"I cannot stress enough the extent to which my year abroad changed my attitudes, my level of maturity, my aptitude, and my general ability to cope with change and challenging situations. Where going to university would have given me a sheltered, institutionalised experience, I was thrown into the working environment, teaching English in a secondary school (Gymnasium) in the Ruhrgebiet in western Germany, not far from the cultural delights of Düsseldorf and Cologne.
Despite the obvious nerves of arriving in a new country where the main language was not my own, I was instantly welcomed, and given every opportunity to get involved with school events, whether it was a Foreign Language Evening, a whole-school performance event, a theatre day for primary school children, or a play in English with an amazing group of Year 5s (10-11 year olds), as well as normal teaching, or coaching students for the Cambridge First Certificate Examination.
I am now studying for a PGCE in English, and the year’s experience of the teaching environment was invaluable for getting a place on a highly competitive course, as well as a certain amount of background knowledge of English as an Additional Language learning, which is becoming increasingly important in teaching in the UK. If I were to choose to become formally qualified in TEFL teaching, I have a bank of prior knowledge which will be enormously helpful in getting that qualification, and in a climate of economic instability, experience in a career which has no geographical boundaries results in a level of flexibility in finding a job which I know will stand me in good stead.
The need to keep organised while on the year abroad, particularly in terms of paperwork, travel and accommodation, is a mundane but incredibly useful experience. The bureaucracy of many professional environments is somewhat overwhelming, and being able to organise my life across national boundaries is a skill that I am pleased to have been able to develop.
I can say with confidence that my year abroad was the best year of my degree. My confidence has increased no end, and whatever the difficulty of the tasks set in front of me, I am no longer daunted by them. Everyone makes mistakes and encounters difficulties, but the year abroad equipped me with the strategies I needed to overcome them. I have met some wonderful people, seen some beautiful things, and gained an awareness of diversity, cultural differences and similarities which is invaluable in this increasingly globalised world."