A Year Abroad: ‘Full of new experiences, new friends, new places’

And following on from Andrea’s experiences in Spain, another great post – this time from Paige who has spent the past year working as an English Language Assistant and will be coming back into her 3rd year in a few weeks. Some excellent tips and advice here for students about to go away on assistantships this coming year or thinking about them further down the line:

‘By the time I come back to Scotland for my studies in September I will have lived in France for a year! This was something I had always wanted to do but I didn’t realise that University was an avenue to do it, especially in the middle of working towards your degree.

This year has been amazing! It has been such a quick year and I’m still not ready for it to end! To be honest it’s difficult to write about my year because it has been such a busy, full year. Full of new experiences, new friends, new places. I feel like I have spent the entire year out of my comfort zone, but it has been amazing! I have done so many things I never would have done before and it really helps you to grow as a person. That may sound clichéd but when you have to do so many things you perceive as scary – in a short space of time – eventually the scary things seem less scary, almost normal! And if nothing else, when facing another scary thing (like a job interview or starting a new job) you can look back, think of all the things you did that you never thought you could do and know that you can do this too.

I was assigned to the Académie de Créteil. I had never heard of Créteil but after a Google search I learned that it was very close to Paris and to be honest I was initially a little disappointed. I knew a lot of people wanted to be close to Paris, but I wasn’t one of them – I had already visited Paris on holiday and loved it but I really wanted to experience “real France” away from the touristy capital. The idea of being in a small town in France really appealed. However, as soon as you’re back in Paris it’s hard not to fall in love with the city all over again! I’ve really enjoyed discovering less well-known attractions and the non-touristy parts of Paris this year, but I also loved going up the towers of Notre Dame and I’m so glad I took every visitor up there before the tragic fire. I’m sure it will be repaired soon and I recommend that everyone go up the Notre Dame towers – it’s my favourite thing to do in Paris! Lots of attractions in Paris are free for under 26s (including the Notre Dame towers) so it’s a great excuse to see and do so much!

The two collèges I was assigned to were in two different suburbs outside Paris. I decided to look for accommodation in both towns rather than in Paris – accommodation in Paris is very expensive, as are the suburbs around Paris, although they are slightly less so. I found shared accommodation (colocation) in one of the towns close to both of my collèges and I highly recommend considering this – it can be really nice living with people when you’re in a new country and don’t know anyone. It’s also a great way to practice your French. Wherever you are assigned to in France I recommend using the appartager site to search for accommodation.

I really enjoyed working as an English Language Assistant in my two collèges. Working as an English Language Assistant sometimes involves working in class with the teacher, working with small groups or taking half the class (up to 12 students). It was such a great experience and has made me realise that I would like to pursue the possibility of teaching English as a foreign language in France. I had always wanted to be an English teacher (I began University studying English and Education) but I wasn’t sure if teaching English as a foreign language appealed or if I would rather teach English literature in Scotland. I think working as an English Language Assistant can give you a taste of what teaching is like and help you decide if it’s something you would like to do. Thankfully I still want to go into teaching – working in the collèges didn’t put me off! Of course, it could be challenging at times, especially at the start when you were trying to get to grips with the job, and it felt as though I was just getting the hang of it near the end!

I also embraced the opportunity to take part in the SCILT programme ‘Language Linking, Global Thinking’ which links a high school in Scotland with a Language Assistant. The main purpose is to encourage students to continue studying a language. As an assistant this involves sharing your experiences of living abroad through blogs, postcards, photos etc., as well as anything you learn about such as National holidays and answering any questions the class have for you. I loved responding to the student’s questions, and I enjoyed writing the blog posts as it forces you to research and learn things you otherwise would not.

I remember just before I left for France, one of the SCILT course leaders gave us the following advice: to say yes to every invitation we received unless we thought it would put us in any danger. I decided to follow this advice because although I’m a naturally shy person, I wanted to make the most of this amazing opportunity to spend a year abroad. As a result, I made so many friends of mixed ages and had so many fantastic days out and great experiences.

I found that people really make an effort to invite you to spend time with them when they find out you’re on a year abroad but there are also lots of things you can do too to meet people! My mentor teacher at one of the collèges was great – she really looked after me and invited me to so many soirées where I met other people who also invited me to spend time with them! It was a great way to meet people and spend an evening speaking French. There is also the option to go to Meetups, Franglish (a conversation exchange programme, where Native French speakers are paired with Native English speakers to converse and improve their target language), French classes and there are so many other options too! I went to Franglish and met some lovely French people that I later met up with outside of Franglish. They also introduced me to their friends, so I met even more people! I also went for some evening French lessons while I was in Paris which can be another good way to meet people and make friends.

Before I came out to France, I wasn’t able to speak much French at all, but my French has improved over the year! I always feel so proud of myself after I spend a day or an evening communicating in French with French-speakers even though my accent still makes me cringe – I need to work on that!

Spending this year abroad has also made me realise that you can go abroad with very little money in the bank as long as you have a job to go to. It’s very encouraging to know that travelling or living abroad for a year is not limited to the wealthy. This year has also made the whole experience of living abroad seem less scary and unachievable. I have learned that people are the same everywhere, no matter what country they live in or language they speak. I would definitely love to live in France in the future, but after having this experience of living abroad for a year I am now very open to the option of spending 6 months to a year teaching English in Japan or China at the end of my degree.

I’ll be very sad to leave France when I have to come back for my studies but I’m so thankful to have had this amazing experience and I highly recommend it!’

Many, many thanks to Paige for a fantastic post and we’re looking forward to seeing you back in Stirling in a few weeks!

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