When I was 20 years old (and, let's face it, not really old enough to quite understand what I was being thrown into...) I undertook a placement in France as a British Council Language Assistant. I was completing my 4-year university degree at the University of Warwick in the UK and it was of course a compulsory part of my study to spend a year abroad. As I had a vague idea that I wanted to become a secondary school teacher in the future (how I wish I hadn't had such mad ideas..!), I decided that instead of undergoing a university placement abroad, as some of my friends did, that I would like to become an English Language Assistant. This involved being placed in a school in France and helping students with their acquisition of the English language.
Now, if you are someone embarking on this a) fantastic, but at the very same time b) absolutely petrifying task, hopefully I can be of some help or comfort! I really did find that there are some serious dos and don'ts of the whole situation. If not, you could easily run into a bit of hot water! Especially if, like me, your accommodation was not organised for you and you find yourself having to look for somewhere to live after you arrive!
- Contact your school in advance. Yes, it may be scary. But at least you will know that you have at least made contact with someone before you arrive. If you tell them when you are planning to arrive it is highly likely that they will start looking for accommodation for you in advance. You will at least know what you are expecting.
- Contact other assistants in the area. I was provided with a list of English language assistants who would be in the same area as me during the year. As much as it is important to immerse yourself in the culture and language, at the same time it is important to be in contact with people in the same position as yourself.
- Do some research on teaching before you go. My school was not fantastic about providing me with any sort of help. I was basically left with 15 students in a room and told to 'teach them English'! If I had not had some teaching books and ideas with me to help, then I really would have found it difficult! If you have access to the internet that would at least help - we didn't have that in my day!!
- Turn down invitations from colleagues. Any contacts you can make may be useful to you in the future. And it is all language practise!
- Talk to strange people! Yes, you need to be in contact with other people - but make sure that you use your common sense. Colleagues and contacts found through mutual friends are all very well, but be careful with people you don't know and who have no-one to vouch for them. It is highly likely that you will be able to trust in the good nature of humankind, but please also bear in mind that you are effectively alone in another country. Don't allow any type of loneliness or sense of isolation to cloud your judgement and make sure that you don't take any risks that you wouldn't take in your own country.
Don't let me frighten you - you are in for an amazing year. I learned so much during my time abroad and I am so proud of the challenges I overcame. Finding my own appartement, setting up a bank account and starting work in a new country and in a language that was not my native tongue are all things I am extremely proud of. Sometimes I can't believe that it was me that did it! But planning in advance will make for a safer and more productive trip. Have fun!