When studying a language at university it is almost always compulsory for any course to go and spend time in the country of choice (or a country which speaks that language). This is the moment you really have to consolidate what you have learnt in class and apply in it in the real world. The classroom at university is full of lessons on translation, grammar, literature but the fact remains you will have only a few hours a week focussed on speaking the intended language- the year abroad makes up for all of this. It is an exceptional experience to see how far you can push yourself in this new life and language, and mainly, it is a lot of fun.
One thing to really keep in mind though is that this is your year to make of it what you want and so you have to make decisions that are right for you. Your university will explain particular guidelines, suggest places and introduce programmes to affiliate with, but ultimately the choice is yours, you make it whatever you want to make it. It could be either one of the best years of your life and your fluency could improve in leaps and bounds or, as is the case for many, you could do something that does not interest you for a whole entire year of your life that you will never get back. It does not need to be the latter, just be aware there are a lot of options out there that are available to you before you make a definitive decision, so make sure to really mull this one over.
British council has a list of good points that are irrefutable and worth mentioning. You will be working for a highly esteemed organization who sends young language students all over the world to act as teaching assistants in classes. The whole point is to support the teacher with English lessons but also, more importantly to allow the students to have some sort of introduction to English. So you will be teaching in English but believe me, you will pick up a lot of language from the kids. This is invaluable experience with a reputable firm and also is pretty good pay for not a lot of work. Most language assistants will pick up between 800-1000 euros a month for around 14 hours of class a week. This, plus your loan and an opportunity to tutor kids for extra cash means that a lot of students do quite well in this programme.
So, what, you may ask, is the catch? The catch is that you do not have much control over where you go and who you teach. British council will ask you what your preferences may be in terms of which age range of kids you would like to be with (kids, teenagers, university students) and they also ask which country or regions you would prefer to be placed in. Be warned you will not always get your top choices and there is a chance that you will be send to a very remote town in the middle of nowhere, rather than a popular city. This is perhaps good for your language learning but not always a lot of fun.
Some of the kids you are teaching might be closer to your age than the teacher is, making the process all the more fun!
Erasmus is an experience and a half, there is no doubt about that. You may have heard whispers (or indeed screams) of Erasmus adventures being uttered in every student corner and perhaps have wondered to yourself, what is this phenomenon? Basically, Erasmus is a university exchange programme which has been going on since the 1980s – meaning, it is even possible that it was your parents you heard it from. The idea is simple and genius, you essentially become a student in another, foreign university but take all the number of credits you might usually do thus, this year counts as part of your degree, and is not seen as taking time out. Doing an Erasmus is obviously a very attractive possibility for a few reasons. Of course it is an opportunity to live another university system, to make the most of the new courses on offer and the very different societies there are to take part in. It also means you are really guaranteed to be in a fun town with lots of other students around you. It is impossible not to make friends during Erasmus because everyone is in the same boat, they are there for a limited time and want to make the most of their experience. To add to all this positivity, you also get an enormous grant from the European Union to do this, so you actually have money to enjoy your year even more.
So, what are the down sides be to this seemingly flawless system? Well, it is only for students who go to university within the European Union (Britain, you have two years to hurry up and make the most of this incredible programme). Although there are other university exchanges that exist, nothing is as vast when it comes to options as Erasmus and also the grant would not necessarily be available. The slightly downside about Erasmus is that the programme is not only for language students but for all students. This means that the common language among Erasmus friends is most definitely English. As a language student, you have to take extra care to make sure you are not solely hanging out with Erasmus students so you make the most of the opportunity on offer. In laymen’s terms, try not to be a typical Erasmus student who has a wonderful year partying in a different country but who actually still doesn’t speak the language. It doesn’t need to be that way but you need to exercise quite a bit of self-control to make sure that it is not.
Mr Erasmus taking his studies very seriously... just like all Erasmus students hmmm...
Another option would be looking into doing an internship. Internships can be done during university to get experience in a new field and get paid for it at the same time and the great news is the most countries are looking for bright, young minds as a helping hand in the business. The could be a perfect opportunity to work in fields such as the EU or translating and get experience whilst still making use of your student loan. These jobs are usually quite hard work but the juice is worth the squeeze. Most countries will have their own internship platforms the Erasmusplus platform caters for everyone, and of course, take a look at the bab.la internship platform.
Be aware and use your common sense when looking for an internship, make sure you are not just being free labour.
This option has to be something that you check with the university to see if it is permitted but certainly in the majority of the cases, it is not a problem. Your year abroad (in languages anyway)is supposed to be a few months (the time frame changes from university to university) in that country, so technically you simply need proof you were living and working in this country for the allocated amount of time. Finding your own job is of course more risky perhaps than organising your year abroad through the university, and is certainly more work. However, it gives you the ultimate freedom. You can do whatever you want to do and go wherever you want to go. Also you will be presumably working in that language meaning you will progress massively in a very short space of time, with the added bonus of being paid for your work.