Placement blogs

Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences' students share their placement and year abroad experiences.

Posts By: Zoe AM

Year Abroad VIII – final thoughts

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

 

Siena, Italy                                                                                        June, 2017

Ciao!

Today marks a month until I leave Siena, where I have been doing my Erasmus study exchange for five months as part of my Year Abroad. I’m getting all the feels. I don’t want to leave. And I’m thinking of all the things this year has taught me. Here are some of them.

The Year Abroad is more about improving yourself than improving a language.

I feel like there is a lot of pressure on the Year Abroad and returning with close-to-native language skills when the reality is a lot different. Not just because each one of us is doing different activities or spending it in different locations, but because achieving native levels just by immersion is very hard, even if you try to be as active and engaged as you can. If you’ve never spoken the language before, it is easy to track the progress: being able to order at a restaurant or sort out paperwork feels like a milestone. But when you are a language student and have been learning the language for a couple of years, improving in a way that is noticeable is hard. I personally don’t find my French to be much better than when I left the UK. I have definitely improved in listening and reading comprehension and have expanded my vocabulary, but not as much as I thought I would. So don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself and just have fun with it. Don’t be afraid to talk and make mistakes, but also don’t centre on having to improve continuously. The Year Abroad and life are more than that.

Siena will now have a special place in my heart.

Siena will now have a special place in my heart.

The best things I’ve gained this year are more confidence in myself and greater independence.

More than the language side of things, I feel like my greatest achievement this year has been to discard my shyness and put myself out there. I had to do that when I first moved to England for university and that already felt like a massive milestone. This year I’ve had to do it twice, in completely different countries and I’m proud of myself for doing it (introverts, do you feel me?). I’ve learnt to make mistakes without being embarrassed about it because that is how you best learn in this life. I’ve learnt that there’s nothing to lose by approaching new people, the worst that might happen is that they won’t be interested, but you will have given it a shot and have no regrets about what could have happened. If you don’t try, you’ll never win! I really encourage you to try to socialize as much as possible as, if I’ve realized something (more like, completely confirmed) this year is that it’s not about the place you are in - ok, it does make a difference if you are in a big city than a little isolated town but hear me out-, it’s about the people you meet along the way.

Fécamp was such a lovely place to experience France.

Fécamp was such a lovely place to experience France (also, I cooked paella for the first time!).

It’s the people you meet during this adventure that will shape your experience of the Year Abroad.

Clearly, the place you end up in will have a lot to do in creating a good or bad experience of the Year Abroad. If you are a very active and outgoing person and end up in a town in the middle of nowhere, it might not be the best experience. However, at the end of the day, it’s up to you to make new friends and meet new people (in and around the area), but also to choose who you want to become closer with.

Shout-out to Manu, Gillian, Moni and Liam!

Shout-out to Manu, Gill, Moni and Liam!

In France I was in a little coastal town in Normandy and my fondest memories will always be of those I met, be at the school or elsewhere. Parties at the Mill, funny classroom anecdotes, long evening dinners and exploring the town with the other two stagiaires.

Thank-you everybody for making my Erasmus a great one!

Thank-you everybody for making my Erasmus a great one!

In Siena this is even more relevant as most of my friends are other Erasmus students who, like me, are only here for a limited amount of time. My image of Siena is an image in which I’m enjoying the city with all those people I’ve met over the past five months, and that is an image that belongs in this exact moment and will not repeat itself, which leads to my next point.

Ancora degli amici a Siena.

Ancora degli amici a Siena.

Enjoy every moment and grab each opportunity.

The Year Abroad is all about new experiences and learning first hand, so it’s up to you to challenge yourself. Make a list or just head out of the door and explore. Try new foods, new hobbies, go to new places, talk to strangers, get out of your comfort zone. The Year Abroad is an amazing opportunity to push your boundaries – you get to live abroad and meet a lot of new people and you’ll learn to adapt to different lifestyles, so try to make the most of it. You don’t have to become a party animal if you’re the type who enjoys staying in for a chill night, but don’t miss out on events that attract your interest. I ended up joining the student newspaper here in Siena because I saw a recruiting event on Facebook. At first I wasn’t sure because I didn’t really want to show up on my own, but I pulled it together and went anyway and I’ve met a lot of cool people through it and improved my Italian!

I've joined a student newspaper, acted in a French short film and given an improv speech in Italian!

I've joined a student newspaper, acted in a French short film and given an improv speech in Italian!

That being said, you’re allowed to say you’re not having or didn’t have a great Year Abroad.

Hopefully this will not be the case, because it would be a pity, but everybody feels down and questions what they are doing with their lives at some point. Battling homesickness and culture shock is hard and sometimes (especially with the British Council Assistantship), you have no control over where you will end up. Maybe the idea you had of your host country doesn’t live up to your expectations, maybe you don’t really feel like you fit in. And it’s ok. You can ask for support if you need it, but honestly try to battle through. It’s also about being counteractive, especially in cities full of people or small towns. Perhaps it will only be a phase and it will get better, but you have to battle through in order to find out.

And, lastly, you will learn to value your own country.

I only started truly valuing the good aspects of Spain when I moved to England to start my degree. Things like the warmer approach of people in everyday life, the food I can find in the supermarket or the amount of daylight and sun we get throughout the year in comparison to the United Kingdom. Here in Italy I have learnt to value British education even further; oral exams seem like such an inefficient way to go about examinations when a two hour exam would save us all the hassle and long hours of wait for our turn. A lot of my British friends have told me innumerable times how they now appreciate the UK in ways they didn’t before: politeness, the punctuality of transport and efficiency of bureaucracy, just to name a bunch. You never know what you have until you lose it, right?

Thank-you again!

Thank-you again!

All in all, the Year Abroad is an opportunity to grow and have fun before the stress of final year and I hope to have captured that in my blog posts. Hopefully you will also fall in love with the countries that host you and perhaps you will be back after you graduate.

Year Abroad, you have been a great eye and mind-opening experience, you have taught me many things about life and myself and have pushed my boundaries, you’ve been a blast and I am proud to know I’ve made the most of it. Hope all of those embarking on their own adventure do too.

Peace out.

Zoe

 

Year Abroad VII – tips on travelling around Italy

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

 

Siena, Italy                                                                                        May, 2017

Ciao! When I decided to do an Erasmus study exchange in Italy as the second half of my Year Abroad, one thing was clear: I wanted to travel as much as I could. In a country like Italy in which every region is so different from the neighbouring one, it is amazing to be able to go and explore new areas, as there is such diversity. But, how to do this on a student budget? Here are my tips for travelling around.

Choose the right time

First of all, the ideal Erasmus situation is having a timetable in which you have a long weekend. That is, you have either Mondays or Fridays free and so end up with a three-day-long weekend. This would give you more time to travel, but is not always possible. In my case, I don’t have a long weekend, but I can catch up on my Friday lessons easily so I can miss a Friday once in a while… Try to find the timetables for each module when choosing your units, but don’t fret if you can’t do a long weekend – you will find the time to travel anyway!

In addition to that, the time of the year also affects the prices of the tickets. I’ve been in Italy since the end of January and back when it was still winter it used to rain a lot, which is not ideal when you plan on walking around new cities. I’d say the best time to travel is probably late-March to early May: the weather is a lot nicer but the ‘tourist’ season isn’t full-blown yet. Now, you will always find tourists in Italy, no matter the time of the year as it is non-seasonal tourism, but in order to avoid the masses and extortionate prices definitely avoid travelling in late Spring-Summer.

Travelling during the official holidays can also be tricky. First, because obviously everybody travels then so there is a ridiculous rise in prices during that period, but also because it can be hard to nail down the actual dates. In Siena’s case, our Easter holidays were actually only four days long and were followed by a few school days before a pause in the lessons during the April appello or exam period. In theory, the lessons would be on during those days in between, but in reality, a lot of the teachers cancelled their classes and so we actually had around a week and a half of holidays if you were not planning on sitting any exams in that appello period. I’d suggest trying to speak to local students in years 2 or above, as they have more experience of the system, so you have a clear idea of the dates and can book your holidays in advance and save money (whether it be travelling around Italy or going back home).

Transport

There are many ways to travel around Italy, but choosing the right one will depend on the distance you are trying to cover and the time you have available.

For example, if I wanted to visit the Tuscan towns around Siena, the ideal thing would be to have a car. Car Rental companies are incredibly expensive for rookie drivers, so unless you are a big group in which all chip in or you know a local person with a car, this is an option available but hard to realize. You can also travel by bus, which is very cheap, but at least in this part of Italy the public transport connections are poorly structured, with journeys taking a couple of hours to cover only a few kilometres and very limited timetables.

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If you are planning on visiting places in nearby regions, try the coaches or pullman services which are very popular. They are generally cheaper than trains and sometimes even take less time! I’ve been using FlixBus quite a lot, which covers a huge range of different cities. From Siena, I’ve been able to go to Bologna and Perugia using FlixBus and spending around 20 euros both ways. Another coach service that seems to be popular here is Baltour, but I haven’t used that one yet. It’s just a matter of looking into routes and prices! And, of course, booking in advance!

Another option is to use Blablacar. I personally can’t review this service as I’ve never used it, but I’ve heard good things about it. However, use your common sense – it might not the best option if you are travelling on your own, as it involves a car share with strangers.

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A pricier option is taking the train. However, high speed trains are worth it if you are planning to go somewhere that is far away – they are quicker than coaches. Trenitalia works quite well in my opinion, but delays and trains being cancelled is not something unheard of, so beware if you are going somewhere that requires a couple of changes along the way. Another alternative is to fly to your destination. If you are in Siena you will know that your closest airports are in Florence or Pisa though, requiring you to take the train or bus in order to reach it anyway. So, unless you actually have a few days to spare, I wouldn’t choose to go anywhere too far away – it is worth staying somewhere nearer and having more time to explore!

Accommodation

In terms of finding where to stay, hotels are clearly an option but not the most budget-friendly. If you are travelling in a small group, look into youth hostels – they can be a fun experience if you are not too fussed about sharing rooms with strangers and you can meet all sorts of people.

However, my favourite option is Airbnb. I’ve used this platform a few times now and I find it the most convenient for me as it gives me the option of finding a private room within a flat – sort of like a hotel – but cheaper. I always look for an Airbnb with access to a kitchen, so I can have breakfast before heading out or cook dinner and save a few euros. If you’ve never tried Airbnb, it’s definitely worth a shot! All the experiences I’ve had so far have been great and you can find real gems out there.

This particular Airbnb in Bologna had an amazing library!

This particular Airbnb in Bologna had an amazing library!

Of course, if you know someone in the area, they might be able to host you for a few nights too – that would be the ideal situation as you would also know a local to suggest things to do!

Travel companions

In my opinion, the ideal group would either be a couple (2 people) or a larger group of 4. Of course, the amount of people travelling will not only influence your options for travel and accommodation, but will also make it harder or easier to decide what you will be doing each day. I wouldn’t try to put together a group with more than five members because, unless you are in the same mind-set and financial situation, it will probably be hard to get organized and make decisions on what to do, where to eat… My travel buddy in Italy is Megan, a course mate from Bath who is also doing her exchange here. You will probably end up travelling with somebody foreign, because not a lot of Italians seem to have the time or interest in travelling as much as you plan to over your Year Abroad, which is understandable. We make a good team because we both have similar interests and expectations about travelling in Italy. Also, she is the foodie who does the research on local food to try and where to go, whilst I do the cultural research on sightseeing itineraries and museums – great combo!

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To sum it up, think about whom you want to travel with and the pros and cons of your group size. Of course, solo travelling is also an option and, by all means, I would encourage everybody to travel on their own at least once in their life, but use your common sense and be safe about it.

Extra tips

A couple of extra trips I have about travelling around Italy:

·         Write a bucket-list. Usually it will not be a very realistic bucket list (at least mine isn’t), as you will probably jot down way too many places for the amount of time you really have. However, it will give you an idea of where you want to go, if you can join different destinations that are close together (for instance, I went to Bologna for a weekend and spent one of the days in Parma) and ticking off places is always satisfying!

·         State Museums or Musei Statali are generally free-of-charge on the first Sunday of each month, so make the most of it. For instance, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is free, but the queue is massive so set aside some time!

·         Always ask for student discounts – use your Italian badge or student ID to get discounts at most museums. I’ve found that, in general, there are fewer discounts than in the UK, but it’s always worth a shot!

·         Do your research – look online before your trip and make a list of places you want to visit or recommendations for places to eat. There are so many blogs online written by locals that can give you a great insight into the place you’ll be visiting. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to ask your hosts or if you know anybody from the area (which is likely, since at University you will encounter so many studenti fuorisede) on their personal suggestions! It’s the students who know where to get the best apericena in town!

·         Make a rough plan of what you will be doing each day, particularly if you are only going away for the weekend. This way you will use your time efficiently and make the most of your stay.

·         Finally, and in contrast with the previous point, don’t be afraid to improvise! The best stories usually begin with a change of plans!

Look out for local food - the panpepato in Pisa is so yummy!

Look out for local food - the panpepato in Pisa is so yummy!

Hope you’ve found this post useful. Travelling is one of the best opportunities the Year Abroad offers you, so try to make the most of it! Happy exploring!

Alla prossima!

Zoe

 

 

Year Abroad VI – culture shock and different ways of life

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies, Uncategorized

Siena, Italy                                                                  April, 2017

Salve! I’m back with a new post, this time about culture shock, which is a term many of you who have lived abroad or are soon going to have definitely encountered. Here’s a little break-down of what culture shock is, how to recognize it and deal with it, and how I have personally experienced it.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (1), culture shock is “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation”. Basically, when you move abroad it takes some time to feel comfortable in the new country, and this period of adaptation is when you generally feel the culture shock. Everybody experiences it different as it depends on where you are from, where you are going, previous experience of living abroad, preparation before moving… Some people don’t really go through culture shock, or suffer it later on (it can hit at any point, even well into your time abroad), some are very vulnerable to it – everybody is different.

cultural_shock

 

General consensus is that culture shock has three to five different phases:

·         Honeymoon Phase: you’ve just arrived in the new place and everything is different and exciting, new food, new people, new places – you’re loving life!

·         Post-Honeymoon Phase: you start to notice the little (and not-so-little) differences between your culture and the new one, and you’re not too keen on them. Maybe you dislike how people act in a certain situation or you are missing your mum’s food, so you start feeling upset and unhappy.

·         Negotiation Phase: probably the most important as it is the turning point, you decide to give into the negativity and unhappiness or to adapt and make the most of the experience. Hopefully the latter.

·         ‘Everything will be fine’ Phase: you finally feel more comfortable in the new culture, enjoying the differences. It doesn’t mean you have to adopt all of the different traits, but you can recognize them and act accordingly. You no longer feel unhappy or upset and you might even decide to immerse yourself completely in the new way of life and actually end up loving it.

·         Reverse Culture Shock Phase: you can actually go through the whole process of culture shock again once you return home, particularly after a long period of time. Just pointing that out, because it’s a possibility even though it might sound crazy!

Culture Shock final. jpg

 

How to deal with culture shock

The best way of dealing with culture shock is to educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about the new country in preparation for it – before you go and after arriving. This can range from knowing how the political system works or how to go to the GP, to smaller things like knowing if you can drink tap water.

Other things you can do are to be open-minded and eager to learn; I’ve found that most locals are happy to explain how and why things are done a certain way in their country, so don’t be afraid to ask questions (speaking the local language helps a tonne – and this is relevant even if you have all your courses in English or aren’t necessarily a language student!). Also, try to be as involved in the community as possible, don’t lock yourself in your room because this will encourage homesickness and limit your opportunities of meeting new people and making friends who will help you settle in. Finally, it’s ok to bring things that remind you of home and will comfort you when you are feeling down, as well as keeping in contact with your family and friends back home – the point is getting over culture shock, not completely separating from your previous life-style!

My experience

Here’s a little background knowledge about me. I’m Spanish, I grew up and spent all of my childhood and teenage years in the Canary Islands (save for one year back when I was 7, when I lived in Portsmouth with my family). So the most distinguishable experience of culture shock that I can fully remember was moving to Bath in 2014 to start my degree in Modern Languages. Yes, I’d lived in the UK before (even though I couldn’t remember a lot of it), so I already had a fairly precise idea of what living in the UK is like: the weather, the way people act, the different food, the different language,… but I still had to deal with culture shock. As much a fan of English life-style as I may be. It was indeed a drastic change: first time I was living on my own, in a new country, with a new language, where I didn’t really know anybody. Culture shock hit me a little after Freshers’, when I was still settling into the routine and figuring out the new place. I remember one of the most clear examples of culture shock for me was the way young British people approach drinking – I was definitely not prepared for drinking games or binge drinking. The drinking culture I had experienced in Spain was different and it took me a while to understand (still trying, actually), this cultural difference. I had a positive attitude and was adamant on making the most of the opportunity of studying abroad, even though dealing with culture shock and homesickness was pretty hard at times, but following the advice mentioned earlier helped me cope. Eventually I ended up feeling at ease in England and now I love both my homeland in Tenerife and studying in Bath, each for their own unique reasons.

This year, as part of my Year Abroad, I’ve had to live in France and Italy. Sounds like a chore but it really hasn’t been. I’ve had (and am having) a blast. Fortunately for me, the information sessions in Bath in preparation for the YA are quite extensive and I already had experienced moving abroad once before. It was just a matter of doing the same thing with the two new countries. So far it has been alright. I was in Fécamp, France, for four months and fortunately for me I was so busy I had little to no time to dwell on culture shock or homesickness. I think the fact that my colleagues were British and I lived in a small town was also helpful as I felt really welcomed and supported. When it comes to Italy, I’ve noticed Spanish and Italian cultures are pretty similar, so I feel quite at home in Siena. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t noticed cultural differences, by any means. Here is a short list of anecdotes.

·         Greetings - it might sound silly but I’ve experienced quite a lot of awkward situations in all of the countries I’ve lived in because the way you greet someone when you see them varies not only from culture to culture but also from person to person. In Tenerife, men shake their hands or hug if they are close, while women will either shake hands with men or give one kiss on the cheek, leaning into the left. In other parts of Spain you give two kisses, one on each cheek, again starting from the left. In Britain there is less physical contact and the hand shake or wave is usually the norm, whereas the bisou is big in France; you give two, one on each cheek starting from the right. In some regions you only give one or you might even give three! The fact that you lean first to the right confused me so much when I first arrived in France, and still towards the end of my placement I would forget to start on the other side which would result in a weird moment avoiding the mouth and changing to the right side – I’d laugh it off but it was quite embarrassing! Same in Italy, usually when you first meet people you shake hands, and later on you give two kisses on the cheek starting on the right. I still find myself caught off guard sometimes – fortunately I’m quite short so I don’t usually have to make the first move.

·         Smoking – smoking is quite popular amongst young people all over Europe, but I was surprised by the fact that every single young (and not so young) person I met in France smoked. Might have been a coincidence as I know of other people with different experiences, but it surprised me nonetheless. I knew cigarettes were popular, but I didn’t expect people to leave the dinner table and go outside in order to fumer une clope!

·         Aperitivo/aperitif- this is a cultural difference I’ve grown to enjoy. In France it is custom to have a glass of some sort of strong alcohol – calvados, Campari or whatever takes your liking – with friends before you sit down for dinner. It is quite a social thing to do and something I was not aware of until I moved to France. In Italy it is also very popular- it is quite usual to go to a bar that does aperitivo, usually starting at 6 or 7pm, with some friends to have a drink (aperospritz and Negroni seem to be the most popular options), usually with access to a food buffet where they serve dishes like pasta, couscous, focaccia,… Aperitivo is a great invention!

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Aperitivo is great!

·         Finally, I think it’s worth mentioning Italian men from the point of view of a foreign girl living in Italy. Of course, not all Italian men are the same and I don’t want to generalize, but it did take me aback how straight-forward and adamant some Italians can be, particularly when going out, so be aware of that.

There are obviously many more cultural differences between these four countries than the ones mentioned above and I’m yet to discover even more but I hope you have found this post helpful. As a language student I love discovering new cultures, but it is fair to say this is not always positive so raising awareness about culture shock is a very important point for those planning to live abroad and if you’re currently going through it, just know you are not alone!

A presto!

Zoe

 

(1)    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture%20shock

Images: https://www.hastac.org/sites/default/files/upload/images/post/cultural_shock.jpg

https://eap.ucsb.edu/sites/default/files/Culture%20Shock%20final.%20jpg.jpg

My own.

 

Year Abroad V – the Erasmus paperwork and Welcome Week

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Siena, Italy                                                           late March, 2017

Ciao! I’m back with a new post and this time it is all about the Erasmus paperwork. If you are going on your Year Abroad, then you will certainly be familiar with the Erasmus process to get that very much awaited grant. However, you will also know how much of a long process it is. Here is a breakdown.

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Living the Erasmus life #ESN

What is Erasmus?

Erasmus+ is a European Union programme which provides opportunities and supports to EU students who want to study or work abroad in Europe for up to one year (2 or 3 months minimum depending on the activity). The EU allocates a certain amount of money to the programme and, as a participant, you may be eligible to receive an Erasmus grant – quantity of which changes depending on where you are doing your placement, for how long, what sort of activity you will be doing, and internal matters from the University and EU itself (every year the amounts tend to vary, which is why you are asked not to rely on your Erasmus grant as a part of your Year Abroad budgeting!).

Follow this link for more information about the programme: http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/node_en

One of the most important requirements, aside from being a registered student at University, is to complete all the paperwork within the set deadlines.

The Erasmus Paperwork

Probably the most tedious part of your Year Abroad. During the information sessions held by the University pre-Year Abroad we were clearly explained all about the Erasmus grant and paperwork. I must say, the Erasmus team at Bath are super-efficient and helpful with any doubts you might have – do approach them if something is not clear!

On Moodle you will find the basic spread of all the documents you have to go through in order to receive the grants (and probably sign up to modules in your receiving University since the Learning Agreement is pretty much your exchange contract!).

The University of Bath starts with the paperwork quite early on, which is great because then it doesn’t pile up or you are faced with having to deal with it once you are actually away from British soil. My biggest advice is to make a clear list of what documents you have to sign and hand-in but, above all, when they are due. Missing a deadline is the worst thing that can happen. It might sometimes not be the end of the world, but you definitely have to pay attention because missing a deadline can mean not getting the much needed grant…

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The Erasmus paperwork - you can find the chart on Moodle

Erasmus paperwork is different for both Traineeships and Erasmus+ Study. Again, you will find all the information and files on Moodle (your Holy Grail!), but roughly:

1.       Apply for either for a job or a study exchange.

2.       Complete an Online Language Assessment (OLS) – both before going on the exchange and after returning. The assessment is to check your language progress and is made to collect data for the EU. It’s a good way to track how much you’ve improved, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it!

3.       LEARNING AGREEMENT / TRAINEESHIP AGREEMENT – probably the most important documents because they are your ‘contracts’ with your receiving University where you will be doing your study placement or the agreement with your supervisor/company where you will be doing a placement. Keep this thing safe – I have a million copies of the document, all different versions and at different stages of completeness.

4.       Travel Insurance – I’d advice getting the one offered by Bath. It’s fairly cheap and comprehensive.

5.       Certificate of Arrival / Certificate of Departure – document certifying that you made it to sunny Italy or wherever your placement is, and the same after leaving. It seems like quite a trivial document but it’s very important in order to both receive your grant and the correct amount. It’s due two weeks after you arrive/leave, so don’t forget! It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement/post-Erasmus blues!

6.       Changes form – during your mobility you might need to change modules, make changes to the agreement or extend or reduce your mobility dates; this is the form to do that. Don’t change the original Agreement!

7.       Finally, the online report /transcript from Host University/After Mobility section – after your placement you have to fill in a report about it. It is a fairly tedious document, but necessary. You will need the collaboration of your supervisor or Host University, so I’d advice leaving this either done and dusted or ready to be before you leave.

When it comes to receiving the grant itself, Bath have split the payment in two instalments, as an incentive for you to finish the paperwork. Believe me, you definitely need the incentive.

My experience

FRANCE

If you’ve read the rest of my posts, you will know I worked at a local language school in Normandy called The English Centre des Hautes-Falaises. Fortunately for me, I had access to a printer so I could print and scan the paperwork, and my supervisor was very efficient when it came to signing the paperwork and getting it sorted. I was lucky in my case, because I know of other students who have had to actually pester their supervisors to fill in the papers, particularly after the placement, so make sure you get it done asap!

ITALY

Now, studying in Italy is a whole different story. In Siena’s case, the Welcome Office deals with the arrival and departure certificates along with the transcript of records. The Ufficio Didattica deals with the actual Learning Agreement and any changes you might make, as well as signing you up to the modules you choose. And then there’s the Erasmus Coordinator. To be fair, after the induction it is fairly clear what steps you have to follow, however the nightmare arrives when your Coordinator is not where he or she should be according to their Office Hours… I had my LA signed back in February to avoid having to deal with it later on, as the deadline to hand it in at the office in Siena was the last day of March. I decided to wait until I made sure my modules didn’t clash before going to the office and, just as I did it, I was told I had to get the changes form signed. Yes, I was forced to change modules because we had to choose the options in Bath back in April when the 2016/2017 timetables were not yet available. Yes, I had to chase down the Coordinator. I went to his office a couple times as well as sent him emails. It felt like such a waste of time but, to be honest, it only made me appreciate the efficiency at Bath even more!

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GENERAL ADVICE

·         Keep on top of it! Make sure you keep track of the documents you have to hand in, when they are due and have copies of them!

·         You need to hand-sign the Erasmus paperwork, which just makes it so much more complicated… This means you have to be able to print the forms, sign them, scan them, and send them back to the respective institution. Having a printer is ideal. I personally did not have one in either of my placements which made it slightly harder. I had access to the company printer during my placement in France, which was great. However, in Italy students generally don’t have/use printers. In this case, the copisterie or print shops will be your best friends. Bring a pendrive and shop around; expect to be spending a couple euros to get the whole paperwork process finished… Also, you can have scanning apps on your phone which turn photos into pdf documents and will save you money (life hack right there).

·         Make sure you know who has to sign what. Find out your Erasmus Coordinator’s Office Hours and contact details as soon as possible – you might have trouble finding the physical person like I did!

Studying in Italy: the ESN and Welcome Week

THE ESN

ESN Italia or Erasmus Student Network is an association of Italian university students who offer their help to foreign students and help them integrate into their Erasmus University. They are like the Erasmus club at a national, regional and local level and are in charge of organising different events – from formal inductions, guided tours and trips to fun events throughout the semester. As far as I’m aware, all of the Italian Universities that Bath has exchanges with have an ESN group.

The ESN group in Siena is amazing. All the volunteers are really friendly and helpful, which is great when you’ve just arrived. They also make sure to offer a variety of different events to take part in, great for meeting other Erasmus people and also some Italians! Definitely look for the ESN group when you arrive at your Italian university!

If you want to find out more, follow this link: http://www.esnitalia.org/it

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WELCOME WEEK

Welcome Week for the second semester in Siena took place during the last days of February/first few days of March. During that week you had to be here so make sure you check your dates when booking your flights!

During Welcome Week we had the formal induction to the Università degli Studi di Siena in which we were given general information about the city and University, such as where the buildings are, the sports facilities, the banking system,… Each faculty also had their own specific induction (mine is Scienze Sociale, Politiche e Cognitive, even though I don’t actually follow any modules within that department) – make sure you find out when yours is because it will be when they give you all the information you need about Erasmus paperwork, choosing modules and actually visiting the building where your lessons will take place.

Alongside the ‘official’ events, the ESN committee organized a tonne of different fun events so that Erasmus students could meet each other. On Monday there was Happy Hour which was great, then there were also a few club nights as well as beer competition, wine tasting, and guided tours of the city and even an outing to Chianti. There was an event for everybody. It was a little bit like Freshers’ Week but Italian style – everything a tad more disorganized and late! I really enjoyed it, so make sure you attend the events! The last night – la Festa al Rettorato – was a proper Erasmus student experience to start the exchange with a bang!

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I hope you found this post useful. Even though the Erasmus paperwork is quite tedious, the numerous opportunities and perks Erasmus+ gives you outnumber the drawbacks. As I said, make sure you keep track of dates but, above all, HAVE A GREAT YEAR ABROAD!

Alla prossima!

Zoe

 

 

Year Abroad IV – moving to Siena, Italy

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Siena, Italy                                                    March, 2017

Buongiorno a tutti! Long time, no see. I have now started the second part of my Year Abroad – my study exchange in Siena, Italy.

Why Siena?

I decided I wanted to do a study exchange rather than a work placement in Italy because I wanted to try out both options. I felt quite confident with my Italian before coming to Italy but I thought spending the spring and summer months as a student in this beautiful country would be the dream – good weather, amazing food and a lot of young people.

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The University of Bath has study partnerships with five different Italian universities: Naples, Rome, Trento, Parma and Siena. When applying for a place, we had to shortlist the destinations to three, so I took it to the Internet and final years’ experience (pro tip – you should totally ask year abroad returners about their experiences, they will be happy to help you out retelling their [hopefully] amazing time abroad from a student’s point of view!) to narrow the list down to three. First of all, I was looking at the size of the destination. I did not want to go to Rome because, as a capital city, I deemed it too large and probably quite expensive for only six months. Remember, I come from a tiny island, Tenerife, and Bath isn’t what you’d describe as a big city either… Naples was a similar case. It seems to be renowned for not being the safest city in Italy which threw me off. In contrast, the location and fact that it is the only coastal place in the list was very appealing, but the cons outnumbered the pros. Then I looked at connections. Trento was soon discarded because I could not even find how to easily arrive there. I’ve been told it’s beautiful and picturesque, but I’m planning on travelling around the country so having good travel connections was very important. And then I was left with two options: Siena or Parma. Both cities quite student-y and of similar size; connections seemed to be equal too, so my choice came down to the region they were in. Eventually I went for Siena because of its history: a very ‘Italian’ looking city with lots of narrow alleys and a wall surrounding the historic centre.

Siena is a medieval town, Florence’s life-long enemy and UNESCO Wold Heritage Site just like Bath (cannot stay away from beautiful cities apparently), in the Italian region of Tuscany. It’s mostly famous for Il Palio, a horse race between the contradas or neighbourhoods of the Old City, held twice a year in the Piazza del Campo. There are two different Universities and it is a very touristy city with masses of tourists arriving each day (even now in the winter), which reminds me greatly of Bath. Inside the city walls, all the buildings have that typical Tuscan look: tall windows and red bricks, along with the laundry hanging to dry under the window sills. I must say I have fallen in love with this (extremely hilly) place and I’m quite happy with my choice.

I'm in love with the style of the houses!

I'm in love with the style of the houses!

My arrival & finding accommodation

I moved to Italy late January, since I was yet to find somewhere to live and had signed up for an intensive Italian course in February to pick up my Italian again, and will stay here until July. The trip to get to Siena was long but went fine. I was quite worried I’d lose my suitcase during the short layover at the airport in Madrid, but I was lucky and my luggage got here just fine. It was a long journey - two flights and a couple of buses and taxi ride-, but I feel like I’ve mastered travelling by now. I had to fly from Tenerife to Madrid and from there to Florence. To arrive in Siena from Florence there are two options: a bus or a train journey with change in Empoli, so I went for the easier bus option – make sure you get the one along the autostrada or highway, shorter and less curvy!

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I’d booked an Airbnb near the Duomo for the first two weeks while I looked for a flat; perfect location a minute from the Piazza and very comfortable since I had the apartment basically all to myself! I would recommend doing this when moving to a new place: find an Airbnb or hotel for a week at least while you look for long-term accommodation once you’ve arrived. Things look so much different in person and this way you’ll avoid scams (I was sadly victim of one before arriving, so please don’t make the same mistake and make sure you look at the place in person before paying anything). I must say, it was hard to find a flat. Since I’d arrived so early the first semester Erasmus students were still around with exams, so their places were not available yet. In addition, a lot of landlords do not seem to like Erasmus students because of the short-term contracts, which limited the options. It has been even worse for male students, as most adds I saw were for female student and camera doppia which means a room-share. I was looking for a central apartment where I could have a single room and I had been doing research from home, sending tonnes of messages to book viewings with little luck. I used webs like uniaffiti, easystanza and housinganywhere. Eventually I managed to get a viewing that was really promising and that ended up being my actual flat. I live in the centre, in the Contrada del Drago, and I couldn’t be happier! Siena is quite small so you can walk everywhere. I’d recommend looking for a place within the walls, because everything happens inside the historical centre, but if you end up outside it’s not much of a big deal either. Also, make sure you actively look for a place; not only messaging online but talking to everybody you meet in the street as I know of people who got lucky because they met someone who knew of an available room. And, above all, don’t give up!

Taking an intensive language course

Concerning the language course I took, I have mixed feelings. Before arriving here we were offered a mostly subsidised Italian language course (75euro) by the Universtà degli Studi: either intensive in February or ordinary between March and April. I went for the February one since I had the time and it would allow me to sort out accommodation before the start of the semester in March.

If you’re going on a study exchange, I’d recommend doing a language course if available just to make sure you’ll be able to follow the lectures. While I was in France I barely got to speak any Italian so my skills had become rusty from being out of use since June. I do think doing the course has eased me back into speaking Italian confidently and has definitely tuned my ear.

However, I found the quality of the course at the Università degli Stranieri (the course is in the other University; my exchange is with the Università degli Studi), to be quite disappointing. We had to do a language level placement test at the start, after which I was placed in C1 level. I was accurately placed since the OLS test results also classed me as C1. However, I don’t know if it was because of the higher level or the timing, the group I was assigned was a mix of international students out of which I was the only Erasmus, contrary to first semester students’ experience. Also, I believe we (the other Bath students and I) were put into ordinary lessons not the intensive course we’d signed up to. Anyhow, we had four and a half hours of Italian lessons a day for three weeks. In my class we did a lot of reading and debating, but not much grammar. I found some of the topics interesting, such as language and dialects in Italy or the economy. However, I do not feel like it was worth the money or the time overall. A week would’ve been enough for me. Everybody was really nice and I met quite a few people in the course, which was great, but if I were to condense the new things I learnt over the course, they’d come up to an hour and a half, maybe two hours-worth of lessons… I did the end test a couple of days ago and all it involved was writing a ‘for and against’ essay (250 words minimum) about social networks and we were given two hours and a half and a dictionary. Talk about challenging… Either this was really easy, or Bath is really demanding.

Overall, it will depend on who offers the language course. Here in Siena it could definitely improve. For lower levels like A2 or B1 I imagine it will be a lot more useful since you’ll be taught actual grammar along cultural topics. For higher levels like me, the experience might vary. I do nonetheless recommend searching for a short course before starting, particularly if you haven’t been able to practice the language during your other half of Year Abroad.

Day trip to Florence.

Day trip to Florence.

Despite the unsatisfactory experience of the course, I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent in Siena thus far. The place is smaller than I anticipated, but now that the lectures have started life has got busier.  I’ve been using my time to run errands and sort out most of the paperwork, as well as exploring the city and surrounding area. I feel like I’ve got a grasp on the situation by now thanks to that extra time. Since I had to change modules and send Erasmus paperwork, I’m glad I arrived earlier and have had plenty of time to sort it out before getting caught up in lectures and module work. I must say the Italian system is nothing like the English one. We’ve had to chase down quite a few people to get the papers signed – it has been quite an adventure – and I expect this is the usual process in this country. My piece of advice? Be patient but persistent, and don’t stress out.

I will be writing another blog entry on the Erasmus paperwork and Welcome Week in Siena because the whole process definitely deserves one on its own, so keep your eyes peeled!

Ci vediamo presto!

Zoe

Day trip to San Gimignano.

Day trip to San Gimignano.

 

Year Abroad III – things I’ve learnt whilst on placement abroad

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.                                            December, 2016.

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The Herring Festival in Fécamp.

Bonjour! Last week I returned home after my 3-month-and-a-half placement in Fécamp, Normandy, teaching English. I had a blast while I was there and was really sad to leave. However, after reflecting on my experiences of living abroad in France and Britain, I have found various similarities between the experiences. There is a certain pattern that repeats itself each time you spend a period of time away and I thought it would be a good idea to share with you what I’ve learnt. Maybe you will find it helpful.

The most important thing is, first and foremost, make the most of your time in this new place. Sounds like a given, but believe me, time flies. Whether you are doing a placement for professional experience, to improve your language skills or whatever the reason, you are there for a limited amount of time and it is easy to get stuck in the routine and forget to wring out every little opportunity your placement has to offer. It would be a shame to arrive at the end of your placement realizing you could’ve done much more… And because time goes by incredibly fast, you must make a conscious effort.

Visit the area you are in. It might seem like a stupid thing to think about but when you are working all the time the last thing you might feel like doing is going out and exploring. It used to happen to me in Bath. It wasn’t until my second year when I lived in town that I took the time to explore the culture that the city had to offer. I wasn’t going to let the same thing happen this time. Despite being quite tired after the work day and really just wanting to stay in bed and catch up on sleep during my free days, I pushed myself to explore every little thing Fécamp had to offer. I wrote down a bucket list and it felt great to tick things off: visit the Bénédictine Palace, climb up to Notre-Dame du Salut like the fishermen used to, try the food from the area… I used the holidays to travel throughout the region with my dad. We rented a car and visited many cities which I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. It was tiring and intense, but it felt great to visit so many different locations and actually get to know the area! As a language student, learning about the culture and customs of the place is one of the most important aspects of the Year Abroad and sometimes you have to go that extra step to expose yourself to them!

Here I am, squint-eyed in front of Mont-St-Michel!

Here I am, squint-eyed in front of Mont-St-Michel!

Mingle. This sort of goes without saying but it is extremely important to put yourself out there. You arrive in a new place on your own and it is easy to embrace the fact that you don’t know anybody and let the homesickness trickle in. All you really have to do is go out on the street and talk. Talk to the other customers in the supermarket, talk to the baker, talk to the people waiting at the bus stop, talk to the other person at the bar. Just try. Particularly if you are an introvert like me, it might be hard at the start but I cannot stress enough how important it is to talk to people. You will practice the language and make friends – you have so much more to offer than you think! I also noticed, particularly while in Fécamp since it is a small town, that people knew who I was even though it wasn’t the other way round. Well, the solution to this is to get to know the others, and mingling is the way!

Hop onto every new opportunity. Be safe, of course, but if people propose plans, it is a great idea to tag along and you never know what might come out of it! I really followed this piece of advice while in France and I had great experiences. I was invited over for lunch by a French family which let me catch a glimpse of the French life-style. I was invited to tea by another family and then we decided to meet the following day for a day trip around the nearby towns. After an event I was invited to go to a farewell party and hesitantly agreed – it was one of the best decisions I made because I met a lot of younger people with whom I became friends! You really never know what opportunities have in store for you, so it is better to give things a try and see how it turns out than regret not even attempting it! And this ties in with the next advice, get out of your comfort zone.  It reminds me of a recent viral video in which Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski uses lobsters as a metaphor and states that “the stimulus for the lobster to be able to grow is that it feels uncomfortable” (1). You have to challenge yourself and put yourself into uncomfortable situations in order to grow and learn, and the Year Abroad in particular is all about personal development. Get out and experience new things. Not just a different culture but also different foods, places and activities you had never thought you’d ever do. I ate shark while in France. True, I didn’t know it was shark when I ordered it. But it was really tasty, even after I learnt what it was. I took part in a film festival and had to make a short film in 48 hours. We had to form the teams, come up with a story, film the scenes and edit the film. I had never acted before nor did I know anyone else taking part in the challenge, but I signed up nonetheless and it was a fantastic experience and I made new acquaintances and learnt a lot of French. Push yourself.

Les amis.

Les amis.

Another important thing I’ve learnt while living abroad is that you make memories to last you a life-time. Because you are alone in a new place, the friends you make become very close in a short amount of time. I became really close with the other two stagiaires in particular because they were both students like me. Because we were in the same situation, we shared the same problems and similar opinions and got along very well. However, I also became close with some of the other French people I met who had extremely different interests and opinions than mine, and I find this diversity enriching. They helped me learn more about France and its traditions and they made me not feel alone, which sounds so cliché but only when you find yourself alone do you realize how important having people who are close to you is. They soon become your family abroad and saying good-bye (for now) is one of the hardest things to do.

It is also hard to say good-bye to the place you’ve spent the last few months in. You finally feel at home and suddenly, you have to leave again. I’ve spoken about this before but every time I land in a new place, I make myself a new life in this new location: new acquaintances, new routines, new home. You get used to the place; the dent in your bedroom wall, the smell of the bread as you walk past the bakery in the morning, the frost on the grass by the Abbey. They all become part of this new life you’ve had for a limited amount of time. And when you leave, a small part of you stays behind and a new part of you has developed. Constant change and development, that is what I believe life is all about.

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L'Abbatiale de Fécamp.

I now have memories and experiences that I will cherish forever and I have had an amazing time working in Fécamp as a teacher of English. It was sad to leave, but I am excited for the new chapter in my Year Abroad. Bring on the next adventure!

Next stop: Siena, Italy.

France, à la prochaine!

Zoe

 

 

Source 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aDXM5H-Fuw

Year Abroad II – working in a local language school

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Fécamp, Normandy, France.                                                                                                                                                       November, 2016.

Je suis revenue! I’m back! This time, as I mentioned in my previous post, I will explain what I am doing in this northern corner of France: my teaching placement in Fécamp.

Where do I work?

I work in a small family-run English school called ‘The English Centre des Hautes-Falaises’ in Fécamp.

Fécamp is a picturesque coastal town situated in the Valmont river valley in the Seine-Maritime department (Haute-Normandie region) only 35km away from Le Havre. The town has around 20.000 inhabitants and there are a couple of schools and high schools, so there are quite a lot of children of various ages coming to the language school, both from Fécamp itself but also from nearby towns and villages.

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The school is located inside an old flour mill that stopped working in 2007. I was amazed when I first arrived! All the objects and machinery from the mill are still well kept in the main building. However, the school is within the property but not inside the mill itself. The English Centre is made out of different classrooms in varying sizes: the office and four different classrooms ranging in size to accommodate individual students through to a considerable amount of toddlers running around.  All the rooms are decorated with English paraphernalia to your heart’s content: flags, Beatles posters, teapots, The Doctor, the Royal Family, red post boxes… there is even a Sherlock Holmes and telephone booth to greet you at the entrance! Apart from these things, the school is well equipped with tons of vocabulary posters, craft supplies, games, books, whiteboards… which are at our disposal for the lessons. Anything we might need for the lessons, we can more than likely find – it’s all about being creative and engaging here!

The views from the top of the Mill are amazing!

The views from the top of the Mill are amazing!

 

 

One of the main characteristics of the school is that a lot of importance is given to learning English in a fun and engaging way, while achieving results. This means that the lessons are very dynamic in order to keep the students interested: different topics for the adult lessons and lots of different games and songs for the children’s lessons. We use some course books sporadically but the main stress is on learning through games. Therefore, the English Centre has a lively atmosphere every single day –and as a stagiaire you have to keep up with the action! The strangest thing I’ve had to do so far would probably be performing ‘Lollipops’ with a wig and fake microphone up on a stage with one of the other stagiaires while a group of 6 year-olds stared at us in astonishment. A fun lesson that was!

What does my role entail?

As one of the placement students of the school, my role is to teach English to French children, teenagers and adults. This means that I assist the main teacher when it comes to larger groups (mainly children), but I also have to plan and implement individual lessons and some group adult lessons.

At the beginning, I found it hard to gauge the level of the students as I had never done any teaching myself, but during the first two weeks we were given a lot of assistance in order to learn our way around and grasp the dynamics of the lessons. During this time, we got to know the students – it took a while to learn everybody’s names, there are so many students! Slightly under a hundred I’d say! – but, soon enough, we learnt how the school works and how to handle the classes.

When it comes to individual or adult lessons, we are given quite a lot of freedom on the topics we can work on in class, so I’ve personally given some lessons on Tenerife, Musical Theatre and Films since they are topics that interest me; it’s a matter of balancing speaking, grammar points and topics which your students might also find interesting (or even better, tailor the lessons to the students’ own interests and needs which is, of course, the ultimate aim). We also have weekly meetings which help monitor the progress of the students, find solutions to any problems that might arise and distribute the work. I have found these, along with discussing the lessons with my colleagues throughout the weeks, a great way to improve my language teaching skills and overcome any problems that might arise!

We also have to do basic office admin like answering the phone or making sure the timetable is up to date. We don’t actually teach in a business-like environment ourselves, but we do assist the main teacher by phoning the workers from a partnering business throughout the week to help practice their English on the phone.

I’ve found my responsibilities as stagiaire quite varied which has been a great learning experience so far – I get to teach students from all ages and all backgrounds, and I have learnt so much since I’ve been here. All the students are lovely and (mostly) well-behaved and it is such a rewarding feeling when you notice a class has finally grasped a point you have been teaching them! All progress, little as it may be, absolutely makes my day!

The team.

Since The English Centre employs language students from different Universities in the UK, the staff changes every couple of months. The manager is a lovely woman who loves her job and makes sure that you are well settled and confident with your work at the centre – she always tells us “if you are happy here, things will run smoothly” and that is what we all want! Despite being a very busy woman, she is always there for you to reach out for if you need any help. Sometimes I haven’t really known what to prepare for certain lessons, for instance, because I haven’t met the student yet or because I am running out of ideas, and she has always offered help. Along with the manager, there are some other English teachers at the Centre who come and go. I got to meet one of them at the start of the placement before she left, and the other is working abroad at the moment. As I’ve said, they are all really nice and helpful and I literally have nothing negative to say! Since it is a family-run business, it is really important that everybody gets along well for things to run smoothly. Everybody has been really welcoming and helpful; if you put in the hard work and energy required, you will have a rewarding experience working here.

Wearing the red fleece uniform.

Wearing the red fleece uniform.

Concerning the British students, while I have been working here there have been two other exchange student stagiaires: a Bulgarian female student from Glasgow University and an English male student from Liverpool University. We all get along really well (especially because we all arrived at the same time so we’ve all learnt along the way together) and, since we all come from different places and have different backgrounds, it is great for the students who get to work with natives with different accents and perspectives of the UK – the variety makes a huge difference and keeps things interesting!

What is an average week like?

At the moment, since there are three stagiaires plus the main teacher, we get quite a lot of free time throughout the week. We work flexible hours which means that each day is different. Wednesdays and Saturdays are our busiest days as most Children lessons take place these days – morning and afternoon. The rest of the week, classes are spread out throughout the morning and the afternoon/evening, to suit the students’ availabilities. For instance, most adult lessons are in the evenings to allow for the clients to fit a lesson after the work day. Most lessons are an hour long with the exceptional hour-an-a-half. We get Sundays and another day of the week off each and, in addition to the free hours in between lessons, it means we only work around 15-20 hours each and have plenty of time to join other activities, work on assignments, plan lessons or any other thing you might want to do.

Aside from the classes, the Centre also organizes different fun events throughout the year. During my placement we’ve had a photo exhibition, a ‘speed-meeting’ event to practice English in 5-10’ conversations, Guy Fawkes night, a ‘Fish and Chips’ night and we have a concert night and a Christmas workshop coming up. As I’ve said, it is a very dynamic business and we do our best to share English traditions and offer opportunities to improve in English while having fun. All of these events have been really enjoyable!

We've organized and taken part in a few different events over the past four months.

We've organized and taken part in a few different events over the past four months.

My personal experience and thoughts.

I wanted a teaching placement because I thought the Year Abroad was the perfect opportunity to test the waters and find out if education was the thing for me. Both my parents are teachers and, as a non-British person, I had English lessons myself through to University. Other than that, I started off as a complete rookie – I had never taught lessons myself and all I knew about teaching came from what I had experienced as a student, what I’d seen at home and the content of the ELT unit offered to second year Modern Language students at Bath (which, by the way, you should totally take – it was interesting even if you aren’t contemplating teaching!). Fortunately, no previous experience was required for the position at The English Centre, but they do require you to work hard and be willing to learn. There is a great supporting system. You work hard and give the best of you, but you also get to share ideas and try new things while being assisted along the way. I have learnt so, so much during the past four months. Putting the ELT theory into practice does require a bit of creativity and on-the-spot problem solving at times – theory is not always the same as reality! However, at no time have I felt on my own and I think that is the main point I want to get across – if you are worried because of lack of experience, there is always a first time for everything!

In addition to gaining teaching experience, the perks of the placement which – I must mention – is unpaid, are a fully furnished house just two minutes away from the school and ten from the town centre with the bills included (gas, electricity, water, TV, Wi-Fi, washing machine…). In addition, we have received so much help from our hosts to get involved with activities and social life in the town and improve our French, it has been amazing! I have taken up some fitness sessions and the other two students have joined the local band and go to dance lessons. We have also been invited to take part in all sorts of events in town, from a charity marathon to a short film festival!

La maison - typical Norman house.

La maison - typical Norman house.

Even though it might not be the best placement to improve French, since you are indeed teaching English and speaking English most of the time at the workplace, the placement at Hautes-Falaises is a great opportunity to give teaching a try and experience for yourself what it is like to live in a French town. Everybody has been really nice and kind; it is just a matter of making that extra effort to speak French outside work.

If you are interested in a teaching placement where no two days are the same and you are surrounded by kind and supporting people, then definitely consider The English Centre! You can find the application details on Moodle and I promise, you will have a great time!

À bientot!

Zoe

 

 

 

 

 

Year Abroad I - moving to France

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Fécamp, Normandy, France.                                                                                                   October, 2016.

Bonjour! My name is Zoe and I’m a Modern Languages and European Studies student at Bath. My language combination is French and Italian and I am currently on my third year, which means that I am doing my compulsory Year Abroad with the aim of perfecting my skills in both languages. I’ve divided my year into two parts. First, I will be doing an English teaching placement in a small English language school in Fécamp, on the north-western coast of France, until Christmas. Then, I will be heading to Siena, in the Italian Tuscany, for an ERASMUS study exchange during the second semester. I hope you will find my blog posts interesting at least, helpful or relatable at most.

So, what is moving abroad like? The prospect of having to move to a new country is something I find quite daunting. It means having to move to a foreign and unknown place, far away from your home and all you know and are comfortable with. You have no idea what to expect or what the place and people will be like. You will probably be on your own having to deal with the ever-so-tedious tasks of finding a place to live in, opening bank accounts and getting new SIM cards… all of which, to top it off, will have to be done in a language that is not yours.

Packing your life in a suitcase and a cabin bag isn't easy...

Packing your life in a suitcase and a cabin bag isn't easy...

At the same time, however, the idea of starting from scratch in a new place is always one that attracts me. You are bound to live adventures and discover new places, meet people of all sorts and have wild experiences. The feeling of adventure is one that, as a language student passionate for foreign cultures, has always appealed to me and keeps me motivated to pull myself out of bed every morning and go explore, wherever I am.

As a Spanish national, I had to do the ‘big move’ when I transferred to England in order to start a degree, so I already had a previous experience to reflect upon. That being said, every country is utterly different (praise the diversity) and so has been my situation, therefore moving to France in early September was still a different experience.

For starters, despite being an un-paid placement, my contract includes the accommodation and bills paid for, which saved me the trouble of having to find a house or a flat. I share a traditional Norman house with one of the other English assistants at work and could not have wished for anything better. Moreover, since I don’t have to pay the bills either, opening a bank account for the time I am spending in France is somewhat pointless. Basically, all the paperwork involving living abroad has been considerately reduced thanks to my placement.

On the topic of homesickness, I must say it was a whole lot worse when I moved away the first time two years ago to study abroad. Missing home is always going to be a thing, since it is part of your comfort zone and you will definitely miss your family, friends and – let’s be honest- the food. However, when the people surrounding you make an effort to make you feel welcome, and every day there is something new to look forward to, you don’t really have the time to feel homesick. I promise you, it gets easier but the best way to deal with homesickness is to keep yourself busy and avoid the temptation of curling up in bed to sob. If you don’t let it overcome you, you’ve won. You can always cook food that reminds you of home and, of course, call your loved ones. Just don’t let yourself get too tangled in the feeling – a little cry sometimes is good, but make sure you then cross the T’s and dot the I’s and put yourself out there!

The beach and port.

The beach and port.

So, where is Fécamp? Fécamp is a picturesque coastal town situated in the Valmont river valley in the Seine-Maritime department (Haute-Normandie region). North of the D-Day beaches and only 35km away from Le Havre, the town has around 20.000 inhabitants and is famous for its fishing tradition, Bénédictine Palace and liquor, rich history and, of course, the Falaises which are the beautiful cliffs in the Alabaster Coast. There is a pebble beach and the town is plagued with Norman style houses and narrow streets, so every time I go out I feel like I’m in a fairy tale town, so different from Bath and my home in the Canary Islands.

The Norman houses give the streets a picturesque look.

The Norman houses give the streets a picturesque look.

Still, it is a small town, which has its pros and cons. I chose to come here because I wanted a placement away from the capital and, since I was going to be here for only slightly over three months, I wanted to be able to make the most of my time and actually get to know the place I would be living in. One of the advantages, therefore, is that, being a small place, you will be able to get to know your way around quicker and actually explore everything available to you. On the other side of the coin, there is only a limited amount of things to do and places to visit, especially for young people. I’ve found it hard to meet people my age because, since it’s a small town, young people go to other cities to go to University or find a job – there is no Erasmus bubble in a place with no University. However, from experience I have also found that people in Normandy are very nice and more willing to help. I have no idea if this is just the people in the area, but from my trips to Paris and train changes in other parts of France, I have clearly noticed a difference in the way I’ve been treated. I have felt very welcomed here and people have been willing to help me with my French and other problems arising. That being said, you might also find that being a foreigner, people might be more wary around you, or that it is hard to integrate into the local community. I have been lucky and my hosts have helped me and the other assistants with finding activities to do and meeting people from the town, but you definitely have to make a conscious effort to put yourself out there and make acquaintances and speak French, just be warned. And, finally, since it’s a small town I feel that Fécamp is very traditional and picturesque in the best of ways. As I’ve said, the landscapes are unique and, as far as I’ve seen, everything is very typical French, with tons of cafés, boulangeries and other food shops, squares… I can say I am definitely living in a typical Norman town. That being said, I also have to mention the public transport, which is nothing like England. In the area, buses do not run on Sundays or late at night, and there are no train lines reaching Fécamp, making travelling around the region to discover nearby towns quite tricky. Fortunately, the people I have met have been incredibly nice offering to give me and the other assistants lifts if we need them. Having a car is the best means of transport here, but you can definitely get around if you don’t have one – most places in town are within walking distance anyway.

The Alabaster coast.

The Alabaster coast.

Overall, I am very pleased with my placement so far and cannot wait to see what else it has in store for me. I will be back in a couple of weeks to tell you a bit more about my placement itself.

À bientôt!

Zoe