Learning a Language
John graduated with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from York University. In 2007 he enrolled at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) where he is studying for a masters in international studies and diplomacy. Through Twin Work & Volunteer Abroad he then secured a summer placement in Balaruc-les-bains near Sète, a coastal town in rural South of France. At the start of the placement he undertook a week’s language course in Montpellier, which was followed by 13 weeks working as a receptionist in a hotel.
What was your motivation in applying?
My main motivation was that I really wanted to learn another foreign language. I came out of university and wanted to do a diplomacy masters. French was something I’d always liked at school. I also chose French because it is spoken pretty much everywhere and because it is the language of diplomacy. Oh, and I really love French food! With Twin Work & Volunteer Abroad there is heavy emphasis on training you as a professional. Although I have no ambitions to be a receptionist it was nice working in a foreign environment where what’s expected of you is expected of everyone else.
What did the application process involve?
I had to submit a long application form: why I wanted to do the placement, my educational background and I had to write in the target language my motivation for doing the programme. At the interview stage, I had an English interview with Twin Work & Volunteer Abroad to see who is properly interested. There were then French tests, which check that, when you come over, you can manage.
The programme is financed by the EU as part of the Leonardo scheme. The entire amount spent on you is about 5000 Euros (£3,500). You are effectively paid and you don’t have to worry about flights or any of that hassle.
What did you do?
I had two days off a week, and worked cut-shifts of four hours in the morning and five at night. When you first got in, you had to sort out bills of people leaving; try and translate the menus daily (which could be tricky!); sort out letters and answer all the calls. The evenings were more of a mixture. You would be welcoming clients, explaining how to get to rooms and advising on things to do in the areas. There was no feeling you were being used for your English; they were keen to integrate you as a French person and didn’t want you to feel foreign.
How did you sell the experience on your CV?
With my chosen masters to have another language is so important. Looking at the people who I will be studying with – not a single person doesn’t have some experience of working abroad. I will be looking for a job with an international aspect and it will be great, not only to say I am fluent in French, but also that I have vocational experience. Working at the hotel meant my language had to be polite, and I gained a more courteous way of speaking. I didn’t really expect that, and it’s definitely something to put on my CV.
Did you enjoy it?
One hundred per cent. The social aspect was probably the big selling point for me. There were lots of French stagiaires [students on placements] in the hotel and they were keen to go out.
What did you learn?
Learning the language is probably secondary – the main thing is that you are happy and at ease with the culture.
It was probably seeing the Tour de France. Also my colleagues were great. Plus, there was a big Latvian group staying at the hotel and on the summer solstice they invited the hotel staff out and we had an awesome night!
When I came back to England part-way through the placement. I realised what I was missing about home. It was hard to have a juncture during the placement.
What advice to readers do you have?
Don’t think that you’re not good enough for it. The whole idea is that you are not good enough but you go there and get better. So apply and go for it!
Twin Work & Volunteer Abroad is offering new Leonardo and other international work and volunteer programmes in 2008. See www.workandvolunteer.com for more details.