Most modern languages degrees offer students a year abroad in the country of their chosen language. Whether it is working, studying or just simply living in a foreign country, the skills and life experiences that you pick up during your time abroad will make your C.V. appear very attractive to potential recruiters.
Going abroad as part of a work placement scheme will always look impressive on your resume. When all’s said and done, it is work experience, and more often than not, your university will help you to establish connections with international and acclaimed businesses. In these jobs you will pick up a number of skills, but by doing this abroad you build up your communication skills by having to learn to work professionally in the second language.
Aside from gaining valuable work experience and a new vocabulary of foreign business jargon to boot, living in a foreign country as a student also gives you the skills that make a valuable employee. Packing your bags and moving yourself and your life (or all that will fit in the 22kg luggage allowance) abroad is no mean feat. From your first footsteps off the plane in your host country you have to face the small, remote village you may have been posted to.
Finding suitable accommodation and establishing a life for yourself by meeting new people and embracing the culture shows potential employers how you are adaptable to different situations and able to work or study even when you are out of your comfort zone. This adaptability alone opens doors to a variety of different graduate jobs.
I am a Spanish and History graduate and as a part of my degree, the British Council organised a placement for me to spend nine months working as an English Language Assistant in Granada in Southern Spain. I can tell you first hand that there are many other skills and traits you pick up whilst on your year abroad that make a good employee.
The Spanish are notorious for their laid back nature and “mañana” has become almost a national catchphrase. As an English student, this did not sit too well. Setting up a Spanish bank account and having to “read” and sign masses of paperwork all in a foreign language is a mammoth task in itself. But the process is not made any easier when you are waiting outside your closed banking branch at 10.30am, staring at the sign telling you that Monday to Friday they will be open at 10am.
Alas, this is Spain and this is how the culture works. So, a year abroad in Spain definitely makes you a more patient person who is able to deal with difficult and perhaps frustrating situations that we are not used to.
Something else I took away from my year abroad is an element of fearlessness. When you first arrive in your host country, you are faced with a huge culture shock. Why does everyone sleep in the afternoon? Why don’t they eat until 10pm? And most commonly, what are they talking about? Primarily you are there to improve your language but there is no doubt that initially the language barrier proves to be quite overwhelming.
Walking into the supermarket and asking for a loaf of bread suddenly seems like the most daunting and difficult task you could ever come across. Your first encounter with the shop assistant may involve her staring blankly at you while you try to speak to her, in what you believed was your best, perfectly formed and practiced sentence. However, as time goes on, your confidence in talking to strangers, colleagues and flatmates will grow and before you know it, you’ll be picking up on the grammatical errors in the locals’ speech and not your own.
The opportunity to live and work abroad can only be described as unique. As well as gaining key work experience and skills, you also move forward with a relaxed and cultured attitude towards your working life – ok, so you don’t want to take on the Spanish “mañana” lifestyle completely, but certainly, the things you see and do in your year abroad will prepare you for anything.
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Emily Rooke is a graduate from Nottingham Trent University who is now writing workplace blogs for The Workplace Depot.