A Year Abroad

As part of my course, I had to spend a year abroad. I had the choice of going to a French or German speaking country and I chose to go to Germany, as I felt I needed to improve my German more than my French. Although a year abroad was part of my course, lots of my friends that studied non-language degrees also decided that they wanted to spend a semester of their degree abroad too and Warwick University has links with universities all over the world.

During my year in Germany, I lived in Essen, a large industrial city near to Dortmund and Düsseldorf in the North West of Germany. I had no idea what it would be like before I arrived as I had never heard of it before but if you embrace where you end up and are willing to do a fair bit of exploring then you can have an amazing time no matter where you are. 

I spent my year abroad working rather than studying at a German university. I was a British Council teaching assistant during my year abroad. I was placed in a school for adults which was a real challenge seeing as I had had no formal teacher training before being thrown into lessons. But it was a rewarding experience and I made good friends with many students and staff. I preferred this to studying in a university as it provided some valuable work experience, was well payed and the hours were good which meant that there was plenty of time for exploring the area and travelling. Although I had no formal training, you learn a lot while you are working and get to speak a lot of the target language. I would definitely recommend this to anybody looking to study abroad.

When applying for the teaching assistantship through the British Council you apply for your preferred regions in order of preference e.g. North Rhein Westfalia, Hamburg, Bavaria etc. Thereafter you can also stipulate your preference for being in a city or a more rural area.  I have some friends that ended up in rural places and spent the majority of their year abroad befriending farm animals and playing bingo with elderly men so I'm glad that I ended up in a busy city like Essen.

I got so much out of my year abroad. It is a very maturing experience, not only do you have to sort everything out for yourself, like accommodation and banking, but you have to do it in another language, normally one you don't speak tremendously well, so it did a lot for my confidence. When you get back you feel like you can take on anything. I also think it's really important to immerse yourself in another culture. It's really rewarding learning about another country, it's history, it's food etc. and its great getting to know the people as well. I made some good friends for life while I was out there. Obviously, I also benefitted from learning the language as well, especially as German is still so important in a business context but less and less people are studying it!

My first week was probably the hardest bit. You have to sort all of the important stuff out and sign contracts without really knowing what anything means, you have to make friends without truly being able to express yourself and you desperately want to practice speaking the language but as soon as you go to a bar and place an order they can hear your terrible accent and go and fetch the English menu for you. The teaching was also quite daunting to start with due to the lack of training but you learn so much while you are going along. It's hard, but a really valuable and rewarding year.

I would absolutely recommend a year abroad to anyone who is considering it. It's very clichéd but it definitely has been one of the best years of my life so far. It's a unique opportunity to experience another culture, meet new people and learn about different countries. Even if you're not doing a language, I can't encourage you enough to look at what your uni offers. Nowadays they have so many connections that you could spend a semester or a year in California or Istanbul or Paris or somewhere else just as fun! You learn so much, get to travel lots and obtain some valuable work experience or an extra year of studying.