Year Abroad Options

Sophie Wrigglesworth
Created: 4 months, 3 weeks ago
Last modified: 4 months, 3 weeks ago

While the Year Abroad can be an incredible opportunity to learn, grow and explore beyond what is possible in a classroom or lecture theatre, it is nevertheless very daunting. This begins even in the planning stages, as it can be very difficult deciding how and where to spend the year. While I can only speak from my experience of doing a Year Abroad as part of the MML (Modern and Medieval Languages) degree at Cambridge – and would recommend anyone double check the options available in their course and university – here is a brief overview of the options available.

Studying Abroad
Like many universities, Cambridge has partnerships with universities across the world that allow students to study abroad. This can be for all or part of the academic year, and there seems to be a lot of freedom in course choices, which is an appealing option whether you want to pursue certain aspects of your degree or take on something entirely new. Other advantages of studying abroad include the ready-made networks of people to meet, for example in class, through student societies, and in social media groups for international students studying in the same place. The time between semesters can also be very long, giving people the opportunity to travel back to the UK and/or to new places in the continent they are studying in. While UK students can no longer receive Erasmus funding for study abroad placements, the Turing Scheme has replaced this, and (at least in the case of Student Finance England) students doing a study placement (or an unpaid work placement) abroad receive a higher student loan than they would for a year of study in the UK. Overall, studying abroad is a popular option that offers the chance to learn new things, get to know lots of young people from all over the world, and have lots of free time for travel and cultural immersion too.

Work Placements
Another popular option for the Year Abroad is taking on a work placement. These can be in a whole range of sectors, giving people the chance to explore areas that they might like to pursue after graduating, and gain invaluable experience. The Cambridge Year Abroad Office shares details of potential placements, and students have access to reports from people who have done them in the past, but can also pursue placements independently too. Something to be aware of is that not all placements are paid, and some have a very low hourly rate. However, they are still a popular option, and there is support available from Student Finance, and the University that can help with things. A Year Abroad work placement can be a great addition to a CV and many see it as an excellent taste of (and preparation for) life beyond university.

The option I chose for my Year Abroad was to work as an English Language Assistant through the British Council programme. This programme sends people to a variety of countries to work in a school (or sometimes several schools), supporting students who are learning English. People’s experience of the programme seems to vary significantly based on the country, area and school(s) they are placed in – in my case, I’m doing a 7 month placement in a lycée (sixth-form equivalent) in France, where I do a mixture of teaching English to full classes with the support of another teacher, and working with smaller groups by myself. Language assistants don’t work full-time – in France, we’re scheduled for 12 hours a week in the classroom – and although planning lessons can take a while, there is still plenty of time for other things too. Schools can often be very supportive with the settling-in process and help with finding affordable accommodation, so while the language assistant salary isn’t massive, I’ve found it (alongside my student loan and Camrbridge bursary) more than enough to live comfortably on.

A slight risk of the programme is that, while you can give preferences of which school type, region and size of place you would like to work in, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll get your first preference, and wherever you go, your experience will be quite unique. I found this uncertainty quite stressful at first, but have ended up being very happy with where I was allocated, and most other language assistants I’ve spoken to feel the same. Overall, while I am slightly biased, I would definitely recommend the programme as something to consider, both as very useful experience of working in an educational setting, and as a great opportunity to be immersed within a community and culture abroad!

So voilà, that is my overview of some Year Abroad options. I’ve tried to touch on the main concerns people may have when planning the year, especially finances, but I highly recommend looking at details for specific placements, university and Student Finance support, as things can change from year to year and be very individual. Best of luck to anyone considering, planning, or embarking on a Year Abroad! It is daunting but will come with some truly unforgettable experiences.