A Guide To Organising Your Year Abroad

Ella Gould gives the second year language students some tips on sorting their years abroad.


Not that we are encouraging you to ‘sack off’ the multitude of Year Abroad meetings coming your way here at The Tab; but just in case you should oversleep, forget about it or cold and snowy to venture outside to get to them, here are some handy tips.

Many of you polyglot second years will soon be scouring DUO and the internet in search of what to do next year. Being organised and sorting it out early is great, but remember that the Europeans are infamously disorganised and slow at getting back to you, so I welcome you to months of emails chasing people up.

In my experience, as an intern who isn’t even there yet, you will be awarded little to no priority. So be patient and keep chasing, don’t just expect them to get back to you. If the months go by and you don´t seem to be having much luck, don’t panic.

Lots of things fall into place at the last minute. I am going to Italy next week and am yet to finalise anything. (In other words, I still don´t have a job!) Lots of people go out to their countries without their job being ‘formalised’ (although I would suggest looking well in advance) and there are always the unlucky few lose their job when out there or hate it so much they have to find another one.

The hotel that one friend was working in closed down two months into her stay, whilst another had the boss from hell and nothing to do. One unfortunate one in France found herself in the middle of nowhere in Anne Frank-esque accommodation totally alone. Not ideal for practicing her language skills. Needless to say, despite being made of sturdy stuff she got out after two hellish weeks. All had to look for alternative employment. One piece of advice, don’t expect shit not to happen.

It is stressful, yes, but you will have the lovely Kathleen Lowson in Elvet and her team who are always there to help you out. I have come to realise that this woman is quite literally a saint. Always on hand to answer whatever query you may have and do speedy paperwork turnarounds (key for last minute placements).

I would strongly recommend compiling a list of questions you might have and venturing to Elvet to see her in person rather than bombard her with emails. You will be having a lot of contact with this kind woman over the next few months (especially if you are of the disorganised variety) so getting to know her isn´t the worst idea.

Here are the main options:

1) University


– Durham practically organises the whole thing for you, sign yourself up, choose a preferred location, wait a few months and bob’s your uncle you’re off.

– They will also help you to find accommodation

– You will be surrounded by people your own age so it´s easier to meet people.

– You might even learn something useful


– You might end up with all the Erasmus students, where the common language is always English.

– You won´t be earning a cent and will be very reliant on Mummy and Daddy (Erasmus doesn’t cover much, especially in a big city).


2) British Council Assistantship (a VERY sweet deal) 


– Also organised for you and help is usually given with accommodation

– You’re in the country for a long time (maybe worth considering doing it in your weaker language, we all have one)

– You only work 16hours a week, which for most people means three day weekends and afternoons off. As if that wasn’t enough, you are paid 1000 euros a month to do so + your Erasmus grant + private teaching in all your spare time + top up grant. You fair very well economically and if M & D pay your rent won´t even have to touch your salary. So save a load, travel the world, save it for 4th year, shop, buy a car…..


– It’s a long time, think about whether you want/can be in one place for that long (unfortunately not really an option for anyone doing three languages).

– You don´t really know where you’ll end up, it could be a big city it could be a small town in the middle of nowhere. Think twice about where you want to be, some people love the idea of a sleepy French village, while others would be utterly miserable.


D.I.Y (on your own)


– The jobs are a lot more interesting/challenging and probably better for your CV than teaching or studying. (Good if you have to use up the whole 15 months and can´t fit in an internship).

– You will be in a totally native environment

– You will probably gain some invaluable experience in the domain of your choice and choose where you want to spend your time.

– You MIGHT earn money if you’re lucky, but don’t count on it. Although I have found employers to be very sympathetic and its more than possible to negotiate to only work part time in order to teach or get a bar/shop job in the afternoons (these are also not hard to find).


– Its harder! In Spain, 50% of under 25s are currently unemployed. If you were planning on swanning in and bagging some fantastic job without a degree and complete knowledge of the language for a few measly months… think again!



If you are looking for a job,

1) I strongly recommend using ALL your contacts, all your parents’ contacts and all of your parents’ friends’ contacts. Make your Year Abroad number one topic of conversation when socialising with friends. Get your parents to talk about it to colleagues and long lost university pals and during meetings…. the list goes on. Its one of life’s great injustices and I don’t care what Nick Clegg says. If you have or can build up the network, DO IT! Some will bite, some won’t. A huge advantage of being a student is that you are still perceived as keen, enthusiastic and slightly helpless and I think you´ll find that most people are more than happy to lend a hand.

2) Don´t limit yourself to people in your circles. Try everyone, email everyone you can think of no matter how long the shot. It might just pay off. Join the British Chamber of commerce in your target country, look up B2B business there and bombard them all with a snappy CV.

3) Use friends doing languages at other universities. Log into their version of DUO and browse the opportunities and contacts that they have built up, just be sure to return the favor.