"I was studying Spanish at university but soon realised that there is no substitute for total immersion in the language and culture. As a result of my year there, my Spanish language skills improved beyond recognition. I developed an interest in Spanish and Latin American literature and film which was fuelled by the fact that I could even understand the subtle nuances and cultural references to which I previously would have been oblivious. The legal experience that I gained opened the door for me to secure further work experience placements in solicitors' firms and barristers' chambers in the UK. That, combined with the marked improvement in my Spanish (which in turn impacted significantly on my degree results), made it possible for me to negotiate a subsequent work placement in a law firm in South America.
I now practise as a barrister and when I was applying for pupillages the thing I often heard from interviewers was that my international experience had made my application stand out from the others. The reality is that nearly everyone who applied for the same positions as me had a good degree and relevant work experience, so having something a little bit different on my CV was enough to catch the panel's attention when they were selecting interview candidates. It showed that I had an interest in other languages and cultures, whilst (they said) demonstrating a little more dedication and responsibility than if I had simply been travelling for a year.
On a more personal note, living abroad was one of the best experiences I could have asked for. In terms of personal development, at the age of nineteen, living on your own and taking on the responsibility of everything that goes with that is difficult enough, but tackling all of those challenges in a new country, through a language in which you’re not entirely comfortable is an incredible learning curve. At the end of it, you feel triumphant, like you’ve taken on the world and won.
If there is a question as to whether or not funding should be made available for third-year placements, the answer has to be yes. We are desperate to fill our national industries with young adults who graduate with good degrees but who can also demonstrate a level of social and cultural awareness, common sense, diplomacy, maturity, resilience, dedication, good communication skills, practical life skills and an ability to work independently or in a team. There is surely no better way to develop these skills than by spending time living abroad, especially within the context of a structured and supportive third-year university placement."