"Like many modern language students, I spent the third year of my degree course abroad, working as a language assistant in France. Having already visited Normandy, Brittany and Paris several times, I asked for - and obtained - a post in the teaching academy of Toulouse.
Despite the minimal training session, which didn't correspond to the requirements of the job, this experience was a turning point in my life in many ways.
First, professionally: until then I had envisaged a career in journalism and was in no way motivated to go into teaching. My year abroad changed this, and I returned to England determined to become a language teacher.
Secondly, personally: I was just 19 when I had my year abroad, since I was "ahead of my year" in my studies. This experience was an amazing wake-up call to reality. Having to cope with living alone in a foreign country, finding accommodation, setting up electricity and phone contracts, doing a job, getting to know colleagues, finding your own way in another country... all of these tasks seem like hurdles, and little by little, as they are achieved, your confidence builds up, you become more sure of yourself, more mature, more autonomous.
Thirdly, linguistically: my year abroad was an incredible experience. I found myself in a small village in the middle of the Lot in France, where there were no English-speaking pupils or foreign students. I spoke French, and just French, out of my classroom, for the whole 8 months I was there. When I returned to England, I was bilingual.
I was also mad about the country I had lived in, I read everything, watched everything, listened to everything French that I could get my hands on!
At the end of my degree, I went on to a PGCE at Exeter University, and started teaching in England. Still passionate about France, I decided to return to perfect my French. I was offered a two-year contract at the University of Nice, and during my year there I passed the competitive exams to become a teacher (part of the civil service) in France. I passed my exams with flying colours (thanks to the excellent academic level of the Universities I went to) and have now been living in Nice, working as a professeur agrégé, for seventeen years. I am also part of the teacher training team in the academy, and a "chargée de mission d'inspection" which leads to me inspecting other teachers. For the last five years, I have had language assistants "under my wing", and note the same personal evolution for all of them.
I have always been thankful that the university system offered me this opportunity. As one of four children, my parents could never have afforded to send me abroad at their own expense. I am also proud to have been part of this system, and recognise the linguistic skills it helps to develop.
I am now 40 years old. With a fantastic French home and family, a job I love and that I'm good at, I have achieved all the goals I set for myself. My year abroad was decisive in so many ways, it truly changed my life.
I hope that the system will continue to offer students the possibility of a year abroad, I am convinced that it is an excellent way of shaping young people, opening doors for them, and changing their lives."