"The secretarial placement was useful general work experience - many graduates have little work experience when they start looking for jobs, and so my placement was a decisive advantage in itself, let alone the fact that it left me fluent in a second language.
In my case, the career link is very clear; I returned to the same organisation after graduation and worked there for three years, before returning to university (this time in Munich as well) to do an MA. I now work for a centrally-funded research institute at the university as an academic editor and translator, using the linguistic, academic, and intercultural skills I have developed over almost ten years in southern Germany.
The real value of the year for me though was less the work experience and more the general aspects of living abroad. Even Germany, which is culturally still quite close to the UK (compared, say, to Belarus or Venezuela) was still full of differences. I lived with a family and was thus initiated into all aspects of family life over the whole year - food, traditions, language, school, work, housework (Germans have a completely different method of doing the dishes!)...the list is endless.
What the year effectively forces you to do is move outside your comfort zone for a while, whether via work or study, or in a social capacity. You have to live in a different culture, take part in different conversations, access and express your thoughts via a different language; it gives you a new place to stand - a perspective from which to look at your own life, your friends, and your culture.
I have many friends who had years abroad; some of them who, like me, returned to their adopted countries to take up careers, some who are in the UK, many who have lived in many different places since. The experience of living abroad unites us still, and I believe it has wide-reaching consequences for our individual careers and for the development of our generation. The attitude to social issues, such as education and employment, and to global problems, such as third-world debt and climate change, are broader, more informed, and more nuanced among those of us who had the opportunity to see another culture in depth and from the inside. The insularity that is represented by not speaking a foreign language is indicative of the narrowness of vision that comes with having known only a single place and culture in which ideas are expressed: it is not just important linguistic competencies which are threatened by failing to support year abroad programmes, but the UK’s engagement in a generation which looks across borders, in its policies, research, and debates."