The British Council’s English Language Assistants programme spans four continents and fourteen countries: from the Austrian Alps to the French Riviera and beyond, there is somewhere for everyone. Last year, I had the time of my life as an English Language Assistant in Colmar, France. With just two days until the deadline to apply for 2016/17, here’s a brief low-down on being a language assistant abroad . . .
Quai de la Poissonnerie, Colmar
Expect the unexpected
With fourteen countries* to choose from, you’re sure to find one that takes your fancy. Each country is split into regions (which confusingly take the name of the principal city in that region), and you’re allowed to choose three; consequently, remember that you are choosing the entire region and not the specific city. If you have a particular town/city in mind, do your research and demonstrate this in the application form. Case in point: I wanted to spend my year abroad in Alsace, and stated that Colmar’s proximity to the Parc Naturel Régional des Ballons des Vosges (for hiking) and the famous Musée Unterlinden (because it houses famous medieval artefacts) as reasons for wanting to be there . . . and several months later, that’s exactly where I ended up! However, if you don’t end up where you want, remember that your year abroad is what you make it: the place is not what determines your year abroad, you are.
*Choose from: Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Ecuador, France (including Outre-Mer), Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain and Switzerland.
Rue des Boulangers, Colmar
Say ‘yes’ to everything (within reason!)
By having an open and positive attitude to trying new things, you’ll find that people will be more willing to make an effort with you, which in turn is likely to lead to some unforgettable experiences. This is also the best way to build relationships with your colleagues and to get to know other language assistants in the area. My mentor taught me how to make bredelas (a traditional Alsatian biscuit, eaten at Christmas); we then saw the funniest children’s nativity play and visited a Christmas market in a brewery – both things I would never have known about otherwise. I went snowshoeing in the Vosges with colleagues (a definite highlight), sledged for the first time in my life (and almost forgot to brake!) and learnt to ski. I also discovered that raclette (a French dish comprising melted cheese, potatoes and cured meats) wasn’t really my thing – but at least I tried it, and that counts for something.
Parc Naturel Régional des Ballons des Vosges
Make the most of your (abundant) free time
As an English Language Assistant, you’re only contracted to work for twelve hours a week* which means you have an enormous amount of free time to do whatever you please, be it travelling, reading, taking language courses, hiking or volunteering. There’s no obligation to travel somewhere new every week; take the time to appreciate the place that you’re living in. Being on the French-German-Swiss border meant I was able to travel to lots of places cheaply; however, there was also plenty going on in Colmar which I took the time to enjoy. Earning a salary is definitely an advantage of the scheme, but don’t let it be the only reason you apply.
*With the exception of Canada and Switzerland, where the contract is eighteen hours a week.
Plan fun activities and lessons
Ultimately, you get out what you put in: make the effort to plan interesting activities and lessons, and not only will it be more interesting for your students, but you’re likely to enjoy it too. As an English Language Assistant, your primary goal is to teach the culture of the UK. British festivities are a great starting point for lessons – think Halloween, Christmas, St Andrew/David/Patrick/George’s Day(s), Shrove Tuesday, Red Nose Day, April Fool’s Day (hands-down one of the most entertaining) and Easter. There are so many ways to teach these topics: quizzes, word games, vocabulary bingo, acting/ sketches, debates – and if you’re stuck, the British Council has a fantastic bank of resources available for you to use!
Applications to be an English Language Assistant close on 17th January 2016, and are open to undergraduates and graduates. Applications for China (graduates only) and Spain close on 21st February 2016. Bonne chance à tous!