"During my year abroad, I was appointed to a one-year post as an English Language Assistant in a junior-high comprehensive school in a northern suburb of Marseille. I already spent the previous two summers doing voluntary work in the Provence area and I was very happy to have the opportunity to live in the south of France for an extended period. The experience was pivotal both professionally and personally: I made the quantum leap from ‘student-hood’ to adulthood as it allowed me to become fully independent, also in financial terms.
The French programme for language assistants was excellent as the teaching staff were encouraged to consider us as an essential complement to their own daily work. We were also fully integrated into the education system in terms of the excellent salary and insurance package. During this year, my vision of being a Young European and one of the faces of the ‘New Europe’ became consolidated and I wore it with pride. Upon my return home, I fully embraced the idea that European borders were no longer those I had know during my childhood in Northern Ireland. Linguistically, I gained first-hand experience of how important it is to have a sound working knowledge of at least one other European language. I realised that French and Italian were no longer confined to the realms of sub-titled films that I grew up watching on BBC2, but were very tangible concepts indeed.
At the end of my year abroad, I decided that I wanted to work in an international environment, preferably in Europe, where I could eventually put my language skills to good use, in addition to the transferrable skills and disciplines I had learnt from studying for a degree from the Arts Faculty. After graduation, I taught English as a Foreign Language in an Italian university (as a ‘lettore’) and subsequently moved into professional translating/interpreting, working in both domains for 12 years.
I then felt I needed a change of environment and new stimuli and was fortunate to get a short-term trial contract with a UN agency based in Rome. This new working environment finally provided me with the ‘European’ dimension that I had originally wanted following my return from my year abroad, and also exposed me to an excellent context to develop skills in admin and finance, while also putting to good use to my verbal/written communication skills first developed in Marseille. I have been working for the UN for 12 years now and have held positions in both Geneva and Rome. If I could, I would make a year abroad mandatory for all!"