Third Year Abroad: Pros and Cons of Studying Abroad
Choosing how to spend your Year Abroad is not nearly as easy as it seems. Here I’m going to take a look at the pros and cons to help you decide. If you feel there’s something I’ve missed, then feel free to comment below and I’ll add it in.
- The most sociable option: Of the three options available (the other two being working or teaching English in a school), I’d say studying is the most sociable. In class you’ll meet lots of other people your age and that way you’ll have more opportunity to practise speaking the language. After all, the aim of the Year Abroad is principally to improve orally.
- Meet people from all over Europe: One aspect you can only get by studying abroad with Erasmus is that you will inevitably meet lots and lots of people from countries all over Europe! Having friends spread all over the entire continent does make reunions a little complicated, but does introduce you to so many different nationalities and foreign cultures, and gives you lots of new places to visit post-Erasmus.
- Language-learning: In terms of language-learning, it’s generally agreed that of the three, working abroad is the best as you’re surrounded 9-5pm by the language. Second in the ranking is studying abroad, as you need to reach a certain standard in order to be able to pass your exams, although there can be the influence of English-speaking Erasmus friends. (Whether you see this as a good thing or not is up to you, but English is the most widely learnt language in Europe and so often becomes a lingua franca in groups of various nationalities). And worst of all three for language-learning tends to be the British Council Teaching Assistant placement, as your job is to speak English all day long, instead of your target language. And unlike the other two options, teaching assistants aren’t allowed to get too friendly with the people they spend their days with (ie. their students).
- Freedom to travel whenever: As a student, it’s up to you if you want to skip a class or two, so if you want to travel around a bit then you’re not as restricted as people who work/teach, who can’t just take a day off whenever they please. One of the beauties of Erasmus is the ability to see other cities and even other countries, so as a student you have the freedom to do as you please.
- Part-time work: As you’re in control of your timetable and which courses you take, it’s very simple to pick up a part-time job on the side to bring in a little extra money. In most countries native English speakers are a valuable commodity and so giving informal English oral classes is a good (and very easy) money-maker. Oral teachers earn at least €15/hour, more in more expensive countries. People working 9-5pm in an unpaid internship will undoubtedly be reluctant to take on extra hours of work, but studying gives you the flexibility to do so.
- Academic holidays: As a student you don’t lose your precious holidays from university, while some countries may give you less time off than you’re used to in the UK. Easter and summer holidays will always be yours. Workers and interns have to sacrifice their holidays and go to work…
- Keeping up your other language/subject: If you study two or more languages, or even another subject, then going to university allows you to continue studying and keep up your second language/subject, even though you’re not in a country where it’s spoken. Equally, you may well meet other Erasmus students that speak your other language, with whom you can practice.
- Very easy to apply: In terms of applying for a university abroad, it’s incredibly easy and doesn’t involve any of the translated CVs and phone interviews that may be necessary for an internship of British Council. You simply have to find out from your UK university which foreign universities they have links with, and then express your preference. Your Year Abroad coordinator will then allocate you a university and you’re done! All three options obviously involve paperwork, but studying is by far the easiest option.
- Not earning any money: Along with unpaid internships, studying is one of the more expensive options as you’re not earning a living. If you’re within the EU and studying under the Erasmus programme then you don’t have to pay tuition fees to your host university but you still have living costs to cover.
- Risk of not having many local friends: Unless you’re careful, it can be easy to form a group of Erasmus friends, who won’t exactly help you improve the language, and who may well all speak in English among one another. While Erasmus friends are great fun and a key part of Erasmus, try to have local friends as well. A good way to do this is to seek out a flat with other natives, opening up their friendship circle to you as well.
- Doesn’t look as good on a CV: While many employers are impressed by a semester in a foreign university, the work experience gained in a job, internship or teaching placement is undeniably more valuable. It some countries (not the UK, I’d like to add), Erasmus study can be seen as an excuse to just party, and therefore is not that impressive an addition to a CV. Working abroad, and what’s more in a foreign language, sets you up for an easier job hunt post-university.
- Less choice of where to go: If you know in advance that you simply must be in Paris, for example, because you have family there or something like that, then it is true that by choosing to study abroad, you’re not guaranteed to end up exactly where you want. Where you can go depends on where your university has links with, and where they decide to place you. At Exeter University, for example, the students with the highest First Year marks are given their first choice of university, and then the Year Abroad coordinator works their way down the list like that. So if your first year marks weren’t brilliant, then you’re unlikely to be placed in the city of your choice. And you can’t demand to change university once you’ve been allocated to it… The only Year Abroad option that allows to choose exactly where you go is the internship/job, if you manage to find it yourself.
- The exams do count: It depends on how your home university chooses to assess your Year Abroad, but they may well convert your marks from your foreign university and they’ll go towards your overall degree mark. So there is a bit of pressure to make sure you get good grades, and if you find yourself on an impossible module that you’ve no chance of passing, then you’re in a bit of a pickle. So pick your modules carefully and remember that you do need to actually pass!
At the end of the day it’s a personal choice that only you can make, but hopefully some of the info above will help you make that choice. Take a look at my posts on the pros and cons of Working Abroad and of Teaching English through British Council.