Manreet Atwal graduated from Aston University in 2017 with a BSc Psychology and Business degree. She is now on a Multi-channel Graduate Programme at JD Sports Fashion plc. Here she tells us more about her role and how it’s helping to shape her career journey.
How did you secure your role?
I used LinkedIn often in my search for graduate roles. I had a rough idea of companies I would like to work for because of my placement search. I followed JD Sports Fashion plc on LinkedIn to see their updates and spot any career opportunities.
I saw an advertisement for their Multi-Channel Graduate Scheme and applied. The application involved uploading a CV and two-minute video describing yourself as creatively as possible. After this, there was an assessment centre. The final stage involved a presentation to the Director of Multi-Channel and a face-to-face interview.
What does your typical day look like?
Over the course of two years, I will move across multiple departments within Multi-Channel. The departments include; Content, Merchandising, CRM, PPC, SEO, Social Media & Marketplaces.
During my placement in each department, my role is to understand the functionality of each team and learn the programmes and processes they use to complete tasks. No day is the same because we have to constantly react to the fast-paced market.
What have you learnt so far?
I’m gaining a really great overview of how an entire department functions. JD Sports is one of the UK’s biggest retailers so the insight I’m gaining is invaluable. I’m learning how teams work within themselves and as part of a wider team, and I am able to provide feedback at the end of each placement of what works and where there may be opportunities.
What advice would you offer to final year students or other recent graduates?
Don’t take the first job you’re offered just because it’s there. Take time to decide; look into the company, look into the role and decide how much experience you want to gain.
It’s okay to have a job before you hand in your dissertation, and it’s okay to be searching for months after you’ve graduated – just find the right match for you. You didn’t study at Aston University for four years to take a job you don’t love!
How has your current role shaped your career plans?
This Graduate Scheme is great because I graduated with the certainty that I wanted a career in Marketing, but I didn’t really know what that meant. This scheme allows me to get stuck into multiple departments and learn my own strengths and weakness. I also get to work in departments I hadn’t considered before such as SEO and various other means of Traffic. JD Sports has also offered me lots of training opportunities, which have helped me grow more confident in my career plans of becoming a high-level manager.
Looking for your own dream graduate role? Why not head to Aston Futures today to explore the wide range of graduate opportunities advertised there? Don’t forget, you can also come and chat to us in the Careers+Placements Centre if you need some support with your
Hello everyone, my name is James Chew. I am a third year International Business and Management student, currently undertaking a year-long placement as the Products and Affiliate Assistant at British Tourism Authority in London. Getting a placement is tough, ensuring that you learn and develop skills during your placement is tougher! Here are some tips to ensure that you get the most out of your placement year!
Take the time and effort to understand the management style of your line manager. This is crucial as different managers have different ways of leadership. My manager loves to give us the ideal outcome and ask us to suggest solutions to achieve that. This gives us a lot of freedom and creativity space to find the ideal solutions. In addition, you should also learn how your manager processes information. My manager loves to view information in the most visually appealing way. Hence, I would usually do mock-up designs or add lots of diagrams and colours in my spreadsheets when I’m presenting to her. Happy Boss = Happy Me!
Every team, department and company has a different vibe. You should try to immerse yourself in this office vibe as much as possible. By immersing yourself in the office vibe, you will learn to better communicate with your colleagues even if you are not on the same team or department. Being able to communicate with people is an important skill to learn and it takes constant practice to perfect the art.
If you are an introvert like me, then you can always start with attending social events and just starting with “How’s your day been?”. Being friendly with your colleagues from other teams and departments don’t just create a vibrant office environment, it always makes collaboration easier.
Most people usually work for 8-9 hours a day with an hour of lunch in between. That may seem like a lot of hours for those who have never held a full-time job, but trust me it is never enough to get all the work done. Especially when you are an intern, there will be times when you are assigned multiple tasks from various colleagues or even managers. Here is a tip, always ask for the deadlines for every task or assignment that lands on your desk. This would allow you to manage your tasks better.
If you realised that you have too much on your plate, don’t be shy to voice out and ask for help. Learning to put your pride down and ask for help doesn’t make you weak, instead, it makes you stronger as an individual! As the saying goes, “Time is Precious”. Do not waste time on inefficient ways of doing things.
Results and achievement may seem quite straightforward to most students. However, it is almost impossible to constantly deliver results and achievements in the work environment as the definition of it changes over time. Take note of your company’s management directions, this will guide you on what the management deems important which would then be classified as results and achievement.
Here is an example, the management has decided to focus on increasing revenue for the next 6 months but you were more focus on developing a new function which is not crucial to increasing revenue. Even if you had succeeded in getting the new function to work, it would not have been an achievement as it was not the management’s focus.
As I reach the conclusion of this blog entry, I would like to tell students on internships/placements to not be afraid of failing, getting reprimanded or even shun away by your colleagues. We are all in this to learn and gain professional experiences which would contribute to our future career paths. How much you want to gain from your internship/placements is not in the hands of your company but in yours!
Hi guys, my name is Ryan Ball. I am now 7 months into my 13-month placement at Stanley Black & Decker and so far, it has been a valuable experience.
The first month was a crossover month; the old and the new intern undertake a transition period. I was taught by another Aston student from the previous year, this was useful to learn the tasks I would be undertaking throughout the year and made the start of the placement much less daunting. This was also a great month outside of work as there was a large group of us that could get together after work and on weekends to go and check out the neighbouring cities and see what Idstein (where I am living) had to offer. After this month, I felt well prepared to be able to handle the role on my own and I was less anxious speaking German to my colleagues. My team understood that I would struggle at certain points and let me sneak in the odd English word if I couldn’t articulate what I wanted to in German which was helpful to begin with!
I’m the intern for the ‘Brand and Communication’ team, which means I get to complete tasks involving all brands under the Stanley Black & Decker conglomerate including Black+Decker, Bostitch, DEWALT, Facom, Irwin, Lenox and Stanley. My team are responsible for the development and distribution of POS materials, catalogues for each brand, managing merchandise/giveaways and conceptualising and organising company events. My line manager is responsible for events, so some of my work includes helping her to prepare for them. For example, I create preparatory documents for each event known as ‘Dispos’ that include information about our stand, a personnel plan, addresses for the event venue and the hotel as well as any other necessary information. I also organise the delivery of different items for the event, such as displays, catalogues and any products that will be shown on the stand. I got to visit Eurobaustoff in Cologne last year and I will also be helping to run a competition at Holzhandwerk at the end of March which will be a great opportunity to practice my spoken German.
More recently, I have been involved in the development of new catalogues. My tasks include checking that corrections have been made by the external media agent, sourcing any product pictures that our needed from our media library and checking that the correct product prices are being used. Once these catalogues go into print, I break down bulk orders and send them on to our sales representatives who pass them on to customers. My other main task regarding catalogues is to maintain an overview of the stock levels of catalogues for each brand. To do this I use SAP to check the current stock in our warehouse in Belgium. The report is then sent on to colleagues in different departments of the business so they can see how many of each catalogue are available and how to go about making any orders that they require.
Other tasks can range from translating E-Mails for my team from German to English, to creating ‘Etiketten’ (stickers with the barcodes and prices of our products) using Excel. My role often includes lots of short-term tasks to complete, therefore it is important to manage priorities and be aware of any deadlines that are upcoming and distributing time between tasks accordingly. Sometimes the role can become repetitive, but having the support of my team, the other interns (and a solid music playlist) makes these periods manageable! Overall, the placement is enjoyable and has helped me develop a lot of skills, especially my German competence. The crossover period and length of the placement makes it possible to learn as much as possible and gives me the maximum time to try and absorb as much German as I can before I head into final year.
The office is in Idstein, a small town, so it is slightly different to a lot of people I know who are in placement in large cities such as Munich and Nuremberg. It is quite quiet but there’s everything you need, plenty of supermarkets, restaurants and most importantly ‘Lokale’ (pubs) to enjoy. The nearest big city is Frankfurt which is about a 30-minute train journey away. It’s great to have such a big city nearby that you can go to for shopping, a night out or to visit the English shop so you can pick up some home comforts. Another one of the great things about the Stanley Black & Decker internship is that there’s a group of interns, this year there are 5 of us in Marketing and 1 in the Engineering department. This means that we can organise things to do together and helps to make the most out of the year abroad experience. For example, we’ve adopted Mainz as our German football team and we often go to games, most recently against Bayern (Mainz lost, but 15 Euros to watch Bayern play is a bargain!). Some of us also went down to Munich for Oktoberfest for a few days, which I would recommend. We are planning to visit Amsterdam as well as plenty of other German cities such as Berlin, Bonn and Hamburg so there’s plenty to still look forward to for the rest of this year!
For all those who don’t know me, my name is Ali! I’ve written blogs previously in the past for the Careers+Placements team as an Honorary Assistant Psychologist during my placement year. Now fast-tracking myself a few years later…and zap! I’ve landed myself a graduate job in the C+P team working as an Assistant Placement Coordinator!
So how did I get here? It’s a good question to ask, and if I’m entirely honest… I’m not sure myself either! During my time at Aston University, I always kept a go-getter mentality when presented with opportunities. Whether this was volunteer work in and around university or part-time casual, I always strived to get involved to do my part and make that difference! At the time whilst participating in all these opportunities, I had only assessed the benefits that I would’ve gained over the short term:
Successfully identifying and applying my strengths
Stimulating and promoting positive self-development
Developing a stronger insight into services provided by Aston University
Networking with academics and professionals alike.
However, through constant volunteering opportunities, I had the chance to further develop my networks and meet some really interesting people. As of such, my passion soon developed into a commitment and I found myself becoming a student ambassador for Aston University. It was through my perseverance, commitment and a helpful recommendation from the Learning Enhancement team that I was able to secure a temporary contract shortly after graduating. It was then, through continuous work during my role as a Student Support Assistant, was I able to progress into a Placement Coordinator role. Not only did this allow me to play on my key strengths but also gave me the opportunity to better prepare students for their upcoming placement year.
It soon dawned upon me that this role was starting to provide me insight into the careers and education sector. I was starting to draw the dots together between the services we provided to our students and the high level of graduate employability. Upon working as a Placement Coordinator, I had only realised how beneficial the Careers+Placements team were in developing and nurturing Aston University’s students in preparation for the working world!
Currently working full-time, I’m always finding ways to improve upon student engagement and delivering the best support service possible! I like to believe that when an opportunity presents itself, seize it at once. The experiences we gain now as graduates will only benefit us further and become critical in future decision-making and employability.
Whatever you do, just remember in life that there is no elevator to success; you have to take the stairs!
It can sometimes feel difficult trying to find the right placement or graduate role for you. Large companies can offer attractive graduate schemes or placement programmes, but competition for them is often fierce. But don’t despair, there are plenty of opportunities out there – you just need to look in the right places. Don’t make a big mistake and ignore the opportunities offered at small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – just because they aren’t household names, it doesn’t mean they can’t offer you exciting prospects.
What is an SME?
An SME is defined as a company that employs fewer than 250 people. In 2017, 5.7 million SMEs were recorded in the UK, which means there are a lot of options out there! New and upcoming businesses tend to be SMEs and they cover almost all business sectors, so whatever you are interested in, there should be something for you.
Why should I consider an SME?
There are lots of benefits of working at an SME. Here are just a few that you might find rewarding.
Embrace the culture The culture of SMEs is one of the biggest differences between smaller and larger companies – you will be in a smaller work environment and, therefore, a smaller team. This means you should be able to integrate well into the team and get to grips with the staff and departments more quickly. Not only will this interconnection between the departments make communication more effective, but you will be able to get a better understanding of your role and feel more comfortable in it much more quickly.
Make an impact Linking to the close-knit community at SMEs, working within a smaller company means you are more likely to get your hard work noticed. It will also be easier to have your voice heard – you could potentially be working with more senior members of staff in smaller companies which is a great opportunity to share your ideas and make a difference! This will give you job satisfaction – watching your ideas being implemented and being able to oversee projects through from start to finish will help you feel like you are making a real contribution to the business.
Broaden your skill-set Due to the smaller team size, you are less likely to be restricted to a single role – you will probably have varied responsibilities, maybe even across different departments. For example, if you worked in a marketing role, you could find yourself carrying out work in digital, print, advertising, sales or event workstreams. Not only does this mean you get to pick up transferable skills, but being exposed to different workstreams will help you gain a better understanding of how the company works and which area you may want to specialise in.
Where could I be working?
There are SMEs in all types of sectors, but here are some of the most common areas that you may consider when looking for opportunities:
Arts and culture
Marketing, media and publishing
How do I find opportunities at SMEs?
Finding opportunities at SMEs can sometimes be a bit trickier than finding them at larger companies, as they aren’t often marketed in the same way. Here are some tips to remember during your search.
SMEs often rely on recruitment agencies to fill their roles, so it may be worth looking at this route.
When searching for roles online, don’t focus on brand identity. This means, instead of searching for companies you know about, focus on searching for specific roles or industries e.g. search for ‘auditing roles in Birmingham’ rather than ‘Deloitte vacancies’. The trick is to use buzzwords – such as sectors and role types – rather than company names.
Larger companies often recruit far in advance for their graduate schemes and placement programmes. SMEs don’t – they usually recruit as and when they need to. They often advertise for roles in the Spring, which is ideal if you missed out on some of the early deadlines before Christmas!
Don’t dismiss internships – if you are looking for a graduate role, you may only be interested in securing a full-time, permanent position. However, some SMEs may offer internships with the potential for you to be kept on as a permanent member of staff if you impress as an intern. Make sure to read all the details when you see internship opportunities advertised or contact the employer to see if there is a possibility of you being considered for a permanent role at the end of the internship.
It’s also a good idea to apply speculatively to SMEs if they aren’t currently advertising specific roles, as they may invite you in for a chat or keep your CV on file for when a role does come up. However, it’s important that you outline your expectations in these speculative applications – say you are looking for paid placement opportunities for example. Don’t say you are willing to work for free, as some companies may exploit that.
Things to remember when searching for opportunities
While we do want you to take SMEs into consideration when searching for opportunities, make sure you take some time to think properly about whether an SME is the right company for you.
Think about whether you are happy having a varied role in a small team, or if you would prefer to have a more defined role within a larger team. It can be hard work having to juggle a variety of responsibilities, so think about what kind of work you would be happy with.
How much training do you want? A graduate role at an SME for example won’t be structured in the same way as a larger graduate scheme – it will usually be an entry level role. Additionally, SMEs often focus on on-the-job learning as they often have fewer resources for training compared to larger companies.
Do background research about the company before applying – find out what type of work they do, what the work culture is like, what their values are etc. to see if it’s a company you would feel happy working for.
There is sometimes the option to negotiate your start date at an SME which you might not be able to do for larger companies. Therefore, if there is a role being advertised with a starting date that is before the end of your exams/you graduate, you may be able to speak to the employer to see if there is any flexibility with the start date.
If you want to find out more about the big opportunities an SME could offer you, we are here to help!Visit our dedicated webpage:www.aston.ac.uk/sme, join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #AstonSMEs or come andspeak to us in the Careers+Placements Centre. Don’t forget, you can also explore a range of placement and graduate opportunities at SMEs onAston Futures.
Stuart Harrison graduated from Aston University in 2014 with a degree in International Business with Modern Languages (French). He is now Co-Founder of a start-up called Remedy Roots (who are nourishing better health through a range of signature loose leaf tea blends) based in Birmingham. Here he tells us about his career journey, what it’s like working in a start-up and how his placement year helped him to get where he is today.
Tell us a bit about your career journey. How have you moved from being an Aston student to where you are now?
After graduating, I moved down to Reading to work for a B2B marketing agency. I started off in their client services team – helping clients and managing projects for them. I then worked my way over to the planning department, where we would plan marketing strategies and campaigns for our primarily tech-focused clients. During that time, I studied for a Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Marketing with the IDM.
After two years, I decided to move back to Birmingham to live with my girlfriend (a fellow Aston student I met on placement year!). I was briefly the head of marketing for a small tech company, which sadly went bust after four months due to some lingering issues from before I joined.
That left me with a choice – to get another job, or work for myself. I decided to start working as a freelance marketing consultant. Soon after, my cousin approached me with an idea for her own range of health-beneficial herbal teas.
You are Co-Founder of Remedy Roots – how did that come about? Did your degree support you with the work that involved?
My cousin originally asked me for a marketing plan for her new business. After looking at what she wanted to achieve, and the values she would have along the way, I fell in love with the idea. I asked her if she would consider a 50/50 business partner, and she said yes!
My degree formed a solid base of knowledge that I could use to guide us in taking the first steps to creating a business.
What does your work involve? Do you have any highlights you’d like to share?
As a start-up founder, there is no task or job that you can consider as ‘not for you’; you very much become a jack of all trades. As a digital marketer, it’s been really interesting to learn how to sell at events and fairs, which has taught me a lot about the thinking process people actually go through when buying. We’re quite proud of ourselves that we’ve gone through all the steps needed to start getting our products stocked in shops and cafes, which has been a steep learning curve.
Before you graduated from Aston, what was your opinion of working at an SME or start-up? Has this changed?
I’ve always wanted my own business – the degree I chose and the jobs I took after were deliberate, to try and prepare myself for when the right idea came along. The all-consuming nature of a start-up is definitely much clearer to me now, but I’m still really happy to be working for myself!
What do you think are the greatest benefits of working at an SME/start-up?
If you’re working for a start-up, you’ve got a voice that will be heard. There’s no getting lost in the mix and if you’ve got an idea, you can test it out without having to go through three months of getting the right department members on-board. On top of that, if you’re with the right company then there will always be room for progression, because you’re helping the business to expand into bigger and better things.
What advice would you give to other students looking for job at an SME/start-up or considering starting up their own business?
Find something that you love. Whether it’s your idea or someone else’s, if you’re getting involved at a small business level, there’s no room for coasters – you need to really believe in what you’re promoting. At the same time, make sure you’re going into business with someone that’s interested in seeing you profit as well as themselves.
Did you do a placement whilst you were at Aston? If so, where was it and what did it involve? Did it help shape your career path in any way?
Yes! The placement year sealed the deal when I was looking at University courses. I did six months in Nice, France working for a boat rental company, then six months in Paris for Orange Business Services. A placement is invaluable. I found that at all my subsequent job interviews, I spent more time talking about my experiences on the placement year than anything else. It completely broadens your thinking and helps you to appreciate what the working world looks like beyond the part-time jobs that are available to a student.
If Stuart’s story has inspired you to find out how small companies can offer you big opportunities, we are here to help! Visit our dedicated webpage: www.aston.ac.uk/sme, join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #AstonSMEs or come and speak to us in the Careers+Placements Centre. Don’t forget, you can also explore a range of placement and graduate opportunities at SMEs on Aston Futures.
So it’s the week of valentines – week of love. With this theme in mind, I wanted to share with you the reasons why I love my placement!
I love my placement because I get to be CREATIVE
Nothing is better than having the creative freedom of being able to contribute your ideas for campaigns etc and not being judged for how stupid some of them may sound. I feel so comfortable sharing innovative ideas with my manager because I know she will not judge and is always supportive of wanting me to do better and be creative! Ok – well sometimes there are rules I mean you can’t go against the Careers+Placements branding 😛
I love my placement because I have learnt NEW things
This ties into my first point. Development is really valued in Careers+Placements so I was able to gain access to Premier Pro (a video editing application) to do some cool stuff to take social media to the next level. As a result, I learnt how to make giphs and used this effectively in a campaign 😉 – you see two benefits out of one thing LOL.
Here are few examples below of some of the giphs I have made. You best credit me – just saying! 😛
Season’s Greetings! We hope you’re having a fantastic day wherever you are and however you’re spending it! pic.twitter.com/xhYqbxbCoE
I love my placement because I feel like I am making a contribution – well I hope!
Honestly, I feel more productive than ever before! I feel like I am making good use of my time at work and this has enabled me to be very time conscious! I worry so much about time going fast now that I am trying so hard to make the most of this year. But anyway, I feel so pumped when I’ve ticked off my to-do list, I actually feel unstoppable, I feel like I can conquer the world LOL.
I love my placement because it is PLACEMENT YEAR! (ovs)
Placement year means some chilling out time, no exams or reading to do (oh that reminds me I need to do my placement assignment ugh). You work 9-5 and after that, you have free time. Imagine what you can do with that. Complete your life goals! So this is the time where you can take a break from studies and get to understand yourself bit better and what you want from life. It has been a big soul-searching few months LOL (in terms of career). I am so happy I have been able to tick off some of the items from the to-do list that was there since I was a teen LOL embarrassing!
I honestly can’t believe how fast these seven months have gone! It has been a hectic yet fulfilling ride! I thought I would share how my last seven months have been with everyone, but it’s also a good way for me to reflect on what I have achieved both inside and outside of my placement.
So let’s talk about my placement so far…
I am becoming better!
I have developed many skills over the past few months: I’ve learnt how to use WordPress for uploading blogs, and I have also completed some CMS training which means I can make changes to webpages. I have done a bit of changing but I hope to do a bit more of webpage editing – it’s actually quite fun!
One of the major things I have learnt is how to use PhotoShop and Premier Pro! Although my training so far has been at a basic level, it has helped me to get a bit comfortable with the software and now I’m ready to take it to next level when I get the software at home! I’ve always wanted to learn how to use this software in like foreveeeeer!
One of my proudest achievements of using Premier Pro is making giphs. I know some people don’t see it as a big deal because its quite easy to make giphs if you want a video clip from a certain movie, all you have to do is download the video, cut it down, insert into a website and boom you’re done! But I had to make giphs that were word-based and not from a film. I couldn’t use any site (I’m not sure if one exists to do this) as there are certain guidelines to follow when producing artwork. Cutting it short, I learnt how to make giphs all by myself, so I’m proud! Here is an example of one of the giphs I made. (I could make giphs all day… there are actually giph maker jobs. I should apply asap!)
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I was always a pro at multitasking and deadlines, but I think I have gone to the next level of mastering the ultimate pro skills! I keep on getting my work done so fast now and I’m like, “come on, throw some more and more at me.” Nothing can stop me now! Being able to juggle a few mini social media campaigns at the same time is a big proud achievement for me that I won’t forget. I just hustled.
I keep on mentioning on every blog I do how much free time you get during placement year and how important it is to use this to do something useful! Well, in my first blog I mentioned I am currently doing things to develop my skills, so let me update you on that!
I have finally bought a camera – yippee! I bought it back in December because I was like, I need to stop wasting time and waiting to save up. So I just spontaneously bought it. I honestly thought I’m not going to get anywhere if I don’t make a step! So now I have my camera, I have opened up an Instagram page to showcase my work. Not all pictures on there are from my camera but from my iPhone 7, but I will use my camera more often soon… I hope! I am not perfect, but this is a way for me to push myself further and get better at something l love to do. So at the moment, I am trying to learn how to use the camera better taking pictures-wise because ultimately, I want to make videos. That’s what I want to do. Check my page out here and I best get a follow (just kidding): https://www.instagram.com/jappy_visions/
Thanks to my manager, I am now doing some courses to develop my skills in certain areas. As I told my manager about my interests and what I want to pursue, she told me about a great place where I can do courses and they are quite cheap. It’s so important to tell those around you about your interests and what you want to do because you never know, they may have some useful information or links that could help you majorly!
I know when you’re self-developing, it can be tempting to be quiet about it and then talk about it once you have established yourself and accomplished something. But sometimes it’s foolish not to because you are going to miss out on some major connections that could help you out. But hey, that’s another story for another time! Oh, I forgot to mention the place I was referring to was MAC in Birmingham. Check them out here: https://macbirmingham.co.uk/
You never know, you may find a course of interest!
I have done a lot of reading in my spare time as I forgot my love for it when I entered university – you get bombarded with so much reading for your course that you may get put off from doing any more for pleasure! I had a few books that were lying around, so I decided to read them. I have recently completed How to be a Bawse by Lilly Singh. I really recommend this book as it really reinforces some great ideals and it’s an awesome book about how to be a better person, and essentially how to be a bawse and achieve your goals!
I have also read ‘How to Stop Time’ by Matt Haig. Another great book about living in the moment but the message is set in a Novel.
As I am doing a Sikh studies course this year, I also wanted to develop my knowledge about Sikh history and Sikhi in general, so I need to pick up some books. At the moment I am currently reading ‘The Sikhs’ by Patwant Singh.
Reading my first blog I mentioned gym… well, it’s been a hate-love relationship. I came so far in the six months after starting. But when It came to December, I just went crazy and it turned into an unhealthy diet month and guess what happened? I lost all my progress. I honestly felt like life was over – ugh. I mean I stopped going to the gym for a month, so I guess it serves me well. But I have learnt it’s a tough life man – it can be hard to conquer the gym and healthy eating. I am starting again this year though, and I hope I can maintain it and regain everything I lost. I’m still not happy with what happened though.
Christmas is still a not-so-distant memory, so now is as an appropriate time as any to share with you my favourite time of year in such a gorgeous city.
Firstly, a short disclaimer is necessary on my part – I unashamedly love Christmas; for me Christmas begins the day after Halloween. I am that person. This year, my local Tesco began stocking Christmas goodies in September and I for one was delighted.
I did significantly lower my expectations when I moved to Toulouse though – especially following their somewhat (in my opinion) half-hearted attempt at Halloween. I was however pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastically the city embraced the Christmas festivities. I cannot recommend Toulouse enough to anyone who will be looking for a cheap weekend away over the next festive period, with (at the time of writing) return flights from most London airports for under £30 (some as cheap as £10), and attractions as stunning as some of the following:
Marché de Noël
On the 24th November 2017, 117 white wooden huts clad with lights and festive decorations popped up in in Place du Capitole. The long-awaited (by me, at least) Marché de Noël had arrived. Every year the stalls sell artisanal products from the local area, Christmas gifts and handmade goods in addition to the plethora of fresh festive food and drinks.
I did develop somewhat of a crêpe addiction over the course of the festive period – several friends back home in the UK had words with me about how bored they were of seeing pictures of crêpes on my Snapchat story in excess of three times a week. I wish I was kidding. In addition to the wealth of churros, vin chaud and gauffres (waffles), another culinary highlight of the Christmas market was Aligot – commonly known among students as cheesy mash. Aligot however has a continental twist in the form of extra ingredients: Raclette, butter, cream and garlic and is very commonly found in the region of Occitanie. If this video doesn’t qualify as food porn, nothing does.
Pictures cannot do justice to the quintessentially festive atmosphere – the smells, sounds, lights and cold air epitomise Christmas for me, although this video of the toulousain Marché de Noël in 2015 gives a pretty good idea.
Much to my delight, Toulouse is home to a six-floor baby of the iconic Parisian department store. One thing it does succeed at is festive décor – although I imagine on nowhere near the same scale as its parent in Paris. Both inside out, every inch of the store was decked with festivity and was completely packed throughout the whole month of December.
The opening of its new rooftop restaurant and bar Ma Biche sur le Toit, from which the views over Toulouse are said to be spectacular, also coincided with the festive season, so, of course, a visit was necessary. Unfortunately this visit was not a success, as bookings are imperative and the wearing of trainers is forbidden, so this trip is still on the agenda for the next few weeks. Watch this space.
Lights in Centre-Ville
Much to my despair I missed the evening of the switch on of the Christmas lights, although France doesn’t seem to be as big on ‘switch-on ceremonies’ as the events we are used to in the UK which generally feature a Z-list celebrity pressing an oversized button on a rainy November evening.
The lights themselves were gorgeous, with each different area of the centre following a different theme. Some of my favourites are pictured below, although I could have taken thousands of photos of this photogenic city and its stunning lights.
Captioleum and Square Charles de Gaulle
Behind the Capitole building is the Square Charles de Gaulle, the new home to a small village of inflated igloos for the festive season. These igloo pods contained different themed versions of Santa’s grotto and were a delight for young children. In my excitement I forgot to take pictures, although you can see them peeping into the back of this photo:
Above these igloos, a ten minute Christmas film for children was projected directly onto the back of the Capitole building, which really made it all feel very magical.
As city centre Christmas trees go, I’d say Toulouse does pretty well with this enormous ride-on tree which took up residence in Square Charles de Gaulle:
Christmas at Air France
Having already expressed my feelings towards Christmas, I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine my reaction to returning to a ten-foot Christmas tree in the foyer of the office after a weekend back home in England. This was in fact destined to be decorated by the whole building in order to compete with those in the other four buildings on the site. The theme of ‘origami and paperwork’ was elected and soon the tree was covered in makeshift sticky note adornments and an assortment of origami. Sadly our building did not win, but it was one tinsel-clad rung on the festive ladder to feeling ~Christmassy~.
The festivities continued, with a pull de moche (Christmas jumper) competition and a Christmas dinner taking place that same week. Of course, a large part of running conversation classes is to discuss topics which are current and culturally informative, so naturally I led a class about Christmas adverts in the UK. The John-Lewis style Christmas ads we have come to love are basically unheard of in France, so many of my students found this really interesting.
Santa et Cie
One of the more linguistically challenging things I had resolved to do during my time here was to watch a French film at the cinema – obviously sans subtitles. The first week in December I saw posters advertising a family film by the name of Santa et Cie (Santa and co.), and, given the lack of Christmas films available on Netflix in France, two of us went to see it in the hope of feeling yet more festive.
What followed is the strangest, yet most original Christmas film I have ever seen. The plot is as follows: with only three days to go until Christmas, Santa’s entire workforce of elves become ill, leaving Monsieur Claus and his reindeer to travel to Paris to source the only cure: 92,000 doses of vitamin C tablets. Naturally he encounters a whole gamut of difficulties, and enlists the help of a young family with whom he learns the ins and outs of life outside the North Pole. The narrative features the usual morals of not doubting yourself, and the importance of family, especially at Christmas.
I can only hope this film is released with English subtitles in time for next Christmas, so that I can watch it again and understand the 70% of the speech which completely went over my head.
Watch the trailer for Santa et Cie here:
With so much festivity and the added excitement of having to actually travel in order to get home for Christmas, I can say this was the year I truly felt the most festive in the lead up to les vacances. I left work for the airport on the 21st of December with visions of the airport scene of Love Actually in mind.
Watch out for my upcoming post about some of the non-Christmas highlights of Toulouse!
It can be tough being on placement sometimes – you’re in a new environment, doing something new and surrounded by new people. It can be even more of a struggle returning to your placement after the excitement and magic of Christmas and New Year, especially if you’re having to say goodbye to loved ones again and deal with the realities of homesickness. This is where we are here to help – take a read through these top tips for beating the January blues on placement.
First of all, it’s important to remember that whatever you are feeling, you are not alone. Whether it’s on placement or in full-time employment, no one wants to go back to work after Christmas! The last few weeks have been full of fun, food and family, so having to get back into a routine is going to be a big shock to the system for all of us. After a few days though, it will feel like you’ve never been away!
Stay busy and plan some fun activities to look forward to. Whether it’s going to lunch with a friend/family, exploring your local area, picking up a new hobby or a trip to the cinema, having lots of activities planned will keep you busy and give you something to take your mind off things.
Treasure your happy memories. Putting together a scrapbook or memory box will let you look back on the good times when you’re feeling a bit down. Take lots of photos, collect gig tickets, keep train tickets, save receipts from meals out, get some souvenirs from places you’ve visited etc. – you’ll be able to look back at these and reminisce for years to come.
If you’ve moved away to do your placement, take some home comforts back with you to remind you of home. Why not pack your favourite snacks, some DVDs, some framed photos, your comfiest blanket or a cuddly toy with you? Making your new place feel familiar and inviting will help you feel happy and comfortable there.Get active. Yes, we know almost everyone makes New Year’s resolutions which they probably won’t keep to do more exercise. But getting active is a great way to feel better both physically and mentally. Exercising can help relieve stress and releases chemicals that make you feel happier. Why not hit the gym or look for some sports clubs to join – it’s also a great way to meet new people!
Look after yourself. The Christmas break can often be a period of excess – which seems like a great idea at the time – but can leave your body feeling out of sorts. Make sure you have a healthy, varied diet, get enough sleep and regularly give yourself some ‘me time’ to recharge. Keep in touch! Make time for regular video calls with you friends and family, and stick to the times you’ve arranged. Not only will these calls help you feel a bit closer to home, but they will also give you something to look forward to. However, while it’s good to stay in touch with people back home or on other placements, don’t get hung up on wishing you were there with them. You may not always think so, but your placement is a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t waste it. Whatever you do, don’t just sit around wishing you were somewhere else – you will regret it.
Talk to people. Whatever you’re feeling, don’t keep it bottled up. If you are struggling with your workload or having issues on the placement itself, talk to a manager you can trust about it. If management aren’t aware of your issues, they cannot put anything in place to support or resolve the issues. If you’re struggling with your personal life, tell those who are close to you. It may also help to chat to other students on placement as they will be in the same position as you and might have their own advice to give – you will probably also find you aren’t alone in the way you feel! However, if you feel you need a bit of extra support, you can talk to the placement team or a professional at The Hub – just because you’re on placement, it doesn’t mean you can’t still access Aston’s support services.