"Without wishing to sound dramatic, my year abroad was by far the most significant year of my university degree and one of the most meaningful years of my life. I spent nine months teaching English in three primary schools in Manosque, a small but picturesque village in the south of France.
I had really looked forward to the year abroad. It was because of that “real-world” element of the course that I had decided to study languages at degree level. And I made what (at the time) felt like big sacrifices to be able to go. I failed my first year French grammar exam and re-sits happened to coincide with the final week of a back-packing trip with friends in south-east Asia. I had a choice: forfeit the exam, stay in Thailand and drop French from my degree – tempting – or return to Leeds and take the exam. I flew back alone, and while my friends partied beneath the full-moon, I sat in an exam hall at Leeds University. Thankfully, I passed. The driving force for my perseverance was because I desperately wanted the chance to live and teach abroad as part of my degree.
Despite my determination, when I arrived in Manosque – 21 years old and alone, faced with the prospect of finding somewhere to live, setting up a bank account and starting a job I had never done before – I was daunted. I remember feeling like I had started a nine-month prison sentence. It was a very hard few weeks settling in to my new life. But I really believe it was the most character-forming period I will ever experience.
I ended up finding a beautiful apartment up eight flights of stairs overlooking the rooftops of Manosque, and lived alone for the first time in my life. I developed my language skills, and mastered a fluency that I would never have achieved with classroom-only French in Leeds. I lived like a French person, not a tourist – and made French friends. I was invited for dinner by the parents of my pupils. One French family invited me skiing for the first time, which is an experience I’ll never forget.
It was during this time I developed an awareness of my future – I had the time and space to work out who I wanted to become, what career I wanted to pursue, and how I would achieve those goals. Having had the chance to experience teaching first-hand, I realised a career in the classroom wasn’t for me. I decided to pursue journalism and while in France began writing for Oxfam.
I now work as a journalist and sub-editor at the Sunday Times. There is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t have had the focus, drive or resilience to secure a job after graduation in a very competitive and volatile job market without my year abroad. The value of my year abroad still resonates today."