By Sam Saunders
Hi all, I’m Sam and I’m in the middle of my third month living in France. More specifically, Grenoble which, for those of you who don’t know, is located in the French Alps, near the border with Italy. It’s been a really interesting and wholesome experience so far, but the few months haven’t been without their ups and downs and I’ll try and give you my opinion on the value of a year abroad and my thoughts so far.
Now, first things first, I can’t really explain my decision to go on my year abroad, because I never had to make it. As I study BA History and French, I have to spend my third university year here, as is the case with all language students. However, whilst my participation was always obligatory, I was never dreading this year, or resenting the fact that it was forced upon me. Sure, I was nervous before I left, and it was a bit difficult sorting out accommodation and leaving my friends and housemates in Cardiff, but I am very happy to be here and be studying in Grenoble.
Obviously, the main advantage for me is that living in France and interacting with French students will improve my French and hopefully give me a useful skill that I’ll have for the rest of my life. While I would always encourage language learning at any time in your life, it must be stressed that this shouldn’t be a barrier for students from Cardiff, as in most French universities there are classes in English, though of course I’d check before you go! There are other opportunities in English speaking countries, mainly Canada, the USA and Australia, and I’ve only heard good things from students I know who studied there.
I suppose the main reason that I would recommend a year abroad is the depth and variety of experiences you can gain from doing so. Even living in France, which is the closest country to the UK that speaks a different language, the cultural differences are profound and there’s so much you don’t pick up on from simply visiting a place. Whether it’s studying at a French university, trying to open a bank account or simply wading through an awful lot of paperwork, a year (or semester) abroad helps you to think on your feet and be more self-sufficient, which is what university is about after all. Also, the amount of people you meet can only be a positive, especially as there’s always things to talk about, from cultural differences to French and British politics. There’s variety too; as well as meeting more British people, I’ve met Irish, German, Australian, Canadian, Slovakian, American and Spanish students, to name just a few. In essence, I’d liken my opinion here on being a welcome companion to university back home, i.e. the opportunity to meet people that you wouldn’t have before and to gain insight into the lives of people from countries other than your own.
It’s necessary to mention future work in all of this, and whilst I know a lot of students don’t like to think about their future, it’s something that we’ll all have to do at some stage. Gaining language skills on a year abroad is obviously something that could attract future employers, particularly as you can continue studying them at Cardiff afterwards. Furthermore, it shows potential employers that you are outgoing, willing to try new things and can adapt to new situations and scenarios. Look at me go, I sound like I’m in Global Opportunities or something! In all seriousness though, just as students like to travel before, during and after their degree, a year abroad can really enrich you as a person before you enter the workplace.
I suppose I’ll end with a few pieces of advice I wish that I’d had before I left for France. Firstly, and most importantly, the start of your year will be tough, particularly if you’ve moved to a country where English isn’t the native language, as it’s likely you won’t know that many people and it can be easy to be overwhelmed. My advice is to talk to the people who you know will support you, and keep as busy as possible. Joining sports or other societies is a great way to get to know more people, just like in Cardiff. Secondly, if you’re worried about finances, don’t be. Any student going to study in an EU country (and a few others) can get an Erasmus grant from the EU, which covers costs you wouldn’t normally incur if you’d stayed at home, and Cardiff’s global opportunities centre offers some grants for those who wish to study abroad, as well as your loan from the UK government. Thirdly and lastly, if you’re thinking of doing a year abroad, make sure you do, or at least find out about opportunities within your degree course. It’s an old saying, but the world really is your oyster, it’s better to take the opportunity of working or studying in a foreign country when you might never have the chance again and it really will give you experiences and skills you’ll never forget. I have, however, before I get back to Cardiff, got to stop pressing ‘q’ on my keyboard when I wqnt an ‘a’ ….