"It would be impossible to study for a language degree without a year abroad. There is no substitute for time spent in the country of the language being studied with native speakers. I studied at Leeds University and so was fortunate enough to spend nearly 18 months abroad as part of my course. I spent the Easter term of the second year in Florence, which I extended to cover the whole of the summer vacation. I spent the third academic year in Nice and returned to Italy to work for the summer vacation, returning to Leeds for the start of the fourth year.
In both Florence and Nice I studied at language schools during the day and worked in restaurants as a waitress in the evenings. By including some formal study as part of the placement I improved my grammar, but the real education came from the native speakers with whom I worked in the evening. I learned to use different registers of language with the other staff members and the customers. Both Florence and Nice have a high number of tourists which meant that I was often required to use Italian, French and English in the same evening, which was great training for the future. By spending so much time with native speakers I came back to Leeds with a very natural turn of phrase and perfect (if regional!) accents in both languages. I achieved the standard of native speaker in Italian by the time I graduated from Leeds. As I only started Italian at university, this huge progress was only made possible by the amount of time I spent abroad and could not have been achieved at a distance by watching films or listening to the radio.
After graduating I returned to work in Italy as a guide on walking tours. This was a role that required huge independence which, aged 23, I would not have had without the confidence that comes from having lived in a foreign country. I worked closely with the local hotels and restaurants to ensure that the needs of my clients were met. Having worked in restaurants as part of my year abroad I was confident to do this and had specialist knowledge of how restaurants function and therefore was better placed to negotiate (in Italian) regarding budgets, menus and other requirements. Being English but with a strong Tuscan accent also made an impression and helped with being treated as part of the team, rather than a foreign outsider.
I am currently retraining as a dietitian. Part of the role of a dietitian involves working with patients from all walks of life. Having had the opportunity at a young age to live abroad I have had a very broad experience of interacting with people from backgrounds different to my own, linguistically, culturally, educationally and economically. I feel strongly that I will be a better dietitian because of the skills I learned while studying abroad."