This year has been an unprecedented time for working student and professionals alike. After more than twelve months of lockdowns, I can only hope that the coming months will provide some long-needed relief and the beginnings of returning to normalcy. Despite the less-than-ideal situation, I was still able to get a great experience on my year abroad and enjoy both Paris and my job.
When I arrived in Paris, life was relatively normal. With the exception of mandatory mask wearing indoors, all bars, restaurants, shops and attractions were open. This was great for me, as I was able to go and visit all the tourist sites while there was still a significant lull in tourism. Queues were virtually non-existent, and crowds were at a minimum. Due to the decline in tourism, my working hours were short, and I was able to really experience Paris to the fullest, as well as explore the numerous bars and restaurants the city has to offer. Though not many of my fellow students were in the city (all study placements were taking place online), I did manage to catch up with a few old friends who were doing work placements like me. Overall, the social and cultural aspects of these six months were fantastic and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.
As for the actual work that I did, that was a different story! My original plans having been derailed by the global lockdown, I quickly had to scour the web to look for stagiaire placements in France that were still accepting applications despite Covid. The agency I did end up in was a small tourism and language services agency that had 3 full-time employees, including me, though one was on furlough due to Covid. I was warned that business was slow, but I was not prepared for the full extent of this. Partly my fault for not realising that all work done in a tourism agency during a global pandemic would be admin and paperwork, there was no actual “business” happening from which I could engage with.
My time was spent filing paperwork, updating our records and cold-emailing hotels and restaurants that we had good working relationships with. This work, while it did require a lot of sitting behind a computer, was only partially what I expected from working in a small business. However, what was missing was the chance to liaise and directly deal with clients and providers on a regular basis. There was simply very little proactive work to be done due to travel bans. Most annoyingly, the majority of the work that I did was based around and targeted English-speaking clients and providers. Because of this, the chance to actually use my French in a business setting was not prevalent. Despite this, I gained a huge amount of confidence simply speaking to people in restaurants and supermarkets and answering the phone at work.
Having said all of this, I realise that I make my working experience sound very negative. In actual fact, I learnt a great deal from the experience, and I was able to develop many transferable skills and strengthen my future employment prospects. I was able to undertake a marketing course and given a budget and free reign over our online marketing, something which taught me a great deal about how to effectively advertise your business both online and in paper publications. I did also end up dealing with several suppliers and spearheaded partnership talks with an international firm over a possible joint venture. I answered the phone (in French mostly!) and dealt with the occasional translation and interpretation job. Even if this experience was not what I expected, I still very much enjoyed the five months I spent living in and exploring Paris.
Overall, despite the pandemic and the changes that it caused to businesses, I still very much am glad that I did my year abroad and was able to live for five months in Paris. I am still working for the company and have been doing so part time since I returned to England at the beginning of November, when France went back into national lockdown. The experience was like nothing else and taught be a great deal about adapting to any situation thrown at me.