An office in Berlin... working on your year abroad (source: Flickr:Josiah Mackenzie)

Working on a year abroad

As good as a year abroad might look on your CV, there will always be those doubters who look on it as one big long party. After all, it doesn’t actually count towards your degree, right?

Maybe not, but that’s no bad thing. I prefer to think of a year abroad as a window of enormous opportunity, with very few strings attached.

Firstly, and most obviously, there is the ability to improve your language skills no end, irrespective of your level before you moved out there. What better way to learn a language than to be completely immersed in it on a daily basis?

The temptation is always to go for the university option: if the year doesn’t count, it’s essentially a repeat of first year for us freshers, in a new, more exciting environment. Who doesn’t want that?

Then there’s the opportunity to try living somewhere else, to experience a new culture and to make more friends internationally.

But there’s also the opportunity to really add some punch to your CV. Whilst it’s impressive enough to be able to say you’ve lived in another country, it looks even better if you can speak of working with your adoptive compatriots.

It’s not even difficult to find work placements, particularly for language students themselves, to whom the option of working as an English Language Assistant in local schools is presented as an equally straightforward alternative to studying at a university.

It’s hardly an increase in workload either. Those taking on these positions are contractually limited to twelve working hours a week by the British Council, a number fairly close to familiarity for arts students, with those pesky essays you normally have to write no longer an obstruction. In its place is the occasional bout of marking or lesson plan – a chance to be creative and get pupils as excited about studying languages as you are.

With such generous hours, I couldn’t help but offer myself up to do more at my school in Berlin, and I ended up taking some P.E. lessons, tutoring some Year 9 students outside of school hours and, most rewarding of all, teaching an extra-curricular English debating class. Having since begun to apply for jobs and postgraduate study, I’ve found these skills and experiences have transferred perfectly onto the CV. Easy.

And if that wasn’t good enough, there is also the obvious perk of earning a salary, and a ridiculously inflated one at that, to ensure you can make the most of this year of opportunity. I personally used my monthly 800 euro income to travel just about everywhere: to name but a few, I ran a marathon in Hamburg, hopped on a bus to enjoy a weekend in Prague, and spent a shedload of money on beer at Oktoberfest.
Lest we forget, this wage comes on top of a not insignificant Erasmus grant, so I even came back at the end of the year having made a profit. Thank you, European Union.

You’re only there for a year, and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to go out and see what your new hometown has to offer because of a tight budget – there’s no student loan to fall back on either!

For those looking for other work placements, companies abroad are often desperate for interns or employees proficient in English (it is the international language, after all), so there are plenty of positions out there for you.

Even those who do opt for the university route, why not look for a part-time job on the side? Tutoring local school pupils is an easy way to start, but there are plenty of other avenues to pursue.

Some companies will even be so keen to have you that they’ll come looking for you. Join Erasmus Facebook groups, keep an eye on job listings and sites, and keep an open mind to things you can do outside of your remit as a year abroad student, to give your CV that something extra.

Remember, just as you’d say yes to any social occasion whilst abroad, virtually anything else is a great opportunity too. Say yes to work as well!

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