Category Archives: Juliette Winter

Some Retrospection…

It’s now been over a month since I finished my placement with AirFrance and left Toulouse, so I have had some time to reflect on the quickest three months of my life!

A pic of my office from the first day

I was working in the Air France’s IT department across two sites, delivering English conversation classes to the staff.

The job itself entailed scheduling, planning and running hour-long conversation classes on different topics each week- usually articles or videos on topics from that week’s news.

For me, the people definitely made the job. Everyone was so fun to teach- the lessons are voluntary, so all the students are under no obligation to be there, they come because they want to learn. They were all so enthusiastic and it was fascinating to speak to everyone and hear their opinions and experiences.

One challenge of the job was thinking of original themes for each class which would be interesting and valuable for the students, as well as being adaptable to different levels of English speakers.

The only downside of the role is the almost exclusive speaking of English. Admittedly there were opportunities to speak French which I didn’t always exploit, such as with the other Aston intern, but after three months there I must say I was anxious about how little I felt my French had improved. Of course the experience has been valuable in many other ways, namely learning how to be a ~functioning adult~ working a full-time job and (mostly) coping with living alone. Another thing I’m grateful I learned from the job is the ability to be able to talk spontaneously in a professional environment with people much more senior to me whom I don’t know.

Overall the environment was so nurturing, and everyone was more than willing to help with any problems. It’s a scary thing to move to another country, start a new job and speak to all these new people, but as soon as I started, a lot of my students said that they in fact had children my age and would look after me should I ever need it.

All in all the people were wonderful, the job was fun and I’ve come away feeling like I experienced and learned a lot.

And a pic from when I was walking out on the last day

Of course, the highlight of the stay was being able to call such a gorgeous city home. More on this next time.  

A la prochaine,

J

The whos, whats, wheres, whens and whys…

Here goes a post to cover some of the practicalities of moving abroad to do a placement for a year, from the big things like finding somewhere to live, down to remembering to bring plug adaptors.

Accommodation

Originally the other intern and I had planned to live together, either just the two of us or with other students. For flatshares, we got told some sites to consult: leboncoin, appartager, housinganywhere, and some sites to avoid. In theory it seemed simple enough- we both needed to be in a similar area and had a similar budget in mind, however after many solid days of trailing through these sites we had still found nothing. For me the next logical step was to phone estate agencies in Toulouse and ask directly if they had any properties. This in fact proved very time consuming and everyone I spoke to (in my best very polite French) were unwilling to help. Another friend in Toulouse found this to be the case too- they don’t really cater to students, many only do rentals for a year or longer. The ones who were willing to help wanted enormous deposits- 9000€ for a three-month let, which of course had to be from a French bank account.

Thus, a dilemma was born. Paying for accommodation required a French bank account but acquiring a French bank account required a proof of a French address- I couldn’t get one without the other. (See: banking fiasco).

It seemed the only remaining solution was for us to split up and find separate living arrangements. I then resorted to Airbnb, feeling fresh out of other options. I booked flights to Toulouse, made appointments to visit several promising-looking Airbnb properties and went for a weekend-long property search. I eventually found a studio flat in a really nice area, visited it and booked it on the same day. Of course, another advantage of Airbnb is the security in terms of paying rent and deposits, and the fact that you don’t need a local bank account to pay.

Retrospectively, I can say up to this point all has gone well with the logistics of accommodation and would recommend using Airbnb for year abroad accommodation to anyone. In the three-month period I only hit one problem: the night before I was due to move out (how typical)- my flat was burgled. Other than this one-off, the rest of the stay was fantastic.

One thing I did learn is the importance of viewing the properties beforehand if you can. This does seem strange for Airbnb, but when I explained I would be staying for three months, most people were more than happy to show me round, and those who couldn’t kindly gave me the street address, so I could visit the area. This is not only to ensure the property does actually exist, but to get a feel for the area and to see what your journey to work will be like.

Bank

If you’re lucky enough to be doing a paid placement it is common to find that the receiving business will only pay into a local bank account, or if your placement is unpaid a local bank account is still the best way to avoid hefty conversion fees which can mount up if you use an English bank account overseas. This can be a tricky process.

In most banks it’s necessary to book an appointment in advance and take the following documentation with you:

Identification

Birth certificate

Convention de stage

Attestation d’herbegement (signed statement from your landlord to confirm you live with them)

Copy of your landlord’s identification

Proof that your landlord owns the address

After looking into this process and the previously-mentioned catch-22 situation regarding needing a local address, I opted to open account with Credit Agricole’s English speaking service Britline. All the registration is done online, with just a phone call to discuss what services you need, and you can receive all your documentation and cards etc to an English address before you go. So far I can’t fault the service and have found reassuring to know that if I experience any disasters that I can contact them in English.

Another product which came in handy at the start of my placement before my Britline account was set up was a Caxton card. Essentially the same as any foreign exchange card, you can top up the Caxton using a mobile app and convert into any currency you want. The charges are not bad and in some cases you can even get paid into your Caxton account as well. Another bonus is the super-simple registration process and small amount of documentation needed. The Caxton would be a great solution for anyone travelling, not only for stagiaires.

Insurance

Although your workplace and the university should definitely have you covered by insurance for your time away (of course check this), I decided to take out some insurance which would cover my phone, laptop, camera, debit cards, etc while I was away, as well as covering myself in case of illness, and which would insure me and my belongings for any other travelling in Europe during my year abroad. For this I used Endsleigh, who specialise in student insurance, and their Study Abroad Insurance. The policy I opted for was super cheap but covered everything I needed and thus far has been relatively stress-free, which is more than can be said about some other aspects of the move.

Paperwork

One really useful piece of advice I received was to make scans, photocopies and printouts of everything- especially as I had no access to a printer before starting work. This includes copies and scans of your convention de stage, passport, birth certificate, student card etc. As well as this, a set of passport photos was invaluable- I needed one handy as soon as I landed in Toulouse to buy a travel card and since then have got through another four for various bits and bobs.

Potentially forgotten things

  • Plug adaptors
  • Check if your accommodation includes bedding/ towels

I hope at least some of the above advice has been helpful, even if much of it is the same advice which has been repeated by everyone you mention your placement year to.

As always, get in touch if I can be of any help, and I’d love to hear other people’s experiences.

A la prochaine,

J

Christmas in Toulouse

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.

Galleries Lafayette

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!

A la prochaine!

How to get a placement 101

My experience of finding a placement… or two

So here we are. It’s suddenly January and I’m late to the placement-blogging-party. This does, however, mean I can share the highlights of my experiences from the first few months from the position of having successfully (in my opinion) survived this far.

You can read my very brief ‘about me’ section here, which gives you a brief about what I am currently doing!

Misleading-yet-catchy title aside, this post is not, in fact, a ‘how to’, but is an overview of my personal experience of the application process. The whole thing can seem rather daunting, so *hopefully* seeing it written start to finish in black and white from the point of view of someone who has done it will be of some use. A lot of my advice will be the same things you’ve been told before but one more time can’t hurt. Eventually you’ll even start to follow it.

Starting at the beginning

As an LSS student, my placement year had to be a minimum of 30 weeks – shorter than for other students, particularly those belonging to ABS, and mine has to be completed in France as I study French and English Language. This also made it possible for my placement to be split into two halves as, according to new laws, each stage (work placement) cannot last longer than 6 months in French businesses.

The first placement preparations began around October 2016 when the Careers+Placements team started running a series of lectures to outline the basics of the placement year. The first choice I had to make was whether to work for the entire duration, study for the entire duration, or do a mixture of both. After a lot of deliberation (some would call it dithering), I decided I wanted to work for the whole period, largely because I thought that my experience of the country would be more like ‘real life’ than if I spent the time in a somewhat sheltered environment of a university. I would have the chance to meet more – and a wider range of – people working in a business than if I spent another year surrounded entirely by other students very similar to me.

Of course, in addition to the life experience, there’s the added benefit of having a year of full-time work on your CV for when you’re fresh out of uni and looking for a graduate job, which could well be the edge you have over your competition.

Applying speculatively

When it came to applying for placements, I made an appointment with the Careers+Placements team fairly early on to discuss what kind of industries/businesses/roles I should be looking for.

One piece of information they gave me (which in fact hit me like a tonne of bricks) was that when applying speculatively to companies who weren’t advertising placements, I should expect to be sending “forty, fifty or sixty” copies of CVs and tailored cover letters. So, after several minor breakdowns about this fact, I narrowed my search to only companies advertising on Aston Futures. I know several people who did in fact stick with it and got amazing placements through applying speculatively, but the sheer volume of applications I would have had to send and my complete lack of career plans totally put me off doing so.

If you’re anything like me, there will be times you feel totally buried in applications…

‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’… or not

Another method which had amazing results for my friends – but not so much for me – was asking anyone and everyone in terms of family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues for knowledge of placements in certain companies or industries. Although I was given lots of advice and kind words of encouragement, I would not recommend relying solely on other people to obtain yourself a placement. By all means feel free to ask for the contact details of your great-uncle’s babysitter’s sister’s boss’s son who happens to work at a company for who you’d love to work, but do it at the same time as religiously checking Aston Futures, checking emails directly from the placement team with suggested jobs and checking various job sites (although sites like TARGETjobs and RateMyPlacement etc. weren’t overly helpful for international French-speaking placements in my experience).

Good things come to those who work

Or rather placements come to those who send numerous quality applications.

Over the course of second year I sent a total of 12 applications, had one face-to-face interview and three telephone interviews, and was offered my current role with Air France at the beginning of April. This first placement would be based in Toulouse, a city which I’d previously not heard a great deal about, so I decided I wanted my second placement to be in Paris. It would be a shame to have such an amazing opportunity to live abroad, and not spend at least some time in such an iconic city!

A few more applications and one declined job offer later, I was offered my role with HSBC Paris in early June.

Although many of my friends were starting their placements in June and July, I was quite content to have a whole five months to work part-time, make the most of living at home and to sort all of the practical aspects of the placement year. I would soon discover I did in fact need the entire five months to navigate the organisational trials and tribulations which would crop up: French bureaucracy has a reputation for a reason.

A few words of advice

Get your CVs sorted as soon as possible. Having a basic CV ready early on gets you in the ‘placement’ headspace, as well as meaning you’re ready for the early deadlines. Both an English version and a version in the target language are essential. Be aware it’s not sufficient to simply translate it word for word, different countries have different conventions that must be followed! This will be covered early on in your second year language classes.

(side note: overseas deadlines are generally months later than some of the domestic ones. I seem to remember there being surprisingly few advertised until around January time).

Promptly get yourself down to the Careers+Placements team. Once the placement prep starts to get more intense, the available appointments become somewhat difficult to come by. Although it is important to ask them very specific questions, not just a generic ‘help me’, they really will do everything they can to help. I visited at least three times for various appointments, CV checks and practice interviews.

You do you. Preaching time: There will of course be people who get their placements secured with the infamous big four by December, who will be earning megabucks living in an amazing city and will have no preparation left to do other than talk at great length about it. This is fine, congrats to them. This is not by any stretch of imagination how everyone’s placement-securing journey will go. If you’re anything like me there may be a tiny nagging worry that you’ll be working in a less prestigious company, smaller place or for a less showy salary and that you’re somehow not making the most of placement year. Of course the year is not based on these things, rather on how much you learn, have fun and grow as a person.

The best thing to look for is a company which will provide a nurturing environment, a job which you can learn from and a location which you can temporarily call home.

Watch out for my upcoming post about some of the aforementioned practicalities that moving overseas for placement year entailed, and for my humble opinion on some of the highlights of Toulouse so far.

A la prochaine,

J