The benefits of spending a year abroad as a graduate
Elise graduated in French and Spanish from the University of Bangor. She is currently working as an English Language Assistant in a secondary school in Seville, Spain. Here are her thoughts about why a year abroad as a graduate could help you work out what to do with your career...
The third year abroad is, in many ways, an experience that most of us look back on as the most challenging time of our lives. Now don't get me wrong, I had a fantastic year abroad that was without a doubt the most incredible year of my life in terms of growing as a person and becoming the adult that I am today. But that doesn't mean that I didn't have to get through a series of challenging obstacles such as the unexpected termination of one of my work placements, homesickness, the challenges of finding accommodation, and working at a reception desk without supervision. Now these experiences were understandably stressful at the time but all in all my work placements led me to people who helped me lose the self-confidence and timidity that used to cause me trouble in certain areas of life. In fact, without my time working in these two companies, I am certain that I would not be where I am today, standing up and teaching large groups of teenagers on a daily basis. And believe me, when I was struggling with chaos at the reception desk in France, and crying over losing my job in Spain, I never ever imagined that two years later I would be doing a second year abroad as a graduate!
So you may be wondering why and how I came to be a Language Assistant in a Spanish secondary school. Well... during my final year of university, I came to realise just how much I had got out of my previous experiences of working in foreign countries and how much it had helped me grow into a more confident, mature, sociable, and independent person. As I don't know exactly what career I want to go into yet, I thought that a year as a language assistant might well teach me more about myself and give me experiences that could lead me in new directions. And now that I've been here for five weeks, I can already see this happening! So my advice to all current final year students is to think carefully about what you want to do when you graduate and follow your instincts as they will most likely lead you to the right destination. So if you don't feel ready to settle into a more permanent graduate career path, here are some of the reasons why I would highly recommend spending your first year as a graduate working in a foreign country.
1. CV benefits
First of all, one of the most impressive aspects of a CV is often international work or study experience. This is because it highlights adaptability, independence, cultural awareness, and a whole load of other skills that are absolutely crucial in the modern work place. Having always been somebody who finds public speaking difficult, I think the fact that I am now standing up in front of large groups of teenagers almost on a daily basis highlights that this experience as a language assistant has pushed me well beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone. And as if this weren't enough, going abroad as a graduate is the perfect way to get a year's worth of work experience to show employers that you are familiar with one or more types of work place and have experiences of life outside of university. I am definitely benefitting from this as a Language Assistant because I am working with people of all ages rather than just students and am seeing what it is like to work in a professional manner with all of my colleagues both in classes and meetings.
As well as those skills and experiences that are useful in terms of CV writing, a year abroad as a graduate is also a crucial time for self reflection. In my case, I am finding that coming back to the same city two years later is really showing me just how much I have changed since my year abroad. And this is also helping me to improve my approach to certain aspects of the experience. For example, the last time I was in Spain, I was very shy and didn't have the courage to attend social events alone in order to meet new people. Seville is a city where there are lots of events such as Language Exchange groups, where people with an interest in language learning come together to practice and meet new people. I am glad that I have come back to Sevilla as this time I have been confident enough to go along to events such as these on my own and have really benefitted from them as I have made lots of new friends as a result. Although I made lots of new friends on my year abroad too, I can see a difference this time as I really threw myself out of my comfort zone from the start and have ended up knowing a lot more people in the city and getting to practice my French as well as my Spanish which is a real bonus!
3. Work out what you want to do in life!
However, all in all, I would say that the main reason that I would advise you to go on a graduate year abroad if you are unsure as to what you want to do in the long run is because I believe that it is very important to travel the world whilst we are young as we may not have the opportunity to the same extent in the future. Therefore, as long as you find some form of work in a foreign country that pays enough to cover your living expenses then I think there is no reason why it isn't an option. As a language assistant, I am earning enough to live comfortably in a shared apartment and to travel and go out with friends in my spare time which is absolutely perfect for me! I am also teaching some private English lessons which is enabling me to earn some extra money and make the most of my time here even more!
So overall, I would highly recommend working abroad for a year or two after you graduate if you don't know what you want to do as I can guarantee you that you will have an experience that gives you more of an idea of what you want and will further equip you for the working world. There were many times throughout final year when I felt disorganised and unprepared due to the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career. I also considered doing a postgraduate degree but later decided that I needed to take a step back from academia for a year or two and think more carefully about whether this would be the right path for me. And although I am very keen on the idea of doing a masters degree at some point in the future, I am glad that I decided to come back to Spain for the time being as I know that the skills and experiences that I am gaining here will eventually lead me to know whether to go into employment or resume my studies and that my decision will be the right one. So if in doubt, follow your instincts, have an adventure, and most importantly, enjoy yourself! Travelling opens up so many doors so take a step through each and every one of them and have an experience that will prepare you for later life! I certainly am!