choice of location; after all, if you’re on a British Council placement it’s highly likely you didn’t get that much choice in the matter anyway. If, however, you chose to complete a work placement and are truly disliking it, then carefully think things through and speak to your university about how to resolve the issue(s) at hand.

Here are my tips for how to make the most of your year abroad, wherever you have ended up...

1. Take the time to get to know your colleagues

At some point or another, you might get the year abroad blues and feel a little isolated. If, like I was, you’re on a British Council placement as a Language Assistant then remember that your colleagues are highly likely to have done the exact same thing – even if it was twenty years or more ago! Many of my colleagues had spent time as French assistants in various parts of the UK (and even the USA) and had great stories to tell! Plus, if you invest your time in getting to know your colleagues and developing positive relationships with them, you’ll likely end up with more opportunities to practise your foreign language and experience the local culture. They’re also a great source of advice if you’re having any issues with bureaucracy or other such problems.

2. Similarly, spend time with other assistants

Remember – you’re not alone. There are hundreds of other language assistants across the globe, and it’s likely there are plenty near you! Befriending other Language Assistants is a great way to develop your understanding of different cultures and it’s also highly probable that they’ll be just as keen as you to explore more of the area you’re in.

3. Say ‘yes’ to everything (within reason)

Saying ‘yes’ to an invitation can open up so many new opportunities. Before I went abroad, I had never skied; when one of the teachers asked if I wanted to go with her family I agreed. Although I was petrified of falling over (and consequently having a bureaucratic nightmare) I had a fantastic time, and even learnt some extra French vocab in the process! I also tried raclette (a traditional dish with melted cheese) – something that I would probably never have done alone – and went snowshoeing with a group of the teachers. Some of my best memories of my year abroad are things that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been prepared to try something new.

4. Make the most of cheap travel

You’ll never have it this easy again. For those based in continental Europe, the travel opportunities are endless. Always wanted to visit Barcelona? Go. Fancied a cross-country rail trip to Oktoberfest? Make it happen. In essence: find a way to get to those places you’ve previously only dreamed of seeing. Make it a reality. Ensure you’re getting all the money you’re entitled to – particularly the Erasmus+ grant, which is entirely non-repayable. Travelling creates memories that last forever, which you’ll look back on and cherish in years to come.

If you’re worried about cost, consider the following tips:

  • Check sites such as Skyscanner for cheap fares; they’re fantastic for comparing several airlines at once. 
  • Sign up for newsletters from train companies/ airlines/ bus companies – that way you’ll be the first to know about any offers, sales and upcoming promotions. 
  • Remember: buses are usually cheaper than trains/ planes for long distance travel. Case in point: It cost me €30 to get from Salzburg to Strasbourg using Meinfernbus versus over €80 on the train.

5. Take advantage of local events, clubs and groups

In Colmar, there was a film festival in October – with loads of free screenings available. All we had to do was go to the cinema and request as many tickets as we wanted. Most medium-large sized towns will have seasonal events, such as Christmas markets: that’s Christmas present shopping sorted! In France, sites such as On Va Partir! will enable you to meet up with locals; you choose the event and just turn up (I’d advise taking a friend, just to be on the safe side). If you’re into sports, you should be able to find out about local clubs through colleagues, local newspapers or by searching the web.

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