A bit about meI am a 20-year old trilinguist from Durham University. I am studying French, Spanish and German so my year abroad was always going to be fairly busy! I had to spend a third of my year in each country and started off with 5 months in Austria. I wrote a blog whilst there and here’s the link. I have since changed blogs so please click here.
in case you want to follow my other year abroad adventures.
An overviewI got a place on the British Council Assistantship programme and was allocated 3 schools in the Austrian Alps just South of Salzburg. Two of my schools were in the town of Bischofshofen and the other was in Radstadt. I chose to live in B’hofen for ease.
What to packThe first thing that came to mind when looking ahead to my 5 months in Austria was the fact it was going to get pretty cold, so I packed LOTS of jumpers. And that was a very good prediction. The first snow came at the end of October and from then it was pretty cold indeed. However, it was really warm for the first few weeks at the end of September and the beginning of October and T-shirts were distinctly lacking in my wardrobe. It also gets warmish in Spring so if you are going out for the full year, a wide range of clothes might be a good idea. I used a lot of layers when I was there and my snow boots were my best friend. It would have been impossible to go anywhere without shoes that could handle snow.
Other good things to pack are photos and memories from home, you don’t need many but it can help you settle in. I also took a few DVDs which is a good idea for those nights in when there isn’t much on TV and you fancy a little comfort from home.
Arrival and settling inThanks to my main contact teacher, I had managed to sort out private accommodation in the last few weeks before my placement started. This is the one negative thing about the British Council system – you don’t find out exactly where you are placed till about July which makes finding accommodation your top priority for the Summer. However, I was fortunate enough to have an apartment in a charming lady’s house. I had arranged to meet her daughter at the train station, having followed clear instructions on how to get there and had given myself a whole weekend to settle in. This is also a good idea because it gives you time to unpack, get used to your new surroundings and I even managed to set up my bank account and mobile phone all before training.
Things to do when you get thereGetting a mobile phone, just a pay as you go one, is a great idea because it is much cheaper for communicating with your colleagues, friends and the other assistants. Bob is a cheap phone service. I would not recommend A1 because it can be really expensive and your credit disappears within days. Also, paying out a little more for a separate phone is a great idea because then you don’t have to keep switching sim cards. If you are living in a place where the internet is not provided, getting a dongle is also a good plan. It can be really expensive, but only if you start streaming music and videos. If you are just checking facebook and writing emails then you should be ok. I set up both of these facilities at the post office in my town.
Setting up a bank account is also really important, as you need one to get paid. Due to the fact that I had set mine up nearly 2 weeks before starting at school, when I arrived on my first day I could give them all my details, so I got paid in the first month whilst most other assistants got a double pay check in the 2nd month. I got an account with the post office and they were really easy so I would recommend them.
When you get to Austria you have to go to the Meldeamt, technically within 3 days of arrival. This will most likely be in the town hall and is a really simple procedure. You just turn up and get the form and then you have to fill it out and get your landlord to sign it, then take it back with your passport. You could possibly find the Anmelden form online. At the end of your stay you have to go back and they take you off the records. Registering enables you to get your social security pack through the post and your social security number which you also need to take in to your schools.
When you start work, take your bank account details and your social security number with you. I also took my passport in case but I don’t think they needed it. I had to fill out the same form in all 3 schools. These serve the purpose of being your contract so don’t forget the details you need to take in.
TrainingThe training week is one of the best things about doing an assistantship. You get to meet all of the other assistants on your side of Austria and spend the day ‘learning’ with others who will be in your region. If it had not been for this training week I maybe wouldn’t have met any of the assistants as a lot of them lived in Salzburg and I was up in the mountains.
The training itself is pretty standard but the socialising and the hike up a mountain were great.
WorkingI worked at 3 schools which made my first week a little daunting as I had 3 first days, 3 sets of colleagues to meet and 3 different schools to find my way to, and then find my way around. I was very lucky though as all 3 were great. I was introduced to the head teachers and to my colleagues. I also had a tour round the school and then just did some introductory classes. Preparing a Powerpoint presentation about you/your life/where you come from is a great thing to do. Even better if any teachers spring a lesson on you, as you’ll have a starting point. I spent the 1st week introducing myself and getting to know the different classes.
The first week went really well and I LOVED my time teaching. I know teaching is not everyone’s cup of tea and I was very lucky with my classes and colleagues, but really it was a great experience. It truly is one of those situations where the more you put in, the more you get out. If you prepare fun and interesting lessons they generally go well and the students like you, making your life much easier.
The town of BischofshofenBischofshofen itself is a really little (even in comparison to small towns in the UK it’s tiny) town just South of Salzburg. It is one of the main towns in the Pongau region and as such, has really good transport with a fairly new train station. The trains were my saving grace because it meant I could get into Salzburg really easily if I needed to. It is also half way between Salzburg and Zell am See, which is a good location for skiing. I myself cannot ski due to bad knees but the other assistants made the most of the snow. There are some stunning walks and bike rides though the mountains all around Bischofshofen and in each of the nearby towns.
Bischofshofen is absolutely stunning and everyday on my walk to school my breath was taken away by the view. Salzburg is also beautiful and has lots of charm. It is definitely in my top 5 cities in Europe, possibly in 2nd place with only Berlin above it.
The lowsTo give an accurate representation of my 5 months I have to mention some of the challenges you may face in the same situation:
- On the quieter evenings you can spend a long time alone. In fact you can end up spending a lot of time alone in general. As my timetable finished by 12PM everyday (on a Monday I was done by 10AM) I had a lot of time on my hands in the afternoon. I used this to see people and go for long walks in the mountains but sometimes this wasn’t possible.
- Very very early mornings. I am a morning person so setting the alarm clock for 5AM or 5.30AM every day was not too much of an issue but I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
- The cold. I don’t think I need to explain this really but sometimes it was just so cold. We also got snowed in one weekend which can make life a little frustrating.
- Teaching. It can be really rewarding and I loved feeling like I was really making a difference.
- The sense of belonging. I really felt like I had a purpose in all 3 schools and was valued by my colleagues.
- Having my own life. I loved the fact that I had my job, my apartment, my salary and thus, complete independence really. I like to think of it as a taste of what’s to come once I graduate.
- Meeting people. I met some incredible and fascinating people along the way. I am still in touch with some of my colleagues and some of the other assistants and I now have some travelling opportunities for the future.
- The blue sky. Despite it being cold the sky was nearly always blue and this is one of the things I will always remember from my time there.