So, as second year students reading this blog, you’re probably being constantly bombarded with adverts for placements; advice from final years; and being badgered by your tutors to choose your placement!
I remember that situation. Now that I am here, in the middle of my placement (wow, have I been in Japan nearly six months already!?) I am looking back. Since hindsight is 20/20, I have been thinking about what I wish I knew before I left my comfy little flat in Birmingham!
1. Learn how to feed yourself.
What I mean by this is that you may know how to stick a ready meal in the oven; mix the contents of a can with some bread; or even bake a mean banana loaf (trust me, mine is to die for). All of your food knowledge so far is probably very UK-centric.
What if this were your kitchen? Would you know what things can be cooked in a toaster oven? Would you have any idea what ingredients to buy to make something edible with a hot plate? How about including fibre in your diet when a box of cereal is three times the price?
Doing a little bit of homework before embarking on the placement would have helped me be healthier in my first couple of months. I dove right in the deep end and learned the hard way!
2. Buy more pants.
..and t-shirts and maybe even jeans. Oh and pack a lot of shoes!
Possibly on a related note to tip number one; I lost 15kg in my first three months here. Portions are smaller and I cycle to work every day instead of just hopping on a bus (or for some of you, rolling out of your dorm into a lecture).
Even with this weight loss, I am an XL in Japanese t-shirts. There are VERY few stores (I have found two so far) which stock my leg length and finding shoes in my size has to date been impossible. I am not assuming that every country the world over is like this but it will be important to know what you can and cannot get whilst you are abroad.
This is related to tip number 2. Read about the country you are going to. Know the politeness customs of the country you are visiting. Get a cultural foot-in-the-door. Culture shock can be very embarrassing. This is a tip I had myself before I came but I guess my studies were not extensive enough. This video shocked me, but my students found it funny.
Equally important is to read about the UK! Whilst you are abroad, you are like a pseudo-ambassador. In my placement, I have been called upon to be an encyclopaedia of British culture. You may be called upon to give a presentation about bonfire night; write a lecture about the UK jobless subculture; or asked on the spot what the population of London is (yes, all of these have happened to me).
4. Talk to people.
This advice is coming from someone who is working abroad. Feel free to email me any questions you have or leave a comment. Equally, talk to other people who have done placements similar to the one you are considering. Use the resources available to you. I had the opportunity to ask questions to the people who have done this exact placement before and I did not make the most of it. Even if you don’t have any specific questions to ask, you may not know what you don’t know!
5. Take risks.
All that being said… the placement year is an AMAZING opportunity. You get to experience life in a new country; work in a field which interests you; and try so many new things. Dive in. Give it your all.
I know before I came to Japan, I could say for sure that I had never knowingly eaten intestines; I could also say I had never picked fresh strawberries and eaten them there on the farm. I can now proudly say I have taught classes unsupervised and can measure the positive impact on my students! There are ups and downs in anything you do in life. Roll with the punches. The experiences I have had here; the people who I have met and the job I am lucky to have are worth the brief weird moments.
If you take one piece of advice let it be this: go out into the world, experience what it has to offer and let those experiences shape you.