CPSA case study: Making the most of your year abroad 

Susannah Latham, Final Year BSc Politics and International Relations student and Career Peer Support Assistant

Many students embark on a year abroad as part of their degree. We all have different reasons for choosing to do it: for some, it’s the excitement of a new culture and country, while others are keen to learn at a different institution or use the year to work or to improve their language skills.  

Whatever your reason for doing a year abroad, it can be a great opportunity to gain valuable skills and work experience, making yourself stand out when applying for jobs in the future.  

My Volunteering Experience  

As part of my Politics and International Relations BSc I studied for a year in the USA, at the University of Maryland. I had the flexibility to study a broad range of topics, ranging from art to climate change, and loved the freedom I had to learn in a new environment. 

But for me, my year in the US was about a lot more than just studying. I wanted to make friends, travel, and take advantage of new opportunities.  

Just like when I was a new student at Bristol, I attended a Freshers Fair, where I learnt about the student groups on campus. Joining a club or organisation on your year abroad is not only a great way to make friends, but also unlocks a whole variety of new opportunities. Having previously been involved with Oxfam in Bristol, I became a committee member of the Oxfam America Maryland Club, and helped organize fundraisers, concerts and campaigns.  

Activism may not be your thing, but from sports to social clubs, every university has a whole host of ways for you to find something you are passionate about – my advice would be to just go for it and get involved! 

Balancing Work and Life During Your Year Abroad 

In my second term, I decided to get a job working at the University diner, as I wanted to feel part of the university community and earn money for my travels! Visa restrictions and opportunities to work vary depending on your year abroad, so it may not be an option for everyone, but this job gave me valuable catering and customer service experience which was useful for finding part-time jobs back in the UK, and has often been a talking point in interviews.  

You may decide that you don’t want to volunteer or work on your year abroad, because you are there to learn, have fun, and live in a new country! This experience in itself is good for an application, since it can help you demonstrate your ability to adapt to a new environment and communicate with people from around the world.  

Remember that when you are applying for jobs it is about making the most of the experience you do have, so whatever you get from your year abroad, be sure to tell future employers about it, as your unique experience may be what gets you your job! 


Author: Susannah Latham, Final Year Politics and International Relations BSc student and Career Peer Support Assistant

This blog post is one of a series produced by our Career Peer Support Assistants, our fantastic team of current Bristol students working part-time with the Careers Service. Look out for further CPSA case studies coming soon!  

CPSA case study: Taking a year out after your studies 

Sid Taylor-Jones is an MSc Education student and Career Peer Support Assistant (CPSA).

I remember handing in my dissertation in third year, and feeling amazingly relieved… and then the panic set in. What do I do now??  

Before going to university, I had dreams of becoming a video editor. But after three years of developing that skillset and getting practical experience, I wasn’t sure if it was what I wanted anymore. I didn’t know what to do.   (more…)

Explore the world – it’s still possible!

Are you yearning to experience different cultures and meet new people?

Flags of the world
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Whilst worldwide travel might not be on the agenda right now, it’s still possible to make intercultural connections, through learning and engaging, right here.

Discovering what the world has to offer starts with tapping into local opportunities that could lead to big adventures in the future. (more…)

Planning your year abroad

Spain

When asked about the reasons for choosing their course, most modern language students would mention the opportunity to spend a year outside the cold and dreary UK. After a few minutes of hearing how lucky they are to have the chance to spend 6 months in sunny Barcelona or chic Paris (insert regional stereotypes here) the modern languages student will inevitably be asked the dreaded question: ‘So, what are you planning to do in your time abroad?’ Panic!

As much as the average linguist romanticises and boasts about their year abroad, many of us do not have any concrete plans for our time abroad until about a third of the way through second-year. By that point we are only a few weeks away from filling in forms whereby we commit ourselves to work or study in Europe or further afield. Compulsory attendance at the Year Abroad Meeting in mid-June is not (just) to stop us enjoying our summer (or rather the UK’s woeful attempt at summer); the main reason for it is to get us thinking about what we want to do on our year abroad.

Where to go – Financial implications

The first important step is to decide where you want to live. If you choose to work in Europe, either through a British Council Teaching Assistantship or an individually sourced placement; or to study at a partner institution in Europe, you will be eligible for an Erasmus grant and will receive a fee waiver.

For those venturing outside Europe or to a non-partner institution within Europe, you will not receive any of these benefits. Whilst partial funding may still be available, for example through the Abbey-Santander Scholarship for Latin America, this reduced financial support is an important factor to consider when making your decision. The year abroad is an invaluable experience and, for many, one that will not be repeated. However, it will not be your only chance to go abroad.

Some places are far more expensive to live in than others, so you need to decide if you are willing to take on this financial burden. As much as you might want to spend the year in Paris or Rio, this might not be the most financially suitable option at this time. Yes, you have your normal student finance entitlements, but not everyone is willing to take out a loan for a fourth year. Furthermore, depending on where and how you choose to spend your year, you could end up with a decent amount of savings by the time you return for your final year.

What to do – Study or work?

The next important decision to make is whether you want to work or study. I cannot stress enough how vital this decision is in determining how your year plays out.

The main advantages of studying are the support you get from the host institution in settling in and finding accommodation etc., the opportunity to live and study with other young people, and the fact that the exams you take (normally) don’t count towards your degree. When choosing where to study, you should bear in mind the differences in the higher education system as the levels of support provided to students can vary. Similarly, course choice is important. You should choose a course that interests you, but you should also think of which course would be most beneficial to your language learning. Depending on your learning style, you might benefit more from smaller class sizes (more interaction with other students) or classes which require regular essays or written work submission. On the other hand, being a student often requires more effort on your part to fully immerse yourself in the culture of your destination as it is easy to fall into the trap of just socialising with other Anglophones or non-native speakers.

This leads me to the main advantage of working. You will most likely spend 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, working and speaking in Russian, Portuguese, Italian etc. This is the best way to ensure that your language skills improve, which is, after all, the main purpose of the year abroad. At the same time, working abroad requires a lot of independent research and you are solely responsible for finding and securing your placements. If you are able to do this successfully, this evidence of maturity and self-sufficiency is very attractive for future employers.

Don’t panic!

Whilst making these decisions might seem a daunting task, they have to be made, so try to keep a cool head when doing so. Think ahead. Talk to careers advisers, personal tutors and students who have already been on their year abroad. The better prepared you are, the more you will get out of this fantastic year which, for many of you, will be the best year of your life.

Rosemary Amadi, BA French & Portuguese

Image: © Tim Riley 2014