An honest reflection on my placement in France

gemmadilkesGemma Dilkes, International Placements, On Placement, Second Year

Bonjour and welcome back to another blog post! My placement at Air France in Toulouse has been and gone so now its time to look back and reflect on my experience, so I would like to share some of my thoughts that may be helpful to those of you heading off on placements later this year.

Name on door = excitement levels a solid 20/10

If you’re a new reader to the blog, I worked as an English Language Assistant at Air France’s IT and Accounting Departments in Toulouse for 4 months. I was responsible for organising English conversation classes for around 65 employees, assessing their language level and just generally being available to provide help with all things English related. There is no denying that getting the opportunity to work at Air France is a huge privilege and something that looks impressive on a CV. Working as an English Language Assistant is one of the most common placement opportunities for languages students. What I was doing was nothing particularly new or different to many other students and despite working at one of the world’s biggest airlines, I didn’t get a ride to work every day in an Airbus A380 :(, but of course being part of a large company did bring plenty of advantages and opportunities, some of which i’m going to talk about in this post.

That said, being in a real office environment really gave me a taste of what it is like to work in a big company and also a good insight into French working culture. I was splitting my time between the IT and Accounting Departments so I got to see how different parts of the company operated and it came as a surprise to me that two parts of the same company could feel so different. It definitely took time to adjust to two very distinct working environments but now I feel that the process of adapting to this has been very beneficial to me and I learned lots from it.

One of the best ways that I made the most of my working environment was showing a willingness to get involved in projects that weren’t in my job description. My boss presented me with the opportunity to translate an important presentation for the Chef d’Établissement from French into English within a rather small time frame, this was a great opportunity to take responsibility for a real project (as you would in a real adult job :0), to practice my translation skills and to learn lots of French vocabulary that I otherwise wouldn’t have come across. In addition to this, I became comfortable talking to colleagues who were much more senior to me by going to lunch with them in the canteen and by having a coffee and a chocolatine with people at our monthly Welcome Coffee sessions in La Place Café. In summary, Air France was a great working environment, I always felt like I knew who to ask for help and that they were genuinely interested in helping me have a realistic and enriching experience during my time at the company.

When going abroad for your placement, your job is just one of many things you have to think about, but one thing that makes the process so much easier is having somewhere nice to live and go back to after work. I really loved my little flat, albeit sparsely decorated and having shelves falling off the walls, it was comfy and safe and my landlord was so kind and reassured me that if there were ever any issues or if I needed help with anything, he would come as soon as possible. This is probably a refreshing change to hear since some students end up with continuous problems with landlords abroad, but rest assured that they aren’t all bad (mine certainly lived up to his ‘Superhost’ status on Airbnb) but really, a smooth experience is all down to thorough planning and preparation.


Something that is an issue exclusive to the year abroad is FOREIGN BANK ACCOUNTS. My own personal experience trying to set one up can only be described as a nightmare. I initially thought that choosing an international bank/one that I was familiar with would be a sensible option, one that matched both of these preferences was HSBC. It became evident that HSBC France isn’t as easy to deal with as HSBC UK are, so it ended up taking over a month to get everything finalised (not to mention over 2 weeks to get someone to phone me back about my query with the online application process) and they even charge you 45 euros to just open the account! My French colleagues said that HSBC isn’t normally a bank that individuals deal with in France, it’s more for businesses and that a normal French bank such as Credit Agricole or an online bank like Boursorama would have been fine. I’ll be happy if just at least one person reading this learns from my mistake and I will shortly have the task of closing this account. Wish me luck!

The final part of my experience that I want to reflect on is just simply living in Toulouse and being part of French culture. In my opinion, being in the south meant that I got to experience the very best of what the country had to offer and Occitanie is a really lovely region to go to. Toulouse is known as La Ville Rose as all the buildings are made out of a unique pink-ish colour brick, there are lots of little cobbled streets and it’s home to the Garonne river which looks especially beautiful in the summer and early autumn. The most famous thing you can see in Toulouse is Concorde, found at the Airbus discovery museum where you can go and learn about the aviation industry which is what the region is famous for. As a student, it only cost me 13 euros to do a 2-hour discovery tour of the Airbus site, which was all in French and I was able to understand the vast majority of it, a very proud moment indeed 🙂

My stay in Toulouse did however coincide with a politically turbulent time for France with various protests and strikes taking place in big cities across the country. This shows that you really have to keep an eye on the political situation in the country where you are living, even a country as close to home as France, and try to respect the cultural norms and reasons behind these social movements. Although these kinds of situations are not ideal, you often can find out in advance where the protest will be taking place so you know to avoid it and find somewhere else to go instead, for example in Toulouse you can rent a ‘Toulouse Velo’ for less than 2 euros and cycle around the quieter areas of the city.

Thank you so much for reading! Its time to say au revoir to my time in France and hola to a new experience in Spain in the next semester, HASTA PRONTO and stay tuned 🙂