By Charlotte Lee
I have so many incredible and indescribable memories from my time as a British Council English Language Assistant, but I’ve managed to narrow down my five favourite experiences from my year abroad to give you a taste of what life as an ELA is all about.
As an ELA you are only contracted to work 12 hours per week, which means I spent a lot of my time (and my salary) exploring my new home. I was working near Rouen in Normandy, and I was keen to see as much of France as possible. With a group of other ELAs I explored a new French city almost every weekend: Paris, Caen, Marseille, Giverny, Amiens, Dieppe… the list goes on! I even got paid to go on a school trip to Ireland where I spent a few days in Dublin and Galway.
2. Mes Amis
Working in a school is a fantastic way to meet people and to get involved in the local community. I made friends with some fantastic colleagues who were always inviting me to dinner, to shows, even to stay with them over the holidays! By far the best people I met were the other language assistants, who came from as far away as Seattle or the Canary Islands. Travelling was all the more fun with a crazy group of girls to share it with and take embarrassing touristy pictures…
Obviously one of the best perks of living abroad is the amazing grub. We all know that French food in general is delicieux, but Normandy has its own specialities that now hold a special place in my heart. Tarte normande, calvados, camembert, and marmite dieppoise (which fortunately has nothing to do with marmite but is in fact a delicious fish stew) made up a large proportion of my diet, and helped me to persuade my parents to pick me up at Christmas (so we could load up the car with wine and cheese). The village I lived in even has its own special cheese, Neufchatel, which is heart-shaped!
3. The Support Network
I was so impressed by the level of support that I received as an ELA. In school, my colleagues and mentor were so welcoming and helpful: helping me to settle in, find somewhere to live, and constantly offering me help with travel and the crazy French bureaucracy. There were regular meetings of all of the assistants in the area to help us navigate the paperwork and to give us ideas and inspiration for lessons, and this helped me to meet other assistants to share resources with. It was so different to the experiences my friends were having, being thrust into universities or jobs with much less help.
5. The kids
It sounds incredibly cliché, but some of the kids that I met and worked with will stay with me forever. There were kids who told me that they wouldn’t have passed their exams without me; kids who were so difficult in September but who had so much personality they were easily my favourites by January; kids who invited me to have dinner with their parents and who wrote adorable Christmas cards in their best English. It really is such a rewarding experience, and the lessons can be as fun and exciting as you make them. Just be careful how much information you give them, or you’ll have 500 new friend requests by the end of your first week!
The application process is now open for the 2017-18 wave of ELAs, and it’s so easy to apply. To be eligible you need to ….
• … be an English-language native level speaker,
• … have completed secondary education in the UK or Republic of Ireland,
• … be an EU passport holder (including UK and Republic of Ireland),
• … have completed two years of university education.
It’s as simple as that! Go to the British Council website to learn more and to start your ELA adventure.
Photographs: Charlotte Lee