Spending a year in France as part of your university degree could be the start of a lifelong love affair with France and it will certainly improve your French. If you are starting to plan your own year in France or know someone who is then this basic guide will help you start planning
WHY SPEND A YEAR ABROAD?
The most recent figures from UCAS (University and Colleges Admissions Service) show that in 2013, a total of 12,460 students accepted a place at university to study European Languages. Of these, 530 accepted a place at university to study French. The large part of these courses include the third academic year spent in a country where the language of study is spoken; the idea being for students to immerse themselves in the linguistic and cultural experience.
STARTING TO PLAN
The beginning of the second year at university sees tutors encouraging their students to start putting wheels in motion for their third year abroad. This can be rather alarming, given that for most students, the first year will have flown by, so the important thing is not to panic. Preparation is key, says Peter, who spent his year abroad working and studying in 2012: “Ensure that you start planning well in advance,” he says. “Many of the most interesting opportunities are snapped up very early on, and if you leave it too late, you can be left with undesirable placements.”
If planning a whole 12 months ahead is tricky to get your head around, consider breaking it down into manageable chunks.
CHOOSING A LOCATION
Start by selecting where you want to be. Use the opportunity to think carefully about what you want to achieve from your year abroad. Is there an area of France you have a particular interest in already? Or perhaps there’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to explore, but have never had the opportunity? Now’s the time to do what you want to do, but take heed, says Zoë, who studied in Bordeaux in 2009. She learnt from others who went for the obvious choice: “The best-known places aren’t always the most suitable,” she explains. “Paris might have a romantic appeal, but in reality, the capital can be a challenging environment in which to make friends with locals. I’d recommend a smaller, student-heavy city or town – such as Bordeaux, or Montpellier, or Toulouse – that still offers plenty to do and has a lively atmosphere, but with a more inclusive community feel, which will allow you to integrate quickly into local life.”
WORKING OR STUDYING IN FRANCE
Once you’ve decided where you want to be, then you can really get going on sorting out what you want to do while you’re there. Broadly speaking, students can either opt to study, to teach, or to work, either in employment or in a stage (internship). Each university will have their own requirements as to how long students must spend in their location of choice, and what exactly they consider appropriate in terms of courses studied, or jobs undertaken, so check with your university department to get a clear idea before you start making firm plans.
1. The Erasmus scheme
Students who wish to study on their year abroad tend to do so via the Erasmus scheme, the EU student exchange programme known since January 2014 as Erasmus+. The programme is open to European students, is recognised by the 4,000+ institutions currently taking part, and ensures that students do not have to pay additional fees when abroad. Erasmus also offers traineeships which can be undertaken if you are interested in a particular profession. Taking part in a unified scheme can be great if you need structure and are happy to continue the student experience in a different environment. With a mix of many European nationalities, the common language tends to be English though, so be aware that you may have to work extra hard if bringing your French up to scratch is one of your aims.
2. The British Council
Students who wish to teach can do so as teaching assistants, by applying through the British Council. You must be a native-level English speaker, and more importantly, be willing to accept any post offered to you. You can register your geographical preferences and these will be taken into account, but be aware that if you have your heart set on a certain area, your dream may not become reality. Another important point to bear in mind is that you must complete the whole period of appointment. The deadline for applications is December, so if this is on your radar, be sure to have filled in all the paperwork and submitted the required information in time.
3. Finding employment yourself
Working on your year abroad, whether in paid employment, or by undertaking a stage, is a great way to foster your language skills and experience life beyond the typical student reference points. Natalie found a job through a family friend, as an assistant in a law firm: “Working in a well-known and well-respected company opened several doors for me, as it was solid experience on my CV. It taught me the true importance of deadlines when there is a commercial aspect involved, and it also meant that I had a little money saved for my final year at university.”
WHERE TO LIVE
Never mind finding your feet on your year abroad in France, finding somewhere to live can be a challenge in itself! Don’t leave it to the last minute. If you’re already one step ahead and you’ve organised where you want to be, and what you want to do, then use the remaining time in your second year wisely. “Do a recce before you go to live there,” suggests Laura, who worked as a teaching assistant. “Find out more about the area, so that you know a little bit more about what to expect when it comes to rents and how safe places are.” If this isn’t possible in person, then turn to the internet for listings websites that will help you get a feel for the accommodation on offer.
While your university may have links and can suggest places to check out, in Zoë’s experience, making the effort yourself can more than reap the rewards: “Make sure that you live with French people. It will make an amazing difference to your standard of French. A good website to use to find a colocation (a shared flat) is www.appartager.com. Going out a couple of weeks before term starts to look for somewhere will give you an advantage over other students. Persevere to find one that suits – it will pay off in the end.”