Englishman Abroad: The Different Faces of Productivity

A whirlwind of a week.

When you watch the weather forecast in a place like Tenerife it tends to be pretty similar most of the time, but there’s value in keeping an eye on what’s coming.  You never quite know but it’s good to be prepared.

The clouds are moving in…

Planning for this week was no less important. We knew the team would be under a little extra pressure with ‘Marketing’ on tour in Poland and Denmark and the boss (la jefa) in Portugal for a student travel event.  We also knew we needed to be working smart to get everything done, and this smart working is what leads to productivity.  Don’t let anyone tell you that, in the service sector, being productive is all about efficiency and ticking off lists. There’s a place for efficiency too, and it’s important, but… well… it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Being productive’s about planning, initiative, teamwork, empathy and adaptability.

It’s about many of those things an internship should be designed to offer you – challenge, opportunity, achievement. And it’s about ‘self-efficacy’ – believing you can meet the challenge, take the opportunity and achieve the outcomes you’re looking for.  This week was about the different faces of productivity.

Everyone knew it was coming, so Monday was dedicated to letting those about to travel get set, while the rest of us took the reins for the day-to-day: mailings, phone calls, arranging visits … .

Teresa, second-in-command, needed to take a lead so, on Tuesday, I took some of her mailing-related work, freeing her up to be the boss, while I also started arranging my own support visit with an intern at the Hotel Jardin Tropical and what was to prove a hectic Thursday. I’d agreed to draft a response to a proposed quality framework for internships sent to us from an Erasmus Plus project, so this was something for Tuesday and Wednesday.

In between all this I’ve been making sure to note down a few reflections and details of what’s going on, and working on the project for my Erasmus internship. This has needed to be slotted into spare moments, but was essential to make sure nothing slipped – and knowing my memory that’s easily done!

Popping out to the post office. Turn left at the volcano…

After a trip to the Adeje post office (warming up my driving skills), Wednesday’s intern visit was really useful and confirmed the great opportunities TJT are offering for those with enthusiasm and a desire to learn.  The student is from Hungary, working in a Spanish hotel, using three languages between work and where she’s living, with her Hungarian partner.  She speaks German as well, yet unfortunately seems to have many guests expecting to speak French.  Sometimes you can’t win! And she’s loving it.  The hotel is superb, the team have accepted her quickly as one of their own, and she’ll be working between customer relations and marketing in her time here.

Planning and logistics for Thursday was the next priority, with an early start to come and a long day ahead.  I’d need to use the car first thing, so took it back to the apartment ready to leave before 7 the next morning.  So Thursday at 7 I picked up the first of two newly-arrived Irish students at his hotel.  And the other intern … in his room… incommunicado! With the help of reception staff we managed to rouse him, phone with no battery, portable charger the same, no alarm, no breakfast and slightly hungover. Great combo. 

So, straight to the police station – to register both for their national i.d. as an intern. A long wait for the interview appointment and then to the social security for the second form of i.d. for tax. … One down, one to go, because one of the hotels hadn’t stamped the letter of introduction. … Back to the hotel, back to the social security, find somewhere for the car (central Los Cristianos isn’t the easiest place to find a space)… sorted. And back to the hotel via TJT office to collect paperwork for our next new arrival from Germany. … Back to the Comisária de Policía, meet the student who’s come with another company we work with. More waiting in line for the interview, but mercifully quick and efficient. … A race to social security before they close at 2. Then driving her to where she’s living and working at a hotel near the airport … and then back to TJT, wondering how long I could carry on driving with the orange fuel light on! My own fuel was running low too – need LUNCH!

All in all, a busy day but half a dozen happy customers including our various clients; the personal touch and quality of service reaffirmed. Just need to find a petrol station on the way ‘home’ so I can drive again tomorrow.

Students and Teresa presenting at IES

On Friday the taxi service resumed, to take the team to a vocational school (IES) in Adeje.  Two interns would be talking about their own experience of working abroad to students thinking about doing the same outside Tenerife, while I’d be talking with the school about Erasmus projects and teacher visits. The enthusiasm was clear – for gaining experience abroad, for meeting and supporting visitors, and the experience of genuine hospitality was palpable.

The day, and the hectic week as a whole, shows the importance of working together to get things done.  To be productive. Getting things done with a bit of planning, a lot of initiative and flexibility, personal attention … and a little empathy and humour. We’ve packed a lot into the week, between us, and everything we needed and more was achieved.  Maybe not entirely efficient, but the better for it – certainly effective and personal.  Think I earned the coffee, and a drink or two with the interns. 

Now… where’s my bed? I need to sleeeeeeep!

Englishman Abroad: Progress!

Where HAS this week gone?

All of a sudden, only three weeks in, and it really feels like I’m genuinely part of the team. Suggestions considered, appreciated and at times put to use – or at least explained why it’s not the best idea. Likewise I’m actually contributing usefully to a wider range of operations than the behind the scene database and documentation.

I’m continuing to learn a lot, of course. This is partly because I now have a working knowledge of how the business runs, so I can look into more of the detail while contributing to the day-to-day. But it’s also about learning on the job. There’s simply no better way to put knowledge to use, test it, and learn where it works… and importantly where it doesn’t. That’s part of the beauty of internship, especially extended work experience, as part of your degree – learning things you can’t be taught in every permutation . What works, what doesn’t and why.

One of the big differences so far has been my involvement in planning meetings – keeping up-to-date and having a say in the way ahead. For next week the team will be depleted leaving three of us to keep the ship moving forward – not just afloat! I’ve already been asked to undertake intern support visits, something I’m well used-to in my previous role, but new here, and most likely needing to pull in my Spanish to be fully effective. This is an important focus for me, given my strong belief in the partnership or ‘co-creation’ that’s really essential to successful internships. Making sure the needs of intern, employer, intermediary, and of course the institution are all being met.

Team TJT at work

Friday of the coming week will involve outreach to a local high school, accompanying the assistant manager, Teresa, and a couple of interns who’ll be sharing their experiences. This is important because of the need for sustainable, long term links to the community you serve not just the businesses and current clients. It’s about community, but also about investing, indirectly, in relationships for the future. One of the things that makes Tenerife Job Training potentially more sustainable, given its small-scale and personal focus, is different business elements contributing to the whole. As well as TJT supporting inbound interns and groups from abroad, Noveleros en Ruta is a new brand promoting opportunities for young people from Tenerife, not just students, to travel abroad: traveling to learn and at the same time learning through the very experience of traveling.

Alongside TJT and Noveleros en Ruta the third piece of the jigsaw is Coworking Costa Adeje, CoCo, with TJT opening its doors to SMEs, NGOs and digital nomads to share workspace and facilities, generating income and active networks. Together these three ways of working are providing me with a good deal of insight into more than one business operation.

Noveleros en Ruta – outbound Canarians

Another new experience this week has been actively supporting seven newly-arrived interns in getting registered with the police and social security for their two forms of id: the NIE or Numero Identificacion de Extranjeros, and their social security card or NAF. Don’t ask what NAF stands for just now, but it’s so that employers can pay their taxes correctly, and essential to the proper (and legal) operation of internships. This involved driving on the island for the first time (on the ‘other’ side of the road, for a UK driver anyway), in a company vehicle, in a busy local road system, and with almost nowhere to park. A certain sense of satisfaction, but a well earned coffee break (and coffee-education) having started all this about 0730. So I now know how the system works, that I can cope with the driving, and the difference between a café con leche, cortado leche y leche and natural. Professional and cultural progress in a single morning.

Progress culturally has been in a number of ways too. An invitation to a work colleague’s birthday party led to plenty of chance to practice my Spanish with Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian friends and family. There’s really no substitute for social events and informality in helping to ‘bring on’ your foreign language skills. The wine/beer and sharing food helps too of course, as does the fact there are others who’ve been in the same boat as me in the past, metaphorically and linguistically speaking.

Secondly, striking up chance conversations with people (in my case on the beach with a beer-and-sandwich begging dog owner … let’s try again… the owner of a beer-and-sandwich begging dog)… well you hopefully get the picture. Talking about something you have in common really helps, and for those of you with dogs, you’ll understand.

Finally was the opportunity to see a brilliant, thoroughly entertaining, world class Argentine tango performance staged in the local event venue. This came ‘strictly’ out of the blue… The venue was impressive , and it’s always great to see how cultural events are professionally delivered and marketed in any new setting.

So bring on the coming weeks, new learning, and more progress!

Englishman Abroad: Problems, Challenges, Opportunities

So, a third of the way through the internship it makes sense to look at what some might call ‘problems’ so far. Apart from those relating to work, I’d say you can classify these as to do with Living, Logistics, Leisure, and Language. Yes you’ll notice I like aLLiteration. Sorry… Live with it!

In terms of Living arrangements, if you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know it’s not been plain sailing. Living in close quarters with a group of folk you don’t know can be a challenge, especially where there are cultural, generational (in my case), and gender differences. I’m sharing with: a Romanian waiter who, it turns out, has lived in and moved around Spain for the past 13 years; a female will-o-the-wisp of no clear origin, and who has a temperament that swings between extremes to say the least; a Hungarian photographer working for a surf school ; and another I’ve still not met. Still.

Sharing the kitchen and bathroom is a challenge for most. Cupboard choice seems to have a hierarchy, cleaning veers from obsessive to dismissive, and as for sharing the area for drying clothes…! Stealing food and being a ‘noisy nocturnal neighbour’ are bones of friction too.

And that’s just the freezer!

In Logistics I’d include getting about, shopping (food, drink, cleaning products…), And those little things that make life harder by their absence. Hanging space in the room (bought a hook with a sucker for the door); fridge and freezer space (stake a claim) ; recycling (I care, they don’t) ; all annoying when they don’t work. Shopping is now not an issue, once I’ve found local shops for what I need. Oh, and there are the cockroaches. Big Ones. Occasionally.

Just FIVE fruit and veg?

Google and a bit of trial and error have helped with getting around. And doing so on a budget is easy after asking people at work (see ‘Paying for Stuff’ later…). It’s meant I can go sight-seeing at weekends, head to the beach and experience life here instead of the Four Walls of Doom of my room. Yes, think outside ‘the box’! Next challenge, where to get my hair cut…

Finding time for Leisure, and even people to spend it with, is as an issue at the start. The leisure industry in particular is notorious for unsocial hours. Introducing and inviting yourself along may be an option if you’re keen to socialise, but taking advantage of anything that’s going on through or outside work can help stop that feeling of being on your own. And again Google is my saviour, along with a bit of leg work. Your employer will generally know what’s going on, and hopefully give some pointers. Take or leave the suggestions. But don’t ignore the chance for a new experience.

So now to Language. If you’re looking to go to the USA or ‘down under’ don’t dismiss this part. We may all speak English, but they’re variations on a theme. For me I’m in a country where people speak Spanish, but not the same as in Spain. When an ‘autobus’ is a ‘guagua’ you know something is not quite the same! Every new word tried and learned, especially in a context relevant to you, is another step towards better communication and language competence.

Been chasin’ waves…

Again being openly curious and making an effort goes a long way. The same goes for language you use to communicate at work. How should you answer the phone, greet or speak to guests? ‘No problem’ may be OK at home for example, but in ‘civilised’ places ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘my pleasure’ will be expected.

Finally, challenges at Work… isn’t that what I’m here for anyway?

The point of all this is that it’s about perception. If you see problems then the outcome will, more often than not, be less-than-positive. If you can see these as challenges you’ll learn to overcome them. And any chance to learn is an opportunity.

So relish those so-called ‘problems’ … laugh in the face of challenges… and each one will be an opportunity.

Englishman Abroad: A Peep at People (or a focus on folk)

It seems to me that it’s people that make the experience. That’s what genuine hospitality is about after all – a welcome, not a greeting, a table at a restaurant, and not a hotel room. It’s the people. Those you meet, those you take along with you, those you listen (or read) when you tell about your adventures … and misadventures. Hospitality is about shared moments, whether it’s your business or your pleasure, or of course both.

Shared moments

So this time around it’s no exception. Less than a week in, and the memorable moments generally revolve around the people:

The taxi driver who until a few years ago was a maitre d’ and who shares the belief that to work in the hospitality industry you need to care about your guest and go the extra mile, always. Those I know in Europe and the USA who get the most from their hospitality jobs also give the most [yes, you know who you are if you’re reading this].

The entrepreneur whose enthusiasm to share her knowledge with a stranger who wants to learn the trade is refreshing. As an entrepreneurship intern this sort of exchange is so important. And it IS an exchange. The successful intern brings something different to the job – enthusiasm yes, but open eyes and ears, a willingness to ask simple but insightful questions, to make suggestions, to be willing to fail in order to grow and ultimately succeed. When you’re seeking feedback, where would you be without people to give the gift of comment and conversation?

The colleagues – interns and permanent employees alike – with whom you share the experience of learning, and whose contribution to the team adds to your own, achieving by joint effort more than the sum of individual parts. Here I’m very lucky to be working in a young enthusiastic team, some of whom have been here only a little longer than I have. Age isn’t the issue here. It’s the attitude, the desire to learn. It’s an international team including Spain, Hungary, Portugal and the UK, which only goes to make the cultural experience stronger.

Nowadays the ‘followers’ – in the social media rather than any other sense – are important too for many of us. Yes, it would be good to know a few are following my own progress but if you’re part of Gen Z or a millennial you will, I’m sure, have a different take on all this. It’s a form of feedback as long as you take some with a pinch of salt and have a fairly thick skin at times. But it mustn’t take the place of real human engagement. Echo chambers may be reassuring but until someone opens the door there’s a limit to what you can learn.

And then there are the flatmates. I’ve found myself living with a seemingly nocturnal and evidently international, mix of people thrown together and (it seems) living their own lives in parallel. But that can be a positive experience too, trying to find common ground to meet on (and times when our schedules overlap), making an effort and compromising – a bit of empathy goes a long way and it’s no bad thing to build a little resilience, a thicker hide. Certainly my karma seems to have improved since I did more than a bit of cleaning and tidying, and persevering on the light conversation front. And not worrying to much about nightly noises!

Hospitality… and service with a smile.

As someone wanting to learn about people and service, you can learn so much from the people around you, including of course those that are delivering a service to you.

You’ll have heard it said that you should walk a mile in a person’s shoes to be enlightened, or at least to be a mile away and have their shoes. But to focus on the first point, how can you learn about service if you do a disservice to those doing something for you?

Watch, listen, engage and discover.

Someone may even let you try on their shoes for a while.

And who knows where that will take you…?

Englishman Abroad: In Place and Starting Tomorrow

Slightly surreal… the only way to describe it, being here but not on holiday.

Wasn’t an auspicious start either, with a three hour delay leaving the UK and the taxi driver struggling to find my accommodation in the near midnight darkness when I finally arrived. But I’m here.

I’ve arrived and so has my luggage…result!

First bit of advice: when your suitcase has wheels, don’t put it down at the top of the hill to close the gate. Had to chase my case down at speed before it knocked on the front door to announce my arrival. But, yes, I made it with inches to spare.

I have a decent room with a decent bed, haven’t yet met my flatmates (where ARE they? Hiding?) and the landlady was quick to sort the few things missing when I asked this morning. Nothing too much trouble.

The cupboard was bare of course so my first job after a night in a newly-made bed (actually this was my first challenge on arrival last night) was to find a cafe open at 9 on Sunday morning. Breakfast. There’s something wonderfuly about a people whose language has a verb ‘to breakfast’.

Then to the supermarket. Checked out the space in the fridge and freezer before heading out (he says smugly) but didn’t check the supermarket opening times. Monday to Saturday. Oops. Find another… Problem solved.

Nothing magic or mysterious about supermarkets everywhere. Plenty of time to track down the interesting little shops later, but a little familiarity does no harm when you’ve just arrived. Some local stuff, some home comforts. For me that’s jamón ibérico and queso semi-curado, some local bread and a box of PG Tips. What’s yours?

So the cupboard and cold storage can now keep me going awhile. Time to unpack then go for a wander. It’s all as expected, the hotels, the bars, the tourist shops, the tourists. The sunshine. The heat. It helps that I’ve done some research, so it’s what I expected, avoiding the immediate culture shock, but different enough to know there’s a challenge on the way.

Ready for anything? Let’s get to work and see…

Before…
…And after

Englishman Abroad: Packing up and Ready to Go?

Are you kidding?  Only a week to go, ticket booked (one-way!) and accommodation sorted so I’m committed.  Must sort out… insurance (essential); clothes and ‘stuff’ still to be packed, suitcase to be weighed, and the excess to be unpacked and left at home.  How light can I travel, really, for an extended stay? Guess I’ll just have to do the laundry more often.

Been brushing up on my Spanish because that’s where I’ll be spending time working as an entrepreneurship intern – the Adeje Coast of Tenerife to be precise. So am I ready?  Well… nearly, but I’m heading outside the comfort zone here, so I guess I’ll never feel totally ready, but surely that’s the point.  This internship will help me be ready for what comes after in the world of work, study and enterprise.

And it’s been quite a journey just getting here.  A whole load of forms, applications, comparing options, emails, phonecalls, Whatsapp and a good few sit-down ‘chats’ but it’s been worth it… or it will when I get there… I hope. The wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly but there’s a glimmer at the end… . If I’ve any advice at this stage for others, it’s to start earlier with the planning and approval process. Waiting for someone else to say ‘yes you can’ when you just want get going is soooooo frustrating.

The journey begins…

So what can I look forward to? Some separation anxiety – will miss the dog and maybe family and friends 😉 but hey that’s what WhatsApp, Skype and phones are for after all.  Expect some challenges and some surprises.  A different pace to the days, weeks and months ahead. New experiences and new people – not least that I’ll be living with 3 total strangers and I haven’t got a clue about them yet.  I guess they’ll be thinking the same of course!

At this point, I’m feeling like asking to ‘work wherever possible in Spanish’ could come back to bite me but, let’s face it, immersion’s one of the best ways to learn. I’m hoping that by the time I finish I’ll be more fluent in my spoken Spanish, and better ‘tuned-in’ to listening to it being spoken. More advanced vocab too – relevant for the areas I’ll be working in: tourism, hospitality, sport, business, education.

This is a great opportunity to learn how to approach work and communication differently and to be better at running my own business in future.  But it’s also an intentional, and I think necessary, step into the experience of an international internship.  If I’m going to help others get the most out of international working, the least I can do is ‘walk the walk’ – and try to ‘talk the talk’ in a second language! 

So here goes… let’s get packing!

An Englishman Abroad … and the oldest intern in town?

Well, I’m heading off to experience being an intern abroad, Tenerife to be specific, so what better way to learn from this, and share the experience, than to commit to posting a regular blog. I’m sure there’ll be something in it for prospective interns (of any age) as well as for me, as I reflect on the whole thing. I plan to focus on a different topic each post, although there’s bound to be a few surprises too. So, from packing up and getting ready to go, through settling in, getting to work and trying to be productive, you should be able to get an idea of where I am on the rollercoaster to come.

Desiderius Erasmus… 16th century ‘humanist, scholar and reformer’. Not me.

The oldest intern in town? Well this is all happening in my early 50s after a ‘real job’ in the leisure industry and twenty years plus of university teaching – in fact that’s a real job too, but sometimes it’s difficult to argue the point. Another , career change? Well, yes you could say that, and there’s life in the old dog yet…

Why studying hospitality and tourism is one of the best routes to a satisfying international career.

Some degree courses get way more than their fair share of bad press, and those in hospitality and tourism in the UK are right up there at times. But let’s set a few things straight …

Why do a degree to be a waitress or work in housekeeping? Well ok, you can serve at tables with relatively basic training, especially if you have an interest in people, a friendly demeanour and an interest in the product : but it’s not just about food, drink or rooms is it… really… IS it? When was the last time you looked in a smart hotel or restaurant and wished you could stay or eat there? It’s about the experience – these are Experience Industries! The setting, the table touches, the crisp décor, the attention to detail in every aspect so you receive true hospitality.

Taking a degree in one of these subjects doesn’t mean you should get to skip the basics, but you’ll understand why not just how, you’ll be able to take the manager’s and the guest’s viewpoint. You’ll be able to deliver on their expectations and, given some experience, initiative and flexibility, you should be able to launch yourself into one of the most dynamic careers imaginable. You’ll only be doing the same thing in future if that’s what you choose to do.

Where will it take me anyway? So firstly, the answer is where do you want to go? If you want to stay in the UK there are plenty of upscale, luxury, boutique and simply special places offering memorable stays. Similarly we have some excellent tourist attractions catering for the interests and entertainment of a niche or mass audience. But what really interests you, and how far do you want to go? Because tourism can give you the chance to follow that interest at home or internationally, given some enthusiasm, dedication and people skills.

To really take control over your future, to take control of a business in this fast-moving field of technology, marketing, service and investment yes, you guessed it, that’s where your degree comes in. Taking a degree in one of the experience sectors – hospitality, tourism, leisure, sport, events – should be a commitment to develop yourself beyond your early career and give yourself power to choose where it takes you, not be led by it.

So where will it take you? That’s up to you, but there’s a world out there, Europe won’t disappear with or without Brexit, and these industries are both important and respected beyond our borders as well as in those enlightened places within the UK. So the USA? Of course! France, Italy or Spain … why not? You can chart your future or you can see where it takes you. But with a degree and experience you’ll be ready.

I’ll never get rich working in the hotel or tourism industry! No? Frankly there are plenty of people who’ve ‘made their millions’ in these areas, some very close to home and from humble beginnings, … is that what it’s about? The fact is that these experience industries offer the chance to shape people’s life experience, to shine light on people, places and opportunities your guests and visitors may never have dreamed of. But this isn’t a one-way street : toiling to make others happy. You can shape what you want to get out of this business and earn a good living doing so.

A degree, or rather working towards that degree, should give you the tools to accelerate not just your learning but your experience and your future career, should you wish to follow it. At the same time, if you understand what goes into service settings like a hotel, restaurant or attraction, how to manage finances, marketing and people, or how to deliver an unforgettable event, you can use those skills in pretty much any other service sector. The choice will be yours.

You’ll be rich in opportunity if you choose this path, or if you can develop entrepreneurial flair and hard work there’s no reason you can’t make a great living and do a job you really enjoy too.

Get a real job! There’s so much expectation placed on employability now, and rightly so, but getting a ‘real’ job, a worthwhile job, takes commitment, focus, knowledge, skills and a few lucky breaks. You can make those lucky breaks more likely as well as developing the rest by realising that a degree in hospitality or tourism, or any other experience industry subject isn’t an easy ride.

It takes partnership between you, your university, your tutors, your employers, as well as the support and belief in you that comes from family and friends.

Think of it this way… so you joined a gym to lose weight, get fit, look great. But you’re not going to get any results if you don’t go. If you go to the gym but just sit and watch without doing anything, that will be just as pointless. You could do the minimum gym routine, that might make a difference. Or you go to classes, use a personal trainer – this is where your lecturers and tutors come in, where you get truly involved. You just do as you’re told by the professionals and you’ll be getting somewhere. But if you only do as you’re told in the gym, and if you don’t get inquisitive, ask questions about what else you can do, where else you can go to improve, your future ‘shape’ will still have limits.

So ask questions, engage in your education and development at home, university, at work, locally and internationally and now you’re in the driving seat. Look for the international, mind-broadening, culturally enlightening and inspiring experiences that these industries uniquely offer. It takes a little investment but the benefits and opportunities from a degree in hospitality and tourism – they’re global!

Choosing an Internationalised University Experience

Choosing where to study for a genuinely international experience can be a minefield. Here we offer tips about things to look for and questions to ask, as well as places to look for evidence of true internationalisation to help shortlist your university choices.

Many universities realise that internationalisation is the way forward. Unfortunately this isn’t always going to work in your favour. As a UK- or EU-based student you will often find that what’s portrayed as an ‘international’ university is rather one looking only to recruit from emerging markets outside the EU. There’s nothing at all wrong with a focus on these regions but you’ll need to look below the surface if you want a truly international higher education experience that meets your needs.

So, questions you need to ask, whether applying early or through the post-results ‘clearing’ process…

  • Will I be able to study abroad as part of my degree? This revolves firstly around whether study abroad (such as Erasmus study at another European university, or an exchange between universities) is an approved part of a degree. Generally this means the university must have a formal agreement with any partner university you might be able to visit. This might, for example, be in a European country or further afield e.g. the USA or Canada. They’ll have to have compared what you could study at the partner with what you would study if you stayed, and these have to be similar. Some universities require a perfect match or you can’t go. Others have more flexibility and look at your overall learning. Either way you need to know does the reality meet the ‘potential’ to study abroad. And how much control you have over what you can study whilst abroad – part of the attraction is to study new subjects, so will this be possible?
  • Will study abroad count for credit towards my degree? If there is a close or exact match between your ‘home’ and partner university you should get academic credit towards your degree. A UK degree offers 120 CATS (UK credits) per year (60 per semester) through a credit transfer scheme. This is equivalent in Europe, to 60 ECTS (European credits) for the full year. Each module (in Europe often called ‘course’) you take will get a certain number of UK credits, perhaps 15, 20 or 30 CATS, which is equivalent to a certain amount of study time. In European universities these modules are often smaller, and not just because every 10 CATS is worth 5 ECTS, so it would be important the number of module credits taken abroad matches the total in the UK.
  • Would I be able to take a period of work experience abroad as part of my course, and would this give me credit towards my degree? Many universities offer a period of work experience, often called ‘placement’, and for some it counts towards the degree using credits to recognise the length of the placement. For others you may need to defer your studies for a year to take a year abroad for example, and receive no credit but some useful experience for the future. Work experience modules that attract credit may be short, e.g. to fit in a university break like Easter or summer, they may be a whole term or semester (perhaps 10 to 12 weeks) or the full year. Universities should support you finding a placement and if it attracts credit they’ll need to approve it – so ask ‘what sort of support will I get finding a placement?‘ If they have a dedicated team to do this, great – how many students get ‘placed’ each year, and how many fail to find a position?
  • What are the cost implications if I work or study abroad while taking my degree? If you have to defer a year to work or study abroad you probably won’t get financial support such as a student loan, as it’s not technically part of your course, but you also won’t be paying university fees so seek advice from the university finance advisor. Of course if you’re working, earning and gaining experience this may be a ‘win-win-win’ situation but you need to be aware and plan accordingly. If study or work abroad is part of your course then you may get support in the form of a loan, you may need to pay fees to one or other university/partner, and quite possibly both. Consider the ‘investment value’ of an international experience. This isn’t only a financial decision it’s about shaping your future opportunities and employability. But you also need to think of practicalities – can you afford the financial ‘bottom-line’ of the experience, do you need financial help to make it happen, and is this help available?
  • When can I work or study abroad while taking my degree? A year abroad is rather simpler in many ways, but there will usually be restrictions. First year is too early of course – you wouldn’t be ready to link class learning with real-world experience or, for example, business practice. Second year is commonly the time students will go abroad, whether for the year, a semester (half a year), or a term (roughly one third). In this case you’ve got the basics of your degree under your belt, and will be prepared to contribute to an employer’s organisation or to study at the next level but in a different location. UK universities are seldom keen to allow you to work or study abroad in your final year, so that they can control your education when most of your UK degree classification is decided. Vacation periods, especially in the era of so-called ‘fast track’ degrees, might be a time for working abroad (for credit or just experience) or studying abroad (to enhance your skills, knowledge and maybe even earn credit). But beware – will you need a rest after a hard year’s work at uni before moving to the next level? Is ‘fast-tracking’ your degree the right thing to do at this time in your life?
  • If I go to work or study abroad, what practical support will I get? There is a host of things you’ll need to sort out and these can seem bewildering but aren’t insurmountable given the right help. Ask what sort of support you’ll get and from whom in terms of finding an employer or university abroad, choosing modules/courses linked to your international experience, finding accommodation, organising learning or employment contracts, arranging insurances, fulfilling any visa or immigration requirements, making travel plans. Universities often have specialist advisors in finance, accommodation, welfare as well as academic guidance tutors – will they help you and if so, how? Will their help be available to you while you’re away too?
  • What support will I get to learn about the culture of the place I will study or work abroad, or to develop my language skills? Some universities abroad will teach in English, others their native language, and often a mix of the two which can open up new opportunities. Similarly, international employers will often operate in more than one language. This can give you some flexibility, but it is important you prepare for any international experience by developing some awareness of their culture and some understanding of their language and how it compares to yours. Are there parts of the degree that will help you develop these cultural skills and knowledge? Will they give you credit or are they outside of the course structure? Can they be achieved through the university within the time you have to get ready to study or work abroad, or will you need to look elsewhere? Unfortunately there’s been a trend for UK universities reducing or completely dropping language provision. Ask if this is the case, if there is language tuition or support available, how and where this happens. It’s not all about language skills, so don’t let this put you off, but some willingness to communicate in a second language goes a long way!
  • Tell me about some students who have studied or worked abroad on the course I’m interested in taking. It comes down to whether it will really happen through the university or whether you need to look elsewhere for your international experience. For data protection reasons they won’t be able to put you in touch with past or current students directly, but maybe they have some examples to talk about, or case studies on their website. If they can’t tell you about specific examples, ask whether the university would allow you to explore international work experiences yourself, and again what sort of support you might get from the university.
  • Finally, what are the university doing to offer a genuine international, intercultural experience for their students? This might include a wide cultural diversity amongst staff and students on your course and across the university, although this alone is not enough. What provisions outside the class are they offering to broaden students’ cultural awareness and experience? How are they engaging with international employers at home and abroad to enrich students’ opportunities? What universities abroad do they have partnerships with, in teaching, learning, exchange and not just research? What new international initiatives are in the pipeline, and will they be delivered in time for you to benefit?

Remember, choosing a university is a commitment to the next few years at least, over which time both you and the university itself will change. By asking the right questions you’ll be making an informed step into the future.

You’re starting an adventure, so give yourself the tools to navigate … whenever, and wherever you choose to go!

The Paradox of the Unknown

For many of us the unknown is a source of anxiety but also of fascination. It’s the very uncertainty that drives the inquisitive or curious soul.Things that lie on the edge of familiarity or understanding can be left right where they are, but doesn’t that make for a life less interesting… or less lived?

Once you’ve reached a little beyond the norm, why not seek out experiences and opportunities that will add more to life and to your ability to adapt in the future?Any international or intercultural experience in work or study, at home or abroad, offers to take you from the banal to the beautiful, from the present to the potential.As one day leads to the next, make the next one count!