Unlike the study abroad option that is available for other university courses, when studying a language at university you will have a few different options to pick from when it comes to your Year Abroad. You can study at a university abroad, work for the British Council as an English Language Assistant, or you can find your own work placement. While all of these options have their own various advantages and disadvantages, it is important to research all of them to ensure you make the best choice for you.
I decided that the best path for me would be to work as an English Language Assistant for the British Council. And before you get to thinking about it - this is not only an option for those who wish to be a teacher in the future. Of course, working with children is something that you may have to do, and so if this is not something you could see yourself doing for 9 months, then this is probably not the best option for you. Depending on which school you are allocated, you may be teaching adult learners, students studying their A-Levels or even primary school children.
The idea of studying in a different university abroad was not something that massively appealed to me. Similarly, the thought of having to work in a real company while still working on my German skills seemed quite daunting. Therefore, the middleground and the most natural option for me was to work for the British Council. It is the perfect introduction to working abroad in my opinion.
The Working Hours
One of the main attractions of selecting this role was the working hours. Depending on the school, you will have to work around 12 - 18 hours a week. This can equate to just 3 hours a day over 4 days if your school only wants you working 12 hours. Most schools try to be as accommodating as possible, and will usually ask if you would like to have Mondays / Fridays off, to ensure you can have a long weekend to explore the city and travel around the country. Fortunately, I was able to do lots of travelling over my long weekends which proved invaluable when I look back on my time abroad.
Working as an English Language Assistant in a secondary school is similar to being the cool young aunt. You show up every so often, dazzle the class with your British accent and provide welcome relief to the strict subject teacher. The job itself is largely what you make of it. If you do want to pursue a career in teaching, you will be able to take on lots of responsibilities. Some teachers may let you lead a section of the lesson, while others will ask you to take out small groups to focus on speaking practice. I started and led an English afterschool club, to help students revise before their exams.
If you are uncomfortable with being alone with a small group, or don’t wish to stand in front of a class, be sure to make this clear to your mentor and they will try to find other ways for you to help. Trust me, speaking to a group of bored teenagers in your second language is no easy feat. If you ever feel shy when teaching, it is important to try to push through it. You will look back at your time teaching and be very impressed with how your confidence has grown. It is important to note that not every class will be a chance for you to show off your skills, as some teachers will have their lessons thoroughly planned out. Lots of classes just consisted of me sitting in the front/back of the classroom, nodding whenever the teacher wished to check their pronunciation, and wandering around with a coloured pen to check work.
How to Spend your Free Time
Of course, the limited working hours aren’t all fun and games. While it may seem great that you only go in for a few hours a day, you soon come to realize that you have a lot of free time on your hands. As a result, one popular avenue for those doing British Council is to become a tutor. A lot of parents are excited to have a native speaker as their child’s tutor, so will often overlook a lack of professional qualifications or previous experience. Do be warned that this does require some work and preparation before each lesson, and will be more challenging the older the child is.
All of this free time also allows you to fully immerse yourself in your new city and its culture. In Germany, with a small fee you will be able to join a local university. If you are missing your university life, it is always a good idea to start taking a class or two at your local university to keep your mind sharp. Alternatively, it might be worth looking into volunteering opportunities or perhaps join a local sports team. These options will only take up a few hours of your week, but allow you to constantly practice your target language. And at the same time, you will be able to make more local friends who will be able to show you around the city.
All in all, British Council offers students a great opportunity to ease themselves into working abroad. If you are not excited at the prospect of studying abroad, but also don’t want to find a whole job by yourself - working as a teaching assistant is a great option, allowing you to truly make the most of your year abroad!