I am very familiar with how difficult it can be to face the sometimes seemingly insurmountable task of organising a year abroad; I am equally familiar with the feeling of not having a clue how to go about accessing a seemingly simple service once you’ve made the move to a different country. I’m only really equipped to offer some suggestions for useful starting points and resources relating to France and Spain, but I hope that future or current year abroad-ers might find some of the below information useful.
Before you go
Internships and Work
Within Europe, your best bet in terms of finding an internship or work is looking for something that you can do through the Erasmus+ exchange scheme. A lot of these placements are paid but even those that aren’t are still eligible for the Erasmus grant (€350 per month in both France and Spain).
Keep an eye on emails from whichever department or office at your university deals with Erasmus placements, as a lot of companies (including Langue & Nature) contact the departments directly. Eramus Intern is a good website on which companies (including, in this instance, ESN Santiago) can advertise their internships; it’s worth trawling through as there are some good ones on there.
If you’re more interested in volunteer work, Workaway is a good place to start. Again, opportunities are advertised and you can contact them via the website; the vast majority ask for a few hours of work per day in exchange for free accommodation and/or food, with additional perks often thrown in. There is a huge variety of different types of placement, from farm work to au pairing to cleaning and gardening, and, again it’s worth trawling through. A word of warning: try and go for placements with plenty of positive reviews, and get the conditions clear with the host before arriving. I haven’t used it, but I’ve heard good things about WWOOF, a website similar to Workaway but exclusively offering farming opportunities.
Finally, if you’ve got a company in mind or find one that you particularly like the sound of, just email them! Always attach a CV and cover letter, possibly in the target language, and don’t be disappointed if they don’t reply. I have a friend who managed to get an internship with ELLE Canada in Quebec just by sending an email, and so this technique can and does work!
From my own experience, I would definitely recommend considering living in a foyer if you’re going to be in France: they offer a perfect balance between private and social lives and usually have a number of studios, composed of a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Googling “foyer [town name]” usually yields results.
If you’d prefer to share a flat or house with a few other people, perhaps try looking online at websites such as We Room, or at Facebook pages for students in the relevant area. I’ve noticed that flat sharing is by far the most popular option in Spain. For both countries, this option involves being a lot more prepared to sort accommodation out when you arrive.
Another note about this: it is always worth asking your employee for advice regarding housing. They may know somebody looking for a flatmate or, at the very least, be able to point you in the right direction.
I highly recommend looking at the “Study Abroad” insurance offered by Endsleigh; despite its name, students undertaking work placements are also eligible for it. I looked at a few companies and Endsleigh offered the best value for money by far.
Once you’re there
Attempting to open a bank account in France offers a good introduction to the country’s pervasive bureaucracy: everything has to be done in person and you come away with a small forest’s worth of paper. From my experience, I would say that if you can go without one, do. However, the problem is that all stages (internships) in France are paid, and most companies will need the details of a French bank account in order to be able to pay you. I went through Crédit Agricole and it was fine: a basic current account costs about €7 a month (outrageous but normal for France).
Not having a bank account in Spain was far easier for me, but I wasn’t paid in either of my placements. Being a Spanish company, there is a Santander branch on every corner. I can’t say for sure, but this might be particularly worth looking into if you bank with them at home.
As with accommodation, Facebook groups can be particularly useful in the first few weeks of a year abroad. There are groups advertising language exchanges, for example, which is a great way to meet people. Be bold: don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Try something new. I took up salsa dancing in Laval, and trust me when I say that my hips are anything but snake-like.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt this year is that almost everyone has something valuable to offer and most of the people you talk to will be feeling just as nervous as you are. If the social side of year abroad feels a bit impenetrable to begin with, persevere. See if anyone from your university is also spending some of their year abroad nearby; if so, they might already have a group of friends that you can integrate yourself into.
Most people are keen to explore as much of their temporary home country as they can over the course of the year; I know I was. Again, I’m only equipped to offer detailed advice relating to France and Spain but, as a rule, train travel is the way to go if you’re looking to stay within the same country.
In France, SNCF is the go-to for train tickets. It may be worth investing in a Carte Jeune (the French equivalent of a Railcard) if you plan to use the trains frequently. It’s not cheap at €50, but the discounts are amazing. Tickets to big cities, especially Paris, can be expensive and are worth buying online far in advance. Tickets between cities that aren’t very far apart, however, don’t really seem to change in price. It’s worth saying that SNCF also has a lot of international routes.
Renfe is the Spanish equivalent and the same general rules apply. However, bus travel is far more popular in Spain than it is in France, and tends to be cheaper than going by train. ALSA is a popular company with which I’ve had only positive experiences.
In both countries, Blablacar is far more popular than I imagine that it will ever be in the UK. Everyone’s a winner: the passenger can travel cheaply, and the driver earns a bit of cash. Stay safe by reading the reviews of the car owners beforehand.