Category Archives: Year out

Year abroad – a modern language student’s perspective

When studying a languages degree, it is obligatory to spend your third year abroad.  Despite the fact that many people thought this meant I had a year-long holiday whilst everyone back home was writing dissertations, it actually meant working 40+ hours a week, speaking more Spanish daily than ever before and learning more about the culture than I ever could from a textbook.

What did you do in Spain?

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In August last year, I started a five-month placement at a Spanish language school in Barcelona. In a nutshell, my responsibilities included working as a receptionist, carrying out administrative tasks, answering phone and email enquiries and translating content to go onto the English version of the website. Having never worked a fulltime job before, the first few weeks were perhaps the most exhausting and a bit daunting. Nevertheless, once I had settled and got to know my colleagues, I started to really enjoy the work I was doing. After a month, I was put in charge of the schools Spanish evening course. This was the part that I perhaps enjoyed the most because, whilst it was a lot of work on top of what I was already doing, I really enjoyed having something for which I was solely responsible.

How did you find your placement?

The hardest part was probably finding the job itself. I started looking for an internship early on in my second year, seaolivia-barcelonarching Spanish job sites and lists of placements previous students had been on. Dont be disheartened if you send lots of emails and CVs and receive few replies as this tends to be the norm. One day, whilst thinking I was never going to find anything, I came across the language schools website and found that they offered work placements. Whilst the initial application process took a while, it was definitely worth it. So, keep looking and you definitely will find something!

What were the benefits of working abroad?

Working in another country was a great opportunity to meet and work with people from all over the world whom I might otherwise not have had the opportunity to meet. When working such long hours, sometimes even weekends, it was easy to feel that all I was doing was working. So one thing I would suggest to help adapt to living in a new country is throwing yourself into different activities outside of the workplace. This way you get to know more of the city and the culture.

Having now started to think about future job applications, I think the year abroad was a very valuable experience. Working abroad shows international experience, highlights language skills and shows you can adapt to different working environments.

The Careers Service can help you to research different countries using the GoinGlobal database, as well as providing resources to help with applications.

Taking a gap year – a student’s perspective

Being typically millennial, I opted for the cliché and took a Gap year before commencing with my studies at University. I worked in a local pub for most of it and finally got round to passing my driving test. But most importantly of all, that summer I decided to do Camp America.

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(Me kayaking with my best friend at camp from Ireland, and my campers)

 

 

This experience has made me. It has immensely enhanced my communication and leadership skills as well as my use of initiative. It has helped me to think independently and open my eyes to another culture. It’s difficult to fit such a life-changing experience into so few words, but here is a brief outline…

What was it like?

So I was placed to work at the Girl Guide Camp Birch Trails, in Wisconsin, situated in the beautiful North East of America for three months.

At 19, I was about to find out through working with such a diverse group of people I was actually quite young for my age. Having never really worked with kids before and, having never been away from my family for more than a week, I was completely daunted. The first two weeks were tough. I felt severely homesick and, whilst camp training was fun, I struggled to fight it.

But once the kids came, everything changed! You’re thrown in at the deep end, suddenly you’re alone with 10 little girls, aged 6-9, who rely on you for everything. Quickly you learn techniques on how to keep them engaged. You sing songs with them, master the art of them having sun cream on, bug spray and towels ready for the afternoon swim, and you even know how to stop their homesickness. (You secretly write them letters from the ‘camp chipmunk’ and soon they forget the whole thing).

At camp I was trained to teach canoeing and kayaking, horse riding and archery. I learned the girl-guide ethos and made life-long friends from around the globe.

What did you learn?

From working abroad I had to draw on a range of skills I didn’t even know I had! I learned how to cope with the culture change (you’d think America would not be that different-wrong; sarcasm doesn’t always go down well!). I know the value of teamwork and how to work effectively with others. With such a different mix of people, I had to be tolerant even when exhausted, which has helped me greatly in other work experiences, such as last year when I volunteered in the Czech Republic for three months. I knew exactly what I was in for! I now know how to communicate effectively, to be compassionate and lead!

I could not recommend enough work experience in another culture. It it’s challenging, rewarding and a little scary at first, but it will develop you as an individual so much so that you’ll look back one day like I do now, and be proud that you did it!

How your experience of travelling can impress employers

When it comes to applying for jobs after a stint of backpacking, some students worry that employers will view their time away negatively. However the reality is- experience of travelling can provide you with a host of skills and knowledge which can actually help you to stand out on job applications. Read on to find out how you can recognise these skills so that you can market your gap year effectively to employers.

Travelling teaches you important skills

There are a number of core skills that all companies appreciate in their staff, and the good news is you can develop several of these by travelling. Examples include communication, organisation, adaptability, self-reliance and responsibility.

Think about times when you had to ask for directions to the nearest train station from locals who only spoke limited English. Overcoming language barriers such as this would have strengthened your communication ability. In addition, taking time to map out your journey, plan routes and coordinate transport with available hostel rooms takes a great deal of organisation. In fact, simply showing that you were brave enough to leave the comfort of your home soil will show that you are a responsible person who is adaptable to change.

If you took part in any voluntary work while you were away, you may have also gained invaluable experience which you can sell to future employers. For example if you worked with a group of people to construct a well, you will be able to showcase your experience of working as a team.

Employers value cultural awareness

In the era of globalisation where international links between companies are increasing, your awareness of different cultures could help you stand out further. Through your travels you may have picked up cultural sensitivities and the ability to relate to lots of different people which could come in handy in the position you’re applying for. Furthermore, you will be able to prove to employers that you are comfortable with travelling, which may be necessary if you want to work for a multinational company.

Remember:

Be positive: Even if you struggled with the challenges of being away from home, these challenges would have taught you a lot.
Organisations want to hire interesting people: Graduate recruiters receive numerous applications. Evidence of travelling on your CV or in a cover letter could help you stand out from a big crowd.
Keep a record: If you are about to set off on your travels, consider taking a journal with you so you can jot down specific things that you did and what these experiences taught you. That way if you struggle to remember examples to write on your CV or speak about at an interview, you can refer back to this.
Consider writing a blog: Similarly, if you’re interested in a career where writing skills are important, writing an online blog while you’re abroad could help you showcase your talents later down the line.

Help – I’ve been forced to take a year out!

Help – I’ve been forced to take a year out!

It’s that time of year when many students receiving their degree results have to make a sudden change of plan.  We’re busy right now at the Careers Service seeing people who are rethinking what seemed like career certainties just a few months ago, either because they didn’t get the class of degree for which they’d hoped, or occasionally because they achieved a much higher degree result than expected and they hadn’t applied for any jobs.

Whichever position you find yourself in, it can be a daunting prospect to be graduating into months of completely unstructured time, but this doesn’t have to be a disaster.  Employers are very interested in how people cope with setbacks, as well as how they demonstrate resilience and move on, so the focus should be on treating the unexpected time out as one big potential learning experience.  It could even leave you with a stronger CV than the one with which you start your unplanned year out!

Try to maintain a sense of purpose

What employers will be looking for when you do start applying for graduate jobs is a sense of purpose: that you were able to set goals for yourself, plan ahead and structure your time.  It can be incredibly difficult to motivate yourself when you have empty days looming ahead of you after the bustle of university life, but it’s important to have targets both in the long term – the job you want – and in the short term.  What will you be doing each day to keep moving forward?  How will you organise your days?  It’s crucial to have something to aim towards so that you can maintain your motivation.  Staff at the Careers Service are happy to talk through your ideas and help you to plan ahead, and we are open throughout the summer if you would like to come in for a chat.

Get some work experience

A great use of a year out is to find work experience and sample some different jobs and organisational cultures, as this could help you to make much more informed career choices further down the line.  More work experience can also help to mitigate against the effect of a 2:2, as it can flesh out your CV and show that you are completely capable of doing the kind of work you want to do.  The media has done a great job of convincing people that there are no jobs out there, but we know from talking to employers that this isn’t true.  You will, however, need to be persistent to get your foot in the door.  You can start by looking at the vacancies advertised on the Careers Service web site, and there are several national newspapers that have excellent online job databases, such as the Guardian.

You will also need to make speculative approaches in person, by phone & email and in writing to employers that interest you.  To do this effectively, make sure that you have done your research before you make contact.  Read the company’s web site carefully and make sure that you are clear about the kind of person, skills and experience that they are looking for, as well as reading related publications and web sites to fill in the bigger picture of what is going on in the sector that interests you.  There is information on the Careers web site about how to make a good speculative application.

Finally, try to make use of any contacts that you have to find out about any work experience opportunities.  Talk to family and friends about who they know or get back in touch with any previous employers who could be useful to you.  You can also use the Careers Network of Bristol graduates who are all willing to answer questions about their work and career paths and, in some cases, may be able to offer work experience in their organisations.

Other options

Many students also consider volunteering opportunities, if finances permit, getting involved in a range of projects where you can develop and use skills that employers will value in your applications.  These can be local to your community or they could be an opportunity to travel abroad.  If you’ve always wanted to travel then this could be your ideal time to do it, as long as you can provide evidence of learning and development along the way by taking short-term work or getting involved in development projects.  However, don’t forget that applications for graduate schemes open in the autumn in the year prior to you starting work, and sometimes even earlier, so you will need access to a PC to submit yours on time.  You will also need to be available for interviews should your application be successful.  If you don’t get organised for this crucial period then you might be looking at even more unscheduled time out, so it will pay off to have a plan you can stick to.

Follow up and support

However you decide to use an unscheduled year out, do remember that you can continue to use the Careers Service for a further three years if you are a University of Bristol graduate.  We can provide advice, information and guidance in person, by telephone and also by email, so there is no need to panic if you are on the other side of the world and need someone to give you feedback on your CV!  Just remember to keep track of what you are learning from your experiences, and you should be a solid candidate for the jobs you start applying for in a few months’ time.  Good luck!

Dr Tracy Johnson, Careers Adviser