Student bloggers

Life as a student in Bath

Tagged: Careers and employability

Au Pairing

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📥  Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Hannah

I have worked as an au pair twice, once in Paris, France, where I was looking after 10 year old twins and a 3 year old for 10 months and once in Zaragoza, Spain where I was looking after a 4 year old for 2 months (guess which was easier!). As a language student au pairing is a fantastic opportunity to improve your language skills and to experience the culture and daily life of the country you are studying. Even if you’re not studying another language it’s a great way to live abroad cheaply, have some new experiences and make some new friends!

In this blog post I have revisited all the questions I had before I became an au pair for the first time – so if you need a summer job, are about to go on a year abroad, or want to take a gap year here is all my advice and experience.

So, what exactly is au pairing?

Being an au pair is basically child minding, just normally in a different country! You look after a family’s children and in exchange you live with them as a part of their family. Most au pairs live in the same house as their family, with their own room and sometimes their own bathroom. You will also receive a weekly salary, which in France and Spain ranges from between 50-90€. As an au pair you shouldn’t be working more than 30 hours a week (normally 6 hours a day Mon-Fri, though some families may exchange a weekday afternoon for Saturday morning) and if you do work more hours (for example babysitting) you should be paid extra.

In France the family had had the garage converted into a living space of about 30m², with bedroom, kitchenette and bathroom, where I lived. Several other au pairs who lived in the centre had their own small flat, either next to or above the family’s. This is the better situation, especially if you’re already at uni/graduated and are used to living on your own. It’s nice to have your own space where the family doesn’t disturb you. In Spain I lived in a flat with the family, I had my own room and shared a bathroom with their child. Although this means you get a little less privacy it also means that I was better integrated into the family and also gave me lots of chances to talk to the parents and so improve my Spanish.

Is it right for me, even if I don’t speak or study a language?

In my opinion au pairing is right for pretty much everyone, unless you really really hate children. Au pairing is a really good way to live cheaply and easily in another country. As you don’t work long hours you will have loads of time for weekends away to visit other places and also to explore the place where you’re staying. In France I usually started work once the children got home from school around 4pm and worked until 8-9pm when the parents arrived from work. During the day I took French classes (twice a week) and visited Paris as much as I could. In Spain, as it was during the summer, I worked from 9am-3pm, which gave me all afternoon off to relax by the pool or meet up with other au pairs in the centre of Zaragoza.

As to the language, au pairing is a good way to learn a new one and it doesn’t matter at all if you don’t speak a word of it before you go! I arrived in France with only French GCSE and left 10 months later with a level close to the first year of university. In Spain, although I am already fairly comfortable in Spanish, I also took some writing classes and spoke as much as I could with the parents, which helped improve my fluency. But even if you don’t really want to learn a language au pairing is still for you! I have met many au pairs who speak only English with their host families (some families will prefer that you do this) and spend most of their time with other English speaking au pairs. They are using au pairing as a way to travel and meet some new people, and picking up some words and phrases along the way.

 In Bercy, Paris with some German au pairs


In Bercy, Paris with some German au pairs

How do I become an au pair?

If you’re a member of the EU and want to au pair in the EU then it’s really easy! The first time I went au pairing I did it through an agency. This has a lot of advantages. Both you and the families are screened and checked and if there are any problems you can report it directly to the agency and they will be able to help you to sort it out, or if necessary, place you with a new host family. It will also be easier to meet fellow au pairs as the agency will have a list of families with au pairs in your area. For an EU member in the EU the agency shouldn’t charge you! To au pair to France I went through two agencies free of charge. Some au pairs I have spoken to have ended up paying £300 or more to be placed with a family – this is too much. Firstly I spoke to Dr Ruth Campbell who runs Au Pair Ecosse, an agency that normally places French au pairs in Scotland but also has contacts to place au pairs from the United Kingdom in France. She then put me through to Europair, an agency which places au pairs all over France. As the site is in French, for those who don’t speak it, it may be better to get in contact with Dr Campbell first.

However, if you’re a little more confidence and you don’t want the hassle of filling out lots of forms for an agency, then you can also set up your au pairing placement directly with the family. I chose to do this when I au paired in Spain as I was going for a shorter amount of time and knew what to expect from the family. I used the website Au Pair World. You create a profile which host families can see and then you can search for a host family that matches your requirements (country, number of children, length of stay etc.). Once you have found a family you like you can send them a message and being getting to know them. Be warned it does take a lot of patience to find the family that is right for you, and sometimes when you think you have found the right one they might chose to go with another au pair. But persevere! Using this site I found a really lovely Spanish family who were very keen to make me feel welcome.

Where should I go?

This is totally up to you! If it’s your first time au pairing I would recommend staying close to home, in Europe, sometimes it takes a bit of time to adapt and it’s nice to know you can go home easily for a visit. It will be very easy to au pair in most European countries, obviously I would recommend France or Spain but you can go basically anywhere. If you’d rather an English speaking country it’s also possible to au pair in places like Australia and the US, though in this case it will probably cost more as you’ll need a Visa. In this case I would definitely recommend going through an agency.

Au Pairs in Spain (I was a little unprepared for this photo)

Au Pairs in Spain (I was a little unprepared for this photo)

What should I expect from my host family?

Your host family should treat you as part of their family, like an older sibling to the child(ren) you are looking after. They shouldn’t try and take advantage of the fact that they have live in childcare and make you work lots. You are also there to explore a new country and have fun! If possible try and get your host family to write and sign a contract with you about how many hours you work and how much you get paid. If you are really unhappy with the family and not enjoying yourself then leave. It is not worth being in a situation that makes you miserable. That being said au pairing can sometimes be hard so don’t give up immediately!

What will my host family expect from me?

In accepting you as part of their family for a while they’ll expect you to act like part of their family. Although obviously you don’t have to spend all of your free time with them it is a good idea, especially at the beginning, to hang out with them a bit and get to know them, especially the children you’ll be looking after. I usually tried to eat dinner with my host family during the week, and to spend at least one afternoon with them at weekends. If you’re there to improve language skills talking to the parents can be one of the best ways to do this and if they’re good host parents they should be happy to help you. Just remember that although you’re working for them you’re still a guest in their house so be considerate of their rules and routines.

Beautiful sunset and La Tour Eiffel

Beautiful sunset and La Tour Eiffel

How can I meet other people my own age while au pairing?

Meeting other au pairs is very easy. No matter where you go there will probably be a Facebook group you can join (search for: Name of place, au pairs, the year you are going) and if you go with an agency they will probably provide you with a list of contact details for other au pairs in the area. If you’re au pairing during the school year you might also meet other au pairs while picking/dropping the kids off at school, or your host family may know other families who also have au pairs.

Going to language lessons is another good way to meet people. In Paris there was a French school (France Langue) specifically for au pairs which only had lessons during the day, rather than in the evening when most au pairs are working. However if you don’t want to speak English all the time (most likely the language you’ll be speaking with the other au pairs) it’s a good idea to try and meet some local people, though this is often much harder. In Spain I placed an advert for a Spanish-English conversation exchange on a local council website for young people and I met a girl my age who needed to improve her English for an oral exam. Another way is to join a sports club which several au pairs did in Paris and they were able to meet lots of French people.

I hope that’s answered all your questions – happy au pairing!

 

Should I do a year in industry?

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📥  Alex, Faculty of Science

Yes. That’s the simple answer, anyway. I presume that you want to know why though? Over the last few months I’ve watched my younger brother deliberate apprenticeships or university, the BSc or the integrated masters, the placement year or not?

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do an integrated Masters degree, and that of course meant a placement year. Surely to be more highly qualified means better job prospects? Even so, if you decide not to do a Masters or a Masters simply isn’t offered at your university or for your course, you should consider the BSc with a placement year anyway.

Okay, maybe it seems like I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m only a first year, after all. But I’m not getting ahead of myself at all. For me, industrial placement applications are just around the corner, and whilst of course coping with exams and coursework are my top priorities right now (you can see a post on tips for that here) I do still have to write and submit a CV by May 4th and be thinking about preparing for interviews and writing applications from August.

CV writing

CV writing

It doesn’t matter how pressurised university can be at times, the other things just don’t go away and with placement year being such an important part of my degree, I can’t help but let it spin around and around in my head. While my first year grades don’t count towards my degree, they will be seen by the companies where I apply for placements. And that in itself is the first reason why you should choose a university where a year in industry is possible. I’ve always enjoyed working hard and have kept myself motivated, but if you’re someone who struggles to do that, keeping on track during the first year can be hard. Surely it has to be easier if you know those grades count for something, and will be seen by someone?

Second, it’s a good way to earn some money, get involved, and work out what you want to do. Although some people do end up on self-funded placement years, most placements are paid and it can be an excellent way to save money for your final year when your student loan is smaller. Not only this, but for those people who don’t know exactly what they want to do or what area to focus on when they graduate, a placement year can be an excellent time to work this out. You may find that you don’t like the sector in which you do your placement and choose to work somewhere else, or you may love it and end up working with that company for the rest of your life.

Third- you’ll learn skills. Somehow, somewhere, you’ll get better at something. You’ll attend interviews and gain confidence, learn lab based or computer skills, communicate with a workforce and become part of a team. All of these skills are important for university as well as employment, and the break from university based work means that students who take a placement year come back ready and excited for their final year.

Fourthly, you’ve got experience behind you for when you graduate. You’re much more employable if you have experience as it means that the people who employ you have less training to give you. If you do really well, you might even get a job offer from the company at which you did your placement.

Finally, number five, I’m told it’s when you really grow up and see who you are. The jump from home to university can be strange, I’ve already said that I think the jump from halls to second year housing will be strange, and then there’s the jump from the university safety net and into the real world for a year. It’s a chance to really grow up before you come back for the massively important final year. It’s the time to make mistakes before you have a house and a family as well as a job.

There’s just five reasons why you should consider a placement when making those final decisions about which university to go to. I’m sure there’s a hundred more if you think hard enough. Sadly, I’ve not been there yet, so there isn’t much more that I can say. What I can say is that I’m excited, and I hope that the real world is ready for me!

 

Working as an Outreach Tutor

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📥  Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Hannah

I really wanted to get a job in my first year at university. I enjoyed earning my own money while I was working as an au pair on my gap year and it’s always useful to have a bit of extra cash at Uni! Before I arrived at Bath I received an email offering students the opportunity to apply for the roles of Admissions Ambassador, Outreach Ambassador and Outreach Tutor. In all three roles you are essentially working as a representative for the university, engaging with prospective students. I applied for all three posts. Although of course you can get jobs in Bath itself and I know several people who do bar or restaurant work, working for the University as an Ambassador or a Tutor is really useful. The jobs are really flexible – you can work when and if you’re available and the University are much more understanding about time off for exams. The pay is well above minimum wage (around £7 or £8 an hour) and it looks really good on your CV. And it's also really good fun!

Admissions and Outreach Ambassadors

These are very similar roles but offered by two different departments within the University. Admissions Ambassadors work on events organised by the Higher Education Advice Team (HEAT) while Outreach Ambassadors work with the Widening Participation Office (WPO). The WPO are committed to support and encourage the progression of students from underrepresented groups into university and other forms of higher education. Both roles involve helping out with events on campus, such as summer schools, taster days and open days, and events off campus, such as Higher Education fairs, visiting schools to help out on projects and running activities. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to work for these roles yet (due to a very awkward 2nd semester timetable) they are a really good opportunity to develop key skills. Both roles offer training days on how to be an effective leader and how to come up with, organise and run group activities.

Outreach Tutors

Tutors work for the Widening Participation Office (WPO) and the main objective of the scheme is to encourage secondary school students to come to university.

As tutors we work with KS4 students (years 10 and 11) giving them a bit of extra help in class and also answering their questions about university. We mainly work with the higher achieving students to help boost their grades and their confidence. I applied to help tutor French and Spanish students at a local secondary school. I have some experience of private tutoring (I helped out a friend’s sister with her Spanish AS Level, but it still counts!) but I have never worked in a school before so I was a bit nervous on my first day.

My official badge

My official badge

It felt very weird being back in secondary school – my first time in 2 years! I was assigned to a year 10 Spanish class helping them with coursework and then exam preparation. The first few sessions were a bit frustrating as I was only allowed to help them in English as the coursework is done in controlled conditions. But with coursework out of the way they are now revising exam topics – something I can definitely help with! Although for the last few lessons I have been working more as a teaching assistant in the class room hopefully in the next couple of weeks I will be able to work with smaller groups on their grammar and pronunciation. It’s also good revision for me as well, although I could talk to you in Spanish about the Spanish Civil War I can’t remember what the word for armpit is (la axila if you’re wondering).

And these roles aren’t only for first year students. If you sign up as a Fresher you’ll still be able to do them in your second and fourth years. I’m hoping I’ll be able to carrying on tutoring next year, hopefully at the same school with the same class and be able to see the student’s progression. I’ve enjoyed the tutoring so much that I’m thinking about going into teaching!

 

Business Administration at Bath

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📥  Harry, School of Management

With my first post of this semester I would like to take a look at my course, Business Administration, and show you what its actually like to be studying on the course at Bath. So if you’re considering studying a BSc in Business Administration (or BBA as it's so commonly called on campus) you’re reading the right blog post - and lets be honest, with so many great aspects of the course who wouldn’t want to study business, especially here at Bath.

So, firstly lets consider some key facts - the school of management (SoM) has been around a long time, since 1966 apparently, which means they’ve had a fair old time to work out how this business malarkey works. That is good news for students because it means that what you’re being taught, you know is going to be good, relevant and interesting stuff because it’s coming from leaders in industry and academia. The SoM offers a whole range of business and finance related degrees, but I am ever so slightly biased towards BBA so that’s what I’ll be talking about here, but if I can’t sell it to you don’t hesitate to check out the others, they’re all awesome.

The most notable thing  about the course (which you will have probably noted as well if you’ve made it this far) is the two mandatory 6 month placements. It is without doubt the most awesome feature of the course and can’t be emphasised enough. I’m currently going through the process of applying for my first placement and have just completed my mock interview. It’s a very exciting time because everyone is picking out places that they would like to go and work! The mock interview itself has also proved invaluable preparation as the placements office here get a multitude of real employers to come in, and over two days everyone gets to do a mock interview and receive feedback from the people who really do the hiring.

Interviews- practice makes perfect!

Interviews- practice makes perfect!

You’re randomly assigned an employer and I drew AS Watson, who are the holding company of healthcare chain Superdrug. It’s definitely an advantage of studying at Bath to be able to get exposure to such big names at such an early stage in your career. For me the interview consisted of a group exercise in which we had to build paper towers as tall as we could with the smallest amount of resources possible which was a challenging team working exercise followed by a one on one interview. Its a great experience, and a really valuable opportunity to learn about interview technique in a relaxed environment and perfect preparation for my real applications which is the next step!

Superdrug

The School of Management organises mock interviews with real employers, including Superdrug

Another great thing I’ve found particularly on BBA is the diverse range of both modules and skills you get to learn. This has two fold advantages because although in itself its great to have a diverse skill set and  knowledge of lots of different areas of business it also means the course draws a very diverse range of people which is a far greater asset to any aspiring business people! It’s truly amazing to be on a course with some many different types of people with so many different backgrounds and so many different aspirations. Creating a network of contacts in so many fields of business is invaluable no matter what area of business you think you might want to work in because you never know when those contacts might come in useful!

In the first semester we studied a range of introductory modules, all of which are compulsory. This is great because it gives you a grounding in all the key functions of business. For instance we took modules this year in Business Economics (my fav) because it looks at the microeconomic environment around businesses (and you get to use long words that make sure you sound smart). We have also studied other more maths focussed modules like Business Data Analysis and Accounting and Finance (although I should probably point out if you're not maths orientated like me, these really aren't as bad as they sound!). There's also modules in Law, People and Organisations as well as Business in Society which covers everything from contact law to how people interact in businesses.

All in all, its a fantastic course and I am really enjoying it. If you’d like to continue with a conversation about the course then drop me a comment.

Until then, over and out.

Harry.