Emily Worgan is a Final Year student studying BA History and Ancient History with Employment Experience, at the University of Exeter. She talked to us about what it was like living and working in Spain, and the unexpectedly powerful impact it had on her life.
Humanities undergraduates can gain work experience across a wide range of sectors as part of their degree on programmes such as ‘with Employment Experience’ or the ‘Humanities in the Workplace’ module. If you’re a Humanities student and want to find out more about work placements head to: https://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/careers/undergraduatestudents/
When I had decided to include ‘with employment experience’ in my degree, I hadn’t expected to be where I am now. I had always been keen to live and work abroad at some point in my life, with aspirations to practice my less than mediocre language skills and push myself out of my comfort zone. However, when I attended a placement fair at university in my second year, I had looked at domestic placements, being anxious about actually deciding to apply for a placement abroad. I looked on Handshake, in newsletters, on websites and more. However, after not finding anything which really excited me, I was introduced to the British Council, an organisation which aims to promote the English language and British culture. The British Council has a program which allows people to be placed in other countries as a language assistant, teaching a range of ages and in a variety of locations.
“Due to the pandemic and Brexit, it was hit or miss as to whether I would or even could carry out my placement, yet, in September 2020, I took my first solo flight to Madrid and then travelled on to Soria to start my experience.”
I had originally wanted to apply to France, as I had taken a module of French and wished to develop my language skills further. However, it was required to have a B1 level of French in order to apply, and I had A2. Therefore, I looked to apply to Spain, where it was not a requirement to know the language to a high level. I have never truly studied Spanish, yet wished to really push myself (which, in hindsight, was absolutely mad!).
The application process was fairly simple and the university was a great support when it came to the personal statement and reference. When the pandemic happened, I was convinced that the program would not continue and that I would have to carry out my ultimate year of my degree instead. However, the British Council decided to continue with the program and informed me that I had been successful in my application in June.
Due to the pandemic and Brexit, it was hit or miss as to whether I would or even could carry out my placement, yet, in September 2020, I took my first solo flight to Madrid and then travelled on to Soria to start my experience.
“…don’t be disappointed if you feel scared or homesick when you first arrive – it is normal… Be kind to yourself and recognise that this is just another challenge to overcome!”
The first night was the hardest and I had considered giving up, however I persevered and day-by-day being away from home became easier. I had amazing support from people in Soria that I had met online and my colleagues were incredibly helpful during those first days. The most important thing to remember when you take on an experience like this, is that it is going to be hard at first but it definitely gets easier. So, don’t be disappointed if you feel scared or homesick when you first arrive- it is normal. Once you get past your first few days, you can be proud that you overcame the panic and then look forward to the amazing experience that you will have. Be kind to yourself and recognise that this is just another challenge to overcome!
Now, over a year later, my experience since that night has been the most incredible of my life. I have never felt so independent, confident and proud. It has certainly been hard – I have had problems processing paperwork, finding somewhere to live and not knowing the language is difficult. However, now I know more, especially in terms of the language, and have incredible support from friends and co-workers here. I have met people from France, the US, China, and Ecuador, not to mention those from all over Spain! I have had several opportunities to visit beautiful places such as Segovia, Léon and Zaragoza, and try new foods and truly experience Spanish culture. I have a say ‘yes’ policy in which I push myself to experience more, despite being anxious. This policy has allowed me to have the best time!
“Now, over a year later, my experience since that night has been the most incredible of my life. I have never felt so independent, confident and proud.”
Working in a primary school in a small village has definitely been a positive experience. Teaching these children and communicating with them has allowed me to make decisions on my future career path. We learn from each other, and every day at work feels like I am in class as well. The staff have been so welcoming and supportive, and many are now my friends. To share my culture and experiences with the children and add to their curiosity has made me very happy! I hope to have had a positive impact on these children’s lives by the end of my placement. I can truly say that I look forward to going to work!
“When I return to University, I know that I will carry this experience for the rest of my life and that if I can get through this, then I can be truly proud of myself.”
So, when I think back to when I had applied to do a ‘with employment experience’, this outcome was not what I had in mind. I had expected to have either a placement in the UK or France, and living normally, without a pandemic. But now, I have lifelong friends, an international family and an experience that has made me understand the importance of independence. When I return to University, I know that I will carry this experience for the rest of my life and that if I can get through this, then I can be truly proud of myself.