Tuesday, 6 December 2016

How I chose my year abroad location | Blogmas Day 6

Today's post is a bit of a boring one but this is something that I spent hours Googling when I was applying for my placement in France. I wanted to know why people had chosen to live where they had, and there wasn't too much on offer, so here's why I chose to spend my year in Lille over anywhere else in the French-speaking world.
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The decision of where to complete your year abroad is a difficult one. Applying through an agency - such as the British Council - to teach English makes this important decision even trickier, as you choose general regional areas and not specific towns or cities. For example, my first choice was the Académie de Lille, an educational area which takes in Lille as well as its surrounding areas, as far as Arras and Calais. 

At every opportunity on my British Council application, I begged to be placed in the Académie de Lille and to be placed in the city of Lille. It was definitely a lengthy process to come to that decision, though.

When applying to teach English abroad, I first looked at French-speaking countries. I ruled out Canada and outre-mer straight away; I definitely needed assurance that if any emergencies happened at home while I was abroad, I could easily nip back within a few hours on a budget flight. This took my choices down to France, Belgium or Switzerland. Switzerland is a beautiful country but I didn't fancy it, so I scrapped that from the list. 

Belgium is one of my favourite countries and I strongly considered applying to work there instead of France for a while. It's a cliché, but when I first visited Belgium I fell in love with the country. When I originally spoke to people about considering applying for Belgium, everyone was very supportive and encouraging. In the end, I decided against it for a few reasons. Places in Belgium are very limited, so competition is high. Although my university advisor believed that my application was strong enough to be accepted, I couldn't ignore the fact that there were only seven jobs up for grabs and many more people than that would apply. Even if I got a placement, the language assistant community would be tiny and it would be easy to feel lonely, especially as most of the placements in Belgium are located very rurally. Due to all of these reasons, I set my sights on applying to work in France. 

There are many different educational regions in France, and narrowing them down to just three choices was a bit of a nightmare. Everyone advised against applying for bigger cities because everyone speaks a good level of English, but I didn't want to apply for somewhere with a high chance of being placed in a remote area. I made list upon list of pros and cons of each region - where they were located in France, the ease of getting to and from places if I wanted to travel, student community, biggest cities, etc. I printed out maps and colour coded different areas based on different criteria and overall, it was quite stressful. 

Out of all of the places I was researching, I only had good vibes about a couple - one of those places being Lille. It originally stood out to me because of its proximity to Belgium. It would be easy to travel there, plus Lille is highly influenced by Flemish culture. I then discovered that a girl who I vaguely knew was in the middle of her year abroad in Lille and was blogging about her adventures and travels (emmalivesinlille for those who are nosy like I was) and it was through her blog that I discovered what a travel hub Lille is - it would be so easy to visit so many different cities around France and Europe. I did some more research and found out that Lille is a small city around the size of Aberdeen, and that it's popular with both language assistants and student. Everything seemed right, and I felt better about Lille than I did about any of the other académies in France. 

I don't regret my decision to apply to Lille at all and I still feel incredibly lucky that where I work is only a short commute from the city centre, meaning that I can live in a fantastic city. Perhaps it would be more practical or cheaper to live closer to my schools but the atmosphere of Lille and the people who live here make it worthwhile. It's a city with lots of modern areas as well as some very old, traditional Flemish buildings, and I feel very much at home here.

So my advice for anyone applying to British Council or any alternative to them, is to research all of the areas in detail. Remember, académie doesn't equal city. It was surprising to me how many people did not realise that fact. Lille is perfect for me, but it might not be the perfect place for everyone. It can be boring but, honestly, research is the best way to ensure that you're spending an academic year in the correct place.

  Check back everyday at 6pm GMT until Christmas for a new Blogmas post!

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