Alternatives to Erasmus
Although thousands of UK students participate in the Erasmus scheme year upon year, it’s becoming increasingly common for their peers to consider other alternatives for their year abroad. The Erasmus scheme has many advantages, notably the waiving of tuition fees for the year abroad by your home university, but it isn’t the only avenue open to students.
You don’t necessarily have to skip studying altogether if you don’t like the choice of universities given to you by the Erasmus scheme. Do your research and use sites such as the Times Higher Education supplement to find out more about foreign university rankings. You may even be eligible for a grant, such as the Fulbright Scheme, which is provided for people wishing to study in the USA.
Check whether your chosen course and host institution credits will be valid back home. Some university qualifications are not recognised by UK institutions, so it’s wise for you to speak to your course coordinator first. Although the paperwork, applications and documentation can be challenging at times, students who research their own universities will be able to compare courses, modules, cities, countries and more, pick their best fit and make their year abroad stand out from the crowd.
The British Council offers paid language assistant programmes to help students get teaching experience in a foreign country. Although the salary varies from place to place, you can select up to three countries on your application, with options for those looking to get primary, secondary or university teaching experience.
Some students have been known to get help finding accommodation from their host institutions. It’s an incredible experience for those who are passionate about teaching or looking to perfect their own language skills in a paid position.
Though some countries can be competitive (e.g. Mexico, Argentina and France), the scheme sent out 2,500 students to teach abroad last year. You could also undertake your own research to find your own language school. However, this is a bit more of a gamble, because if your plans fall through, you won’t have an organisation to help place you somewhere else.
The salary and working hours could also be an issue, as these vary from country to country. However, on the plus side, you could be teaching English in a different manner; for instance, some students find placements teaching dance, cookery, sports and a host of other activities. This is something that the British Council does not offer, as the focus of its assistantships is on linguistics.
With the competition of the graduate job market at an all-time high, recruiters are particularly keen on finding students with work experience. Taking your year abroad as a trial period for future career choices is a smart move, as you’ll get a taste of what working life is like in your field of interest. The Erasmus+ programme has been set up to help students achieve this, by supporting them financially.
You can secure your own internship by sending out your CV to various companies; however, the salary and experience you’ll gain is likely to fluctuate from place to place. You’ll also need to think about getting a visa, should you wish to pursue work experience outside of Europe.
Getting work experience on your year abroad will also allow you to gain valuable skills before you graduate, making your CV more appealing to recruiters on an international front. Linguists can be asked to provide help with translations and interpreting, which will stand them in good stead for fourth year language exams. You’ll also adapt to the etiquette and vocabulary used in the workplace, making you a more appealing candidate if you decide you’d like to work in that country once you graduate.
Volunteering abroad is not for everyone, though the benefits are incredibly rewarding. Not all universities support volunteering as an activity for the year abroad, but you can get experience ranging from a few weeks to a full year. If you have an interest in helping those less fortunate or would like to work in the third sector once you graduate, volunteering for a charitable organisation is a great stepping stone.
Depending on what interests you (e.g. teaching, conservation work or construction) and where you’d like to go (South America, Asia or Africa etc.), you can either set up your own placement with a charity or go through an organisation.
You should take note that most organisations will charge you, as you will be fed and cared for once you’re on your placement. WWOOF offers placements (usually unpaid) on organic farms, giving you the opportunity to work outdoors in incredible locations; with workers usually receiving their pay through free accommodation and food. Transitions Abroad offers a list of the best organisations to work for, depending on what you’re looking for and what you’re seeking to get out of your time abroad.
Written by Natacha Cullinan
Editor @ ThirdYearAbroad.com