Despina was a Language Assistant in Paris and is now a teacher
I opted to be an English Language Assistant, mainly so I could earn some money and support myself, but also as I believed I would have more opportunities to practise my French and I would get some experience working with young people. I was placed at Lycée Gustave Monod which is in the banlieues north of Paris and in the académie of Versailles.
I decided to live in Paris, in Montparnasse in the 14th arrondissement, so I would have more on offer to me which was close by. This of course meant that money was tight but it was a sacrifice worth making.
Before going to Paris I was nervous and apprehensive. How was I going to cope with leaving my boyfriend behind in London? And what about all my new friends from university? Was my French good enough to communicate with people and get things done, like opening a French bank account? The first month or two were about settling in. I cried numerous times (thanks to my flatmate for reminding me!), however what will always stick with me were words from my landlady, Madame Guitfaut, a 57 year old artist who lived on the same floor. She told me, 'Il faut profiter bien Despina' and that was and continues to be the mantra by which I try to live my life.
Without a shadow of a doubt, my year abroad was the best year of my life. The people I met, the things I saw and the experiences I had will stay with me forever. I loved the challenge of teaching, so much so that after completing my degree (I graduated with a First) I completed my PGCE to train to be a secondary school teacher. I have been teaching for 6 years now and this September I started a new job as Second in Department at Ark Academy, a new Academy that opened a year ago. I genuinely love my job and the resilience required each day is something I developed on my year abroad. I regularly speak to my students about my year abroad and tell them the world is a big place worth discovering. Many of them rarely go into London and are confined to north west London. I am still in touch with Madame Guiffaut, as well as Katia, an English teacher who taught at the school I was at.
In October this year I was in Paris and we met up and caught up. It was beautiful but sentimental at the same time. Friendships I made with other English assistants, as well as Spanish assistants from Mexico and a Turkish German assistant continue to go strong. I have led several school trips to Paris, but one year particularly stands out. Maurice, a 15 year old boy I taught, who lived on an estate in Harlesden in London had come to Paris with us. At the end of one day when we had gone up the Eiffel tower and seen the Sacré Coeur, he said to me, tears in his eyes, 'Miss, this has been the best day of my life. I'm going to bring my 3 year old sister here one day'."
In partnership with the British Academy and University Council of Modern Languages (UCML) we gathered short reports from graduates on the importance that the year abroad has had for them, in terms of their skill set, their careers and their lives. These reports formed the basis of the Position Statement: Valuing the Year Abroad. Browse the reports below for inspiration, and select a tag within a report to read more on that theme.