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English Language Assistants: Student experiences

Hear from King's students about their experiences participating in the British Council English Language Assistants scheme during their year abroad.


Henry Ravenhall, 2013-2014 in Pau, Bordeaux

What do you study at King's?
French and History BA

Describe your teaching and learning experience
I was working in three collèges (11-15) in a small city in the southwest of France. I taught a variety of classes across all the ages, however I mostly taught quatrième and troisième — the oldest year groups of the collège. I really enjoyed teaching these lessons and I was given a lot of freedom in what I could teach to which students. Unless the teacher told me beforehand that he/she wanted me to tackle a certain subject, I was able to design my lessons with total autonomy. 

Fortunately, prior to starting as an ELA, I had received a Cambridge teaching certificate and had about two months' experience of teaching teenagers — which obviously helped a lot. I'm afraid to say that the training provided by the Ministry of Education in France is sparse and not wholly useful. You will be thrown in straight at the deep end, and expected to teach reasonable lessons to 14-15 students. Moreover, in some schools that my friends worked at, there was an observation week, where the prospective assistant could observe lessons to get an idea of the level, behaviour and teaching style needed for the class. This however was not the case for my three schools, and I felt extremely fortunate that I had previous experience. 

The teachers who I worked with were very pleasant and easy to get along with. They were happy to help me and urged me to inform them if I had any problems (I only had a couple throughout my assistantship). I quickly found out that the school did not really provide any teaching resources and most of lessons I taught were crafted from Powerpoint lessons from the internet and the multitude of EFL websites.

Describe your living experience
I rented a studio apartment from one of the Maths teachers at one of the schools. I had arranged to live with an English teacher when I arrived as to search for accommodation before starting work. However, upon arrival, I was immediately informed that the maths teacher had a wonderful city centre apartment just ready to let at a discounted price. I seized the opportunity straight away and it was one of the best decisions I made. Other assistants I knew went into university accommodation and they got to socialise with ERASMUS students and French people our age. Alternatively, some assistants found colocations (flat-shares) with young French people and they found this was a wonderful opportunity to practice their language skills. A few also found apartments to share, and one went to live with a French family.

I don't know anybody who had a bad living experience, and it depends on what type of person you are and to what extent you want to immerse yourself in the language. In terms of costs, I paid €300 a month, but student accommodation was cheaper. You are also eligible to apply for a French living grant called CAF, which can greatly reduce your monthly bill.

As for food, I mostly cooked my own meals with groceries from a nearby supermarket priced very reasonably. I also cycled in between my schools and rarely took public transport, which kept me fit and active. Therefore I would definitely recommend buying/borrowing a bicycle as soon as you get there.

Describe the weekend/evening activities on offer
There were lots of things to do at the weekend and in the evenings. The great thing about where I was living was the city's proximity to the Pyrenees and thus the chance to go skiing. This was incredibly affordable and great fun (although relatively painful and mentally scarring for the first few times!)

There was also a fairly exciting nightlife, with a number of local city-centre nightclubs and fantastic bars and restaurants.

We also went to other cities/towns at the weekend to get the real French experience. We visited Bordeaux, Toulouse and Biarritz (all about two hours away by train). Being so close to the Spanish border also meant it was easy to hop across the Pyrenees and visit the Basque country, with San Sebastian a real highlight.

List the top 10 things about your ELA experience

  1. A twelve hour week (as well as generous holidays) gave me extraordinary amounts of free time to socialise, relax and explore!
  2. Immersion into French life
  3. Meeting the other assistants (German, Spanish, American, Chinese) and forming a community with them where French is the common tongue
  4. The weather — 20 degrees in February!
  5. Skiing
  6. Becoming comfortable outside my comfort zone
  7. Picking up the nuances of the French language — stuff you would never learn in a classroom!
  8. Teaching some wonderful enthusiastic students
  9. Drinking wine on Friday in the staffroom with the teachers — mais pourquoi pas!?
  10. Defeating the notoriously difficult French bureaucracy

Describe your reflections on your ELA experience
Basically I would like to say that I had a fantastic time as an ELA and it was an experience I will certainly never forget.

Since I've returned to London, I am sad to no longer be in France, but I am sure that it has had a positive effect on my personality, my level of French and my confidence. It also has improved my CV and strengthened my career prospects, if I decide or not to become a teacher.

Some tips:

  1. Don't be embarrassed by not understanding – make mistakes and people will understand
  2. Live with French people if you can 
  3. Befriend your teachers
  4. Be 100% enthusiastic in every lesson — you want your kids to like you and be excited by your lessons
  5. Try to avoid speaking French with the kids! It's ok to translate bits of vocab on the board (e.g. pomme = apple), but try to avoid giving instructions
  6. Learn your students' names (as a teacher, I can tell you that this makes a huge difference for classroom management)
  7. Tutor! (You can make a great supplement to your income by tutoring and you get to meet French people) – post an ad on Leboncoin or advertise in the school staffroom

Adam Mian, 2012-2013 in Sauvigny-Le-Temple, Paris

What do you study at King's?
French and Philosophy BA

Describe your teaching and learning experience
To this day, I am still amazed by the amount of students who are unaware of the ELA scheme. I jumped at the chance of doing something completely different to yet another year of academia, and of getting a taste of the real working world. And so, I was sent off to outer Paris where I worked in two neighbouring high schools, the first a catering college, the other a lycée.Using my own creativity and initiative to devise lessons was a remarkably rewarding experience which, so I was told, was appreciated by both my students and colleagues alike. The teaching staff were hugely helpful in guiding me across the administrative minefield that was France, and were great for practicing my French. And the students thought that London was the coolest place in the world so that certainly worked in my favour. I was essentially asked to teach groups of about 6-10 students for half an hour. What I taught them was entirely up to me unless there was an upcoming exam or some such. I was able to use books, music and films to help develop their understanding of not only the English language, but of our cultural quirks too.  You’d be surprised at just how many pupils thought we Brits subsisted entirely on beer, tea and chips – though perhaps many of us do!

Describe your reflections on your ELA experience
While the ELA was of course a huge part of my year abroad, the scheme allowed me to do so much more. Don’t forget, you’re only working 12 hours each week so you are certainly not short of free time in which to sightsee or spend your earnings in whichever way you please. And even though you may be there to teach English, you’d be surprised at how much French you end up speaking. To make doubly sure my French wouldn’t be neglected, I found a roommate who spoke no English and we got along swimmingly. The ELA provides you with an insight into the world of education, a bit of spending money and the freedom to really appreciate your host nation to its fullest, I am so glad I opted for it.

Lottie Bramham-Jones, 2012-2013, Narbonne

What do you study at King's?
French and Hispanic Studies BA

Why did you choose the ELA scheme over Study Abroad?
For Modern Foreign Language students, year abroad is obligatory; what you do with it, however, isn’t. The main reason I am so passionate about languages is because I enjoy experiencing new cultures and communicating with people in their own language. The ELA program is the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in a culture and become a part of the local opportunity whilst practicing your language on a daily basis. I chose ELA because I wanted to experience something different from university study and to see what it was like to teach. But more importantly, I believed it would give me a better insight into the everyday life of the country and allow me to share my passion for language learning. My time as an ELA exceeded all of these hopes and expectations.

Describe your teaching and learning experience
I thoroughly enjoyed the work as a language assistant. It really is an enjoyable, enriching and rewarding experience that I will never forget. It has also helped me enormously with both my languages and my plans for the future. My aim was to encourage the children to take an interest in languages and our culture. They showed a genuine enthusiasm to learn English and well and truly threw themselves into the cultural activities that I organised for them. As a final project I asked them to create their own bunting where each child drew a typical British image on their own flag and we strung them together. The pride they took in hanging each garland summed up a brilliant experience and there were more than a few tears all round at the end!  

Describe your reflections on your ELA experience
During my time in Narbonne I really felt a part of the community and made friends for life. Leaving at the end of an amazing 8 months was like leaving a lifelong home. My biggest advice is “profiter”, a French word that literally means make the most of it; the French use it daily and it soon became our year abroad motto. Get out and about, take every opportunity you can to speak the language and get involved in the local life. If you love sharing your language and culture with others, whilst truly living another, ELA is for you!


Niamh Walsh, 2013-2014 in Meerbusch, North Rhine-Westphalia

What do you study at King's?
German BA

Describe your teaching and learning experience
Working at a secondary school in a foreign country was a very enjoyable and valuable experience. It was interesting to see the differences and similarities to the English school system and also gain work experience. I worked at Matare Gymnasium which is a grammar school, with classes from Year 5 - Q2 (Year 13). Before I worked here, I went to an introductory course in Cologne, which was organised by the British Council. There, I met other language assistants from the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, who were going to be working in North Rhine-Westphalia, and also Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland. Making contacts here was very important to ensure that I had a base of friends in my area (Düsseldorf) along with other friends that I would be able to visit in the region.

We were given templates of work sheets and ideas for lessons, which was extremely helpful because as an assistant, we were expected to take over lessons, so the more creative you were and the more ideas you had, the better. I have previously had work experience at my old primary school, but I was expected to work more in the background, rather than taking a class on my own. It was quite scary standing in front of a class of around 20 German students, who were expecting to learn English. It is something that is easy to get used to though and it definitely built up my confidence. Also conversing with teachers in German helped me to feel more confident and helped me to improve my language. Having a mentor teacher to go to when you had problems was extremely helpful and made you feel more at ease when working in a foreign country. They are your first port of call when you are having problems at work and also in general, if you are having any problems on your year abroad. All of the teachers I worked with were always willing to help if I ever had any questions or problems and they were so friendly and approachable. The teaching resources seemed quite scarce in comparison to English schools, but it felt as if the teacher's were more free in how they taught the lessons, allowing them to be more creative.

My favourite lesson that I took over was with a Year 5 class and I also received feedback from the teacher. Mixing games with exercises made it more enjoyable for them and they all really enjoyed it because the lesson was more fun that way. It's such a good feeling when you receive positive feedback from both the pupils and the teacher - it was very rewarding! In terms of how I was assessed by King's College - I had to do a 4,000 word essay on a topic of my choice in German, e.g. film, politics or literature and also a 5,000 word portfolio in English about my work as an English Language Assistant

Describe your living experience
I lived with a host family who were around a 15 minute walk (or a 10 minute cycle) away from the school. My mentor teacher offered the accommodation to me because they had an available room and were very good friends of his. I was extremely lucky because I lived in a very rich area which is completely different to where I live at home. I commute from home to go to University at King's and coming from an end of terrace house in London and moving to a detached house in a rich village was definitely a once in a lifetime experience! My room was huge, my family were so friendly and welcoming and I lived in a lovely green and quiet area.

I travelled to Düsseldorf a lot with the U-Bahn (underground) which took around 15-20 minutes and there was a lot more to do there. I was lucky enough to have my dinner cooked for me when the family were in or I was free to make my own or go out as I pleased. I would personally recommend taking any accommodation that is offered to you and if you don't like it, then you can move. It is better to have that base because many assistants had trouble finding accommodation and had to live in youth hostels for a small period of time. A good way to start is using www.wg-gesucht.de - a lot of the other assistants used this website

Describe the weekend/evening activities on offer
I did a lot of travelling around North Rhine-Westphalia mostly with the other language assistants from Düsseldorf. If you sign up to the University there (Heinrich-Heine University) and pay the fee of around €250, you get a semester ticket which allows you free travel around the region. You are also allowed to have a friend use your ticket as well in the evening and during the weekends, which was extremely helpful when you had visitors from home. I also joined a couple of dance societies at the University where again, I could practice my German and also keep fit. These activities were free because I had already signed up to the University. You are able to take classes there if you wish and I regret not doing that because of the opportunity of making more friends that way. Karneval (carnival) was a huge celebration that took place in Düsseldorf and Cologne (around 30 minutes away on the train) where everybody dressed up and it was one big celebration. You are also able to go clubbing all day and all night, which was definitely an interesting experience! Some of the schools also have days off or finish early because it's so big!

List the top 10 things about your ELA experience

1. I am a huge football fan, so being able to visit the stadiums of Fortuna Düsseldorf and Borussia Dortmund was definitely a highlight for me. Unfortunately, I didn't get the opportunity to see a live match, but it was really exciting getting to see these stadiums behind the scenes and also improve my language.

2. The semester ticket and travelling. This allowed me to do so much travelling and visit so many new places in North Rhine-Westphalia. I was able to visit cities and towns such as Cologne, Dortmund, Aachen, Munster etc. Your year abroad is a brilliant opportunity to do as much travelling as you can. I also visited Frankfurt (for the second time) and Hamburg (for the first time) which was really enjoyable. Although I couldn't use my semester ticket to travel there, I would definitely recommend doing as much travelling as you can.

3. The nightlife. I really enjoyed the nightlife in Düsseldorf and in Germany in general. Entry and drinks (in some clubs) were a lot cheaper than that of London, ao you really didn't have to spend as much as you would in the UK.

4. Day trip to the Designer Outlet in Holland with my host 'mum'. Düsseldorf is around an hour from the Dutch border, so travelling to Holland was very easy. This was an exciting experience (even though the clothes were out of my price range) because the outlet looked like a mini village. It was in a beautiful area and something I will never forget.

5. The gigs. I managed to see Disclosure in Cologne and Arctic Monkeys in Düsseldorf. It was interesting to see how gigs were in Germany and the difference in atmosphere. There wasn't much of a difference to note, but I had lots of fun both nights.

6. The work experience at the school. No school uniform and having blackboards was very strange. It felt as if image and individuality was very important for the students, but when asked if they wanted a school uniform, there were very mixed reviews. I really enjoyed taking groups of pupils out to help them with their spoken language. Sometimes it was awkward because I'm not a teacher nor am I a student at the school, but they were all very friendly and most of them seemed very motivated and wanted to improve their English.

7. Being English. Being English got a lot of attention and started many conversations. Some of the pupils also thought I was 'cool' because I'm from London. People were always interested (and confused) as to why an English person was in Germany, but they were all very friendly! 
8. The shopping. There were lots of different shops in Germany and there was also different stock available in shops like H&M, than there were to England (in my opinion). Düsseldorf also has Königsallee - a strip of designer shops which was still beautiful to walk along, even though I couldn't afford to buy anything there!

9. The food. Wiener Schnitzel and the Bratwursts were definitely a highlight. My favourite restaurant served Chinese food which also tasted a lot nicer than it does in England. The standard of food is definitely a lot nicer, but I did miss English bread and milk!
10. The host family and my house. I definitely was spoilt with my accommodation. My room was so spacious! The house was beautiful, the area was so peaceful and green and the family was so welcoming. I couldn't have asked for more.

Describe your reflections on your ELA experience
My language skills have improved a lot and I gained so much confidence from the experience. Having to live in a foreign country is a scary thought and I thought I would find it impossible to do after living at home to go to University as I was thrown in the deep end. It wasn't always easy, but I learnt to become more independent and it was an invaluable experience. Definitely something I'm so glad I did. I am normally quite a shy person, even in my native language, but now I am more confident also speaking German even to a native, even if I know I may make mistakes. I gained numerous skills from working as an ELA - using my initiative when taking over a class if I had run out of planned activities, problem solving skills when thinking of expressing what I wanted to say, but couldn't think of the German and many other skills. I regret not taking classes at the University and I regret not making many German friends because I spent a lot of time with the English Assistants. I became close to my German host family and also managed to speak German with the other assistants' flatmates, so there were still many opportunities to speak German.

Describe your reflections on your ELA experience
I would wholeheartedly recommend the ELA experience - you gain work experience from another country, you have so much free time (only have to work around 12 hours a week), you have lots of freedom and free time, you get paid (around €800 a month on top of the Erasmus grant), you are able to do lots of travelling and you can still join a University if you want to, so you get the best of both worlds. I became a more confident and independent person through this invaluable experience and I grew so much. I don't think I could have gained these skills in my life in London and I have become a better person for it. It's an experience I will never forget.

Anishaa Aubeeluck, 2014-2015, Porta Westfalica, North Rheine-Westphalia

What do you study at King’s?

German BA

Where did you teach as an ELA?

Porta Westfalica, North Rheine-Westphalia

Why did you choose the ELA Scheme?

For me personally, the decision to study abroad or teach English as an English Language Assistant was not difficult at all; I wanted a refreshing break from studying. After two years of study at King’s, and knowing that I would have to come back for fourth year, the decision was pretty easy! I also wanted to gain some valuable work experience for the future. I was swayed by the fact that the ELA is basically a paid work placement, working minimal hours a week (I worked 12); which meant that I would have a lot of time to travel. This sounds strange, but I was not very confident in front of large groups before my year abroad, and I wanted to also challenge myself to see if I could develop self-confidence. I have never wanted to be a teacher, (even though I am asked that question A LOT!) but why not do something that gives you an experience that you wouldn’t normally be able to do?

Anishaa 1

How do you prepare for teaching before the placement starts?

At the beginning, I was so nervous about standing in front of a class and teaching English – I had no idea what to do or what to expect. Luckily, the British Council organise a three-day induction course for ELAs in Germany in Cologne every year, which was so important in preparing for teaching. All of the ELA’s who would be teaching across Germany were at the induction too, so we were able to make new friends before teaching started. We were also able to meet other students from across the world – New Zealand, Australia and Canada. I was fortunate to have met some of my best friends during that induction; myself and the other ELA’s who were teaching in my area became close all year and now we are friends for life.

Additionally the first two weeks at school for ELA’s are normally called in German the Hospitation period, which is the observation period. I was very grateful for this, as you don’t go into teaching straight away; you watch lessons taken by the teachers so you can observe the teaching style, how the students behave, and what materials are used and so on. But by the end of the second week you will be itching to get started!

Describe your teaching and learning experience.

Working in a school in Germany was an amazing experience. I worked in a Gymnasium which is a secondary school equivalent of a grammar school in England. I taught students from Year 5 to Q2 (upper sixth form), so their ages varied from as young as 9 up to 18, which was a great variety!

The first few weeks are a little daunting, and I can guarantee that you will feel tired almost all of the time – suddenly you remember that you have to speak German all of the time (except in the English classroom), you’re constantly meeting new people, and you’re out and about exploring.

One great thing is that you will be assigned a teacher in the school who will be your ‘mentor teacher’ – this is usually an English teacher who acts as the head of the department. They will make sure that you have a place to live when you arrive, they will offer help with administration and paperwork and things like opening a bank account, they will make sure that everything is OK once you start at school, and if you ever have general problems they will be your first port of call. I found this support system to be one of the most important and helpful things for the year abroad experience.

I mainly taught alongside the main teacher in the class – offering support to students, checking their classwork and homework, and offering group or one-to-one reading work, especially for the lower years. Being a native speaker of English was such a benefit for the teacher, you are able to offer insights of living in the UK, British culture, and they will often ask you to offer a more ‘English way’ of saying something, which is always fun! After a few months I was often asked to take lessons on my own, especially if the teacher was planning to be away for a class. At first this can be a scary thought, but over time and once the students get used to you, you gain a lot more confidence, and wonder why you were ever worried in the first place.

The feeling of pride that you get when your students have improved their English skills or even knowledge about British culture is amazing and second to none. The students at my school showed a genuine interest to learn English and an even bigger interest in me as a person who really comes from England! For many students, I was the first British person that they had come into contact with, so I felt very responsible for their experiences with learning English and having fun with it too. I set up my own English Club as there was not already one at the school, and it made me so happy when the students threw themselves into the cultural and fun activities that I had organised for them.Anishaa 2

Learning experience

A lot of people think that by teaching English, your language skills aren’t improved as much as if you study at a university. I found this quite the opposite, in fact, you need to have your German skills constantly in gear and ready to go, especially when the main question you are asked in the classroom (in German) is ‘what is this word/sentence in English?!’ So in fact you need very good translation skills!  And contrary to popular belief, not everybody in Germany speaks English! I spoke German in the staff room at all times, even with the teachers in the English department. Getting your head around the German education system and the way the staff room and timetable works also teaches you new vocabulary and develops your cultural knowledge. Of course, you also use and develop your language skills by just experiencing day-to-day life in Germany, such as getting around on public transport, talking to shop assistants, finding a flat – you begin to feel extremely grown up all of a sudden…

Describe your living experience

My living experience was definitely one of the trickier situations during my time abroad, but looking back now I was extremely lucky. It is definitely a scary thing deciding where to live before you even arrive in Germany, so one of the colleagues at my school offered for me to stay with her for a couple of weeks so that I could actually see some flats in person, which was so helpful! She came with me to the viewings to help with technical language and to make sure I wasn’t being conned, so I would definitely recommend that you take your mentor teacher, colleague or a native speaker with you when looking at flats.

As my school was placed in a very small and rural town, and I had no previous experience or knowledge about the area I was going to be living in, I naturally decided to live close to the school so that I was not travelling for hours on end every day. I found a flat which was close to the school and at the time, that was the most important thing for me. Over time, my priorities changed, as I began to see a lot more of my ELA friends who lived in the nearest city to me, Bielefeld. The town that I lived in was very rural, so trains and buses stopped running at around 7-9pm, which meant that if I was out with my friends in the city, I had to come home early or stay with one of them, which I did for a long time. After a while, I personally found that living alone and in a secluded town was making me feel down, and that I could not enjoy my year abroad experience to the full. It took a while for me to decide whether to move to the city and travel for around an hour there and back to school, but eventually I decided that it was more important for my general well-being to be in a city surrounded by people than feeling constantly alone and down. Also, travel opportunities were a lot better when living in the city, so it meant I see many more places in my free time.

After a few months of searching, I found the perfect student flat in Bielefeld (a Wohnheimgemeinschaft or a WG for short – a shared flat) right next to the train station, which was great because I travelled by train to school every day! I had one flatmate who was German, so not only did I have company, but I could also improve my language skills. I could see my friends whenever I wanted, and I met so many more people my age, as it is also a university city, and there were so many things to do! I felt so much happier when I moved to the city – but not everyone would feel that this is the best choice for them. I would recommend that you find a place to live that is right for you, and not a place where you think you it would be best for everyone else. If you like the city – go for a city. Travelling in Germany is so easy; literally every small town is connected with a city, so it won’t be a problem! If you like the sound of being secluded, then go for that too, rural Germany is absolutely beautiful. If you like being surrounded by people – Germany is very well-known for its flat-sharing opportunities, you could share a flat with up to eight people if you really wanted!Anishaa 3

Accommodation recommendations for Germany

My website recommendation for finding a flat in Germany is definitely WG Gesucht - www.wggesucht.de. This is a great platform where you can search for the perfect flat across the whole of Germany using the criteria that you need. For example, if you want an all-girl flat, sharing with 3 people, and you want to be in Munich’s city centre, you can put all of this information in and the results will show you a perfect or near-perfect match. The best thing about this website is that you don’t deal with letting or landlord companies, these are all people (and a lot of students) who maybe have a room spare in their flat already or they want to sublet their room. In Germany, subletting is extremely common, (Zwischenmiete), where students sublet their room for a certain amount of time. This can be perfect for a study abroad student, as you can either be there for as little as 3 months, or as long as 9+, and these are normally the periods of which subletting is most common. Additionally, when a person sublets you their room, they will normally leave all of their furniture and other equipment in the flat for you to use (which was my case when I moved to Bielefeld), which saves you having to buy all of it yourself. If you’re finding it hard to understand the technical language on the site, the website can be set into English, which is extremely helpful. The way you show your interest in renting a room from someone is sending them a message through the website or contact via email/phone where you can discuss your interest further and set up a viewing. I would recommend starting your accommodation search as early as possible –even when you are still in the UK. Do some research about the area you’ll be living in, and where you would be most comfortable. You can set up Skype meetings to view your room or get to know your flatmates before you get to Germany! Or, like I did, try to see if you can stay with a colleague first and have some room viewings scheduled for when you arrive.

Try and avoid other websites that have an ‘eBay’ feel to it – I once tried ‘eBay Kleinanzeigen’ where you can see flats that are available to rent. However the people who put their rooms up for rent on this website can be quite dodgy, so always try to use a website that is widely used by the natives themselves or ones that they recommend.Anishaa 4

Describe the weekend and evening activities on offer

I’m not sure where to start with this one; the opportunities to do things in Germany are endless! There are so many cheap activities on offer for students. Firstly, make sure that you enrol at a university if you are going to be working in a school – you don’t have to take any classes at all, but you get the benefit of a student status at a German university. But if you want to take classes, especially language courses, then of course that is a great opportunity to fill up your evenings and weekends, and you further improve your language skills.

I never took a class at the university (they were all full) but I could receive the Semesterticket, which is a train/bus/tram pass. You pay around €250 for a term, and receive a pass which allows you to travel in your Bundesland or state for absolutely free, which meant that the whole of North Rheine-Westphalia was at my disposal! So of course, travelling at the weekends or on days off is a brilliant activity, and if it is free, then it is essential! I was able to see places like Cologne, Düsseldorf, Essen, and Dortmund etc. for free on trains. Additionally, you can get student discounts if you want to travel outside of your state or even the country. I managed to get to Amsterdam and back on a high-speed train for less than €60. Don’t forget websites such as www.meinfernbus.de/flickbus.de where you can get a coach to anywhere in Germany or even abroad for around €10. I got to Munich (which is 10 hours away from Bielefeld) on a coach for €5… and it was a very nice coach!

There were endless opportunities to eat out for a good price in Bielefeld, and I know in Germany in general. Vapiano will be your favourite restaurant in Germany for sure! It is a German chain of Italian food restaurants (there is one in Oxford Circus but in Germany they are everywhere!) and you can get a whole meal for under €10. It is a great place to eat and socialise. Of course, drinking in Germany is actually also quite cheap, and the beer is amazing! Take the opportunity to go to big events such as Oktoberfest, and go to as many German Christmas markets too – they were my favourite things to do!Anisha Germany

Germans are very big on their outdoor activities, so you will definitely find that you will do something outdoorsy at least once in the year! Sundays in Germany are normally a day spent together with family and friends, and no matter what the weather you will see people out in parks, on the streets, even swimming in lakes. I went climbing; I rode my bike and went running a lot more than I do in England! Outdoor activities are cheap in Germany too, which is great, and also things like theatres, cinemas and exhibitions at museums are very well priced for students.

If you find yourself in Bielefeld one day (or even living there!) I would recommend going to the Tierpark (the outdoor zoo, which is amazing because they have 2 brown bears!), the botanical gardens, the Sparrenberg castle located on top of a hill/mountain, which offers the best views for miles. Also, Bielefeld is the home of Dr. Oetker, a German food company that also supplies to the UK (think of pizza, cakes, yoghurt; but mostly pizza!) and you can visit the headquarters, which are located in Bielefeld! Random, I know, but a few times in a year they open all night to visitors, and you can get a whole load of pizza for free…Anishaa 5

Top 10 Things about your Year Abroad/ELA experience  

1. Salary - Even though it’s never all about the money (…), the ELA scheme is paid work experience, and it does pay really well for a student. In the years 2014-2015, for working as an ELA in Germany, I received €800 a month; in Austria it goes up to around €1,000. Including the fact that living costs in Germany and most European countries are generally much cheaper than the UK, you literally can save money during the year, and also have a lot of money left over for your travel experiences, which I found invaluable. You also still receive your maintenance loan, plus an Erasmus grant (this may change in 2016-2017) it really is a great thing, and not a lot of students know just how well it is paid.

2. Food - The food is definitely in the top 5 best things about my year abroad experience! No one really gives German/Austrian/Swiss food in the UK a second glance, but when you are there it is the best thing ever. You will definitely fall in love with the bread, the cheese, the meat (especially the many varieties of Wurst – Brat/Currywurst are my favourites!) the list could go on.

3. Travel! - With the money you receive, plus all of the spare time you will have, the opportunity to travel is one of the best things about being an ELA.Not only can you travel for low costs around Germany and the whole of Europe, but also the opportunity to go even further abroad is always there, because you will probably never get such a great opportunity again.

4. New friends - Meeting so many new people is also one of the greatest things about being an ELA. When I returned to the UK, I knew that I had expanded my friendship circle outside of just London and at home, you will find friends from all over the world. And when I go back to Germany, I know I will be able to meet and stay with my colleagues in Germany!

5. Improving the language and taking on a new culture - Not many people around the age of 20 will be able to say that they have spent a year in another country teaching English, and many of your non-language-studying friends will be insanely jealous. You will pick up new, every-day vocab before that you never thought you would need, like ‘ironing board’ or ‘bank transferal’ or something like that. During the year, you may not even be aware of the fact that every day you are improving your language and interpersonal skills, but when you return to the UK you will definitely notice how well rounded you have become.

6. The proud and happy feeling you get when you see how your assistant teaching has benefitted the students is one of the best things about being an ELA. At the end of the year, I received cards and presents from the students thanking me for helping them improve their English! Even though you are helping them in a small way, just your presence in the classroom will intrigue them and spur them on to learn.

7. Living and working abroad can help you make decisions for the future. Even though I don’t want to be a teacher, I know that I would love to go back to Germany and live there for a long time. If I decide to carry on my studies after undergraduate level, I know that I will be returning to Bielefeld University, as I have already created a life there which I feel comfortable returning to!

8. The German nightlife is really different from the UK (and sometimes a lot more crazy). Clubs and bars stay open until much later (or earlier, depends how you look at it); I found myself coming home at 6am a lot of the time! Of course you don’t have to do this (or you can stay out even later!) but the experience is really great, and the drinks are a lot cheaper than in London. German people also love socialising and getting together over a coffee / cake / beer / wine / Schnitzel, and I never ever found myself bored in their company! I loved this way of socialising which can be different in a great way than in the UK.

9. Accommodation opportunities are amazing in Germany, and like I have said, much cheaper than London. Flats and apartments in Germany are also so different- there is a huge variety of places that you can live. My first accommodation was the bottom floor of a whole house (so a lot of space for me!) at the foot of a beautiful forest. My second flat was in a flat suited for university students, it had a balcony and located in the middle of the city and near the train station. I found it much easier finding a flat in Germany than I did in London, especially one suited for students.

10. Employability potential - I definitely feel confident that my year abroad will be a great asset on my CV, as not only did I live abroad for a year, I also worked in a teaching position, which gives you an endless list of necessary skills. I already have had some interest from employers about what my role was on my year abroad, and I feel a lot more employable than I would if I had just studied at a university.

Anishaa 6


Danielle Moore, 2015-2016 in Oviedo

What do you study at King's? 

Hispanic Studies with English BA

Why did you choose the ELA scheme?

- I jumped at the opportunity to be able to be able to spend a year gaining international work experience at the same time as honing my Spanish speaking skills. Whilst I’m sure I would have also loved spending my days socialising in a university setting and expanding my academic knowledge, I liked the idea of developing my language skills in a professional environment as well as finding out what it’s like to be a teacher.


How do you prepare for teaching before the placement starts? 

- You should receive details of your school placement over the summer. Don’t worry if these come through later than you might hope, it’s because they are waiting on things to be sorted on the Spanish end. But, if you do get concerned, don’t hesitate to contact the British Council and ask them to check on things for you. Their Facebook page also has lots of helpful tips and info, as does the TeachEnglish website. Have a glance over these to prepare yourself for the kind of lessons you might be asked to teach. In terms of preparing beforehand, you don’t need to do anything at all. But, if like me you feel a bit nervous going unprepared, I’d advise you put together a PowerPoint with some photos of your home life so you can introduce yourself to your students. That way you have a readymade lesson plan which I assure you will impress the teaching staff and put you at ease. In addition to that, photographs, postcards and any small/light goodies you can stash in your suitcase can make lessons more diverse and engaging.

 - The British Council will send you an email before you depart with details of previous assistants in your region. I emailed a few different people who had been to Asturias previously, asking them lots of questions, and they were so helpful in their responses providing all those little details that might be difficult to find out if not by word of mouth. Through a lovely predecessor of Oviedo I met a few locals when I arrived in the city, and continued to meet them for language tandems throughout the year. One friend of hers, now a friend of mine, even offered to pick me up from the airport when I first arrived. So definitely take advantage of these contacts!

- Just be prepared to be flexible and note that things might (generally will) take longer than you’d expect... you’ll learn to love the 'mañana mañana' way of life. 

What should you pack for a year abroad in Asturias?

You will get ever so bored of explaining to people that you are not going to ‘sunny Spain’, you are going to the lesser known (but most beautiful) northern part of Spain where it actually rains a fair bit. But, that means that it is unbelievably green and luscious which gave me the opportunity to learn to love hiking, my best days were spent doing senderismo in the sunshine (which does come out) in the mountains, overlooking miles of untouched nature. The beautifully wild rivers provide lots of opportunity to try out things like kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. And the Mercado in the Casco Antiguo has thousands of umbrellas for the less-nice weather. 

… Pack a rain jacket & some hiking shoes

There are loads of cheap flights from London direct to Asturias airport and the bus ride, which is only eight euros, takes under an hour to take you to the city centre. You will need cash though (note that in some shops you might need either cash or, alternatively, ID when using your debit/credit card, depending on how the cashier feels).

… Take a few euros. There are a good few administration things to sort when you first arrive such as obtaining an NIE (at the Plaza de España) and an ‘empadronamiento’ (at the Ayuntamiento), to limit stress have a good read over the documents and checklists the Ministerio de Educación Cultura y Deporte (MECD) send before you arrive.

… Take photocopies of all your important documents & identification. 

Describe your living experience:

In terms of finding accommodation, Easypiso.com can be good, though I personally found word of mouth and physically hunting around the city to be more useful. Ask your mentors/other teachers at your school for tips on areas or if they know of accommodation going. As with anywhere, the city centre is more expensive, but it’s all incredibly cheap in comparison to London, and sometimes bills are included, so ask the landlord about that. I booked into a hotel for a week (there are lots of affordable hotels/hostels, look online) and then wandered around on foot asking around estate agents. I had a one-bed flat but I know most assistants flat-shared. Hunt down the Oviedo assistants’ Facebook page for your year to get in contact with people before you arrive, either to find somebody to live with or just some people to hang out with. 


I don’t know anybody that found accommodation before arriving in Oviedo, but making an effort to arrive before you start work is advisable. Maybe work on your ‘renting a flat’ vocab to help you out. 

The way of life in Oviedo is really happy and sociable. Everybody I met was so welcoming. The Asturians really value the simple things in life; coffee breaks, meriendas and social gatherings of all sorts are really important parts of daily life. Whilst it took me time to get used to the extremely relaxed way of life, with people consistently turning up half an hour late and plans being made incredibly last-minute, I came to appreciate the simplicity of turning off for an hour to drink a coffee and chat with friends without feeling a need to constantly engage with social media and the internet in general. Asturias is known as the natural paradise of Spain and that really is true, the people I met were all far more in touch with nature than I’d ever experienced in London; most weekends were spent hiking with friends in the beautiful mountains or taking a break to explore Asturias’ awe-inspiring coastline.


My home for the year

The city of Oviedo itself is so small that everyday life was of course quite different to London. But I loved that my days consisted of picking up an apple from the fruit lady opposite my flat, wandering to a local café or through the market around the corner to pick up organic and locally-grown produce. Nothing was more than a thirty minute walk away and it was really eye-opening to be able to walk to work by foot. On the other hand, the public transport it great, so adventures on the coast, the mountains, or the city of Gijon are just a half an hour bus or train ride away. 


Describe your teaching and learning experience:

It may feel like you’re jumping in the deep end, but just remember you’re not expected to be an expert English teacher. Enthusiasm will get you far, I promise. My teachers were impressed that I had been organised enough to plan all my lessons before actually teaching them. Although everything was very strange at first, within a few weeks I came to adore my teaching team and the students alike, who warmed to me so much that there were tears upon departure in May (as well as so many lovely keepsake gifts).

- Use online resources! For example, the British Council Teach English website, https://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil/, ELA Café, and generally have a Google. 

Describe the weekend/evening activities on offer:

- Oviedo has a bustling University life which you can take part in (you can also register to use their library, as well as the public libraries, at no cost)

- The ELA Facebook page is where I got in contact with other assistants, and we arranged all sorts, from sidre on Calle Gascona to sports events and days on the beach.

- I joined a local language institute to learn German, Insituto Aleman which was good for making friends.

- The university’s Erasmus society is really active, so it was good to join them on Facebook and get involved with all they had to offer.

- If you want to plan trips outside of the region, remember to book ALSA bus or RENFE train tickets in advance for cheaper tickets. Within Asturias the Ferrocarril can be good value (but note that I took it on a blustery, rainy day, and the return train was cancelled… at least I was stuck in a beautiful place.) beach

List the top 10 things about your ELA experience:

1. Embracing a slower lifestyle

2. Developing a love of hiking

3. Immersing myself in Spanish culture and working life in Spain

4. Making a tonne of friends, from Australia to the States

5. Experiencing what it's like to be a teacher, and feeling proud of benefitting the students I taught

6. Proving that I can be hugely independent

7. Honing my Spanish speaking skills

8. Having so much free time to travel, explore, eat, and learn a new language

9. Being paid to make that all happen

10. Gaining new perspectives from people from different walks of life 


Finding this bull at the top somewhat detracted from the fact that I had finally made it to the top of a mountain!

Asha Sanderson, 2012-2013 in Madrid

What do you study at King's?
English and Hispanic Studies BA

Describe your living experiences as an ELA student 
Working in Madrid really was one of the best achievements of my life. Some may not call it an achievement but for me it was exactly that. Living in a different country is very daunting as much as it is fun and there were ups and downs that really did test me as a person and as an adult. Flat-hunting in a different language was the first hurdle I faced and it had its difficulties and also being ill is slightly more difficult abroad, but everything worked out in the end and there were always so many people ready to help! Even the most regular things seemed really open my eyes abroad as I pushed myself to be truly immersed in a different language and open my arms to people from a completely different culture.

Describe your teaching and learning experience
What an experience! I loved going to school every day and had the most varied and hilarious groups of kids to work with. I was very relaxed with the older students who I could relate to and chat with them about many topics in class while the younger students really did look up to me and were so interested in my life as a ‘London girl’. The experience was humbling, my colleagues were so supportive and my students were the highlight of my whole year. The responsibility I had as an English Language Assistant has really had a positive and maturing effect on my life, I can really tell the difference in myself and I would recommend it to everybody.

Describe your reflections on your ELA experience
Working in two different high schools I was able to see the best of both worlds and it was the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Working in the city centre and in a village, the cultural issues I faced everyday gave me an essential insight into the Hispanic world that has helped my degree immensely. There are international political, social and economic issues I believe one can never truly understand as a student based in England. Seeing the strikes and discussing the issues with the affected people around me - from parents of students, to the waitress in my local bar - allowed me to gain a viewpoint and feel the effects on a more personal level. I don't think that experience would have been as easy to grasp if I was studying and living as an Erasmus student at university.

Joanna Smart, 2013-2014 in Rincon de la Victoria, Malaga

What do you study at King's?
Hispanic Studies BA

Describe your teaching and learning experience
I taught from Monday to Thursday, 9am-12pm and I taught 5 to 11 year olds. I helped the teachers with their lessons, reading out from their coursebooks or reinforcing the children's pronunciation. I took small groups to the side and taught them English grammar as well as helping them with Science, which was also taught in English. Every week I also took a whole class (with the teacher present) and taught them about English culture. In terms of the learning experience; I learnt how to organise lessons and make them interesting for the children. I learnt how to work with a variety of different aged children and teachers. I gained a lot of confidence speaking in Spanish as well as to a class of children. I learnt how to communicate well and how to make myself understood as easily as possible! I also learnt lots about the English language and certain grammar points that are difficult for foreign learners.

Describe your living experience
I lived in a small town just outside of Malaga, in a flat of my own. During my time there I became a part of society, whenever I saw the children around the town they would say hello, and the parents would come and speak to me too. I lived right next to the beach which was perfect for relaxing in any spare time and it was a good way to experience the Spanish beach culture - lots of beach bars with fish and beer!! I also joined a local Pilates class which helped me to immerse myself into the Spanish way of life and real Spanish speaking!

Describe the weekend/evening activities on offer
Being close to Malaga there were always things to do in the evenings and at the weekends. I went to the theatre and to the cinema as well as to bars and restaurants in Malaga. There was also many Spanish music concerts so many opportunities to experience Spanish nightlife and musical culture. Malaga, being very close to the sea, also meant that I could go and sunbathe on a regular basis! And visit Malaga port at the weekends which was lovely.

List the top 10 things about your ELA experience

1. It's paid work experience!!

2. You also come out with a reference from the school which is brilliant for your CV and to show to future employers

3. You become a part of Spanish society

4. A lot of free time and money to be able to travel the area around you and do lots of fun activities alongside working

5. A great chance to meet lots of new people

6. You can create a network of friends and colleagues overseas

7. You gain great skills in organisation and teaching

8. You are part of a recognised assistantship

9. A chance to try out teaching to see if it's something you'd like as a future career

10. The ability to increase your workload and teach private lessons too.

Describe your reflections on your ELA experience
I loved my time as an English Language Assistant. It was great to work and live in Spain and be a part of the Spanish town I lived in. It gave me a brilliant opportunity to try teaching and gain teaching skills and contacts valuable for the future. It was completely different to university life and has widened my knowledge of the working world and the Spanish way of life! Overall, I couldn't recommend it more, it's a really good chance to do something different on your year abroad while being paid, gaining great skills, looking brilliant on your CV and having a chance to enjoy yourself at the same time!

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