Global Opportunities, Guest posts

6 Things I Learned During My Year of Working Abroad

Many uni courses offer a year abroad, whether it be obligatory or optional, but if you’re studying a language like me, the likelihood is that a year abroad is a vital part of the course. I had the option to either study at a partner university, work as a Language Assistant through the British Council or find my own work placement. Grabbing the opportunity to have a break from studying for a year, I opted to take on the British Council placement as it meant I could work minimal hours whilst getting paid – it seemed like the best of both worlds! Although I’d be teaching English, there would be non-English speakers at the school, the children would be speaking in their native language a lot of the time and I would have plenty of free time to spend doing activities which would require me to use Spanish (my degree language). A wealth of learning opportunities that I can now share with you…

  1. I can travel independently to, from and in a foreign country

Before going on my year abroad, I’d never flown on my own or been in a foreign country by myself. Having been placed in a somewhat poorly connected city, I had to catch two separate buses after flying into Alicante airport, but the journey went relatively smoothly! Less smooth was my journey home at Christmas. My flight was cancelled whilst I was on the way to the airport, meaning that I had to book another last-minute flight into a different UK airport! The experience was extremely stressful, but I made it home in the end, proving to myself that I can successfully travel from one country to another even with significant mishaps! And it wasn’t just planes, I caught several trains and buses whilst travelling around Spain which soon became second nature to me.

2. The hard work and responsibility involved with being a teacher

I always knew I didn’t want to be a teacher and working as a Language Assistant for nine months only confirmed this. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my job – my role was to assist with pronunciation, vocabulary and conversation skills, requiring minimum planning and classroom control. However, whilst I observed and chatted to the teachers I was working alongside, it became quite clear how much time and hard work they dedicated to their job: creating resources; planning interschool activities; marking work; planning lessons and so much more. The sheer responsibility of educating the next generation dawned on me whilst working in this environment, making me realise that teachers hold one of the most important jobs in the world and I have a huge amount of respect for them.  

3. Long distance relationships are possible

This is something that a lot of people worry about with regard to moving to another country for a year, but I want to reassure everyone that it’s 100% doable. Everyone that knew me thought I was crazy to be getting into a relationship just as I was about to leave the UK behind (I certainly had doubts myself and didn’t expect it to be happening!) but precisely because it was so fresh was the reason it worked for us. We began our relationship in different countries, so we didn’t have anything to compare the distance to, didn’t miss spending a lot of time together. It enabled us to maintain our independence and view our relationship as a bonus to our already fulfilling lives apart. It made seeing each other more special and exciting as every time we did, we’d be in a new location as we gradually made our way around Spain, effectively going on around five separate holidays throughout the year! Making the effort to visit one another showed us both that we were invested in the relationship and wanted to make it work – and we did! It may not work for everyone but it’s definitely possible if you have the right attitude.

4. True friendships outside of my own native language are possible

Even when you’re learning a language, you generally feel as if there will always be a slight language barrier and wonder if you’ll ever be able to form authentic relationships with people who don’t speak your language. I was unsure about this until I spent a year abroad. It may require a little more effort on both sides of the friendship, but if you spend enough time with someone you really get on with, lasting friendships are easily formed regardless of language differences. Once you start to feel comfortable around someone, you’ll notice your confidence in the foreign language increase around them, especially if they’re non-judgemental, genuinely kind people. I found that making a genuine friend was probably what helped my language skills the most as I wasn’t afraid to communicate or ask questions! Even when verbal communication was lost, meaning could still be communicated as we got to know one another’s personalities.

5. I could be a professional translator

Whilst I was working as a Language Assistant, I was searching for summer internships and was offered a Translation Traineeship in Barcelona. I spent June and July working at a translation company which was a very valuable experience, opening my eyes to the reality of the industry and making me consider it as a serious career option. A job which had seemed out of my reach suddenly became a realistic and viable career path, a fabulous letter of recommendation from my supervisor confirming to me that I’m capable of being a translator.

6. And most importantly, how much I love Spain!

This was the longest period I’d ever stayed in Spain, inevitably meaning that I gained a much greater understanding of the country, its culture, its customs and its traditions. The laid-back aspect of the culture definitely rubbed off on my over-organised personality, enabling me to have a fairly relaxing year and return a slightly more carefree version of myself. In general, I found the people to be far friendlier and welcoming than in the UK which contributed to making me feel comfortable and at home. The mostly warm, sunny climate was an obvious bonus – I certainly didn’t miss the rain! And attending festivities such as Semana Santa, Carnaval and Las Fallas was a truly spectacular and unique experience which made me fall in love with Spain, Spaniards and their crazy fiestas.

You’ll have noticed that what I learnt during my time working abroad wasn’t just about the jobs I was doing, but much more about the culture I was immersed in which is really what your year abroad is all about. Studying or working isn’t what you should be focusing on, getting to know and appreciating the new country you find yourself in; the new people surrounding you; the new landscapes you see out the window; the funny local expressions you pick up: these are the things which make your year abroad a fascinating and unforgettable period in your life.


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