Probably one of the most difficult decisions you are faced with before you leave for your year abroad is whether or not to study, or undergo a work placement. Both have their pros and cons but for me, choosing a work placement was a no brainer.
Working abroad can be daunting – as well as having to throw yourself into an entirely new environment and lifestyle you also have to navigate a different culture, and more often than not this all needs to be done in a language that is not your own. In my case, I was lucky: working as an English Language Assistant meant that the vast majority of my work was completed in English which was at the very least, one less thing to worry about.
Despite this, interacting with colleagues can be tricky at first, particularly in the first few days when you are maybe still really scrabbling for your language skills. This, coupled with the crippling pressure to make a good first impression, has the potential to render your first few days at work slightly more stressful than you might think. There will be lots of unintelligible paperwork, many incomprehensible administration meetings, and some awkward run-ins with unknown colleagues but you will eventually feel like you have worked there all your life. Promise.
There are many advantages to working abroad. On a simply practical level, you are paid for your efforts, which for students who are used to living of a meagre student loan can be a fantastic opportunity to save some pennies. Earning a wage also means you have the funds to really explore the country or region you are in, and to really embrace the culture. It is a lot easier to travel around and socialise when you are not having to clutch at purse strings after all.
On top of earning money, work placements really let you interact with the local people. While it is true that you may not necessarily be working with colleagues of your own age group, there are always opportunities to socialise outside of work. And if language learning is your main concern, undergoing a work placement really is the best way to fully immerse yourself in the target language, something that can be a struggle if you opt for university study.
There are of course some cons involved in working abroad, the main one being that you are well and truly thrown out of your comfort zone. I, for example, was given twelve hours of teaching English a week, unsupervised and with zero training. Talk about a learning curve! However scary it might sound, these experiences can do wonders for your confidence and really teach you things about yourself that may not have been so apparent before.
Equally, a social life can be a lot harder to come by outside of the ready-made university environment. It is evidently a lot harder to find people your own age and even to find places to socialise. There are of course ways to combat this; join groups, take up a hobby or keep in touch with that one acquaintance from home who is posted at the nearest university… But this does all require much more effort than you might be used to.
All in all, work placements can be a wonderfully rewarding experience. For many, it is the first time you are truly tested and thrown well in the deep end in terms of your responsibilities. You can fully insert yourself into the foreign culture and use your recurring payslip to make the most of your time abroad. While yes, you may have to say goodbye to uni life for nine months or so, there are many ways to ensure your social life can keep up with your busy working schedule. Working abroad gives you the freedom to really appreciate your culture, and your language skills will really thank you for it.