Teaching Abroad: homesickness and becoming French

Strasbourg Cathedral – Liz Lester


October’s Feature asked students to tell Aber Student Media about any advice, work experience, years in employment and years abroad they may have had as part of their course.

Employability is of course one of the main reasons we are all at university. We’ve all read the leaflets, heard the talks from the Careers office and possibly looked up options on line, but we thought it best to let you hear from people who’ve been there and done it.   

I AM A THIRD year International Politics and French student, taking a year out abroad. I’m living in Strasbourg, France and working as an English Language Assistant in two ‘lycée’s’ (with students aged 15-18), just outside the city in a small town called ‘Obernai’. My assistantship is part of the British Council’s Language Assistant’s program, which sends over 2,500 students around the world each year with the aim of “bringing English language and UK culture alive.”

As spending a year abroad is obligatory for students who are studying French, I had a number of options including finding my own job abroad, working for the British Council or studying in a partner university. I chose the British Council and my year abroad co-ordinator wrote my reference to send with an application form.

Regarding financial ‘aid’, I received my student loan early to help with one off costs including travel, accommodation deposits and buying a phone and soon I will receive the ERASMUS grant. We were given guidance on where to look for accommodation, how to set up a bank account and the British Council provided us with country notes. Although, it still felt like I was thrown in at the deep-end when I arrived here, because the system is so unfamiliar.

It’s been good to be able to see a place from a ‘native’ perspective, not just from that of a tourist. You can find eateries which are cheaper, more personal and off the beaten track or find out about events that aren’t obvious to tourists. For example, on the first Sunday of the month all museums are free in Strasbourg.

I’ve also met some amazing people from France, Italy, Germany and America. Being based on the continent also means I can go on day trips to places at a relatively low cost; from Strasbourg I’ll be able to visit parts of Germany, France, Switzerland and Luxembourg. Also there are the obvious language benefits: getting used to a local accent, learning new vocabulary and gaining a confidence that can only be learnt outside of the classroom.

However, administration has been a nightmare. Sorting out paper work to get paid, receive state health insurance and housing benefit, all require your passport and bank details. Finding a coping mechanism for homesickness has been another difficult point for me, as there is no way that I can just quickly take a visit to my family. For me this has been a combination of Skype and finding Anglophone friends, with whom it’s easier to express yourself when you’re upset.

I think it will help me get a job. By improving my language skills I will have a better chance of achieving a good degree. I’ve also already found myself becoming more confident in communicating in a different language. I think this experience will develop qualities of independence, organisation and adaptability to be able function in a different environment.