Placement blogs

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

Tagged: year abroad

Year Abroad IV – moving to Siena, Italy

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Siena, Italy                                                    March, 2017

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

Why Siena?

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

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

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

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

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

My arrival & finding accommodation

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

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

Taking an intensive language course

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

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

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

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

Day trip to Florence.

Day trip to Florence.

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

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

Ci vediamo presto!

Zoe

Day trip to San Gimignano.

Day trip to San Gimignano.

 

Year Abroad: 5 Unusual Ways to Practice your Language

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

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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.

 

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

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.                                            December, 2016.

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The Herring Festival in Fécamp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Les amis.

Les amis.

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

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

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L'Abbatiale de Fécamp.

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

Next stop: Siena, Italy.

France, à la prochaine!

Zoe

 

 

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

Year Abroad II – working in a local language school

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Fécamp, Normandy, France.                                                                                                                                                       November, 2016.

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

Where do I work?

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

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

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

The views from the top of the Mill are amazing!

The views from the top of the Mill are amazing!

 

 

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

What does my role entail?

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

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

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

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

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

The team.

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

Wearing the red fleece uniform.

Wearing the red fleece uniform.

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

What is an average week like?

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

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

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

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

My personal experience and thoughts.

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

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

La maison - typical Norman house.

La maison - typical Norman house.

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

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

À bientot!

Zoe

 

 

 

 

 

Verano nunca termina

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

Location: El Puerto de Santa María, España.                                     Day 141

Being so aloof, I realised I never mentioned what I am actually doing on my year abroad in my previous post. For the first six months, I am working for Spark Languages, a language school in Andalusia which does Spanish classes for adults and English classes for children. Most people would put two and two together: languages and school environment= look's like she wants to be a teacher. Funny enough i don't want to nor am I teaching but actually my emails are signed Poppy Millar, Spark Client Attention and Administration (Fancy I know).

The novelty of working for a small business is you can see how your attitude and impact affects others and why taking iniative and being pro-active is rewarding in the long term when you have returnee clients, successful school group trips and plenty of positive and personal feedback from clients. I have never worked in a setting like this before and I have learnt so much all ready. On the surface, I could never exceed my bosses expectations because they set the bar so high, I'm already up in the clouds and still haven't reached it. This, however, does not mean they are unfair, in fact they push me and this experience will guide me for the rest of my working career. I have always looked up to my dad as my role model but Inge and Doug definitely take 2nd and 3rd place in terms of work ethic and dedication. On top of everything, I have picked up some teaching on the side and am currently teaching 7 year olds the difference between 'are you ___?' and 'have you___?'. Spanish niños are just the most adorable munchkins ever but after one class I am exhausted by them. There is never a quiet moment around here but I love it.

Apart from working all day everyday, my life abroad continues to exceed any idea that existed before I moved across the pond. Endless warm summer nights (even in Novemeber!), fiestas and really recognising the Andalusian culture as something truly special- I don't know whether I'm just lucky or if this is reality. As much as I love being a student and enjoying everything #unayyyyy has to offer, I also love living this new independence. Working 8 hours Monday to Friday really puts into perspective this 'living for the weekend' vibe. By Friday, I am impatiently waiting for the clock to turn 6:30 and then I'm freeeeeeeee! Also knowing I just have over a month and half left of my time here in Spain, I am desperate to see everything I can! These past two weekends have been Andalusian adventures: hiking in the Sierra de Cádiz, exploring the pueblos blancos of Arcos and a last minute getaway to the gorgeous city of Granada- which in fact BLEW MY MIND.

I think I have finally got the hang of this so called 'Year Abroad' and if I could, I would make it a life abroad. We shall see...

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Year Abroad I - moving to France

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Fécamp, Normandy, France.                                                                                                   October, 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beach and port.

The beach and port.

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

The Norman houses give the streets a picturesque look.

The Norman houses give the streets a picturesque look.

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

The Alabaster coast.

The Alabaster coast.

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

À bientôt!

Zoe

 

No pasa nada

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

Location: El Puerto de Santa María, España.                                                                                     Day 87

On your Open Day, you are woo’d by it and with that; you apply to do Modern Languages. In your first year, you start mentally planning what exotic places you’ll go to and all the cool things you’ll do. In your second year, you become tired of writing CVs in multiple languages and organising interviews, wishing someone would just offer you a job. Then in your third year, it becomes your reality. You are finally on your YEAR ABROAD.

Hiya, I’m Poppy and I study Spanish, ab initio Italian and European Studies. I have been on placement for nearly three months now and it has been a whirlwind of fun, the unknown and becoming accustomed to la cultura española. I really should have started blogging earlier but I've got another 9 months to catch up.

I have fallen in love with life and everything it has to offer since moving to the gem that is El Puerto de Santa María. A charming beach town in Andalusia, it is where the Spanish go on holiday and the home to Sherry making. All my initial worries and irrational fears about my placement have melted away and left an eager sangria-induced excitement to learn and do as much as possible in the six months that I'm in Spain.  I'm trying as hard as possible to say YES to everything and so far it has been the best decision I've made. I´ve met the coolest people from all walks of life and there is still plenty of time to meet more. It is so hard not to speak in clichés when everything is hullabaloo but I am having the time of my life.

CádizCórdoba

Visits to Cádiz and Córdoba

There has only been one point when I truly felt lonely but that was because I didn't actually have any friends. My solution, I made friends. It's amazing how little effort it takes to make friends, especially through word of mouth and joining clubs or societies. A colleague mentioned this weekly speaking exchange at a bar where Spaniards speak in English and foreigners speak in Spanish. I go there every Thursday, speak the ol'español and have made numerous pals. I'm sure life isn't supposed to be this easy but then maybe it is. I think uni life sometimes fuzzes the edges of real life and I have overlooked many of the opportunities that Bath offers. I can worry about that when I return whereas now it's just me in the south of Spain ‘adulting’- the verb of being a adult and doing adult things (not to confuse with adultering because that's something completely different...)

Perhaps I am naïve thinking that nothing will stop me, yet it could also be this naivety that will teach me some life lessons in due course- what´s the worst that can happen?


Intercambio

Thursday fun and a day trip to Tarifa, the 2016 best beach in Spain.

 

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things" - Henry Miller

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

For the first semester of my Year Abroad I will be going to study abroad in Mexico, and telling people that I’m moving there has elicited a variety of responses, from those of genuine envy ‘I’m so jealous, that’ll be great’ to more pragmatic approaches regarding firearm usage. My personal favourite is my friend who has foreseen my debut on the U.S.-Mexico frontier if we are indeed lucky enough to see the election of Trump in November; “We’ll turn on the TV and see Megs scaling the wall”. An over-generous estimation of my hand-eye coordination, if anything. Amazingly, despite all the cautionary advice given, and countless emails forwarded by my mother and her medical colleagues on the dangers of Zika virus, I am going to Mexico.

Typing it out and seeing it in print reinforces its reality, not that I am by any definition of the word prepared. But, apart from generic means of preparation, i.e. packing sufficient amounts of hand sanitiser, how can you prepare yourself for the completely unknown? Okay, a tad melodramatic, but at least going to university in England, there’s that whole cliché of English as a common language, which comes in quite handy at times. And even then, it was no walk in the park. There are so many scenarios spinning around my mind and yet I still find myself looking into somewhat of an abyss. In this day and age, where everything is seemingly tracked, dated, and backed up to iCloud, it is refreshing that there remain experiences that cannot be computerised or prophesised, and that the digital age cannot replace.

Sure, I can speak to Hector, my prospective landlord on FB chat, and whilst his dog ‘Fidel’ does look adorable and trustworthy, I feel no more ready than I’m sure he does to meet me. I feel I’m obsessing over this preparedness though (as you can probably tell), and as Kierkegaard once observed: "life remains a reality to be experienced and proves illogical to rules and bounds". Granted, his reservations were probably a bit more profound than ‘how many shoes should I pack?’ but the sentiment holds true all the same.

At present, all I have booked is a one-way ticket to Guadalajara and a place at Hostel Tequila. No, those are not the misquoted lyrics of an Eagles song, but in fact my awaiting, un-fulfilled reality. Stay tuned for more updates.

 

What living in Italy has taught me…apart from Italian.

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📥  2014-15, Politics, Languages & International Studies

 

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1). What culture actually means and actually how British I am.

I always thought that I felt pretty Italian, I mean my Dad is from Rome and my mum speaks it fluently. I grew up on Italian cuisine, always  being excited to go and stay at my dad’s because I knew we would be eating a feast! (even if it wouldn’t be ready until like 9pm) I’ve also been to visit my Nonna in Rome a few times over the years so it’s not like I haven’t experienced the Italian culture before. But actually living here is a very different matter. Day in day out of pasta and Italians rapid chatter and really really unreliable transport is just a little bit too much after a while, so I found myself longing for the rolling green countryside of the UK and our silly, but nice over-politeness.

I found myself missing things that I never even realised were such an important part of my life in England. Now that I’m writing them down, it sounds kind of silly, but I really missed being able to have a proper cup of tea, just whacking the kettle on (not having to boil the water in a pan for aaaages). I even started taking my own milk and teabags into work! #desperatetimesdesperatemeasures.

And although I love love love Italian food, I mean In England you would find me with a ciabatta stuffed with prosciutto and rocket rather than a ham sandwhich, I began to miss British food. Potatoes, pies, roast dinners, burgers and even Nandos (the honour of my first meal of my first time back in England was actually given to Nandos, please don’t judge).

But this is just food and drink! You might say, but surprisingly it does make a big difference!

However, I also began to realize something else… The way Italians behave and think is completely different.

Obviously I can’t speak for 100 percent of the population, as with anything,  but for the majority, that stereotype  of families being closer is true.  It’s also true that Italians stay with their parents until much later- one of my colleagues only moved out last year when she got married and she’s 30!

Overall I’ve found the culture to be much more traditional, and perhaps in a way a bit more restrictive, for woman especially.  I’ve found that I don’t really agree with a lot of things and I find it quite suffocating at times (e.g when Italians are shocked when I travel around at night by myself, night as in 10pm). What can I say, I like my independence! But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong and I respect the differences, however it’s clearly shown me that my values are definitely British! And actually how deep “culture” actually goes.

2). To be prepared for anything!

Honestly I feel like anything could happen in Italy. Even when you’ve planned it down to a T, the unexpected will just completely throw your perfect plan out of the window. It’s advisable to have a plan B, and C and maybe even D…just in case. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone to take a train or bus and there’s been a strike, always when I need to get somewhere important too like oh I don’t know the airport! Also expect trains to be canceled without reason or notice and nice restaurants you’ve taken the time to research to be closed! Basically you just need to be able to think on your feet, which I can certainly do now!

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3). To Keep Calm and Carry On.

This is linked to the previous one. Seeing aso many things have gone wrong, it makes sense that after a while you get used to it. So now instead of going into panic mode, I just remember that it’s not something I can control and it’s definitely not my fault so what’s the point of stressing? So maybe I’ll be a little bit late, but hey it’s Italy so it’s allowed (I think the public transport situation might have something to do with it!).

4). To go outside my comfort zone

I am naturally a quiet person, especially with people I don’t know so going off to meet new people isn’t exactly one of my favorite things to do, let alone going to meet a whole bunch of them by myself. But I did it because I had to. Living in a small town outside of Milan, it wasn’t always easy to meet people, especially because I had chosen to work full time in an office.  So I really had to make an extra effort and just ignore the fact that it was a little bit scary. I did all the things I could think of like going to an English conversation meet up and meeting people from a website called Conversation Exchange (yeah meeting people off the internet, pretty scary!). But you know, it was worth it because I have made some great friends, that I know I will keep in contact with.

And of course all this is on top of improving my Italian, which I can tell (if I do say so myself) has got a whole lot better. I wouldn’t say I’m fluent, I feel like I probably need another year  or two for that, but I know  a heap of vocab, like the ones that you’d  just never learn but take for granted in English like “My bike has a flat tyre”. I don’t have to think so much when I speak and I feel like I can speak more natural Italian, the kind of phrases that you can only pick up from living in a country.

Most of all though, I have just got so much more confident in speaking Italian. I realized that making mistakes wasn’t such a big deal, the most important thing is to communicate!

So really in 7 months I have learnt a lot! Hopefully the next 4/5 months in Vienna will be the same!

 

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.