"I first spent four and a half months in Bologna, Italy, and lived with native Italians. I also attended lectures in Italian and had the opportunity to travel in the surrounding regions. I taught local children English, giving me valuable experience I have since used as a tutor when I haven't been in full-time employment.
Without this immersive experience in Italy there is not the slightest chance I would have gained a successful degree. I could barely speak Italian until my year abroad; I studied Italian ab initio, with no prior knowledge of the language, and was really struggling with the vocabulary and grammar in the first two years. It would be impossible to become proficient in a foreign language – let alone to master it – without spending several months engaging with native speakers on a daily basis.
I then spent six months in Paris working as an intern in a French law firm, where I learnt to communicate in a business environment in another language. I learnt about aspects of French culture that you can't learn from a holiday, or even an extended study period. My daily interaction with French colleagues was invaluable, and meant I was able to make lasting contcts and friendships. More importantly I became near-fluent, as opposed to speaking the halting French you learn when studying remotely.
The time I spent abroad undoubtedly helped me succeed in my degree. To hold a degree in a foreign language without being able to communicate fluently in that language would be a travesty, and would only serve to fuel the rest of the world’s view that the British don’t or can’t speak other languages.
My knowledge of French and Italian, coupled with my work experience, was a crucial factor in securing my first graduate job as an analyst with the investment bank Lazard. I used both languages to some extent during my two years in that job, mainly in communicating with colleagues in the Paris and Milan offices, as well as doing some translation work. In a subsequent job with a hedge fund, I was able to play a crucial role in the restructuring of a French company we had purchased, spending three days per week inside the company in Paris, easily communicating with the management and staff in the different divisions and subsidiaries, and helping to manage the whole process.
However, where my year abroad really came into its own was in my current career, in the wine industry. As a wine journalist and consultant, being able to communicate with winemakers in two of the most important wine producing countries of the world – France and Italy – is a huge advantage. My experience of both countries’ social mores and cultures of food and wine have also stood me in good stead.
Without that year I would not speak French or Italian now, five years on. I would have lost what I had learnt in classrooms, without the bolstering effect of living and breathing those languages in real life."