I’m sure this is a question many of you will ask yourself, whether while applying through UCAS in Sixth Form, during your studies at University, or maybe even the day before you are due to leave. It’s a question I have certainly asked myself many, many a time! I first chose to do this course because I loved Biology as an academic subject, and considered French a hobby (not the best attitude during A Levels, but I scraped an A all the same). In the end, I chose Lyon from the four locations that Birmingham offers – Lyon, Montpellier, Marseille and Toulouse, so forgive me for being biased towards this particular city.
The University of Birmingham is one of the few Redbrick universities which enables you to do Biology and French (because as I am so frequently told, it is a strange combination!) with a year abroad. It may seem like a fun year out, which it is, but it doesn’t come completely work-free. You have to average 50% in first and second year to be allowed to go abroad, complete a cultural essay while out there and then a language test when you get back, which combined make up 25% of your total second year marks (so your year abroad = ~6% of your total degree!). The main advantage of this course at UoB is that the marks you actually get while at the French university don’t contribute to the aforementioned 25% (although you do have to average over 20% during the year to pass it) so the worry about not being able to understand the lecturers or write anything in the exams isn’t so bad. The best thing about this course over those at other universities, in my opinion, is that worse comes to worst and you really struggle, you can fail your year abroad, and you just graduate with a degree in Biological Sciences rather than with the year abroad business on the end (which is no bad thing! Having a degree title 8 words long can get a little tedious on forms), where many universities make it so you have to do well in your year abroad marks, or even worse, your year abroad IS your final year and then you graduate, no 4th year!
So, is a year abroad right for you?
A year abroad can be right for everybody. It is my honest opinion that every course should have one (and I’m not just saying that so I have more friends around in 4th year). Here’s why (and thanks to my friends for telling me these points during my moments of “I’M NOT GOING ANY MORE, YOU CAN’T MAKE ME”):
- you will become fluent in another language (and how many Brits can say that?). Think how cool it will be when you can saunter around any French speaking country (and there are many) and surprise everyone with your perfect French.
- employability – this is the big one really! Thousands of Biology students graduate each year, but from Redbrick Universities there will be less than 100 (a rough estimation) with a degree in Biology AND French, and it’s unlikely any of those will go for the same jobs (unless there is a sudden increase in demand for French-speaking Biologists). Another point is that in today’s job market, having a second language on your CV is a huge bonus – I’ve already had one lot of work experience on the basis that I could speak French (although I did exaggerate… I can’t actually speak fluent French yet).
- an amazing time – this course has been running for around ten years and only one person has ever quit and gone home, and that was for family reasons. I’ve never spoken to or heard of anyone who didn’t absolutely love their year abroad – they say you learn so much about the French way of life, about other countries (as many of your friends will be from other European countries) and about life in general. And hey, in Lyon they have bars on boats along the river – tell me this doesn’t look amazing:
- travel – we’re stuck on this tiny island with just Wales and Scotland to drive to – both great countries, but not so different from England, let’s be honest. From Lyon you’re just 2 hours away from Paris on the TGV, close to Switzerland and Italy, as well as loads of little towns and villages in France. When are you going to get the opportunity again to go to a new, exciting, foreign place every weekend?
- being scared - moving abroad is scary, I won’t lie. But it’s a good kind of scary! Doing something like this shows employers that you will go above and beyond, that you’re not scared to do big things. And on a personal level you will learn to be brave. Believe me, I used to be the one to say “shotgun not” when deciding who should call a taxi. I used to get a bit scared having to ask for directions, talking to the bank about something important or giving a presentation. Now, I’ve done all of those things in French. I just remind myself of that all the time and I am never scared in England any more.
- an extra year to decide what to do in life – if you’re anything like me, you won’t know what you want to do when you graduate yet. Doing a year abroad gives you an extra year to decide, and an extra summer to get some work experience in!
- learning – yep, this one goes last. At Lyon you do something like 20 modules - some of which you may have done before, so good revision (and you will look smart), and some you won’t have done (expanding your knowledge).
If this list hasn’t convinced you, perhaps my next one will. Common excuses and the reasons they’re invalid!
- I can’t speak French! - nope, neither can I. You only need a GCSE Grade B to do this, and this year half of the people going to study in France on this course only have GCSE French. The other half has A Level, but when you actually get there, it’ll be such a learning curve that it won’t really matter either way. One of my best friends that I met this year started learning French just one year before she came to Lyon, and she’s almost at my level already (I’ve been learning for 11 years now). And hey, you can’t speak French now, but what better way to learn!
- I’ll have no friends in 4th year! - this was my initial thought. But, along the way, some friends have decided to do Masters, and I’ve met others who are also doing 4 year courses. From having just 1 friend in the first few months of uni who was going to be around in 4th year, I now have 6 or 7! Those who have graduated will come back and visit and be envious of your ongoing student life (but not the bits with the mouldy showers and the endless beans on toast).
- FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)! - let’s just think about this for a second. Your friends are back in grungy Birmingham, sweating over their dissertation, crying over a lack of graduate jobs. What are you doing? You’re chilling in Lyon at the Fête des Lumières – a festival that used to be just candlelit, but of course now that has turned into something much more modern and incredible:
Now who’s missing out! I thought FOMO would be one of the worst parts of my year abroad, but actually my friends are hating on third year, never see each other and rarely do anything fun. Bad for them… good for me.
- I can’t afford it! - you can. You might have to save a bit to afford flights and insurance and stuff before you go, but feel free to use your overdraft as your student finance will come in almost a month early (or at least, mine did). I got over £1000 more from Student Finance this year just because I’m going abroad, and I’m also getting a £3000 EU grant (anyone studying abroad in Europe is eligible). AND you don’t pay tuition fees. Sorted!
- I can’t leave my boyfriend/parent/cat in England! - you’re only actually away for 9 months or so, and at Lyon there are reading weeks where you can fly home for a while if you so wish. On a giant world map France is a thumbnail away – you can SEE England from France (on a clear day anyway…). Australia is a good few hands away on this map so be glad you’re not there – you’re practically next door! And nowadays, we don’t have to write letters by candlelight with a quill – we have Skype, Whatsapp, Viber, Facebook, Twitter, Texts, Calls, BBM, countless ways to keep in contact every day (although I’m not sure how these would work with your cat).
That’s it now, my convincing you is done, if any of you managed to read the entirety of this huge essay, that is. And if you didn’t realise, these points are things I have been telling myself all year, and now I am sharing these words of wisdom with you, to convince you to also go on this adventure. See it as I have always done – if I don’t go, it will always be something to regret until I’m a very old lady. If I do go and it’s horrible, hey, at least I tried and I know that that’s something I won’t regret.