Thursday, February 14, 2013

Interning in Paris

Deciding what to do on my year abroad wasn't an easy feat. Then again, making decisions full stop isn't my strength. Just over a year ago, I remember coming out of the first year abroad meeting feeling so daunted as I had no idea what I wanted to do.
Once I started to look into it, my doubts disappeared. I ruled out university straight away.  Whilst it sounds amazing fun - it sounds like a repeat of Freshers year - I didn't fancy doing the actual studying that you're actually meant to do. Also, French student life is a lot different to that of British students and I don't think I would have enjoyed that aspect so much. So the options left were British Council assistantship or internship. Again, the language assistant option is great especially when you consider the fact that you earn double the amount a stagiaire earns for doing half the hours. But the gamble of not knowing where you'd be placed and the fact that I can't even tell the difference between left and right, never mind give proper directions meant that I was left with finding a stage.

Image via sasa.mutic
And I'm so glad I did.
Not only for the fact that I was actually offered one in the first place (stages are super competitive like in England) but also because I feel it has been one of my most rewarding experiences to date. So, for all prospective year abroad students here's an overview of what you need to know:

The Basics
  • Let's talk finances. French laws say that employers can pay stagiaires a third of the SMIC (minimum wage) plus 50% reimbursement of travel costs, which is approximately 430 euros a month. However, once you factor in Erasmus grant, student loan, CAF and your wage, you will just about break even.
  • You might be lucky however to receive added extras such as tickets restos or corporate facilities like a gym. To go into further detail about ticket restos, it is essentially a voucher to buy lunch and most restaurants, caf├ęs and supermarkets accept them.
  • You need a convention de stage. The convention de stage is a contract binding yourself, your employer and your university. It should be pretty simple for your year abroad officer to sort out.

The Pros
  • You will have solid work experience to put on your CV. Not only that, you have international work experience - it's essentially the holy grail of internships.
  • You will come out of the year abroad with not only visibly improved language skills but a host of other skills to boot too.
  • You will have an insight into French work culture, which is interesting to see how it differs from Anglo-Saxon office life.

The Cons 
  • As already noted, you're not going to be rolling in it. However, whilst you could earn more working in Franprix, the experience you will gain with a stage is priceless. Additionally, lots of British interns don't earn a thing so at least it's something.
  • You have absolutely no right to holiday. If your employers are nice (like mine), you may be able to wangle a few days off here and there but your employer has no obligation to do so. Even if it is agreed, you may have to work back the hours missed or just simply not be paid for the days off.
  • You won't have so much time to do the amazing Erasmus travels. But rest assured, there are plenty of places to go within a few hours reach so you can fully take advantage of your weekends!
A year abroad automatically shoves you straight in the deep end but an internship in a different country, different work culture, different language is truly a baptism of fire. Whilst I'll be the first to admit the first few weeks were hard, I cannot emphasis enough how much I feel privileged to have done so. For any prospective year abroad students, an internship abroad is well worth considering!



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