For what seems like the majority of second year, the big question of the Year Abroad was like my own personal raincloud, constantly following me around and opening on up whenever the spectre of ‘next year’ was mentioned. Even though I was certain that I wanted to work and earn my way through the year, there were just too many question marks for my liking—what kind of job? Paid or internship? Italy or France?
Applications were sent off, telephone interviews stumbled across (may have used the excuse of ‘bad reception’/feigned a coughing fit on more than one occasion) and finally – on the day of my Italian oral in the first week of Easter Term—I was offered a job in Communications at HEC Paris, a business school just outside of Paris (emphasis on the ‘outside’). With a monthly bursary, free accommodation and the promise of hours and hours on Facebook, I was sold.
I wouldn’t be lying if I said that my Year Abroad was one of the best years of my life. My job was varied and challenging, with real responsibility and end-of-the-day satisfaction—I worked on the new MBA website, managed the social media accounts and worked on promotional material such as brochures and videos for the program. I was able to work closely with the students (read: I was able to have many coffee breaks with the students) and the fact that I lived on the campus gave me the best of both worlds: a working wage during the day and the student social life in the evenings.
I did salsa and rock ‘n’ roll classes, I attended deep philosophical debates about the meaning of love in French (didn’t understand a word but looked intelligent) and even attended a very memorable hip-hop break-dancing class in an attempt to woo a Frenchman (it didn’t work out). I was a cheerleader in a sports tournament, helped run an international summer school program and interviewed the ex-Vice President of Amazon (he liked my nail polish, fun fact). And you know what? I loved every second.
But of course, the Year Abroad is about more than the work you do. It’s about the things that you choose to do, the opportunities you take and the adventures you have. If I had to give a piece of advice to someone currently on their Year Abroad or looking ahead to theirs, it would be to say Yes to everything (as long as it’s legal); many people find it scary going to a foreign country where you don’t know anyone, but you really do take away what you put in. Go to dance classes, to strange bars in new neighbourhoods, take advantage of your new location to do a bit of travelling – I managed to get to Belgium, Germany, Alsace, Italy, the Loire Valley and even a military academy and I only wish I’d done more. Stay positive, keep smiling and put yourself out there. It’s scary but well worth it; you’ll find it’s not just your language skills which grow, but your self-confidence, too. And that’s pretty priceless.