Placement blogs

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

Tagged: Placement

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:

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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.

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Office

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📥  2015-16, Politics, Languages & International Studies

A few of my friends on placement complain their work is mundane. They tell me that because they are students, routine is alien to them. Daunting is the transition from unwashed layabout to productive worker.

As someone who depends upon structure and records all but his toilet habits on google calendar, I was never concerned about an imposition of routine. Yet I still sympathize with my colleagues. Few want to be tied to the same desk doing the same monotonous tasks eight hours a day for five days a week. When choosing a placement, it's wise to consider if the job will be stimulating enough to keep you motivated.

I believe mine was a wise choice.

In meagre time, I have had plentiful opportunity to learn beyond the confines of my office. I've consulted in detention centers, prisons and attended trainings on everything from self care to gender and security. Some of my excursions have also had a distinct political timbre; especially exciting for a disciple of the PoLIS department.

One such excursion was to participate in an anti-corruption protest. Aptly so, as a central focus of Lawyers for Human Rights is to combat and mitigate against the effects of corruption in the Department of Home Affairs, unrenowned for their clean noses. LHR recently published a report entitled 'Queue Here For Corruption' displaying the naked exploitation and deceit which infects the asylum application process.

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I should have remembered sun-cream

We marched in unrelenting sunshine and I was struck by the indignation and living solidarity that still defines South Africa. I will admit too, with the voyeuristic shame of a tourist (and a political tourist at that), the satisfaction of crossing off some 'big hits' from my sightseers shopping list; namely the Union Buildings and a quick glance of Julius Malema, leader of the staunchly leftist Economic Freedom Fighters, enveloped by crimson-clad partisans.

Selfie with the EFF!

Selfie with the EFF!

And how odd it was to find myself only a few weeks later walking the exact same route, as a 'legal monitor' at the #FeesMustFall protests, which gained much international attention. Attending the second time, the tired cynic within me wondered momentarily if South Africa - born of indignation and struggle - had perhaps become so accustomed to marches that they were becoming an uninspired habit, especially given that there were two more in the coming month: one more against corruption, another posed in vague terms 'against financial institutions'.

What I saw, however, could not be called uninspired. The protest was immense and colorful, with students from every university and representatives from every political party showing a striking unity of purpose. What was interesting to note in comparison to the equivalent protests at home was the political dynamic of the government - or elements of the government - vocally supporting the students; it is an absurd thought that hundreds of young men and women wearing blue t-shirts emblazoned with the green tree of the Tory party might attend a free education march in London. Yet in South Africa such is the way of things. I was offered various explanations: some pointed to inter-generational conflict, others to the breadth of the ANC as a movement rather than strictly a party, some even made accusations of provocateurism. Absorbing the politics of a country you have never visited is a steep learning curve.

Spot the intern!

Spot the intern!

At any rate, it was uplifting to see the students achieve their stated goal of halting the fee rise. And despite some considerable sun burn and a small whiff of tear gas towards the end, it was lovely to get out of the office.

 

Barbed Wire and Jacarandas

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📥  2015-16, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Nearly two months ago I disembarked, bleary-eyed and restless, from Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 809 London to Johannesburg. I have come to South Africa to complete a placement which I anticipated since commencing university. Once I had imagined that as I took my first steps onto the soil of the famed Rainbow Nation, I would experience a moment of great cinematic contentment, as the symbolic weight of two years preparation fell from my shoulders. Yet in the midst of sleep deprivation and nausea, caused I believe by some questionable airline food, such a feeling was not forthcoming.

I am staying in Pretoria (or Tshwane as it is now called by some), famous for its beautiful Jacaranda trees and its former reputation as the beating heart of a racist apartheid state. My first impressions have been mixed. The weather is blissful and the exchange rate so favourable that I cannot buy a bottle of wine without feeling I have done something duplicitous. Yet despite this, the rustic pubs, corner side cafes and Palladian wonders of Bath seem far removed amongst too many shopping malls and concrete slabs masquerading as buildings. Even in the lilac suburbs of Pretoria East, reams of barbed wire and the barking of security dogs communicate viscerally the anxiety of an elite in a society defined still by gratuitous deprivation. Such anxiety is not without cause, as I discovered days ago when the television was stolen by night from the property where I am staying (authentic South African experience indeed!)

Pretoria's famed Jacaranda trees and the residential fortresses  hidden behind

Pretoria's famed Jacaranda trees and the residential fortresses hidden behind

In short, Pretoria is far from an aesthetic monstrosity, but nor is it the most charming place I have ever visited.

After two weeks of getting my bearings, I began work. I approached my placement with the trepidation perhaps expected of a young and inexperienced undergraduate, just relocated to the other side of the globe. I knew roughly what I would be doing: assisting refugees and those seeking sanctuary under a bureaucracy not known for its efficiency or disinclination to corruption. The minutiae of what this would entail was not fully clear before I arrived, but fortunately over a long summer I had time to study the relevant legislation and procedures. As it happens my foremost anxieties were not well founded. I had worried my lack of a legal background would be an obstacle, making it a struggle to keep up with the pace of work or grasp relevant concepts. I had succumbed to the mythic image of the all-knowing and all-talented Lawyer.

The Lawyers for Human Rights reception desk.

The Lawyers for Human Rights reception desk.

Not so. Finding myself among an immensely supportive set of colleagues, I soon realised that I did not need to remember every article and subsection of South African immigration law in order to follow what was going on around me.

Rather, what I had failed to prepare for was one simple lesson. And I was expected to learn it quickly.

This is that you cannot help everyone. Many walk through the doors of the organisation seeking advice. Each of these individuals has a story. Many are tragic. Some, admittedly, are more credible then others. Being present to these stories in the first week aroused feelings of ineffectual pity and the guilt of a voyeur; and I'll admit I looked a little askance at seeming cynicism of my co-workers. But in the short span of three weeks these initial sentiments have started to give way. Not I believe out of diminished compassion, but out of necessity. As the case files and appointments and letters to write build up with momentum, you soon realise that self indulgent agonising helps no one. Our mandate is limited. Although we offer vital support to many, there are many others in genuine need that unfortunately cannot be helped by mere lawyers. The law, as we know, is not always a wieldy instrument of justice.

This was and remains a difficult fact to face. I will have to make my peace with it.

Art in the clinic: everyone is a foreigner somewhere.

Art in the clinic: everyone is a foreigner somewhere.

 

The end of Year Abroad part 1.

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📥  2014-15, Politics, Languages & International Studies

This time next week will be my last day at work.

I can’t believe I just said that.

I mean, I knew it was always going to come to this, that at some point I would have to say goodbye to everyone, pack up all my things (things that might not fit in one suitcase anymore) and leave the country I have called home for 7 months...

But it just feels weird. I've gotten so used to living and working here I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

It will be weird not cycling to work every day, braving the cold and the rain and the crazy Italian drivers.

It will be weird not arriving at the office and having a morning espresso with my colleagues.

It will be weird not speaking Italian anymore! (I hope I don’t forget it!)

It will also be kind of weird moving to a whole new city and starting again (again). But, at least this time around I feel a lot more prepared and I know what to expect. Besides, if I can live in Italy, and deal with all the unexpected things that happen (trust me there are a lot) I can definitely live in Vienna right?

Because sometimes things have been quite hard here, from feeling lonely to issues with transport (seems to be a strike every month and always when I need to get somewhere i.e the airport).

It has also been quite hard living in the tiny town where I live, because it's tricky to get around and if I want to go out in Milan, I always have to stay at a friend’s because there is no transport late at night. But they always say, you have to make the most of it and I think I have really tried to do that.

Ok so maybe I have moaned a bit along the way, especially when I have found myself running in panic for the last train/bus but I don’t think you can feel guilty for letting out your frustrations once in a while…it’s only human!

It’s also been hard being away from family and friends and especially my boyfriend. And I found myself missing England waaay more than I expected. Really it was just the little things, like the rolling green countryside or cadbury’s hot chocolate (I really hate Italian hot chocolate it’s all thick and gloopy) but I think they really make a difference, something which I only noticed when I was gone!

So I really indulged in these things when I went home for Christmas. It was just nice being back because I had some time to relax too as usually I work 40 hours a week, that’s a 9 to 6 day FYI. So I spent two wonderful weeks lazing around, eating my weight in chocolate and all the British food I could (mainly involving burgers, curry and nandos).

I was enjoying being back so much that I almost didn’t want to come back to Italy.

Italy may be il bel paese, the home of la dolce vita and possibly the best cuisine in the world (just my bias opinion guys sorry) but nothing really compares with home.

But I was motivated by the fact I only had one month left after I returned before I left for Vienna. One month to do all the things I hadn’t yet done! And to eat all the Pizza and Gelato I could before it was no longer so easy to come by. Naturally I have a bucket list which includes seeing the cenacolo (the last supper by the one and only Leonardo Da Vinci in Milan) and visiting Bologna and Firenze, which I am ticking off in one go this weekend!

As I’m reading this, it kind of makes it seem that I don’t like Italy, which is totally not true, it’s just that it’s not as easy to live here as sun-filled holidays would make you believe and the full time working life is tough!

Going from being a student with an abundance of free hours a day (of course after going to lectures and studying ahem) to working 9 to 6 every day in the week, is quite hard to get your head around at first and kind of exhausting! You also have to realize that no you can’t go out on a Monday night, or leave the house in a mess (not that my Uni house was that messy anyway but I ended up living with some middle aged Italian women here who were slight clean freaks).

So I have at times really missed being a student, and living with other students and really just the whole student community. There’s so much going on at University and it’s so easy to find, but when you’re a working woman (or man) you really have to seek out your own leisure activities, and indeed friends, especially when you arrive in Italy in summer when ALL activities of any kind have stopped, especially August- the whole country stops! But slowly I began to meet people and some people through other people. It was hard but I got there!

So despite sometimes wondering why on earth I had chosen this path for my year abroad and chosen something that to me would seem a bit easier, when I look back at all the things I have gained from my placement such as being able to code in HTML and translating more accurately to the “softer” skills like using my initiative more, I know that for me, someone without any professional work experience and a naturally shy quiet person, that it was the best decision I could have made.

Besides, I can use all the difficult and frustrating things I’ve experienced whilst living here, such as shops closing at lunch time and not being able to buy a ticket on the bus, as answers to those interview questions “tell me about a time you had to overcome a problem”.

Ha! Got that one sorted!

So you see, even the bad things have a positive side.

And that I have come to the conclusion is what the year abroad is about. It’s not going to be some perfect, instagrammed picture but full of ups and downs that will make you better prepared to deal with the stuff life throws at you.

Even if that stuff happens to be in a different language.

 

Saying Adieu to a Year of Placement

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

"Saying Goodbye doesn't mean anything. It's the time we spent together that matters, not how we left it."
Trey Parker

Saying goodbye to the city of Bristol

Saying goodbye to the city of Bristol

It's hard to find the perfect words in order to summarise the things I've learned and experienced over a whole year. So much so, that I can't even begin to write about how I'm trying to say goodbye to BSDAS. I could see it in crystal clear view as I emptied out my Bristol apartment, I'd hoarded tonnes of paperwork, books and notes... or as I liked to call it 'valuable knowledge'. Obviously, the year long learning experience was a success.

Though I've accomplished and contributed so much already (with the support of my dedicated supervisors), I can't help feeling that I could still learn that little bit more... but my turbulent and exciting time at placement has finally reached it's conclusion.

If there is one thing I can definitely say is that I feel empowered by my vast improvement, feeling fully transformed into an overall more mature, confident and knowledgeable person/ Psychology student than the amateur that I felt like stepping into the Bristol Drugs and Alcohol Service for the first time. Back then I was fumbling around awkwardly, eager to dive in, whereas now I have a deep understanding of how things function, how psychology plays into the real world, how to do my role professionally and where I fit in the grand scheme of things.

And if you can accomplish that in your placement year, then big supreme pat on the back, you've gone over and beyond the threshold of a valuable learning experience too.

Psychology isn't about 'the man and the therapy sofa'

With my naivety, that was probably the first thing I learnt when I started working. Considering the variety of roles and tasks I was heavily involved with during placement, I was able to realise the 'big picture' about the world of Clinical Psychology. It isn't about the client feeling so 'oh mon Dieu' sprawled across the coach and the therapist telling them what to do with their lives. It's about the therapist making a connection with the client, building a trusting relationship, validating their feelings and experiences, and helping the client to realise the solution to their own problems rather than forcing it down on them like the lightning of Zeus. As a client described so well, "Therapy is a helping hand up, not a hand holding experience'.

Therapy requires skill, subtlety and practice... and even being given the chance to learn this, as well as gaining the responsibility to lead my own individual and group therapy sessions over my placement, is more than any psychology student can dream of achieving a such an early stage of their education. I am one lucky girl.

And also, it isn't just about the therapy. It's about creating research to contribute to the body of Psychological studies and developing meaningful resources to educate others on basic Psychology, such as on how to tackle their own or their close others issues. I have been ever-thankful to be involved in administering measures to new clients in order to evaluate the existence of personality disorders, creating a detox information workbook which will be published and used across NHS detox services in the UK, and generating a piece of qualitative research on Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. No amount could describe the gratitude I have for BSDAS for giving me these outstanding opportunities to learn and to grow. With a fresh and clear mind, I can only hope to continue this level of success for my final year of University.

Change? What change?

If you feel like you haven't changed (even that teeny bit) over the duration of the year... then something must have gone wrong. Unless you were already the best person in the universe... which is highly unlikely. There is always room to improve.

Placement year really gives you the scope to develop yourself both as a person and a professional. You'll most likely feel like you've really begun to fill into your shoes and, hopefully, gained the proper practice to play into the remainder of your degree. What you've learned now isn't just about what you've read or seen in textbooks or in articles, it's also about what you've personally observed and actively practiced in whatever field you were involved in, and linking everything together... you'll definitely feel like those abstract theories and concepts have found their place in the real world and understand how they really contribute to it.

Personally, my experiences have allowed me to notice a drastic change in my sense of empathy - particularly in the way that I communicate with people. I have also, thankfully, developed a force-field of confidence in my abilities and a pleasant assertiveness in order to negotiate my demands with others... which has helped me a lot in my professional and personal life. See what changes can occur for you?

What did I do most of on placement? Read.

What did I do most of on placement? Read.

Something to take away

Overall, it feels like I've done everything and everything throughout this year. I've studied, slaved, become a budding therapist, created research, deprived myself of sleep, become a professional urban explorer... but if there is one thing that I'll never forget from my experience, it's the gratitude I unexpectedly received from my clients.

When you're so keen on learning and improving, sometimes you have to just take a step back and see what you've been able to accomplish. At the end of my placement, I received an unexpected visit from my clients who came to thank me for my work with them throughout the year. 'You have a fresh optimism,' they said, 'relentless dedication to improve our lives'. What greater indication of success did I need than this? Not only was I moved, but if I feel down, I remember the positive feedback I was told and that if I was able to motivate people to live their life to the fullest and to stay clean from substances... than I was surely capable of motivating myself to great things too.

So, in writing this all down I am in fact saying a proper goodbye to BSDAS and I can truly say that learning about the possibilities of what I could achieve through my clients... thatwas the biggest and the best thing I am taking away from this experience.

 

Bristol Festivals: Love Saves The Day

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

“I’m covered in mud.”
Valerie Alunan

Main Stage, from Official Website

Main Stage, from their Official Website

Love Saves the What? Love Saves the Day.
Pioneering Bristol music festival. Party in the park extravaganza. Mountains of cast away Red Stripe cans. Hipsters' day to show off their un-mainstream fashion. Metres and metres of mud.

Now I’m not a big fan or all that knowledgeable on the goings-on and whats-happenings of electronic and house music... but Love Saves the Day is BIG, and it’s famous, and it was literally in the park 10 metres away from my front doorstep. As my fellow Bristolian placement students had so rightly put it at the very beginning of the year (when we are all but little lost Bath students in the big, wide, colourful world of Bristol), “If there is ONE thing we do this year, we HAVE to go to this festival.” So, we bought our tickets then and there.

Absent-mindedly, I forgot that I had even bought that ticket until a month before the festival. You know, when they started putting up their vintage-style posters and splashing their advertisement graffiti all over the city. I saw giant kissing couples everywhere (which by the way… is their logo). It was a silent but vivid reminder of what was to come.

So, instead of rambling in giant wads of text of what exactly I did that day… I’ll break it down. You should all know by now that I love bullet points, pros and cons, and any nonchalant way to split up my pages to make it easier on the vulnerable, naked eye. I’ll carry on that hearty tradition now.

Stage one: The Night Before
You know that feeling that you have before you even start doing anything, that whatever you do will turn into a gigantic masterpiece of mess? Well the night before the festival, I had that very feeling. Boo, eerie. And guess what? I should have just stayed at home and prepared myself vigilantly for the day after. I should have wrapped myself in bubble wrap in the corner of my room and just not had variable social contact with humans. I, and I know I will be somewhat judged by whoever will soon be reading this, I should just not touch alcohol ever. And anyway, who’s to judge? This is a student blog and if I say that students, including myself, don’t drink alcohol that would be one big lie on my part. And alcohol will most likely find me again. But hey, it was my close friend’s leaving party in Bath and I will surely miss him with all my heart as he goes all the way 4688 miles away from us – and yes, I Googled how many miles we are apart. Touching.

To steer away from an avid storytelling of how my night went and eventually ended, I will conclude this section with a running list: I went to happy hour, I got banned from The Nest for defending someone from some unnecessarily aggressive bouncers, I was told incessantly that I should just try to stop helping people, I cried outside the Abbey, I trudged home. Or alternatively, I struggled home. Thankfully, I avoided my arch-enemy... McDonalds.

Stage two: The Morning After
The morning after began like a disaster: a headache, a dire thirst for water, a crippling hunger for junk food, the need to shower, a general feeling of rancidness. It was a like a scene from the Hangover movie – only that I wasn’t missing any teeth. I got a text from my friend who was downstairs in the kitchen sternly telling me to get out of bed and stop feeling like the putrid being I was feeling. The festival was starting in an hour. I texted back, “Boil the kettle, please.”

Before we hopped on the bus to Bristol, in order to kick-start some “fun in the sun” festivities*. I had to scramble like a wet dog to a nearby internet café and pay a hideous price to print my entrance ticket (well since you ask, a total of £3.15) considering I forgot I had bought a ticket to this little shindig… again. Lacking food, water (not counting the monsoon), proper sleep and utilisable energy, I tried to sneak a power nap en route to the grand city.

*insert sarcasm here. There was no sun. Only pure, evil rain.

Stage three: We Should Have Left Earlier, Man
Once we got to Bristol it was straight to the checkpoint, the group rendezvous point – my flat. An estimated 10 steps from the entrance of the festival. By this time, the festival had been going on for an hour. The music was as clear as Brita filtered water from my door. But who turns up that early to anything anyway? We made a collective group decision to hide an hour indoors to have a drink in preparation for 10 hours of outdoor partying.

Soon we were in full swing, restored with able to waste energy. Our quaint group of Bath University students were having an afternoon cider (or for some others, leftover wine) and discussing colloquially about Ukraine, the European Elections, Ukip and various politics. When my flatmates' friends tried to join in, they swiftly waved their white flags and decided to drink in the bedroom next door. We felt a little nerdy. We didn't change topic.

When we finally emerged from the safe embrace of my apartment, we found our choice to arrive 'mode fin' crushed with an overwhelming sense of regret. At this point the line to get in had stretched from my front doorstep all the way across the High Street of Bristol - worse than a queue in Thorpe Park. After some brutal hours in line playing with balloons, shivering from the downpour, making silly conversations and taking turns waiting in line as we took turns to go the bathroom in the nearby McDonalds – it was finally our turn to enter the ring. Only 5 hours late into the park. Well, only 6 more hours of Love Saves the Day left.

Stage four: Love Saves the Day
What more can I say about the festival than it was an array of fun and entertainment. So much fun, in fact, that the rain didn’t even come to matter in the slightest. With a plethora of geometric-style stages, food on offer from the best but underrated places around Bristol (well, even though I got my delicious burger knocked out of my hand), circus tent bars, stream-covered forest areas and giant playground things - I spent most of my time happily exploring. Nobody cared if they were drenched, or covered in mud, or slipped over no less than 10 times. I can’t say much without sounding like I’m trying to bore you, all we did was laughed and danced like fools to some pretty good artists. I give them credit, perhaps electronic music shouldn't be so off my radar in future. This judging little gnome was sold good. Bristol got it right again.

Some highlights include:

We all got facepaint!

We all got facepaint!

Along our adventures we found a fringed tent hidden by a stage where a tonne of people were getting facepaint... or well, glitter paint. Most people were getting the standard 'unicorn head-butted you in the face' festival glow. Others, like my friend, went with a spectacular ginger glitter beard. The psychologist in me thought he was suffering from a deep masculinity complex, where he was feeling supremely undermined by the fact he could not grow facial hair at this prime age. I sure hope he never reads this. I pitied the girls drawing the same endless designs on festival-goers faces, I thought perhaps they were bored by lack of variety. I encouraged with gusto for the painter to show off her skills and to go free with the power of artistic license. Though I was pleased to have relieved the suffering of a repressed arty soul and with the outcome (see in the above photo), I realised shortly afterwards that she had just copied the design on my shirt. So much for the creative flow.

Here, our lovely ginger beard friend is given prime attention.

Other highlights include, getting ripped off for drinks, finding some quirky animal costumes adorn by some people in the audience and causing an uproar of chanting and gladiator-like cheering as me and my friends slipped on our backsides trying to carefully scale the steepest and muddiest hill in the park. We all threw out our demolished shoes the next day. I parted tearfully with my favourite boots. All in all, it was a good day.

Well, hopefully you enjoyed that post which wasn't so work related and actually, which wasn't what I'd promised, was longer than I expected. On your placement year really try to make some time to enjoy the place you live in, try out what they have to offer and get involved in some of the entertainment/music/arts in your spare time from work. As much as the learning you get from working on placement is vital to your University life and your career thereafter, the enjoyable experiences you grasp outside of work can really shape it up too.

 

 

 

 

The Pros and Cons of having a desk to call your own

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

"It's a wonderful world. You can't go backwards. You're always moving forward."
Harvey Fierstein

marlborough hill (800x450)

Apologies, and many more apologies for my absence in the world of blogging. I have had, let’s say, a very busy period of my life. ‘But where have you been Valerie?’, I hear you ask. And even if you aren’t asking, I’m going to tell you anyway.

It’s nearly the end of the (academic) year and I have been busy with writing my end of year report and also, writing a research paper for the Bristol Specialist Drugs and Alcohol Service (BSDAS). These past few weeks, I have been running around (well, more like spending hours of my life on buses) to different bases and people’s houses to conduct interviews with women on their experiences of mental illness and therapy. Sounds like a rainbow of interest and easy sailing, right? Well, it is a gold mine of interest, especially for Psychology research, but to my disdain, it is far from easy. Not only do I have to conduct hour long interviews, but I have to spend a day or two transcribing the interview into Word-format… That’s a story for another day.

Other than that, our previous base at the Blackberry Centre in Bristol has officially been cleared out. Yes, we basically got ‘kicked out’ of our office. This is because of the entire NHS restructuring, BSDAS has been changed to Bristol ROADS (Recovery Orientated Alcohol and Drugs Service) and the entire organisation has been reformed and transformed. This means bases have moved, the structure of the service we provide has changed… and well, for me, I just have to find a new place to sit and do my work.

Our team has spent the last month clearing out the building to move to a variety of places scattered around Bristol. It was like we were leaving the coup. By the end of the entire process, the building was but a drab of empty filing folders, tea mugs and the ghosts of a hustling-bustling team. Well, we didn’t die – it was just a big change from when I first starting working at the office.

Luckily for me, while everyone had the tedious job of packing years’ worth of belongings and files into multiple boxes for porters to shift to new places… I left with a pen, a stapler, a notebook and one textbook, and found it to be an easy, stress-free move to the Colston Fort base.

Alas, I shall bore you no more about the boring details of structure and reform and work politics. Let’s look at a more jovial side and the pros/cons of me shifting my little self (and my shortage of belongings) to working in a new place.

The PROS (yo):

  • In the new base… I can sleep an extra hour in the morning.
    The beauty of sleep, oh how I missed thee. The best part of my new office is that it’s only 15 minutes’ walk from my humble abode. Well, uphill. But still, I’d take this walk any day than having the hour and a half long journey that I previously had to work. I can stroll, I can be more relaxed, I don’t have to take the bus anymore. Everything was working out sweetly.
  • In the new base… I actually have people to talk to.
    Numbers were slowly starting to dwindle in the old centre. Until the point where I was eating lunch alone, I was sitting in an office for 7 people ALONE and sometimes I went home without any social interaction with a human being (apart from maybe talking to myself on the odd occasion)… it was really starting to get silly. Here, I actually get to see people again, and talk to people again, and have lunch with people again. I better stop rambling before I sound too much like a Gollum.
  • In the new base… I actually get to see some sunlight.
    Located at the heights of Bristol, we get a lot of sunlight in the office and a lovely view of the rest of the city. Something which is a big plus for me. The office also has a décor of one thing that is at the topic of my most appreciated things – big windows, which go from floor to ceiling. The offices and the kitchen all have these windows, making it a lot more relaxed and pleasant for me when I’m doing my work in the warmth of the sunlight.

The CONS:

  • In the new base… I don’t have to use my ‘swipey’ card to get through doors.
    In the last building, I felt majorly 007 getting through each door with my touch card. I used to even experiment with different ways to open doors with showy hand gestures with the card in my hand – I’m a nerd, I know. Anyway, at the new place there are no more touch cards. Instead we have a code for EACH DOOR. Tedious. At least, I learnt 5 numerical codes when I was desperate for the bathroom and had to hurry through each door in order to arrive at my final destination. (Even the toilet had a code, so that wasn’t fun).
  • In the new base… I don’t get to take my ‘favourite’ bus to work anymore.
    I’m just kidding, this one is a MASSIVE pro. You’ve heard me complaining about this bus the entire year because it never used to show up! I’m just so glad I don’t have to see the sight of that horrible creature anymore.
  • In the new base… I don’t actually have a desk.
    Awkward, that they moved me over here knowing that I wouldn’t have anywhere to sit, or read my emails, or schedule my appointments, or do my work. Turns out, a few people are in the same position as there just aren’t enough desks for the amount of staff anyway. We poor soldiers were just going to have to come in each morning and hope somebody isn’t in. Then steal their desk for a day.
  • In the new base… I don’t actually have a desk.
    Oh, yeah. I already mentioned that.

 

'S' is for 'Stressitation'

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

 "If you so choose, even the unexpected setbacks can bring new and positive possibilities. If you so choose, you can find value and fulfillment in every circumstance."
Ralph Marston
Yes, I'm procrastinating by sticking post-its to my face.

Yes, I'm procrastinating by sticking post-its to my face.

There is a terrible truth I have to admit to myself at this terrible time... and it is the fact that I am terribly behind with my dissertation. I am now where I should have been, let’s say, one or two months ago, and I feel terrible. Save the tears, save the shame, save me under this Everest of paperwork, signed paper forms and intense paper cuts, I may as well just share my ‘knowledge’ so that you won’t be living in my image this time next year. And I really don't mean to make myself sound like a wisdom-bearing God - because I'm not.

As a matter of context, I have actually completed all the hardships that I needed to have gone through at this point – extensive literature reviews, planning my research, my research design, my methods… my interviewees are just about rearing to go on about their viewpoints into my Dictaphone. But as a matter of misfortune, I face the biggest enemy which I have encountered in this placement year so far. Ethics.

Before any Psychology student can start on the turbulent journey that is the ‘Stressitation’, an amalgamation of planning, wild action and exploding brain matter must go into working out what exactly it is you want to study, and how exactly you plan to study it. Once that’s over with, you write up your cute, little research procedure and sail the innocent thing off away to get mauled (or approved) by the Ethics committee. I’m actually making it sound worse than it is, ethics really isn’t that hard of a process if you just take the time to plan to the ‘tee’.

My misfortune derives from a quaint miscommunication and people changing their minds last minute. Long story short, the University of Bath Ethics purposefully required a letter of approval from my work placement before I could submit my application to them, whereby I slaved to fill in the giant tonne of paperwork I had to complete for 'NHS Ethics' and the 'NHS Research and Development' committee. After pulling out my hair to the tether and submitting my application to Research and Development, I was told that actually they required a letter of approval from the University before I could submit my application to them. Oh, tragedy of my degree! Where do I go if everyone wants someone else to go first? I couldn't be relieving a childhood moment of asking my mom if I could go to a friend's house only for her to say, "Go ask your Dad" and when trotting happily along to my dad only for him to say "Go ask your Mom." I felt like I was 10 again.

Moral of the story, make sure you:

  • Communicate
  • Know what work you need to do
  • Start early
  • Give yourself enough time to do the work that you need to do

My life with the 'Stressitation' this far may have been somewhat of a setback, but yours doesn't have to be! I pose to you, a few tips I learned along the way to help you get started on the flow of your dissertation:

  1. Think about what topic you want to do for your disseration:
    It may be something you've always been interested in studying, or it may have just creeped up on you from the crevices of your mind. Either way, start thinking about a topic that you can handle and that you know (or think) you can tolerate for the next year and a half of your University life.
  2. Have a chat with your supervisor:
    Your supervisor may have some wisdom of their own to offer you about research or your chosen topic. In my case, my supervisor and other staff were very helpful to support me by giving me some top tips for research, as well as giving me a few materials they had to start reading on my project. Depending on where you work, you may also negotiate an allocated time for you to work on your dissertation during the week.
  3. Start to read those articles:
    It's never too early to start reading around your topic. This way you can figure out where there are gaps in the literature and where you can fit your research in. It's also best to organise what you've read as you go along, as it'll be 10x easier and less stress inducing when you come around to writing up your dissertation. Make a set of cue cards with the reference on the front and the main findings of the paper on the back ('Business at the front, party at the back'), so that you have some sort of a filing system of everything you've read. Alternatively, I made a table on Word doing pretty much the same thing.

    Table of research about 'Dialectical Behaviour Therapy'

    Table of research about 'Dialectical Behaviour Therapy'

  4. Give yourself a reality check
    One big mistake I made whilst planning my dissertation - I got way too ambitious. After reading around my subject, I got so enthusiastic about studying and interviewing people with personality disorders only to fall off the tip of the cliff when I realised that if I wanted to study this particular group of people I would have to add an extra 6 months of trials and ethics hurdles to my schedule. Time which I definitely did not have. Really think about your topic in a realistic way, make sure you settle for something interesting, simple, that can more reasonably fit into the time frame you have and can show off all your research skills in your final dissertation write-up.
  5. Get in touch with your personal/ dissertation tutor
    Never, ever feel too afraid to contact your tutor. They are there to help you! The amount of emails I've sent my tutor asking even the smallest or most stupid questions that I've been fretting over, and they have literally supported my ideas, given me the knowledge I needed and have generally been there to help whenever I ask. My tutor is becoming my hero. Your tutor is a valuable resource when it comes to planning your dissertation - so get in touch and stay in touch!
  6. Start planning your method
    Once you feel like you're just about rounding up all your brilliant ideas through your reading and your feedback from professionals. It's time to descend upon a reasearch method. Really think about what would be the best and most achievable way to study what you plan to study.. some may be easier than others. For example, I'm writing a dissertation on the views and understanding of staff working with personality disorders on the topic of self-harm, so it's no question that interviews are the way to go. I've never been a fan of quantitative methods (purely because SPSS still baffles me to this day), but reading up on your method and how to execute it is also useful to do at this point.

If you've gone through all these stages, hopefully learning from your experiences and perhaps having fewer hiccups than I did through the whole process, then you'll sure enough be ready for my favourite stage of them all - ethics. Trust me when I say (are these lyrics to a song?), all the organising and proper planning you do right now will make for easier sailing next year when you have to write your dreaded 'Stressitation'.