Keeping career-focused on your year abroad

Oogway from Kung Fu Panda

This article was written by Olivia Russell, published on 29th March 2012 and has been read 9783 times.

We talk a lot on the site about taking advantage of the opportunity to travel, make friends, absorb the culture and have amazing new experiences, but this should not be at the expense of your career plans - yes, getting a weekend job will mean you can't have crazy Friday and Saturday nights, but if it's work experience in your dream industry or helps you afford a course to learn a new skill, then you need to get your priorities straight. Olivia Russell is studying Spanish and History at Sheffield University and is on her year abroad in Madrid, and has some great advice about making the most of your year abroad with your career and final year in mind.

1. University

As a dualist of History and Hispanic Studies, I have completely ditched the History side to be working in Spain this year. It depends on your university, but I am not assessed on any history work whilst I am away. Whilst it is a relief to not have to attend lectures, seminars or write essays, I thought I would make the most of what I do have whilst I am in Spain. Time.

It’s a fine balance. I know that next year is going to be much more difficult than the previous two, and so surely I should be making the most of the Spanish sun, the free afternoons and the life without university while it lasts? But at the same time there is always that niggling thought at the back of my mind that next year is going to be hard enough, without having to get used to attending lectures, participating in seminars and (the most difficult) picking up a pen and taking notes. The muscles in my hand have definitely slackened.

Ever thought when writing an essay, ‘this topic is really interesting, if only I could just read about it and not have to write an essay that makes me come to detest this topic.’? My jam-packed timetable of 16 hours work a week seemed like the perfect opportunity to start some general reading, and to not let my brain turn to mush. I started looking at the modules that the History department was offering for final years. Now, modules change, lecturers come and go, but just talk to your department. As it turned out, the module that appealed most to me was taught by someone who would still be teaching the module when I returned, so I emailed her asking her on how I could prepare for her module. Not only was she quite pleased to know that someone was that interested in their module in advance (brownie points), she also sent me some authors to read to give me a good background so I could hit the ground running when I got back to university in September.

Sending an email and enrolling yourself in the local library to find some books is hardly back-breaking. And even if you want to wait until the official module list is released before you start reading, just pick up something that interests you! In your target language, better. Trust me, when it is winter and you don’t want to leave the house, it is much easier to start reading a book or an article than in the summer, when all your friends have finished uni and academic reading is the last thing on your mind.

2. Jobs

I am a very indecisive person, and so the usual question of “what do you want to do when you are older?” asked by relatives and people who all seem to be retired (why?!) was greeted with no response. So again, I thought I would start looking into a possible career pathway. The Prospects website is a great place to start, not only because of the wide variety of information, but also the Skills and Interests tests match up your questionnaire answers about your abilities and motivations with the requirements and characteristics of various job sectors.

I had a bar and waitressing job whilst I was at school, and I am working on my year abroad, but I had not held more business-related work experience (I started researching getting into Marketing.) Universities nowadays are very keen to demonstrate how they provide for their students, not only during your degree but after it. This has generated a push for an improved Careers Service, and encouragement of students to use this service. So use it! With my careers service you highlight your preferences and the vacancy service emails you every time they have come across a vacancy- whether for work experience, internships, volunteering, graduate training courses, or a full time career.

Above all this made me realise about the diverse range of opportunities that are out there, that even though graduate employment has slumped, there are so many things available that you can aspire, work towards, and do. In my case I realised that many companies had summer internships, which are only open to penultimate year students. As this time last year I had no idea what I wanted to pursue, I thought I’d been given a second chance, as my year abroad postponed by graduation for another year. Larger companies have early deadlines as the application process is long (initial online form, online tests, interviews) but you’ll see smaller organisations have deadlines much closer to summer. And again, with more time on your hands, you have more time to complete your applications and pimp up your CV.

My main attitude of the year abroad is that you don’t want to regret not doing something. You don’t want to miss out on the unique opportunity that your year abroad offers by sitting inside on your laptop searching job vacancies and researching next year’s modules. But don’t completely neglect the degree you’re returning to, nor how you are prepared for post-graduation. Terraces have beer and wifi, books can be read in a park in the sunshine. Even if you don’t want to start contemplating the future, advice that applies to all of your time away is that if you have free time on your hands - USE IT!

As always, Disney provides a great insight in this. An inspiring quotation comes from the old turtle guy in Kung Fu Panda: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the 'present'."

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