I’ve spent my year abroad teaching as a Comenius Assistant in France and am now on a work placement in Spain. When I was looking at my year abroad options, there was no was no contest between studying and working. Using my experiences in Spain as an example, what are the pros and cons of working on your year abroad?
1. Language-learning. If you’re working in a Spanish company, working in Spanish and with Spanish colleagues, your Spanish is going to improve rapidly and you’ll learn lots of more formal business and office language, rather than just the colloquial stuff.
2. New Skills. You’ll be learning loads of new non-linguistic skills that those studying at uni won’t be, be it lesson planning and teaching, or in my case, using HTML coding and Dreamweaver (I know, I never thought I’d be able to understand it!). Not forgetting you have a the experience of working a PROPER job!
3. MASSIVE CV BOOST. See above point… Put all of these new skills on a newly renovated CV to dazzle graduate employers. Not only will they be impressed by the fact that you moved to another non-English-speaking country to live there, you worked there and learnt the language, as well as learning all of these skills that other applicants are unlikely to have.
4. Networking Opportunities. If you’re lucky, your job will give you lots of great networking opportunities, you’ll get to go to events and meet people that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to (e.g. a TedX talk.. .) A great chance to up your LinkedIn connections and gain some good references for your graduate applications.
5. Choice of dates. When you’re applying for all of these jobs, you don’t have to worry about term dates or anything. You can find one that fits your time scale, however short or long it is. I’m working for 7 months in Spain, so have several months more than my friends, but several months more of sunshine and language learning opportunities…
6.Cross off/add jobs to your list of potential careers. Remember, even if you strongly hate your year abroad work placement, you won’t be doing it forever, and if you love it, maybe you’ll get offered a job? Whatever happens, you’re either adding or crossing a career off your list of future potential jobs.
7. Motivation. Having work a real-life job with real-life working hours, you’ll either feel really motivated to work hard when you return to uni so that you can start applying for graduate jobs, or it’ll have scared you so much that you’ll feel motivated to work hard so that you can get onto a masters and stay at uni and away from the *real world* for longer!
8. NO EXAMS!!!!!
1. The pay. This depends on what country you’re in but as Spain is in the middle of an economic “crees -sees”, it doesn’t have a minimum wage for work placement students (unlike France which is around 400 euros/month) and therefore many placements are unpaid or offer a small something towards living expenses. Most of the jobs I was looking at offered between 50 – 350euros. However, some companies may offer you housing and/or food, or Spanish lessons in return for your hardwork. And just think, it’s more than you’d be getting for studying…(though not as cushty as being a language assistant!).
2. The hours. The likelihood is that with a work placement you will be working a long week. For me, going from a 12-hour to 40-hour week was an absolute killer and particularly saddened me when I realised I wouldn’t be able to travel as much as before in France. However, it has made me make the most of the free time that I have. You need to forget that you aren’t getting paid the big bucks and live for the weekends! (That glass (*bottle*) of wine is always going to taste more rewarding…)
3. Location. This is a measure of how desperate you are not to study at university during your year abroad. I know many people (like myself) that were getting to the point of desperation when looking for a job that they didn’t care where it was. So you could end up in your dream location or end up in somewhere that you’ve never heard of, but hey, it’s all a learning curve! I’ve fallen lucky in that I’m by the sea in a beautiful town on the Costa del Sol, but unlucky in that it is absolutely tiny. Which leads me nicely onto my next two points…
4. Meeting people. If you end up working 40 hours a week in a small company in a small town, you may find it difficult to meet people of student-age and who aren’t British (my personal case study). If this is the case, don’t let it get you down. Use that good old Erasmus grant to go travelling with other uni friends that are also in the same country and make friends with their friends. Invite everybody to come stay with you (this is proving popular for the summer). Go to language exchanges. Make friends with your work colleagues’ local friends and disfrutar from when you are living!
5. Language learning. Yep, I know I have this as a pro, but for me it’s also been a con. It’s easy to end up with a job which involves you speaking lots of English. Just make sure you immerse yourself in Spanish outside of work, speak with your Spanish colleagues in Spanish at breakfast and have a little break from your work to learn some vocab on Memrise.