Hello everyone! I’m going to do a post that will be helpful for future Erasmus students, as a student that has both worked and studied on my year abroad. It’s a tough decision and both the options have their merits and drawbacks, and this can definitely make it an agonising decision! Both have been great experiences that I’ve been lucky to have, but if you’re reading this as a future Erasmus student and wondering what to do, here are some helpful general pros and cons from my own experience:
You get a real, prolonged insight into working in a foreign language which does wonders for your language skills. Working in Barcelona completely revolutionised my Spanish skills: not only did I have to speak it every day at work, but I had to learn to express myself properly to explain different ideas and justify important decisions. I have an incredible newfound confidence speaking Spanish after an experience which allowed me to speak it for 7+ hours a day. Don’t be worried, dive head first!
It takes less pressure off you for the summer. A lot of people freak out about finding summer internships and jobs to raise money or find experience. Granted, my placement was technically unpaid but I gained invaluable experience over a 6-month period that formed part of my degree! It’s such a bonus to be able to have an integrated work placement, and it means that whilst I would like to work this summer as well, I know that I have some fantastic experience under my belt so I don’t feel like I’m scrambling to find something.
It’s refreshing. One of the feelings I was most unprepared for was how exciting it was to be doing something NEW after years on end of studying. I know I’ll be working full time in a few years anyway but it’s really fun to gain an insight into working life. Yes, it’s hard, but you learn a huge amount about yourself and it gives you a new perspective on time management and how to spend evenings and weekends. I enjoyed dedicating a set time everyday to my job and then coming home to free time. Weekends became sacred but it made me so much more productive with my time than when I’m studying. I also got the opportunity to go to an international trade show and on a radio programme, not everyday do you get to do those kinds of things!
You become so much more employable! You’re working in a foreign language, and you’ve made the effort to find and apply to a placement when you could be studying. I’m not saying it’s more difficult than studying (I found it to be easier!), but you gain so many new skills that you can transfer into your future career. Whether you work for 3 months or 6 months, it sets you apart and the experience can only be valuable in telling you what you do and don’t like, and what your strengths and weaknesses are.
It’s more tiring. Although some people I know have fewer hours than me, working 30-40 hours a week was a slight shock to the system. It can feel like you are spending a lot of time inside when you could be exploring your new home, although it feels good to be integrated into the city’s working life.
You do have less free time to travel further afield. Although I could have travelled slightly more at weekends when I was working, a combination of tiredness and not wanting to travel on both weekend days before going back to 5 days of work again made me less tempted by the idea. It can be difficult to fit travel plans into a full-time working schedule without taking days off.
It can be harder to meet people. My colleagues were the loveliest people ever and I had a great time at work, but if you’re not studying it can be harder to meet other students. I would advise that if you’re working, try and get a flat with more housemates if being around lots of people is your thing. My housemates became my best friends in Barcelona and I think that without them I would have struggled to meet new friends regularly.
It’s more flexible. I have 18 hours a week but it’s likely you’ll get at least a morning/afternoon or an entire day free. I have Fridays off but some people have managed a 4-day weekend which makes travelling very easy! I have been on so many 3-4 day trips this semester which wouldn’t really have worked out when I was working. It depends what your priorities are: in Barcelona I LOVED staying in the city anyway but I’ve really enjoyed travelling this term.
You get to directly attack your language skills. Many unis with Erasmus capabilities will offer some courses to help you develop your target language. Here in Toulouse, there is a dedicated French Foreign Language department offering courses at all levels, tackling language through history, culture, philosophy and grammar. That way, you can easily cover your problem areas and work towards going up a language level. Lots of teachers I’ve had have been so kind and I’ve learnt a huge amount across my 3 languages.
It is easier to make friends. This is obviously a massive part of Erasmus: building a community abroad. Unis will have associations to bring new students together so it can be an immediate way to make friends. Working can be more tricky but as I said, I had no problem at all thanks to my flat, and ended up with a really big international group.
It’s easier to adjust to. Going from studying at home to abroad is still a big change but it’s a bit more within your comfort zone. It’s quite easy to know how to adapt to a new student life, though don’t have too many expectations! Different unis are organised in different ways so just go with the flow.
It’s harder than it seems. I thought it would be easier but I’ve found it much harder to study. Uni is different in France, my courses are hard and I’ve had lots to do, so I’ve felt like I’ve actually had less free time because I always leave something to the last minute! It’s a strange experience being in a new uni for just a semester and organisation can be confusing.
You only get out what you put in. With uni, it can be very easy just to put in the bare minimum, stick with friends who only speak your language and not make much effort to get involved as you don’t have too much to organise! It’s better to see uni as a chance to challenge yourself and leave your comfort zone, something that work forces you to do.
It doesn’t feel like as different an experience. I’ve often felt like although I’m abroad, I haven’t got to know Toulouse as well as I always have work to do (this isn’t true for everyone), but I kind of just feel like I’m at uni as normal and not as much in a new place. It wasn’t as exciting as working as it’s not as different: you still have the same deadlines and commitments as you do at home so it’s easy to fall into a similar routine and forget that you’re abroad, albeit not completely.
So, after this list, which do I prefer? From my experience, definitely working. It was an immersive experience and I fell in love with my city, with weekends free to explore. I realise it’s hard to separate the work/study itself from the location and the friends you meet, but I think working is just a chance to do something different. However, I wouldn’t have wanted to work the whole year as I wanted the chance to try different things and travel widely. I would definitely recommend the split of both if that is an option, because that way you learn more about yourself, your strengths and your likes and dislikes. Overall, it’s been an incredible experience and I can’t quite believe, 11 months in, that I only have 1 month left!
I’m currently doing exams so excuse the lack of posting, I will be back very soon 🙂