Studying abroad

July 12, 2011 by admin

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As a language student it is usually the case that you have to spend a year of your university year abroad. This is so that you get a ‘real experience’ of how the language works in context, with native speakers. But, in all honesty is that really how it works out? Studying as part of a university exchange programme, for example as an ERASMUS student, you can study in a foreign country as part of your degree course whilst improving your language skills. In theory this sounds great, a year in (possibly) warmer climes, immersed in a different culture and language, by the time you return to sunny England you should be fluent, right? Unfortunately I would beg to differ.

Let me give you an example: a friend was an Erasmus student at a university in south west France, her classes were with other ERASMUS and foreign students, as was time spent in accommodation, meal times etc. You get the picture. French university life can be somewhat different to what a lot of English students are used to, i.e. the campus atmosphere, most people having moved half way across the country to study there (or to get away from the parents?!). In smaller French university towns a lot of students still live at home so the campus/dormitory life and joviality doesn’t exist. This sense of community is lost, along with the chance for foreign students to mingle with their French colleagues.

That is, if the foreign students want to mingle… from experience I know that more often than not students of the same nationality will group and stick together during the time spent abroad. It’s easy; it’s comfortable; you have ready made friends in a sense. But, in essence, this defeats the object of being abroad. It isn’t easy to break into the ranks of the French students, particularly if there is no common time spent together. But it is absolutely essential if you are to gain anything from your year outside of the United Kingdom. When I came back from my year abroad it was immediately obvious who had made some kind of effort. Nothing can beat having regular conversations with a native speaker in terms of improving accent, fluency and vocabulary.

My advice to anyone considering studying abroad? Do it. But only if you’re going to fully invest in the situation, push yourself outside of your comfort zone and integrate (to whatever extent is possible) into the native community.

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