"I cannot stress enough how important I think it is for anyone, not just language students, to experience life abroad in a different setting, immersed in different cultures and subject to a change in lifestyle. I was a student at Leeds from 2006 to 2010 studying French and was lucky enough to participate in a year abroad in Montpellier studying the French language at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier III. I have to say that the year abroad was probably the best thing I could have done on both an educational and a personal level.
From a language graduate’s point of view, I think it would be stating the obvious to say that learning a language up to a level of fluency is essentially impossible without being fully immersed in it for a prolonged period of time. I’m sure many of my ex-classroom comrades would agree with me when they consider how vastly the year abroad helped to improve their speaking and listening skills, and in my case, by studying the language as well, all areas of learning benefitted greatly. I can say with all confidence that without the year abroad, completing my final year would have been a great struggle.
On a personal level, and one which I believe has most greatly affected me, I would go as far as to say that the year abroad affected my personality and who I am today. Before living abroad I was quite shy and didn’t have much confidence in my ability. Indeed, initially, I found life in France a little bit difficult as I was far away from my family and friends and stuck in an unfamiliar place. However, after sticking it out a while I managed to settle in, my French started to flow and I met people from all walks of life - the weather wasn't bad either! I also happened to make some of the best friends I know I’ll ever make, with whom I am constantly still in touch. Personality-wise the year abroad made me more confident, creative and sure of myself.
Upon leaving university, I found myself yearning for more overseas experiences and after working in the UK for 6 months I came across an organisation which, based on my previous stint abroad, funded me to go to Peru for 6 months. There I taught English and learned another language, Spanish. This was another experience which helped me to further expand my skills and increase my confidence. Back in the UK, I now have a job in PR that I love, and incidentally it was my housemate from my year abroad in Montpellier who helped me get the job!
Overall, spending time abroad gives you the opportunity to discover new horizons, build up your confidence and skills, make great new friends and have an amazing and unique life experience that will stay with you forever. It certainly changed my life for the better."