Third Year Abroad: Pros and Cons of Working 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.
- Language-learning: In terms of language-learning, it’s generally agreed that of the three options, working abroad is the best as you’re surrounded 9-5pm by the language and your colleagues expect a certain standard. Depending on what your job or internship entails you’ll probably pick up a specialist vocabulary and words that no one else would have learnt. If your job/internship involved translating, then you’ll really expand your vocabulary fast as you’ll be involved in constant language work. Second in the ranking is studying abroad, as it’s necessary to learn enough to pass exams. 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).
- Possibility to earn money: If you are so fortunate as to land a job abroad or (even rarer) a paid internship, then you’ve got the chance to earn some money! This can pay for your living costs and even allow you to travel, dine in nice restaurants, shop and all the other perks that a salary brings.
- Looks good on a CV: Six- or twelve-months of work experience abroad could just be that extra nudge that gets you that graduate job after university (it certainly was in my case). Future employers will be impressed by this work experience that most other graduates in your position won’t have had, and the ability to work in another language is an extra bonus. It’ll also give you something to talk about in interviews. Additionally, if you already know what industry you want to work in after university, then you can get a job/internship in that industry to get experience. A girl I know did that and once her internship had finished the company offered her a job for after she graduated!
- Good way to meet locals: Presuming that your colleagues are locals, or at least all speak in your target language, working can be a good way for you to completely surround yourself with the language and meet new friends. They can also be helpful in suggesting nice places to visit or local events/festivities. Another way to do this is to seek out a flat with other natives, opening up their friendship circle to you as well.
- You get a break from studying and revising: If you didn’t take a Gap Year, this may well be the first time off from studying that you’ve had in 17 years! It’s nice to have your evenings completely to yourself, without the hassle of homework/essays/presentations/exams. Your university won’t assess you based on exam results, as they may do with people who choose to study abroad, so you may have to write an essay about your work experience in your target language, or compile a portfolio of sorts. But apart from this, your responsibilities end when you walk out of the office and you’re free to explore the country without the worry of study in the back of your mind. Even those who teach English with British Council have to plan lessons outside of their working hours, so this is one big advantage of working abroad.
- Most likely not earning any money: The majority of internships abroad (with the exception of France, where interns have to be paid by law) are sadly unpaid and, along with studying, this does make it one of the more expensive options as you’re not earning a living.
- Hard to find: Unless you have contacts or family friends that can help you find an internship/job abroad, it can be hard work to find one by yourself. You may spend hours trawling the internet and writing covering letters in your target language, only to never get any reply from a company. If you do actually get a reply, you may then have a nerve-wracking phone interview via Skype, which all just adds to the stress of it. Alternatively, speak to your Year Abroad Coordinator as they may well have links with companies abroad. This makes the whole process of finding a work placement abroad easier, although you may have less choice as to where you are/what your role is. The easiest option in terms of applying is the Studying Abroad option.
- Long working hours: Compared to teaching English with British Council and Studying Abroad, working normally involves the longest hours, and the least free time. If you fancy taking a long weekend to go to the sea, you can’t just skip a Monday as easily as you would as a student. You may well be able to ask for time off now and again but you’re not entitled to holiday as such, and going out mid-week with other students becomes a painful affair when you have to be sitting at your desk the following morning at 9am. Remember – most clubs in Europe close a lot later than in England, up until 7am in some countries! Good luck making it through the following day after a long night of partying!
- Fewer holidays: Working abroad is the only option that doesn’t involve academic holidays… So while your friends that teach or study may be flying home for the Christmas holidays, you may only have a few days off. Summer holidays don’t exist, and working through the summer (especially in the heat of Southern Europe) when your friends are off on holiday can be tough.
- Could be less sociable: Depending on what your colleagues are like, you may not meet as many people your age as you would at a foreign university for example. Tip: the larger the company or office, the more chance there is of meeting people with similar interests/of a similar age. Your friendship circle may end up being smaller than you’re used to, as you have less time available for socialising outside of work.
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 post on the pros and cons of Study Abroad and Teaching English Abroad.