My year abroad was spent as a language assistant in a French lycée or secondary school and I can honestly say that my year abroad was the best year of my life in every aspect. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about my assistantship, my location and the experience as a whole.
I was very fortunate in my placement in that I was sent to one of the most beautiful, and unique, ‘French’ locations – the town of Bastia, in Corsica. I say ‘French’ because, although the official language is French, the Corsicans take great delight in telling you that they are anything but French. They are Corsican, have their own culture, their own language (‘le corse’) and, as it didn’t take me long to realise, their own very strong opinions. The island, named ‘L’Ile de Beauté’ is exactly what it suggests, a unique, unspoilt, beautiful island and I took full advantage of what Corsica had to offer - the sea, the sun, the beaches and the mountains. Bastia itself is the biggest town in Corsica, though not the capital (which is Ajaccio). From Bastia, I was able to travel to the mainland by boat or plane and around the rest of Corsica. I made the most of the transport links available.
I was met at the airport by one of my ‘colleagues’ from the lycée. I had arranged this, via e-mail, a couple of weeks before arriving. However, the school did not provide me with accommodation so, thanks to typical Corsican hospitality, I stayed with another teacher for a few days until I managed to find an apartment, with another English assistant, overlooking the town market place.
One of the main things I will remember of Corsica is the friendliness shown towards me for my entire stay. The teachers at my school, and my landlady, invited me to dinner, my pupils asked me to go out with them, and people who I met through sports or music groups or church were always too willing to take me out somewhere. I took the bull by the horns and made sure I was never wasting my time and because I was so busy, networking became easy. I met so many genuinely nice people, people I will stay in touch with. Because I didn’t meet any other British or English-speaking people except for the other few assistants, I was forced to speak French all the time and ultimately found myself thinking in French rather that English.
In terms of my assistantship post, I was lucky with my particular lycée. Academic standards were reasonably high and the teachers made me feel an important part of the team. Discipline was rarely a problem and I had ample resources to work with. As a teaching experience, the assistantship was invaluable. I have acquired a lot of confidence as a teacher and may consider it as a career path.
Personal and academic development
My year abroad has boosted my confidence in a social context, in particular the importance of talking to people and pushing myself for my own benefit. I have definitely matured in my outlook having been surrounded by strongly opinionated people. The Mediterranean and French culture of discussing current affairs both formally and informally is something that I have brought back with me, as is the hunger to return to Corsica and to travel elsewhere to experience different cultures. I can also say that the amount of fun I had made my year so much more enjoyable.
Academically, teaching skills and ideas and confidence to express myself in front of a large-ish group are important developments. My ability in French has also increased a tremendous amount and has emphasised my will to learn more and more French and given me new interests in other languages.
This was an excellent year. Although I realise I may have been fortunate with my location and the school, my year abroad could not have been any better. It has helped me develop as a person in many respects and the enjoyment, skills and memories I have taken away from it will stay with me for a very, very long time. I would recommend any student who has the chance to spend a year abroad as part of their course to do so!