By voyage reporter Jemma Crossen
It would be fair to say that my first experience as an English language assistant during my university year abroad was not as positive as I would have liked. However, after much reflection I believe that this was entirely down to my own lack of confidence and motivation to make it the amazing year it really can be. Therefore, I was determined to make the most of my situation this year as I entered into a new phase of my life and moved to Berlin to be an English language assistant for another year. I am now half way through my placement and I am thoroughly enjoying it and seeing a huge difference to my first experience.
Confidence is key!
For those of you contemplating a year abroad it can be extremely daunting and I know that feeling well, but if I could give you any advice it would be this - confidence is key! If you are open to the experience, have the confidence to accept all of the opportunities and invitations that come your way, and throw yourself into everything then this year really can be the best year of your life. On arrival, it is important to see it as an adventure and not allow the initial logistics, such as registering your address or opening a bank account, to overwhelm you. These tasks really are quite simple and the majority of the professionals that you deal with are accustomed to helping people in the same situation as you. You just have to be proactive, go out with the intention of getting these things done and you'll find they are easily accomplished. Once you have achieved this, you can get out there and explore your new surroundings. Locating a supermarket, post office and probably a nice little pub usually puts most people's minds at rest and speeds up the settling in process.
The importance of the pre-assistant-year course should not be underrated: it not only gives you a more specific idea of what your role entails and provides you with some materials to help you get started but it also gives you a network of language assistants in your area. This should reduce the feeling of isolation when you first arrive and creates an important web of people to fall back on and build new friendship groups around. However, I would suggest you try hard not to rely too heavily on these new friends. Yes they can be great new friendships which you will take back home with you, but as I know all too well it is so easy to forget that you are there to immerse yourself in the language and culture. The native speakers that you meet are the most important people in terms of leaving your year abroad with a great sense of achievement when you see and feel the differences in your knowledge, understanding, language and, most importantly, confidence. If you grasp the opportunity of being surrounded by thousands of native speakers, whilst letting your hair down with your new friends you can really have the best of both worlds, and you might just find that those native speakers become your new best friends.