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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!

Beat the January blues  

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

My top tips for dealing with homesickness whilst on a placement abroad

Yasmine Payne graduated from Aston University in July 2017 with a BSc in Business, Management and Public Policy and now works in the Careers+Placements team as International Projects Coordinator. During her undergraduate degree, she completed a study abroad placement in Spain at Universidad de Sevilla. Read through her tips for coping with the struggles of homesickness whilst you’re on your international placement.

Don’t panic!

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Homesickness is natural! Do not worry – of course, you will feel sad to be returning to your placement after spending the Christmas period with your loved ones. However, everyone is in the same boat and there are loads of things you can do to combat homesickness.

Join clubs and societies for international exchange students – not only will you meet new people, but you’ll be too busy having fun to feel homesick.

Take trips with your roommates and explore the countries around you, so when you do return to the UK you will be able to tell everyone your memories of visiting new places.

Skype your friends and family so you have a time in the day where you talk to your loved ones and most importantly have fun!

This year abroad is a time for you to learn new things, realise what you are good at and make friends for life!

Make a photo album!

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When I went abroad and started to feel homesick, I bought myself a nice photo album and printed off all the pictures I had taken so far. I made sure I kept tickets from football matches I had seen, trains I caught when I visited new cities and plane tickets when I travelled to new countries. Even menus from some of my favourite restaurants!

Putting things down onto paper helps you look at all you have achieved and will make you happy to see all the memories you have created so far! Plus this is a great way to show your creative side and when you return home after your placement you will be able to show your loved ones who will be eager to know all about your journey!

Be open-minded!

Moving to a new country is hard and the fact you have made it this far is an achievement in itself so you should be proud!

A new country comes with many challenges and adjusting to a new culture can have its drawbacks, but if you remain open-minded and eager to learn new things you will have a much more enjoyable experience – you would be surprised how much you can learn about yourself when immersed in a new culture! Believe me, there will be people who want to learn about you just the same way you want to learn about them.

Learn the language!

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When moving to a new country, you may also encounter a language you most likely have never spoken before!

When I felt homesick because no one spoke English, I found a Spanish speaking class and this way I met new people who were also on a placement abroad – this also helped me feel more comfortable in my new country as I could speak to people in their language. I was able to make new friends and we would socialise together outside of class. This allowed me to have something fun to add to my daily schedule outside of studying.

Also, having international experience and the ability to speak more than one language makes you look great to employers! Plus when you do move back to the UK, you can show off your new language skills to your family and friends who will be impressed!

I hope these tips have helped and I wish you all the best with your international placement!

I finally plucked up the courage to apply for a government graduate scheme

 

I always wanted to work for the government but I ended up trying the supposed ‘silver bullets’ of career paths. After unsuccessful stints in the corporate world and startups (not for me) and a very positive experience in PR (my career spirit animal); I knew that I had to take the risk to apply and get my foot in the door. The National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP) recruitment drive is an investment of your time regardless of what stage you get up to…my recruitment was almost a year’s process! Please do not think that graduate schemes are for fresh faced 21 year olds! I graduated with my BSc with a study abroad year almost 4 years ago. Since then, I have gone onto to complete my MA, tried different careers paths, lived in different cities, got lots of life experience and developed as a person before ending up in government. I have met those on the scheme who have completed PhD’s as well as stints in other industries! The more life experience and skill sets you can bring to this job, the better!

 

My advice for the recruitment process? Take it one step at a time. Try not to overthink it and do not second guess everything. The main thing to keep in mind when applying is ‘fit.’ How do you fit into local government? Why do you fit into local government? What area of local government do you fit into? Are you aware of the financial and community difficulties that lie ahead in a post-Brexit/Trump era? How can your soft and hard skills help local governments work together away from central government? All central funding is to be cut and local governments to be financially self-sufficient by 2019/2020.

A lot of my friends have successfully applied for various government graduate schemes with varying degrees of personal satisfaction and professional gratification. The key to local government is will the work at local government satisfy you? Non-statutory services and duty of care are not ‘sexy’ topics to discuss but play a central role in people’s lives. If services were to be removed or become inaccessible, then we would be failing our residents. In local government, you are on the front line. From library services being cut, rising adult social care costs and a booming young population, the pressure is on to balance the books while meeting our legal requirements before central government pulls our funding.

 
I am currently in my first placement on the scheme working with the stronger communities’ team and my second placement will be working for the Chief Executive herself. The content of the work is very enjoyable but working with different key stakeholders can be a challenge. There is a lot of overlap with my undergraduate degree, Politics with International Relations and my MA in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. Your ability to mix your soft and hard skills are put to the test on a daily basis. While this can be challenging the support has been second to none. I have a dedicated team at my local authority to look after me, along with a mentor, my line manager of my current placement, those on my current cohort at my local authority and those across the country, the alumni network and the programme directors of the scheme itself. The NGDP also enrols you onto a professional qualification at the Institute of Leadership and Management. This has already helped me understand and navigate issues that I, as a future leader, am encountering. How to bring together an intergenerational workforce, what are the expectations of flexible working, how does this impact the service delivery of statutory and non-statutory services?

 
I highly recommend anyone to apply especially those, who like me, tried different career paths before heading down the road of government. If you need any more insight into the programme, I am happy to help. Please ask Careers+Placements for my contact details. I will most likely be replying back when I am not in back-to-back meetings and can access my emails! But I will get there! Pace yourselves and good luck!

Regards

Katrina Rattu

Why go abroad for your placement year?

I am currently undertaking my placement year abroad, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and experiences on why you should consider doing a placement abroad.

 

You can conquer a new language! 

The great thing about undertaking a placement abroad is that you can learn a new language!

I am studying and working abroad with the sole intention of improving my French.  I have incorporated speaking French into my daily routine. I deal with my accommodation, bank, doing my shopping and also my classes are in French.

Don’t worry you still get to speak English! Most of my friends are outside of school and are international students. With them, I do speak a lot of English! But, I also have thrown myself out of my comfort zone by attending buddy programmes without my international friends, and this has resulted in me making some real French friends.

 

Or you can learn the basics…

Alternatively, you can work or study in English in another country. I have friends across Europe who are working in English while living in cities from Amsterdam to Barcelona. I am sure that outside of work they try to learn some of their local languages so that they can use public transport and buy their groceries. I know in France, French people really respect you if you try to speak French even if they realise that you’re not French or that your sentences are incorrect!

 

You can see the world! 

I have already mentioned in my previous blog that I have visited some pretty cool places like Grenoble in France, undertaking a placement year abroad is such a great way to explore. My most recent trip was to Lake Annecy which is BEAUTIFUL! With placement year you have some time, some money and no real responsibilities tying you down to go out and explore. It is your opportunity to make the most of every weekend, to visit other friends from Aston who are living abroad and to see some new places.

 

 

 

Learn about a new culture

Living in a country enables you to learn more about the culture present and get a feel of the country rather than hearing it on social media. The most significant thing I have learnt so far is the difference between the French and English education systems. In France, most lectures are 3 hours and 15 minutes long, with a break after the first 90 minutes!

I am attending a business school, and it really does feel like I have gone back to school! I am in a class of 30 people, who remain the same in every lesson. Each group has a different timetable, so I follow my 30 friends from Group A for the semester. The classrooms are set out like you would imagine in a school, and our professor picks on individuals during the lesson to answer his or her questions. The class is mandatory and monitored, and missing lessons results in a mark of 0 for your midterm exams!

Other things you will discover are new foods, customs, traditions and social norms. I have learnt a lot about the local cheeses, wines and the local green liqueur “Chartreuse”.

 

Make new friends 

In my class, all of the students come from French-speaking countries – places in France, Belgium, Chad, Congo, Madagascar and Senegal. I am taking a class to improve my French competencies, and everyone in this class are from China, all hoping to take the Desma exam to prove their fluency in French. My international friends stretch from Australia, Germany, Hungary, Denmark and many of them are American and Irish. I have made friends for life from various countries and have even been invited to visit some of these countries with my new found tour-guides!

 

Have some life experiences 

This could be your once in a lifetime opportunity to try living abroad for six or twelve months. You have no obligation to ever work abroad again if your experience is negative, or you may find somewhere that you absolutely adore and wish to work after university. However, you can only find out about life in a new country by going to live there. I think the first month was where I learnt the most about myself.

I moved into a studio on my own, I knew no-one in my new city and I had a ton of paperwork to do to settle into France. I had to find ways to make friends, speak French with as many people as possible and set up my bank, doctors, financial aid, water, electricity, accommodation without the help and advice of my parents and friends. I also lost my EHIC on the plane which seemed to be a huge problem to resolve and meant I was unable to complete some of my paperwork in the first few weeks – it felt like a weight was lifted when I finally (finally!) received a new card. You find yourself without your close usual support network for a few weeks, and this is when you realise you are strong enough to do anything if you put your mind to it!

Career opportunities 

Following on from my last comment, you will have experienced such a steep learning curve when moving abroad on your own, that you will have endless examples to give in interviews. You will learn to be independent, work in a team effectively and tackle challenges that you had thought were impossible. Secondly, if I haven’t persuaded you yet, maybe you should consider that your work opportunities could effectively be doubled if you have exposure to a second country alongside your exposure to England.

I have had a handful of interviews for jobs in Paris last week and am awaiting a response. I already have friends in Paris and they have told me that they adore it so much that they are already considering working there after university. I can only hope that I will receive a job offer in the next few days so I can experience the excitement and joy of Paris for myself!

 

Career in Policy and Public Affairs

Sometimes I find it hard to describe what I do for a living. ‘Policy and public affairs’ isn’t a career path that everyone has heard of, or knows much about. But I think it’s probably one of the most interesting and rewarding careers going.

I loved ancient history and literature at school, and went on to study at the University of Birmingham. After graduating, I was sure that I wanted to work in the public sector, and to do something that used my skills – reading and absorbing information, seeing patterns and analysing situations, and setting out my arguments in writing. After a while tempting for the NHS in an admin role in London, I managed to get onto Birmingham City Council’s graduate programme.

During my time on the graduate programme I worked in several different roles which enabled me to get a sense of what I did – and definitely didn’t want to do in future. It was during a placement in a waste and recycling depot on the outskirts of Birmingham city centre, where I was researching and designing different ways to encourage Brummies to recycle more and throw away less, that I discovered my interest in public policy.

I made a sideways move from working directly in local government to working in higher education policy in London. I wasn’t working for the government department responsible for universities, but for a policy organisation that represents universities – so it was my job to try to influence policy from the outside. I started as a Policy Researcher, and within three and a half years worked my way up to become a Policy Analyst and then a Senior Policy Analyst, eventually managing my own Policy Researcher.

I’m now Aston University’s Policy Advisor. It’s my job to know what is going on in the political world outside, and work out how it might impact on Aston. It’s also my job to find ways of letting policymakers know about all of the excellent work that goes on in Aston. Life as a Policy Advisor is often varied and always interesting. One day I might be watching a parliamentary debate live online to see what the government Minister is saying about universities, the next I’ll be responding to a consultation on what Brexit will mean for the UK’s higher education sector, and another day I’ll be drafting letters to send to MPs about an exciting development at Aston University, or organising a roundtable discussion event.

One of the great things about policy as a career path is that you realise policy roles are all around you, and your skills are really transferrable. As well as the option of working within government or with a particular politician, pretty much any organisation that interacts with government in some way, whether in the public, private or charity sector, will need people to run their policy and public affairs operation.

If you have developed the right skills and experience – like being able to read and digest lengthy and complex reports, analyse what a government announcement will mean for a sector in practice, think how a politician might think, or write a persuasive letter – in a way it doesn’t matter what context you are working in. You can learn that detail of the job as you go along.

 

My advice for anyone thinking about a career in policy is:

  • When it comes to job hunting or looking for work experience, think outside the box – it’s not just government that has policy roles. Universities, charities of all kinds, political parties, think tanks and representative bodies do too. And it doesn’t have to be in London if that’s not your scene.
  • Your career can be incredibly varied, so don’t pigeon hole yourself into one area of policy. I moved straight from environmental policy to higher education policy so I know it can be done.
  • Do your research and keep up to date with current affairs. If you’re applying for a policy role, have a look at the organisation’s recent news releases or blogs, find out which government departments they interact with and which politicians are in charge, and read one of their recent speeches. This will impress recruiters and show that you have already thought about their policy challenges.

Lizzy Woodfield

Policy Advisor, Aston University

If students would like to talk to someone to gain some advice on how to break into a career in policy, or to discuss any other aspects of their career planning, do book an appointment with a careers consultant via Aston Futures (www.aston.ac.uk/careers

Blog Series (6): The Ending

Everything eventually comes to an end, as is my placement. I am now preparing to complete my handover, any campaigns that need to be tied and of course promoting my role for the next placement student. The time goes quickly so make the most of it, I am happy to say I feel as though I have made the most of my placement, I’ve taken part in various campaigns and also been given the chance to manage them on my own as well as, being able to gain some experience on Photoshop, WordPress, Hootsuite, being given full access to our social media accounts, learning how to update and manage the Careers+Placements website and app.

I have taken part in away days, I’ve been able to visit Aston Villa Stadium, gone on Christmas meals and lunches, meetings with key players around the university and had the chance to meet the Vice Chancellor of the university. My placement has taught me how to network, how to build my confidence up for a graduate job and let’s face it as a university student this has been my most productive year of all.

The end is near, a little dramatic but it truly is, I feel ready to transition back into university and feel far more confident knowing that this will be my final year, before my placement I was always unsure, slightly lazy, had ambition but didn’t know how to exactly get to where I wanted, but now I feel as though I’m ready to get that degree and move on. I want to work as I have seen the benefits of working, like anything you will feel stressed or overwhelmed but that’s just life, and you will get through it.

Placement search can be hard, off-putting and difficult but if you find the right placement for you, then all that hard work will pay off, working for the Careers+Placements department at Aston has been a great experience and I can only hope the next bunch of placement students enjoy their placement as much as I did and remember, if you don’t manage to get the role that I am currently in, then don’t stop searching, ask for feedback on your interview and application process and learn from it.

 

I the ‘not so chronically lazy’ placement student have come towards the end of my journey.

Good luck to you all, I hope you find the placement you were looking for!

Blog Series (4): The first day

 

Disclaimer: Take this with a pinch of salt, your day could be a little or very different! 

I got the ‘Yes’ in May and started in July which was still a little time away, I was nervous, to say the least. I got on the train and made my way to Aston, when working as staff the environment completely changes, you are no longer that student who gets late for their lectures, or who walks into the Main Building only to walk back out, you are staff and as staff you are required to be there on time, well dressed and ready for the day.

It is likely that your manager will greet you when you come in and help you get settled at your desk, you will then be taken around the department and be introduced to your colleagues, don’t worry if you forget names,  soon all will be familiar, after all the handshakes and formal introductions you will be taken back to your desk.

At this point, things get real, real quick! You’ll be given a timeline of plans and comms that the team have been working on, what you need to work on and what your targets will be. You will be given a handover, for instance, I will create a handover document for the next placement student so they know how I did things, what they need to do and just to give them that bit of advice from placement students to placement student and then you will be given a fairly easy task to help you get familiar with the role.

Oh, and of course you will be given your log-ins, an email account, a staff card and just to warn you, they do not give you a chance to smile coherently for the picture, so be sure to have your ‘I’m ready for a picture’ face on at all times and you will also need to create a message for your voicemail … mines is dreaded, thank god no one really calls me!

The first day was great I did not feel too overwhelmed, as I was eased into the role, at least for a good month! They really do give you the time to settle, you are also given a ‘buddy’ which is another colleague in the department who you can talk to if you do not feel ready to approach matters with your manager or do not know how to.

The first day now seems like a blur, I do remember feeling lonely, however, as I had not befriended any colleagues at this point and my friends had not moved back to university, it was a lonely time at the start as other placement students had not yet started either. However, in due to time I have met the best placement students, staff and made some great friends, make sure to integrate with your team and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to your placement colleagues.   

Your first day will be great, it will be normal to feel nervous, but just remember like with anything you’ll adjust and feel at home before you know it!

Stay tuned to read about my journey 6 months in this Thursday

The ‘not so chronically lazy’ placement student.

Interested in this placement position? Head on over to Aston Futures and use the Job ID – 20885 to apply!

 

Mastering Madrid.

Greetings from Madrid!

I have now been studying here for roughly two and a half months, and have loved every bit of it. This post will mainly focus on what Madrid has to offer, so anyone aspiring to do their placement here, can receive a few hints, and tips of what might be in store for them. I will also briefly touch upon the finances of studying, and living abroad, as this is a big factor in the decision-making for most people, myself included.

Where to begin?! The University life here is somewhat similar to that of Aston, however, I found that there are some differences, mainly in the way you are examined, and in the way some of the courses are organised. First, and foremost, I got to choose my own modules here, something that you do not get the chance to do until final year, if you’re a joint-honours ABS, and LSS student like myself. This is something I feel is a benefit, as you are given more autonomy, and can focus on a field that you enjoy, or are good at, or both! At UC3M, which is the University I am studying at, there is a big emphasis on continuous evaluation, and mid-term tests. This is something we do not really encounter at Aston, but I have found that they are really not that bad, and can work out in your favour, as there is then less stress on you for the final exam.

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The social life is great, and there is so much to do. The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) team here are really helpful, and arrange some great events. You should sign up for the ESN card, it’s only €5, and it great value for money. I would recommend everyone to take part in the early events, as it is a great way to get to know people, and to learn about Madrid, and all of it’s hotspots. The food is unbelievably cheap – especially compared to England! Madrid really is a sports-mad city, so for any football or basketball fans that are planning to study, or work here, they will not be disappointed.

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Generally, the city itself it relatively cheap. Accommodation is cheaper than the majority of anything that you will find in England. You can purchase a travel card, which is €20 a month for students, and with that, you can travel anywhere within the region of Madrid, on any mode of public transport. Flights back to the UK are also quite cheap, so you can return home, if you need to. So, for anyone that wants to do their placement abroad, but is put off by the expenses, should really look into it, as Madrid is relatively cheaper than most other European capital cities, and you will be guaranteed to have a great experience.

Thanks for reading!

10 TOP TIPS TO FIND YOUR PERFECT PLACEMENT

1)   Use all sources for your search

There are so many places you can look for placement options, so don’t just presume Aston Futures is your be and end all. Use ratemyplacement.com, e4s.com and indeed.com. You can also branch out further, and use family friends and social media to try and find connections for businesses that may not necessarily advertise their Industrial Placement vacancies.

2)   Don’t rule out your own area

Although some people would hate the idea of moving back home for a year after living solo at University for two already- don’t rule it out as an option. It can save huge amounts of money on living costs and accommodation…and you even get your evening meal made for you!!! (Who can resist that, I ask!?) Living at home can also create ease for you, with your home friends around, new friends to be made at your new job and possibly even more mobility if you have your own car or can borrow one at home. It’s a great idea to just Google large businesses in your own area, and have a scout on their careers pages or drop an email to see if they offer any placement positions.

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3)   Be prepared for the various stages in application

These days, companies like to throw all sorts of application stages at you. Below are the possible stages you could be asked to complete before getting to an assessment centre:

  • Large online form to include all personal info e.g. qualifications, interests, CV and Cover Letter upload
  • Simple cover letter and CV upload onto an online site
  • Online personal questions e.g. ‘Give us an example of when you have achieved personal goal.’
  • Online Psychometric and Mathematics tests (they are so hard so do your homework before taking them!)
  • Phone interview
  • Automated or live skype recorded interview
  • Face to face interview
  • Trial day at the workplace (not as scary as you may think!)
  • Assessment centre- this usually includes both group and individual exercises

4)   Apply, Apply, Apply…

My advice would be to apply to as many vacancies as possible and keep your options open. Providing that the vacancy is still relevant to your chosen course, you should ensure that you are applying to as many as you can, and as early as you can. I started from September, and that certainly helped me, as I was in no mad rush to get a load done at once, and all of the stages were conveniently spaced out throughout the year, so I wasn’t stressed when exam and coursework submission period came around. It might be a good idea to give yourself targets of applying to around 3 or 4 a week around September-December, to help yourself keep on track. It may also be important to read thoroughly through the job specification before applying. Not only because this can significantly help with the applications themselves (because they usually contain the answers that employers are looking for), but also because it is important to restrict yourself to only applying to ones that are relevant to you e.g. if they require certain skills, degree channels, unrestricted mobility or qualifications. This will save you a lot of time…and the disappointment of rejections.

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5)   Be savvy with your application questions

Applications are known for being very tedious, monotonous and time consuming, and you’ll therefore be delighted to know that there are some corners you can cut very easily, in order to reduce your boredom and avoid being driven crazy. The main top tip I can pass on, would be to ensure that when answering your personal questions during the application process, make sure you’re adding each question and answer to a word document as you’re going along. This is because a lot of the questions from different companies can give you the same, or very similar questions, and so this will save you a lot of time and effort writing up the same (or similar) questions again. A lot of your answers can often also be reworded and repurposed for different questions. Just make sure you change the company or industry references to apply to the specific job application.

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6)   Have a spotless CV and Cover Letter

Keep both your CV and Cover Letter relevant and short! An employer may only spend around 5-20 seconds looking at each applicant’s document, and so it needs to capture them straight away, and also be very easy to digest. To help you, use subheadings and online examples as inspiration to keep yours tip top! In the CV itself, make sure you sell yourself and take pride in your achievements- convince them to give you that interview! Then once you’re done and before sending it into the Aston Placement Team, ask a trustworthy person to check over it to ensure it is of quality, or even compare with friends to see if there is anything you have missed.

7)   If you aren’t sure…ASK!

If you’re looking for a placement or to study abroad, or even if you are unsure about the placement search or application process- do not be afraid to drop the placement team an email at absplacements@aston.ac.uk or pop into their office in the Student Union. No question is too silly! Be sure also not to leave things too late, as application processes can close early sometimes (particularly for study options abroad), and you don’t want to miss an opportunity!

8)   Be Prepped for Assessment Days!

They aren’t anywhere near as scary as you may think! In fact, a lot of the time Assessment Centres are presented informally and can involve engaging activities- so don’t be worried if on is approaching. However, there are a few things that are worth taking with you to ensure you are fully prepared…

  • Your printed CV
  • A notebook and a couple of pens
  • Lunch (it may not always be provided)
  • Printed background info on the company (to refer to if you forget anything)
  • And of course, it is still very important to look presentable and ensure that you are ‘geeked up’ on all the necessary info too.
  • Most importantly- make sure you bring yourself!! Don’t try and be someone you aren’t, it will show through in interviews, and actually is much better to be relaxed

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9)   Don’t be disheartened

It can be very frustrating getting the dreaded phone call or email…’Unfortunately we have decided not to process your application further…’ But please do not be disheartened!! Keep your spirits high and make sure you keep on applying to other options, as you never know what is around the corner, and only means that you are simply not what the employers are looking for- which doesn’t in any way mean that you are not what a different employer is looking for!

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10)               Don’t be afraid to put yourself out of your comfort zone

There are many aspects about getting a placement which may place you outside of your everyday comfort zone. From interviews in unfamiliar places, to meeting a wide range of new people, or answering questions on the phone or conference call. Do not be afraid or put off by pushing yourself to do these things, visit new places and take pride in meeting new people or having new experiences. After all, it is what a placement is all about.