1. What inspired you to start TYA and what spurs you on to this day?I started ThirdYearAbroad.com because I really needed it on my year abroad! I was alone in Florence and didn't know where or how to matriculate at the university, how to get a tax code, where to find accommodation... and all in pretty hopeless Italian! I didn't know anyone in the city at all, but I needed advice and help from someone who had been through it all already and could pass on the benefit of their experience. There was no support available to me online or offline so I felt that it was up to me to provide a resource of user generated information and a network, not only to support students who were abroad, but also to inspire other students to leap at the opportunity of a year abroad during their degree, and show them that there was a network of approachable students who had been through it all already.
I think what spurs me on the most is that the study of languages is in decline in the UK. To me, that is just crazy - you get fluent in a foreign language, a well-funded year abroad, and exciting, well-paid international career opportunities! It must be because of the idea that "everyone in the world speaks English", but I think that is short-sighted, and the UK needs to reeducate parents on this matter as much as we need to reeducate young people.
2. How do you encourage students who DON'T study a language at uni to still consider going abroad for a year?Students can still go to the USA, Canada, New Zealand or Australia - you don't need language skills to do a year abroad. Having said that, I often visit study abroad fairs and come across students who are in first or second year studying subjects like business, marketing or history who ask if they can still do a year abroad with funding in Europe if they can't speak a foreign language. They can!!! The Erasmus Programme is open to the majority of university students, no matter what your degree subject, and one of the main benefits is that they give you an average funding of €375 per month to study at one of your university's partner organisations. English-speaking universities abroad generally don't have a huge amount financial support, although of course you are still eligible for your tuition fee and maintenance loan from Student Finance, and maybe a travel grant too.
All you have to do, as one of these students, is knuckle down and learn the language, and although that may sound like a lot to ask you really just have to commit to doing it and you'll find a way. You wouldn't believe how fast you learn a language when you're fully immersed in it - I advise students to make the most of their university holidays and get a placement abroad, check out their university's Lifelong Learning classes, get a conversation exchange partner (an incoming Erasmus student from your dream destination?), or find out about learning languages online for free. Then not only will you have a degree, you'll be fluent in a foreign language, and have many more and diverse career opportunities! However, if learning languages is completely out of the question, there are lots of universities in Europe which teach their courses in English, so don't worry...
3. Why is it so important/essential that young people keep learning foreign languages?The short answer is that it's really fun and leads to amazing career opportunities!
Every day you read about problems for job-hunting graduates, but they rarely seem to be Modern Language graduates. That's because what this unique group of students has is an attention-grabbing CV, up to a year of full work experience, the ability to communicate with foreign clients in their own language (bringing international business to any company they choose to work for), an understanding of their culture having lived abroad themselves, and the ability to search for jobs not only in the UK, but abroad as well.
What the year abroad gives language students, having recently read through 600 year abroad graduate case studies, is self-confidence, linguistic fluency, an impressive CV (if you make the most of your opportunity), and the ability to travel seamlessly between countries. Just think! Spanish is the primary language in 20 countries, spoken by up to 500 million people, but there are also hundreds of thousands of native speakers in France, Germany, Canada, the UK, and 37 million in the USA! The world is the Spanish graduate's oyster! This also applies to other languages, for example, there are 60.7 million Italians in Italy, but there are 70 million people of full- or part-Italian ancestry who live abroad. That doesn't mean an Italian graduate has to work in the UK or Italy!
It's important that young people keep their options open for as long as possible, and that's what studying a language can do.
4. What changes have you seen/have happened thanks to your website? i.e. A story of someone you convinced to go abroad, or something broader than that?
I have a good example of how the TYA network has helped to inspire an unsure student to study languages at university. She was also worried about the year abroad aspect, so I asked our Twitter followers and Facebook Fans for their help and this is the result. I love when we collectively make a difference like that, and I hope it inspires other students too.
I'm currently working with the British Academy and University Council of Modern Languages on a report about Valuing the Year Abroad (the results of which will be on this page at the end of March) in order to help save future government funding. I've been able to read through and analyse 600 in-depth reports written by year abroad graduates of all ages and I hope that the results will make a real difference on a national level, as without the existing funding the year abroad could become prohibitively expensive.
5. Where do you see TYA in 5 years time? Any new avenues to explore? What direction is the site (and YOU) heading in?In 5 years' time I hope that there will be many more young people studying languages, and that we will have played a large part in bringing that about. The site and the team will be bigger and stronger, we will be offering more specially-designed products to students to support them on their year abroad, we will be working with the majority of universities in the UK, and there will be a much better Year Abroad Ambassador scheme in place. We want UK businesses to understand the benefit of employing a year abroad graduate, and through that we want to show these students the amazing array of careers on offer to them (and only them?).
I'm having an absolutely wonderful time working at ThirdYearAbroad.com, and I'd love to stay along for the ride for as long as I am being innovative!