Year Abroad Tips: Planning a Work Placement

So you're about to start planning your Year Abroad and you're totally freaking out because it seems like a mammoth task or maybe you're all cool and serene. Whatever. This is a little blog about work placements, how to get them, what to prepare for and what to do if things go wrong. 

1) Do something you enjoy. No seriously. If you don't enjoy at least part of what you're doing you are going to be seriously miserable, because doing a work placement means that most of your time abroad will be spent, well, working. I knew that I wanted to work in a theatre so that's where I started looking. You also need to consider whether you are prepared to work for free. Remember that paid internships will be extremely competitive and you will be up against some pretty competent native speakers. I decided that gaining experience was more important to me than earning money and I managed to do get by with my Erasmus Grant and student loan. There were a few disasters but I'll talk about those later on.

2) Once you've decided on the general working environment you're interested in, make a list of cities/places that appeal to you. I had three potentials for my first Germany placement: Düsseldorf, Leipzig or Rostock. I then made a list of all the theatres that were in those cities and sent out an email and CV to each of them. When I was applying for a job in Italy, things got a bit desperate and I started looking for anything that was available. This might happen to you, but roll with it.

3) Make sure you have a CV that is appropriate to the country you are applying to work in. Germans, for example, have completely different expectations for CVs and Cover Letters than England. Your university should prepare you for this, but do make time to go and see an academic tutor to make sure everything is as accurate as possible. I also advise adjusting your Cover Letter for each place you apply for so that you are really clear about why you want to work for that particularly company/institution.

3) When preparing for the interview, make a list of phrases in case you get tongue-tied. Also write a few key sentences explaining why you want to work with that particular company (so do your research!) Try not to panic, because that will only make it harder to speak in another language. Speak slowly, clearly and concentrate on what your interviewer is asking/saying to you.

If you manage to get a work placement CONGRATULATIONS. That's a massive achievement! Here are a few tips to help you get off to a good start.

1) CHECK THE DRESS CODE. Do this before you board the plane or pack your suitcase. I stupidly forgot and turned up with a suitcase full of jackets, skirts and smart trousers, when in fact everyone was wearing jeans *face palm*  So to avoid extra costs and embarrassment, send your employer a quick, polite email to clarify what is appropriate.

2) Turn up on your first day with all the necessary ERASMUS forms so that you can complete them and get them signed. Try to send them back as soon as possible. This will alleviate any University admin stress and will allow you to concentrate on enjoying your work placement. If you're not being paid for your work, make sure you are absolutely clear on your working hours.

3) BE BOLD. You will be nervous. I spent my first day at the theatre cowering behind a corner whilst everyone chatted and greeted one another, but as soon as I made a step towards the crowd, someone came and said hello and that's when the fun started. So be nervous but DON'T BE AFRAID. If there are other interns GO AND MAKE FRIENDS WITH THEM, they may not seem like your type of people to begin with, but after a few lunchtime chats and drinks after work you will find your language skills significantly improving. Friendship takes work and when I look back on my experience I am so glad that I made the effort to invest time into the other interns I was working with because they are now some of my most precious friends.

4) ASK FOR HELP. If you don't understand something just say. There is nothing worse than sitting at your desk trying to look busy when in fact you have no idea what you're supposed to be doing. Avoid wasting your time and take the chance to learn a new word or phrase. Most people will be sympathetic to your position and will respect your honesty. 


  1. I would also add that while studying/working abroad, make sure your family at home is updated with all of the details: where you will be staying, phone numbers, emergency contacts, etc. Keeping them happy will make your time away much easier on you!