Placement blogs

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

Topic: 2016-17

Christmas Party, Free Coffees and Fifty Shades

📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

As there’s so much to update on, I thought I’d go for four mini-posts! So without waiting any longer…

The Christmas Party

Now, the NBCUniversal Christmas party is an event that is hyped up to the point where you’re excited for Christmas from about mid-August. As the date approached, I found myself seriously considering the extent of which I was looking forward to this more than actual Christmas (sorry mum). Each year it happens in a different location, with plenty of music, food and drink. This year’s theme was “Night Circus” and took place in the Waterloo Vaults (a venue that stretches out under Waterloo train station).

All the NBCUniversal TV Research interns (and Matt, who just happened to also be in the lobby)

All the NBCUniversal TV Research interns (and Matt, who just happened to also be in the lobby)

Getting dressed up in the office was taken pretty seriously here in research, topped by one of the interns bringing in a light up mirror. The event itself definitely lived up to expectations, with room after room filled with something new. Highlights included challenging various people to an arcade dance machine, eating nitrogen ice-cream and subjecting my colleagues to my terrible dance moves.

The Digital Research team!

The Digital Research team!

M. Night Shyamalan and Free Coffee

This placement has led to a lot of slightly surreal showbiz moments, but up there has to be when M. Night Shyamalan was the reason for the café on the newly acquired floor of our building becoming completely free. It started with a business update at a theatre near the office, during which James McAvoy and M. Night Shyamalan answered questions about their new film Split (which I definitely recommend, even if I literally had to hide my eyes behind my hands for some of it). However, on the more logistical side of the business update, the prospect of a subsidised café with real-life baristas was raised. To cut a long story short, M. Night congratulated us on the cheap coffee which was enough to persuade the Chairman that we should actually be having this coffee for free. So thanks M. Night, can’t beat drinking an Americano whilst looking over London.

So close, yet so far.

So close, yet so far.

InterMedia

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I am now a member of the committee for the LGBT+ employee resource group OUT London. Part of this has involved reaching out to the cross-media LGBT+ alliance InterMedia UK. Subsequently, I attend monthly steering committee meetings at offices across London (recently this has included Channel Four and ITV). Ultimately, the group’s aim is to make the media industry more LGBT+ friendly and getting to discuss issues with such a plethora of industry professionals has been incredibly insightful. It’s still early days, but there are some cracking events coming up.

Found the Channel 4 logo IRL

Found the Channel 4 logo IRL

50 Shades Darker Premiere

I first read Fifty Shades of Grey when I realised that I could get it for free because I shared a Kindle account with my mum who had already bought it (a mixed blessing). It was therefore incredibly exciting to open my emails one Thursday and see that I had won an internal contest to attend the premiere that evening. Walking to Leicester Square, I could see the lights and hear the crowds as we approached the cinema. As luck would have it, we arrived on the red carpet at the same time as Jamie Dornan and the flash of cameras was unreal. Security moved us down the red carpet quickly, but we still were able to take lots of pictures. Before the film itself, we were treated to a glass of champagne and a quick introduction from E. L. James herself. It’s safe to say I could get used to that lifestyle!

Not pictured: me basically throwing my phone at another intern to get this photo before security moved us on.

Not pictured: me basically throwing my phone at another intern to get this photo before security moved us on.

 

I've officially reached the halfway point of my placement, but I know the next half will likely be just as eventful!

 

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.

 

Submitting Ethics

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📥  2016-17, Psychology

Hello all!

With March having just rolled in, signs of spring are everywhere. We have rain that never seems to end and rows of pretty daffodils covering just about every patch of soil and grass you can see.

bath uni daffodils

But, the beginning of spring marks the beginning of your official preparation for your dissertation. At the Psychology Placement Conference they suggested you should try to have your ethics submitted in March or April. Some people even had their ethics accepted before the Placement Conference! But DON'T WORRY if this isn't you, they were definitely in the minority. You should aim to try and start thinking about your dissertation before your Dissertation Topic Choice Form (late November) is due, having a general idea is really helpful when your department try to pair you up with a useful and relevant supervisor. I got my idea through a five minute brainstorm with colleagues when I was helping them with their research. It then developed by talking with my Placement Supervisor in our weekly supervision settings. Thinking ahead can help ease any anxiety of leaving things last minute - such as when your friends who didn't go on a placement are already talking about collecting data and ask you what you are planning.

Once you have your supervisor, try and book an appointment straight away. Most Dissertation Supervisors are really busy and so will not be able to see you if you drop in for a chat unannounced. Supervisors do have to put aside time on the day of the placements conference to see you, don't let this time go to waste! You have to be on campus anyway so put aside half an hour, it is a great way for you to start getting the dissertation ball rolling and to ask any questions you may have from the dissertation talks at the placement conference.

If you can, try to go into that meeting with a more concrete idea of what you would like to do and an idea of what literature exists in your research area. I found my meeting to be the perfect time to run through what I had planned and talk about some questions I had about the ethics form. We came up with some ideas for improvement, such as performing a power analysis to find out how many participants you need (this sounds scary but with help from MASH it was easy -they can even do online Skype support for placement students) and the possibility of doing a mixed methods study. You can find out more about maths and stats help at uni here: http://www.bath.ac.uk/study/mash/

mash-talks-logo

If you have a Dissertation Supervisor who isn't known for communicating well with students it might be a good idea to send them an outline of your ideas and how you want to test it before you meet, this way they are more likely to help you out as they will have already had a look at your idea and thought about what can be done to improve it. It also makes you look super organised and avoids any awkward silences where you might say 'ummm I have no idea how to test it, I just thought it was interesting' 'umm I hope it hasn't been done before as that would suck'. If this sounds like too much, go in with a brief list of what you want to talk about and with any questions you might have. This gives you something to work from as opposed to going in blind.

Anyway, I came away from my first dissertation meeting feeling a lot more positive than I thought I would feel because I had made that effort before hand. It is difficult but worth it.

ethics

After finalising details of my study with my placement and dissertation supervisor, I started my ethics application in the second week of Feb. This wasn't too hard as I had already gone through most of the information with my supervisors. The hardest part is writing the short background section on why this is an important area to research - which is where looking at articles before your first dissertation meeting comes in handy. But the most fiddly part is designing your information, consent and debrief forms which take a lot of time and tweaking before they are ready to send off. It took me a good two weeks to get everything in a good enough state to submit. It was a frustrating process as the tiniest of details were changed - such as saying psychological wellbeing instead of just wellbeing.

Some tips for writing the debrief, information and consent sheets -look at other studies, like questionnaires online, what have they done? What have they covered? Should I provide helplines for people if my study is about wellbeing or a similar topic? You can then use those ones as a basic template for what you need to talk about. Different Universities can also provide a really easy checklist and examples of what to include in these -I used Nottingham University and The University of Kent.

The next key part of the Ethics form is getting your dissertation supervisor to sign it. Give them plenty of time to do this, especially if you haven't been keeping in touch with them. It is better that they have the time to read it thoroughly and give you feedback on what to improve then just send it back to you in a rush and you have your application rejected. Try and send it to them two weeks before the ethics deadline. If you change anything whilst you are waiting for a reply, send them the updated version of the application immediately!

My dissertation supervisor didn't give mine back until two days before the deadline, even though I had been talking to him about my ideas for a long time, had been keeping him informed of how my planning etc was going and had sent it two weeks before. So, your department are really not joking when they say you need those two weeks.

When it comes to actually submitting your forms, triple check you have attached all of the questionnaires, information sheets and anything else you may need. Make sure your ethics form is as detailed as possible. Most importantly, make sure you have signed two copies and have had your supervisor sign both too! Give yourself at least two hours (if you are submitting it in person) to find the submission box, check through, print and change things if needed. If you are not doing this in person then aim to send it to the appropriate member of staff the day before after checking it through, this gives the person who is printing off your form plenty of time to receive your email and print the form off. If you send it on the day, you might just end up waiting another month to submit as the staff member might be off sick or too busy to make time for the application- a huge pain if you are eager to start collecting data.

And finally, do not be put off if, after all this work, your ethics form comes back to you asking you to make changes before they can accept it. This is really common, my friend said she doesn't know one person who got theirs accepted straight away. If you make these changes quickly, you might not have to wait for the next ethics deadline either. So, please don't feel disheartened as it is completely normal to be asked to make changes with your first application. Don't forget, this is the first time you have ever filled out an ethics application!

Best of luck!

 

Reality Stars and Living Digital

📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

The big event of the past few months has hands down been getting to work at the National Reality TV Awards with hayu; a red carpet event which awards reality stars and TV shows for their work over the past year. This is, incidentally, how I ended up a few feet away from Bake Off (and general) queen Mary Berry. I was largely in the green room, where hayu interviewed stars directly after they had come off the stage. This was my first time working with “talent”, they seemed overwhelmingly glamourous (although I did get told by a stylist that my dress was very on trend, something tells me I was likely the only person wearing an outfit they got for £10 online).

Red Carpet!

I love making the most of NBCU’s employee perks, including watching free film screenings of  Universal Pictures theatrical releases. My favourite so far has been Nocturnal Animals, as it plays perfectly into my love of bold, colour-corrected landscape shots and Jake Gyllenhaal’s eyes. There’s also the office film club, which frequently streams releases in the company’s screening room– for free. That’s not to say that I didn’t watch a lot of film and TV before, it’s just that new releases can be a bit financially off limit as a student. Now, it quite literally comes with the job! The next film I hope to  see is Loving. Now, I must admit, I may have shed a tear when I recently saw the trailer for the second time. Yes, I knew exactly what was coming and yet two and a half minutes of footage still got me all emotional. I don’t have high hopes for my keeping it together during the actual film.

Capture2

I’ve recently seen my job title change from “New Media Intern” to “Digital Intern” amidst some restructures in the department. This is more reflective of the work that I do, as the number of my web and social media responsibilities have increased; including two new big projects. Firstly, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon has launched in the UK and I have been tasked with tracking and reporting its performance on social media. This involved building a new, semi-automated report from scratch using systems that I frankly hadn’t heard of pre-placement.  Designing it has certainly been a learning curve; displaying data on Excel can be fiddly at the best of times, but it is certainly gratifying to see the time taken to complete the report sharply decreasing each week. Also on the social media front, I have designed the new social media section of the weekly hayu report and am responsible for updating it each week.

 

I can’t believe we’re already in February - time flies when you’re having fun!

 

Return to Placement

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📥  2016-17, Psychology

After a much appreciated Christmas break, I am now back working  as an Assistant Psychologist for the Lifetime Service. For those of you reading this blog for the first time, the Lifetime Service is based in Bath and offers support to children who have a life-limiting or life-threatening condition and their families.

Going home for Christmas was so nice, especially after two months apart from my pets. My cat was so pleased to see me, she ran up to my room and meowed at me as soon as I arrived, as if to say 'Where have you been? How could you come all the way up here without saying hello to me?'. Who says cats are heartless?

What I enjoyed most of all though was having absolutely no work to do over Christmas for the first time in FIVE YEARS! That's right, after years of revising for GCSE's, A-Levels and University Exams or doing coursework, I finally had a chance to experience a stress free Christmas. You have no idea how much you will have missed this! So make the most of your Placement year, it really is a year like no other. It is a wonderful chance to have a bit of a break from the stresses that have consumed your life for the past few years, whilst still doing something worthwhile.

Now I am back at work, after the sleepy first week after new years day, things have picked up once more. I have been allocated my dissertation supervisor, which was great news as it meant I can really start thinking about one of the aims of a Psychology Placement, collecting data for your dissertation. Unfortunately, the supervisor was not the one I hoped for, however I hope they will still be useful for my topic! They have already agreed to meet me for a first meeting about the dissertation. But if things really do not go well, they will be retiring at the end of the year, giving me the opportunity to start anew with someone else.

I am now busy planning for my dissertation and having a brainstorm of ideas. At first, I really wanted to do something with the people that Lifetime works for, however trying to do research with patients is very difficult. There are so many precautions and rules for patient contact, especially in a service involving children who are not well, even in a service not tied to the NHS; this idea was quickly forgotten. In its place came a new area of research using an easier to reach population: Staff. I am now hoping to do my dissertation on staff wellbeing in a paediatric palliative care setting and how this may compare to other Health Care Staff who work with children. Surprisingly, despite there being a legal requirement for organisations to look after their staff and research showing that staff wellbeing directly impacts patient care, no one has really looked into what staff wellbeing is like (Hill, Dempster, Donnelly, & McCorry, 2016). Moreover, very little has been done with paediatric staff, despite many staff saying that working with ill children is harder than working with ill adults; especially when they are not likely to recover (Mukherjee, Beresford, Glaser, & Sloper, 2009). I am so excited for this new research topic, especially as so little has seemed to have been done in this area giving me lots of room to explore. The best moment was when Hill et al. (2016) said we need more research in this area doing this, giving me a great starting point to think of the aims of the research. So do not be put off if your first ideas for dissertation do not work out, you will most likely find something else even better!

Since the new year, I have also had the opportunity to have some patient contact. A Trainee Psychologist and I ran a stall at a diabetes transition event, teaching young people with diabetes about how stress can influence your diabetes and what they could do to help manage their stress. This was a great experience as I got to see the practical side to being a Psychologist, something I have missed by being behind a desk for the past few months. All the feedback from the event was really positive! All of the young people said they had enjoyed the event and would come again. Some people even asked questions, showing they weren't just there for the free food!

Last week, I also got to visit Charlton Farm Hospice, a hospice in the South West that offers end of life and respite (yearly support from diagnosis of a life-limiting condition) care to under 18's who are unlikely to live into adulthood. This was such a awe-inspiring visit, I would encourage everyone to visit a hospice during their life. The work the nurses do is absolutely amazing, and it really is not what you think!

Contrary to popular belief, hospices are not a place where people come to die. They are a place people come to live. The South West Hospices offer holidays to families who have a child with a life limited condition, complete with farm cottages for families to stay in. There are art rooms, swimming pools, gardens, special baths and showers with specially designed equipment so that everyone can use it. For many children, coming to the hospice may be the first time they have ever been able to ride a bike or take a bath or go swimming as everyone else has told them 'You can't do that, it's too dangerous!'. At the hospice, their motto is 'We will make it work'. The hospice truly felt like a happy place to go for a great time, where you could meet people similar to you and try new things. Each of the rooms were decorated with a different theme, that was specific to the visiting child - for example if a child likes Star Wars, their room will be filled with Star Wars games and bed covers. The staff do everything they can to make the family's visit a happy and fun one. End of life care is such a small part of what they do. it is time everyone finally learnt the truth about hospices.

During my time at Charlton Farm, the only time I felt sad to be there was when entering the beautiful 'Starborn room'. Where the child is placed after they have passed away. This room was filled with sadness but also beauty, as the staff explained all that they did to support the family and how death was not treated as a taboo here, but that parents and children were allowed and encouraged to think about what they would like to do when that time came. They were encouraged to remember their child, hosting special 'remembrance events' for families who had experienced a loss through a long-term illness. I left the hospice feeling happy and so appreciative towards the staff who had looked after the families for so long.

So please, break the taboo of death, learn more about what a hospice is and support the amazing work that these professionals do. They provide opportunities to children who, without them, may never have experienced life to the full. Placement is a time to embrace new experiences and learn more about Psychology.

You can learn more about South West hospices here: http://www.chsw.org.uk/

 

 

 

 

Year Abroad: 5 Unusual Ways to Practice your Language

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📥  2015-16, 2016-17, International Management & Modern Languages, Politics, Languages & International Studies

carlo-felice

 

As a languages student, the highest priority for your Year Abroad is to improve your language skills – this goes without saying. But ask any student who is currently away, or has completed their placement, and they will tell you it’s not always that easy. Your Year Abroad will not comprise of steady and neat improvements in your abilities, but rather little leaps and starts of understanding, which will be oh-so rewarding, but utterly frustrating.

You will, of course, have the immediate spike in knowledge when you initially move abroad; living and working in a foreign language all day will leave you exhausted but amazed at your own ability to pluck words from nowhere: you’re a natural, you’re fluent! Unfortunately, this will often wear off after the first few months, once you have mastered the complexities of the supermarket and your nearest café. You may even be dismayed to find that after just a week or two at home for Christmas you’ve forgotten some of the fancy idiomatic phrases which you were using with such confidence in November. Speaking from personal experience, your language acquisition – and with it your confidence – can go a little bit like this:

languageac

But do not fear! Here are 5 unusual ways to practice your languages, if you ever find yourself struggling to work enough Dutch into your day or Español into your evenings!

  1. BlaBla Car (or similar company). I would encourage any Year Abroad student to travel and explore as much as physically possible and a great cheap way of doing so is by using a company like BlaBla Car. BlaBla Car matches people who are taking a certain journey in a car with those who need to travel but have no car – an efficient way to save money on tickets and on petrol! Using BlaBla Car in a foreign language will guarantee you with quality language practice on any number of topics, from the reason for your trip to the political state of the country – trust me! It has the handy benefit of putting you next to the driver rather than opposite, which can take the pressure off! Bear in mind that while BlaBla Car is more commonplace in Europe, you should still be aware of the risks of getting into someone else’s car – make sure you use the code provided to find the right driver, tell someone where you are going, and keep friends as updated as possible.
  2. Theatre. The theatre might not be your cup of tea at home, but it is an excellent way to catch up on the nuances and stresses of your new language. If you can keep up with Shakespeare in Italian, you’re ready for anything! There is also something distinctly fascinating about telling your friends from home that you are off to the theatre for the evening! Grab a friend – native or otherwise – and get two front row seats! You won’t regret it.
  3. Trains. Similar to BlaBla Car but more spontaneous, you will be amazed at the number of strange conversations that can spring up on a train journey. I, for example, had the delightful experience of sharing an overnight carriage with an Italian family, their dog, and a drunk man. The inebriated Italian spent most of the night telling me what a “bella donna” I was, whilst the family quizzed me on everything from why I was travelling alone, to how the police force works in England (I was not too helpful). When travelling by train, either alone or with friends, make sure you keep an eye on all your belongings, to avoid being the victim of an opportunistic crime. To be on the safe side, check out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s advice on what to do if you’re the victim of a crime abroad before you travel.
  4. Gym. This may come as a surprise, as my experiences of English gyms have never involved making a best friend. However, joining a gym on your Year Abroad is the perfect way to keep busy and meet the locals. For a start, many people have routines, and you are likely to see the same faces each time you arrive. Secondly, gym lessons such as yoga, Zumba and boxing are all great ways to interact with new people and potentially bond over your lack of coordination.
  5. Café local. This is something you should do anyway, but it’s also great for improving your chit-chat. Find yourself a nice sunny café, with the widest selection of cakes and coffees possible, and make yourself at home! I would recommend bringing a book or some work to do, but don’t be afraid to dive in and get chatting to your friendly barista. You might feel awkward at first, but nothing will beat the feeling a few weeks down the line of being warmly greeted as a regular and handed your ‘usual’ drink of choice. Do be careful when you’re out and about on your own, especially if you’re a woman travelling alone – again the FCO has some great advice you should look over.

Whatever you decide to do, you won’t regret taking a chance and trying something new! Do plenty of research on your destination here before you go, not only to find the best sightseeing tips, but also to make sure you’re familiar enough with the customs and culture so that you don’t offend anyone – not a good way to make friends! Make sure you keep safe and sensible, and follow @FCOTravel on Twitter for all your latest updates.

 

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

An introduction to me and my Placement...

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📥  2016-17, Education

Hello all!

I understand I am late to the party with starting my blog but wanted to get a really good understanding of my placement before doing so. I am working as a research assistant in the Department of Education at the University of Oxford. I am between two teams, in two offices, on the site. I want to make research sound more appealing than it usually does as I am having such a good time here!

I started work here at the beginning of October, arriving alongside two other interns also from Bath. This was nice as I wasn't the only newbie in the department! Since then myself and the other two interns have become good friends, spending lunch breaks together most days. Oxford is a very social city with a lot happening, so there is also lots to do in the evenings and at weekends. Our work membership card allows us entry to all the colleges in Oxford which are lovely to look around. Since being here we have been to try out a couple of local bars, as well as having some fun meals out with the rest of our work team.

In terms of work, I have dabbled in SPSS which I never thought I would even begin to understand before but now can do multiple (very, very basic) functions in with the help of the support here. I have also written a literature review which will be published in a book next year and been invited to partake in some field work which starts in January. The work is really diverse and covers many areas, ranging from; early education techniques to parenting apps, child development  to school design and also publicising papers. I run the department Twitter page which gives me a basic understanding of marketing, as well as being able to engage with 'hot off the press' studies. With my ideal career focusing around Educational Psychology and teaching, all the studies which our department are involved with are interesting to me.

There is also a huge amount of support for my Dissertation, with multiple Bath students interning here over the past few years there is a bank of their dissertation's which we are welcome to read, as well as the online Oxford library service we have access too. The staff here are also keen to help, and many have relevant and specific areas of specific interest which you can tap into in conversations. We have weekly seminars with the Professor of Educational Psychology here where we either look at past dissertations or papers which are relevant to our own areas of interest. This allows us to read the papers with the help of the Professor, which makes you see them in a different way. I have found these sessions to be near vital in steering my interests towards a specific theme for my final study. I feel I would have taken much longer to conclude what I wanted to research if just choosing alone.

The main thing I appreciate about the placement is the level of respect I feel from the other members of the team. We are not treated as 'interns' but instead given the same roles and responsibilities as staff who have worked here long-term. This is rewarding as much of the work you do is in relation to real life on-going projects, so the repercussions of your work can be seen in current policy and literature.

I will follow this post with others on I am working on, starting your dissertation while on placement and what it is like living in Oxford.

Seen you soon!

Emma

 

6th Prague Agenda Conference - and a sobering moment inside a Soviet military base

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

This week I had the opportunity to attend for the second year in a roll the Prague Agenda Conference. Since President Obama’s 2009 announcement of his long-term nuclear disarmament vision in Prague - in his iconic Prague Speech -  and the following signing of the 2010 US-Russia START Treaty, Prague has established itself as a venue for discussion and taking stock of issues related to nuclear arms control, nuclear security, disarmament and non-proliferation. Also, with the recent presidential election in the U.S., an expert workshop was organised on "The Future of the Prague Agenda under a new US Administration". It was in such a context that I attended both an academic and political conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Czech Republic.

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The Czech MFA, headquartered at the Czernin Palace

The event counted with top level academics and officials, including the former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane. I guess it is needless to say that I really enjoyed being in such an environment, and also being able to informally chat with prominent academics in the field I want to write my dissertation on.

Yet, I have to admit that the most remarkable moment of this conference was the field trip to a former Soviet military base "Javor 51" in the region of Brdy, south of Prague. Javor 51 is one of the three military bases in Czech Republic where Soviet nuclear weapons were reportedly stored during the Cold War - and the only one that was preserved. It is also the sole facility of its kind in the world that is open to the public.  Recently, the former top-secret area was made into a museum, which features a unique exhibition of historic artifacts and information panels about nuclear weapons and energy.

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Inside the underground facility for 90 unforgettable minutes

Personally relating to nuclear weapons is not an easy exercise for someone who was born after the end of the Cold War. Even though we have North Korea occasionally performing nuclear tests, or Iran wanting to get hold of the bomb but being held back by the international community, nukes are just not in the mainstream media or in the daily conversation of an average citizen.

For this reason, I was extremely grateful for being given the chance to come down that steep staircase into what was a sobering moment that made me reflect immensely about the work I'm carrying on.

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"Fat Man" cut open with its solid plutonium core visible

While watching our guide explain how the Nagasaki "fat man" bomb works - with a real model in front of him - I was reminded that all the destruction it caused 71 years ago is peanuts compared to the power of modern H-bombs and their improved delivery systems. The trip back to Prague was haunting.

 

 

 

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