When choosing what you’re going to do for your year abroad, you’re normally faced with three options: do an internship, take part in an Erasmus exchange or become an English language assistant with the British Council. 

Most students are instantly drawn towards the British Council and it’s easy to see why: decent monthly pay, practical work experience and a real taste of working abroad. However, for a lot of students, their British Council experience was completely different to what they hoped it would be. 

To help you decide whether the British Council is for you, we spoke to a broad range of English language assistants who are currently taking part in the programme. 

(Names have been changed). 

Rebecca, Montpellier, France 

What have been the highlights of your BC experience?  

“The money is good and it’s good work experience! The kids I’m teaching are all genuinely happy to have me there.” 

What have been some low points? 

“Travelling to the schools is such a hassle. The French school day starts at 8 am so to get there on time I have to get up at 6 am three days a week. I also have very long gaps in my timetable. I have four hours on a Friday in an isolated little village and buses home aren’t very frequent so there is a lot of waiting about all the time. It could be worse though- I know someone in Picardy who’s been told she has to hitchhike to get into work every day. The teachers don’t give you much guidance and expect you to just know what to do with the kids when I’ve never had any experience of teaching in my life! One of the teachers in the staff room just came up to me and insisted that I teach his 16-year-old daughter English for free in my own time!” 

Would you have chosen BC if you knew then what you know now? 

“Probably not. It’s very hard to meet people your own age on this programme. The job is difficult and the waiting about is intolerable!” 

Louise, Tournon-sur-Rhône, France 

What have been the highlights? 

“I live in a small village so there aren’t many people who speak English. After a few weeks, I found my confidence in using the language growing.” 

And the low points? 

“Where to begin! Some of my classes are a bit shambolic, in the sense that you don’t really know what to do or how to deal with the kids. The kids don’t have the best grasp of basic English grammar and the teacher expects me to talk to them about Darwin’s Theory or the death penalty. Unrelated to the British Council, I have also had a problem with my accommodation. I found accommodation on a trusted site and it was pretty good at first; low rent, close to the school and a genuinely lovely house to live in. Job done. A month in, I had to move out abruptly because my landlady was crazy and didn’t host me very well, or it’s better to say, appropriately. Finding a reliable and cheap accommodation can be hard, especially in a small town where the choices aren’t many! I also learnt the hard way that you should bring enough money to cover at least two months rent and living costs. Sometimes your scheduled payments are delayed.” 

Would you choose it again? 

“This is a hard question to answer; there have been pros and cons. Teaching is not easy, kids don’t cooperate all the time and without any previous teaching experience, it can be overwhelming. That said, because it is a new experience I’m finding myself learning many new things and ways of living. A lot of the time you are thrown into the deep end with classes which can be tough. Maybe I could have chosen primary school teaching instead of secondary because in primary school the kids will generally have the same level of English so they could be easier to teach.” 

Chloe, Logroño, Spain 

What have been the highlights? 

“I don’t really have to work that much so there is time for travelling. The pay is pretty good if you work out the hourly rate. The British Council, are somewhat helpful and reply to emails pretty quickly. The school is friendly and made an effort to give me a good timetable.” 

And the low points? 

“Despite not having to work more than 12 hours, preparation for classes adds at least 10 extra hours onto my week. We haven’t been given much guidance on how to actually teach. Some of my ‘English’ teachers who I work with can’t speak English and are teaching the students things like: ‘ray your han’ (raise your hand) and ‘hear at Chloe’ (listen to Chloe). I have never heard a teacher correct a student when they say ‘I have 15 years’ instead of ‘I am 15 years old’ and this is basic English. It’s obvious that the teachers don’t really know what our job role is. I teach students aged 11-38 years old at a high school (I don’t know why there are students over the age of 18). It’s pretty hard to make friends so you really need to put yourself out there. The only thing that has helped me meet people here has been Facebook. Also, I was paid a week late.” 

Would you have chosen the British Council if you knew what you know now?
“I’ve asked myself why I chose to do BC many times. Now that I’m used to it, it’s not the worst, however, being a language assistant is awkward because the kids don’t give you as much respect as they do the teacher.”   

Sam, Paris, France 

Highlight(s) – 

“I absolutely love being a language assistant- it’s very different to how I thought it’d be. I thought I’d be more of a teaching assistant in the class with the teacher but, I have half of the class (15 students) on my own, in my own classroom. I work 6 hours a week in a lycée (high school) and 6 hours a week in a collège (middle school), so I have a lot of time off to go into Paris and make the most of my free time here. Most of the students respect me; the fact I’m English and not a “proper teacher” gets them all excited and they always have so many questions. It’s difficult when I’m trying to teach them things that aren’t of much interest to them, for example with my Year 9s, I’m teaching them the ways in which superheroes represent modern society and they just don’t care. I really enjoy the good lessons with students who really try and speak with me.” 

Low point(s) – 

“The application process for BC is very draining. I sent off my application in December 2017 but didn’t get told where my school would be until July 2018. I know some people who didn’t find out the school they’d be working in until September! My tutor from my lycée I was allocated sent me a lovely welcoming email to say there was a studio flat reserved for me. At the start of September, she emailed me to say the studio was no longer available and I’d have to find something myself. This made me panic as you can imagine as I had no idea where to start. I looked on every site possible and everything was either 1000€ + a month in rent (disadvantage of living in Paris) or too far from my schools. I completely understood it’s not the school’s job to find you somewhere to live but it made the first 3 weeks unbelievably stressful. It made me feel so homesick, everything was new and stressful which seemed like the end of the world. I also had my phone stolen on the Metro in the first few weeks- another stress I could have done without!”  

Would you have chosen the British Council if you knew what you know now? 

“Definitely. I want to be a teacher when I graduate and this is perfect classroom experience for me. Since you’re teaching in English all day, you need to make more of an effort to keep up/improve your French. I’m lucky to live with a French lady so I’m speaking at least an hour or two of French a day. Working as a language assistant also means you get Halloween, Christmas, Spring and Easter holidays which gives you plenty of time to travel and explore. Another bonus with British council is you get paid, as well as your grant AND your student loan. It’s a stressful start but you have lots of time off and money to travel.” 

Lucas, Heidelberg, Germany 

Highlights 

“Because of the Erasmus grant, student loan and my salary, I have money to travel and do things I enjoy. In Germany, we had a mandatory training course that lasted for 3 days. Although I feel the actual ‘training’ wasn’t very useful, the best thing that has come from it is making friends. I have travelled to different places and met up with friends from the course, which have been some of my best memories so far. My school has been incredibly helpful, assisting me with any dilemma I have. The students are very eager to learn, and I have found to be well behaved. It has also been great to take a break from university, where I can now come back in final year with a better attitude. I would also say BC would be easier than studying abroad.” 

Low points  

“The main problem I have encountered so far is the lack of people my age in my town of 9000 people. I am living on my own, and I have struggled to find anyone under 27 that isn’t a student at a local school. It is also hard to make friends unless you put the effort into it and make plans, as I have found German people to generally be reserved. Joining sports clubs and hobbies you enjoy will help with this drastically. My town does not have a pub, so that makes socialising, and finding new friends, that bit more difficult.” 

Would you have chosen BC if you knew then what you know now? 

“Definitely! I’m finding it better than I initially thought because I have made good friends from my training course and we are planning trips together, instead of me going off on my own most of the time. I have lots of free time, and a wage that enables me to do as I please. Having this experience on my CV will also be beneficial when entering the job market.”