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I spent a year of my degree abroad. Loved every minute (with the exception of a questionable Sevillian landlord, Cuban bureaucracy and the tendency for Havana's 1950s Cadillacs to break down on an hourly basis). I also feel that the year made me more employable on my return to the UK - not just because on my enhanced language skills but mainly because of increased communication skills, cultural awareness, resilience and a whole bunch of other transferable skills that person specifications tend to harp on about. But enough about me - that was years ago. So I asked Khyati Modgil, 4th year European Studies student and fresh from a stint in Paris, to tell us about her experiences. Here's what she had to say....
"Studying or working abroad (+ the usual partying, eating and travelling add-ons) with the help of a top London university and its list of international contacts is something you would be frankly stupid not to consider. It'd be the equivalent of calling the English football squad a force to be reckoned with, turning up on a Wednesday night at walkabout without your ID, or naively expecting the Birmingham accent to be remotely sexy. Admittedly the context and comparisons are harsh, but my goal in this article of sorts is to outline why, by not considering your options outside of London, it rings just as true.
"As you by now I'm sure know, you are living in one of the greatest cities on earth. It has a pocket of practically every corner of the globe in its confines, with the most eclectic mix of people at your own doorstep; put simply, London is the poster girl or boy for globalisation. If like me, coming to the capital was initially always a large enough dream of yours, the opportunity to permanently spend your degree here may seem to render looking elsewhere pointless. For many others, studying in London IS studying abroad - they've already taken that brave step, as anyone who's been on Strand campus for over five minutes will have excitedly acknowledged. However none of this comes close to the benefits - both those that hit you in the face, and those I probably won't acknowledge for another ten years – that going abroad truly has to offer.
"I figure I can probably best explain this by pointing to exhibit A: a twenty-something from the suburbs of Birmingham who never really imagined herself studying in the heart of Paris, let alone next door to Karl Lagerfeld. Yes, I did apply for a four year course in which third year abroad was compulsory, but had I truly imagined it? No - not really. The bright lights of London were bright enough thank you, I had made some amazing friends, and before I knew it I was going to be uprooted before everyone's final year and would miss out on all the fun to be had. Then there was that other glaringly obvious thing, the fact that about 20 miles away from Dover they speak another language. Terrified just didn't do it justice. But now I've returned from Paris, with a macaroon shaped hole in my heart and a fetish for every type of red wine to prove it.
"A year or semester abroad is the refresh button you've always dreamed of. No matter how much you love your uni, whatever will be will NOT always be, and you will want a change. This is the time you can join all those societies you wished you had tried in first year, and entertain all those ideas you may not have the courage to try in London whether you've admitted this to yourself or not. Yes you temporarily leave some cracking friends behind (emphasis on the temporary), but wherever you go you will meet a bunch of phenomenal people who will broaden your horizons no matter how cultured you may already think you are. To go back to exhibit A – not only do I now have guaranteed floor space in every continent of the world, but I also left with valuable contacts at IBM and L'Oreal.
"When you're not out and about and revelling in the fact that you're a more confident fresher again, there's the new city and country in which you live. The demeanour, the stature and the overall air of the place will be so different. Be it food, drink, music, architecture or pace of life - something will make you tick. My greatest sense of achievement was the day I realised French was no longer an abstract set of rules and words but that I could use it constantly in real life situations, regardless of how many mistakes I was making. I left the UK with a level of French that was less than I had procured upon finishing my A levels, and whilst I'm still no Jean Paul Sartre, I've returned so much more capable. Some of my closest friends studied in Paris having not spoken a word of French prior to their arrival. The bulk of their classes were in English and yet they inevitably developed their French. When you're in the thick of it, you always rise to the challenge so whatever you do, try not to shy away from what may now seem the strangest of possibilities. Going State-side is great, but why not go the extra mile (or thousand) and visit Peru or Brazil?
"As with anywhere new you’ll notice things you had yet to fully appreciate at home in comparison – Jon Snow's socks being a prime example, along with general British humour, wit and REAL tea. However, I cannot begin to explain how many times you will feel out of your comfort zone before you accept it and realise that's part of the process itself. You grow to accept change, spontaneity and the unknown, and above all learn to really laugh at yourself and have a bit more faith in people when it all goes Pete Tong - something to which I can testify having given more than one presentation in French to a class of unusually bright French students. I think the obvious word I'm looking for here is confidence. You adapt, and when you realise you can, you can't help but feel better and more proud of your achievements.
"Aside from the obvious checklist that anyone and everyone will tell you about - your increased chance of employability, perhaps another foreign language and work experience abroad - ultimately studying abroad adds a whole new dimension to your character and platinum chink to your armour. You return a more improved version of your former self, your skill-set will treble, and you'll have a sense of accomplishment that will stick with you, no matter what the outcome of your results."
Keep an eye out for a guest post very soon from languages alumna and Careers Consultant Helen Kempster, who will talk about where language skills could take you in your future career.