"I lived in Vichy, central France (Auvergne region) from October 2003 until the end of May 2004, staying an extra month after the end of my scheduled term as a language assistant because I was enjoying it so much! My work was in a vocational further education college with some students older than I was and mostly involved oral work including the responsibility of conducting mock oral exams. I got on very well with the teacher of English who was my mentor at the college and we are still in touch, I sometimes send her resources she finds it hard to get in France. I lived in hostel accommodation for young workers that offered bed and breakfast and provided kitchen and social areas.
Before the Year Abroad I had always found oral work quite difficult in my learning of French as I was very shy about speaking in front of people, but once surrounded by the language that hesitancy was a luxury I could no longer afford if I wanted to eat, socialise, find my way around and do my job! By the end of my stay I was happily chatting - and even sometimes dreaming - in French, and in my final year back at university I found all my French classes so much easier, and the oral work in particular. Since graduation I worked at temporary jobs to gain experience for a year, then joined the local police force as that had been my ambition for some time. I have now been a police officer for more than 5 years. I believe the confidence and independence gained during my year abroad helped me through the application and interview stages for the police force and also with the challenges of the job once I started it - I live in hope that my language skills will also come in useful someday, but it hasn’t happened yet!
I have always found that just going on holiday in France is limited in terms of development opportunities for language skills: hospitality services are geared towards English speakers, you are often with English-speaking companions and in a true tourist hotspot you can meet very few locals. The Year Abroad lets you join and be part of a community - I found that in particular with the local hiking club, which I joined very early on when feeling rather lonely and loved from the start. They were a happy, friendly bunch and most welcoming, and in the spring I spent several weekends away with them and just chattered away in French like I never had before. I remain in e-mail contact with the group and return once a year for a walking weekend and language refresher. It is an excellent way to maintain the language skills I gained and one of the highlights of my year."