It’s coming to the end of my time abroad and like all I am reflecting back on what an incredible year it has been, trying to cling on to every memory, whilst suppressing all feelings of dread at the prospect of final year. This year I have found myself in a slightly more unusual situation in that I was lucky enough to have a work placement for half of ‘placement year’ and study abroad for the other half. When choosing how I wanted to spend my placement year I had the internal battle of what I wanted to do. I had always thought of myself aiming for a 12 month work placement for the best company I could get. Yet after a bit of a rough time, a change of degree course, a reshuffle of my priorities and watching the experience of my peers come back from their placement year, I couldn’t shake from my mind what an amazing experience the Erasmus students seemed to be having! I wanted to have the perceived adventure of Erasmus students and the supposed prestige and experience of a work placement – I wanted to have my cake and eat it.
But is it worth trying to eat the whole damn cake? Is it best to do both or is working simply better than studying and vice versa (Is the question on your lips after that tremendously long introduction). Well, it all depends on what you want out of placement year and what factors are most important to you! Is it to travel & explore? Is improving your language key? Or do you have a target industry you want to work in and need specific experience of? Sadly there is no answer of what is better; it all depends on you and what is most important to you to gain from the year!
There are however a few main differences that I have experienced between work and study that may help you make your decision (or give you confidence in a decision you have already made)…
Study gives you more time to travel
Of course, the student schedule compared to a working week means you have more time and this makes travelling so much easier when studying. Not only can you explore the country your in but it gives you time to go further, take advantage of your location and visit surrounding countries. Being in such a central location in Austria, I found I travelled 10 times as much (even with 10 times less money). Being in another country with other exchange students means there is an abundance of people who also want to explore and to travel with! Something that can be difficult to organise on a work placement.
Working helps build your confidence
In my experience being on workplace improved my confidence and experience in a way my study placement didn’t. There is a big difference in presenting to your boss and colleges compared to a class of students. Being in a professional environment and having responsibility over your work (I feel) really helped prepare me for my expectations of working life and gave me much more confidence in that I was able to survive in the corporate world. Going through the application process also gives a taster and trail run of the dreaded graduate job application process.
Study placements tend to offer more support
This obviously depends on your workplace or University, but for me the process of moving abroad when studying was MUCH easier than on work placement. Last June I arrived in Germany alone with my suitcase, no where to live and only a few property who had said yes to me viewing. Finding a place to live in another country when you cannot meet them (and you don’t want to let for the whole year) was a nightmare. Especially when you don’t know anyone where your moving – its daunting! You have to deal with all the paperwork/ bills/ forms and make your way to work alone – all in another language.
Compare that to my study experience in January, In which the university has links with a student accommodation which was sorted months before I arrived. The university even has a buddy program where you have a student you can direct your questions too who will pick you up from the airport and help you with your documents. Added to that they had guides for what needed to be done, guides for exploring the area, and even a 3 week orientation and cultural program to take you round the city, help you meet people and give you an intensive crash course in the language before the semester starts.
When you study you meet others from all over the world
Again this is quite obvious. Naturally as a student you will meet more similar aged and like minded people. But what I didn’t expect is how much I would learn about other cultures. I was able to make great friends and work with students from all over the world! Through living and being friends with people from another culture you learn so much about it. It was much easier to make friends and meet new people than on work placement and the social side of Erasmus (I found) was incredible.
Of course, these things all depend on where you work or study and not everyone’s experience will be the same as mine! If I had to choose, I think studying abroad was an unforgettable and amazing experience and an Erasmus experience (depending on where you go) can be the best time of your life. If you have the chance I would take it, as the experiences I had are something I will never get again (where as working life, once it starts – never ends). Of course – it all depends on your priority and what you want out of your placement year! But my final piece of advice would be – Do your research before you apply somewhere, consider the social side and your enjoyment too, have a good think of what you want to achieve from your year – make sure you choose something which suits YOU! 🙂
All the best on your placement years!