For a student enrolled on a Modern Languages degree, often the year abroad is a non-negotiable requirement of the course, rather than an optional extra. I lived abroad because I had to; I made new friends because I had to; I practiced the language because I had to. This turned out to be a good thing. My year abroad was an amazing experience, and I am grateful to have had no choice but to embrace it.
Sometimes you don’t have much choice. And that can be unfair.
When considering the year abroad, students tend to be presented with a variety of options, ranging from volunteering and studying to an internship or British Council Language Assistantship. In reality, however, options can be limited depending on budget, the number of months you are able to commit to a certain location, and what you want to get out of the year abroad itself.
Sometimes you have a fair amount of choice, but not the final say.
As part of my year abroad, I spent around seven months working as a Language Assistant in France through the British Council. While applicants have the opportunity to state preferences in terms of preferred age-group to work with and city to teach in, the final say isn’t your own. Furthermore, even if assigned your first choice of city, you may end up located in its outskirts. I was assigned to a Lycée in a small town in the North of France. This turned out to be extremely beneficial for my French, as very few people in the town spoke English. When you have limited say and go into the process knowing you have limited say, you have to accept things as they are and make the situation work for you.
Oftentimes you have more choice than you think.
Though I may have had the impression of spending a year abroad because I was obliged to do so, ultimately, it was my own decision to enrol on a Modern Languages course in the first place. It was also my own decision to make ‘restrictions’ work in my favour. I made the most of small-town life, getting to know the locals, frequenting the local bar and cafés and improving my language skills in the process. The friends I made, and the knowledge and skills I acquired were all down to my own determination to make the year abroad a success as per my own aspirations and expectations. I was also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend time in Spain, meaning what was lacking in France I could actively strive to compensate for in Madrid.
Though sometimes it may seem that decisions are made for you, it is never quite so simple. You are free to set your own goals and, importantly, to decide how to use the experience to your own advantage.