What is the point of a year abroad?

This article was written by Imogen Watson, published on 31st January 2013 and has been read 3195 times.

There is a lot of discussion about years spent abroad during your degree; lots of thought about great work experience, improvement of your foreign language skills and an amazing CV on your return home. All of this is true - although you may not be taking a year out in a country which speaks another language - but I cannot help feeling that these people are missing some other, equally valuable, points which are worth considering in conjunction with your employability.

If you have never read a previous post of mine, you would be forgiven for not knowing that I am an English language assistant in two secondary schools here in France. In the four months I have worked here, I have by all means snatched up a fair number of skills and qualities as I have skipped around Normandy, but I have little intention of following up this particular job experience in becoming a teacher. I never wanted to be a teacher, either. I took the British Council position pretty much aware of this fact, deciding instead that it would be fun to try and pass on my culture to people almost completely unaware of it.

I would be lying if I said I was unaware of the fact that the British Council option has just a few hours a week and is paid - something not guaranteed in internship positions. With the Erasmus grant and my student loan, that was highly attractive to me. I am not a money-grabber, but it does bring me to one of my central points. You can travel.

That's right, the year abroad is a perfect opportunity, regardless of job choice, once you are off your island (if you're in the UK) or otherwise to get out and explore. For me, I've been to Switzerland, Spain, and bits of northern France already, and during the next holidays I'm hoping to get back to the francophone part of Switzerland and travel through eastern and central France. Next weekend, I will be exploring the beaches of the D-Day landings in Lower Normandy.

What comes with exploration? Discovery. New people, new cultures, new habits, new sights, and you will quite possibly never be the same again. Nor will you look at things the same way. It's a mind-broadener, a game-changer. I would be honestly surprised if you didn't encounter a bit of self-discovery on your journeys.

The people you will meet will become some of the most important people you have met. Even those with whom you do not get along will help you to realise something new about yourself, even if it is just a new characteristic in other people that really grates with you. But for the rest, the vast majority, they will be the people with whom you explored, with whom you laughed and created new memories. They will be the people who helped you, and occasionally those who annoyed you, but it can't always be one hundred per cent perfect, can it?

So whilst you're dithering over whether to take the plunge, and worrying about what is the best way to spend a year out of university, out of your comfort zone, I would just make sure you don't only consider the job aspect. Any job, placement or university you take up will provide you with excellent qualifications and experience for your future - the fact you went and did it at all is a great start. No matter where you are placed you will learn. Out here in the middle of nowhere, for example, teaches you to be creative. Think about all the other ways you will spend your time and with all the different people that you can meet. Think of the advantages, the adrenaline, and the adventure.

And jump in. It will be the best thing you ever did.

For her latest update, check out Immi's blog and follow her on Twitter @immicatherine

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