"One of the main things that attracted me to Leeds in the first place was the opportunity to take a year abroad as part of your degree programme. Having studied French to AS level, France was the obvious place for me to go. When I was applying to study abroad, Leeds had three links within France and I chose Dijon, capital of Burgundy and at the heart of the Burgundian wine region.
It was incredibly daunting on arrival – I didn't know anyone and I soon realised that the language barrier could potentially be more of a problem than I first thought! However, once I had met with my supervisor, I had a much clearer idea of what I was doing. My supervisor was very helpful and supportive throughout the year.
For the first semester I followed 2nd year courses which included plant and animal biology. They were quite tough but it was very rewarding to see yourself progress and be able to understand a four hour practical in a foreign language! During the second semester I followed a 3rd year course in animal behaviour and worked alongside a masters student on a research project in parasitism and host behaviour. It was a great experience to be able to work in the lab as it gave me the opportunity to get to know my colleagues and my French improved greatly. It also gave me an insight into what a final year lab project at Leeds would be like and helped me with my choice.
Even though the work was quite intense, I was still able to appreciate France, its great culture and cuisine. I was able to spend some time travelling during the year – exploring the local area, other regions of France and with the excellent train links, Switzerland, Italy and Spain (it is a good way to make use of friends studying abroad in other places!). Being in the centre of a famous wine region, there was ample opportunity for visiting vineyards and châteaux and plenty of wine tasting at numerous ‘wine festivals'.
To take up the challenge of a year abroad shows great courage – and it will definitely be worth it. It may seem hard at first but it certainly gets easier. I had some great experiences and shared them with many new friends (French, American and English). My year abroad has certainly improved my confidence, independence and self-motivation. It has helped me focus for my final year at Leeds and I am hoping will prove invaluable when applying for jobs, not just for the language skills but also the life skills gained. It was a huge challenge but I'm so glad I completed it!"