View from a year abroad

Two members of the Inspiring Interns’ team spent a year abroad as part of their university degrees and below they share their thoughts and tips.

Andrew:

I decided fairly early on that my year abroad would be a great opportunity to gain some vital work experience, and give me a chance to learn about German culture away from universities and schools. This gave me plenty of time to search for suitable roles, which was fortunate as it was a long, arduous process!

With very little knowledge of the job market in Germany, and minimal support from my university, it took a while to even discover what kind of websites I should be looking at, let alone find internships I might be interested in doing.

The months I spent trawling the internet looking for anything vaguely relevant to my chosen field (journalism or marketing, since you ask) were very frustrating, but ultimately I had the good fortune to find a useful website for English ex-pats – Toytown Germany – on which a sports journalism Praktikum was listed. I applied and was fortunate enough to be offered the role.

My job hunt would have been far more productive had there been a resource which offered advice and direction for young job seekers who find themselves out of their depth when searching for a placement abroad. Fortunately such an entity has since been dreamed up: ThirdYearAbroad.com. The website has a wealth of knowledge and information for anyone doing a year away (whether studying, teaching or working), as well as forums for fellow year abroaders to offer support and in-the-know tips to each other, and sections on everything from insurance to language skills.

When I eventually started my internship it was a daunting first few weeks. I felt out of my depth linguistically, found it difficult to get to know my colleagues, and I was very much thrown in the deep end when it came to the work I was doing. Undoubtedly I wouldn’t have had such a steep learning curve had I been at a university with the support of other Erasmus students around me. However I certainly would not have progressed as quickly as I did in a workplace, and the skills I learned then – independence; organisation; even office diplomacy – are still hugely useful to me today.

I was also the envy of my friends, as my job would occasionally require me to attend football matches (in the press section, naturally) and work on projects with major organisations such as UEFA. While they were getting their heads round German romance novels of the 19th century, I was mingling with the stars of the Bundesliga. And to cap it all off, the contacts I made during my German internship meant I was offered work at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa – an experience that ranks as one of the best in my life. So while finding an internship for your year abroad might be a bit more work in the short term, the long-term benefits are priceless.

Alex:

The opportunity to spend a year abroad was a determining factor in my decision to study French and Hispanic Studies.   I happily bundled my way through first year, not giving third year any thought.  Then second year began, work counted towards my final mark and weekly talks on decisions regarding where to go/what to do/how to spend a year abroad became rampant.  Inevitably, I didn’t pay much attention.

Initially I had thought I would like to work abroad, but didn’t know where to begin or what sectors I should like to work in and sent speculative applications; predictably I didn’t get anywhere.  Eventually I decided I wanted to spend my year abroad studying…for some reason life as an Erasmus student was appealing.  Free money, no obligation to actually turn up to lectures.  Sure.

I spent my first semester in La Réunion (found in the Indian Ocean, next to Mauritius) and the second in Madrid.  Two highly contrasting places as La Réunion is an island about 30 miles wide with a live volcano and Madrid, a thriving city.  Time in La Réunion was spent learning how to surf, exploring the island and climbing a live volcano and a mountain.  Learning French wasn’t high on my list of priorities but I definitely had the time of my life and felt I deserved a holiday in Mauritius for three weeks for my troubles.  Flights booked, four euro a night hostels located and via budget travelling, Mauritius was our oyster.

And then to Madrid.  I’d never actually been but would thoroughly recommend it for anyone thinking about where to spend a year abroad or for just a weekend away.  After a relatively intimidating first few weeks and finding accommodation through Loquo, alongside the fight to register at the university I was to attend I came to love the beautiful city and the accompanying botellóns (street drinking parties).

Whilst I had a brilliant time and would recommend the above places to anyone it is difficult to avoid becoming the Erasmus outcasts who group together at the back of classes.  Clearly studying will offer you more free time than working (depending on how much you study…) but the benefits of gaining work experience through an internship on your year abroad is not to be underestimated.

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