"When I received the message as an exuberant and carefree second year that I had been given a placement in Cáceres, Extremadura, my heart sank. My misconception of the region as a backwards land famed for pigs and acorn liqueur was soon scotched as time after time I met kind, interesting locals who were more ‘genuinely Spanish’ than the international crowd in better known destinations such as Madrid, Seville and Salamanca. Well, I was at least right about the famed “jamón de pata negra” some of the most delicious ham around as farmers go to the lengths of feeding their livestock a diet of acorns to produce a unique flavour.
The year abroad gave me a real chance, and need, to grow up. Life amongst the dreaming spires had been pretty cushy so it was great to be forced to find a flat, go out of my way to try new things and meet new people. Within weeks I had joined the local squash ladder, got in on a weekly “auberge espagnole” style language exchange dinner and taken on a raft of pupils for private lessons to feed my newly acquired ham and acorn liqueur addictions!
All too soon it was time to say “adios España” and “bonjour Bordeaux”. I was lucky enough to obtain a place on the EU-sponsored Leonardo da Vinci programme, a scheme designed to increase intra-European professional mobility which organises unpaid internships and pays the majority of living expenses to boot. With my eye on the clock and barely 4 months to go before entering my final year I landed a job in a 100% French speaking environment – a kids summer camp! While the topics of conversation were rarely high-brow, I had a great opportunity to work on my language fluency and a great, active experience over the summer in a region renowned for its fine wines, stunning beaches and natural beauty.
On my return from the continent, I was faced with the harsh realities of hard graft, Finals and finding a job. I wanted to continue to use my language skills but in practical, “real world” scenarios and when I happened on management consulting, with its mixture of creativity, analysis and opportunities to live and work abroad, I knew it was for me. My first choice firm, at which I am now working, has not disappointed and in my first 10 months I have worked in London and Madrid, and I am now on a 7-month project in Mexico - ¡Qué maravilla!
The year abroad undoubtedly enhanced my personal and professional life no end. I now have an extensive network of friends in France, Spain and further afield as a result of my time spent abroad meeting people from far and wide and there is no question that the life experience and maturity, as well as improved language skills I acquired in my year away from Oxford have stood me in very good stead. I thoroughly endorse the system as a fun, productive and eye-opening experience, the benefit of which will be seen for many years to come."