Hi, my name is Carys Rees-Owen and I am a recent graduate of European Studies and French. Doing a joint honours degree gave me loads of options, which is why I chose this degree. I studied French, History and English Literature at A levels – I always knew I wanted to study French at university, as I loved languages, but I also wanted to specialise in another subject. European Studies allows you to choose any module from the Politics, History or Economics department, with one or two compulsory modules in European Politics every year. I decided to focus on politics modules as I’d always followed the news and took part in debates.
Choosing Where To Go
The best thing about my degree was the option to spend my third year abroad in order to improve my French. I had the choice of studying abroad, teaching English abroad as an English Language Assistant or working abroad. I wanted a bit of variety, and definitely wasn’t ready to get a proper job or internship. I wasn’t too eager to spend a whole other year studying either, but I did want to experience life as a French student. I decided to make a compromise – I applied to study at a university in Lyon, France for the first term and then applied to be a Comenius assistant in Martinique, a small French island in the Caribbean, for the second term. A Comenius assistant is similar to an English Language Assistant, however with the option to teach another subject besides English (like politics). All assistant jobs are funded by the British Council, meaning all my accommodation, food and travel costs were covered as well as an allowance for living. I also got an Erasmus grant for studying at a European university, so the cost of going abroad was never a big worry for me.
My Year Abroad
I moved to Lyon, France’s second biggest city, at the end of summer 2013. After a lot of searching, I managed to find a flat with another 3 French students just down the road from my university. The next five months are a blur of cheese, good wine and French cafés. I loved living in France, but studying there was completely different to how I imagined. Lectures lasted 3 hours long (when in Manchester they last an hour) and it felt a bit more like high school – there was a lot less discussion and debate than I was used to in Manchester. I studied Politics modules there, but in French. It was interesting to see how similar topics were taught in France but from a completely different angle. I did struggle at first with my courses but as my French improved I found it a lot easier. I saw such a drastic improvement in my French in such a short amount of time, and definitely took advantage of discovering a new city.
I then moved to Martinique in January 2014. It’s such a beautiful island, with so many white sandy beaches, thick jungle and a great mix of French and local Creole culture existing there. I worked in a high school for 5 months, working roughly twelve hours a week. This meant that the rest of the time I had there I was free to do whatever I wanted. I spent my time on beaches, hiking in the jungle and mountains and exploring the island. Teaching English was challenging, especially considering that my pupils were only 4 years younger than myself but it was a really good way to integrate into the local community. I made really good friends with some of the other teachers there, who taught me more about the culture and history of Martinique.
Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better year abroad. I got to experience French student life, as well as spend months lounging on white sand beaches in the Caribbean. More importantly, my French improved drastically, as did my confidence. Moving to a completely different country without knowing anybody is incredibly challenging, and sometimes frustrating, but the experiences I had were definitely worth it.
Getting the chance to study abroad isn’t just limited to language students either – check if your course allows you to study abroad for a semester! I’d recommend checking out these websites for more information on what you could do: