What we learnt at uni #2: The Year Abroad

Lizzie Fane, 25, founded ThirdYearAbroad.com in November 2006 and launched in January 2010. ThirdYearAbroad.com helps students before, during and after their year abroad from university to make the whole process less scary and overwhelming, while promoting and supporting the study of Modern Languages in the UK.

Lizzie regularly speaks at university Study Abroad Fairs and pre-departure talks about making the most of the year abroad, and has recently founded LANGSA, the Language Graduates’ and Students’ Association, to give young language enthusiasts the opportunity to come together and inspire other people to learn languages, based on their experiences.

Who is Third Year Abroad for?

ThirdYearAbroad.com is for students before, during and after they study or work abroad during their degree course. They can choose their UK university based on its year abroad offering, they can read case studies, research their destination, get advice from other students and find out about exciting career opportunities.

With the increased tuition fees, students are likely to become more aware of the employability value of their degree choice. Do you think a degree that includes a year abroad will become more popular?

Yes, I think it will. The year abroad is offered to students of many, many disciplines – not just language students – and as employers reiterate the importance of new recruits being able to speak foreign languages and work within an international team, I think that students will understand that the benefits of a year abroad outweigh the expense. On that note, David Willetts has just pledged a grant which will be available to students going abroad from 2014-15 (i.e. 2012 entry) and will reduce year abroad fees from a maximum of £9,000 to max. £1,350. Students who opt for an Erasmus work placement will receive a grant (an average of €375 per month) AND a salary, plus Student Finance maintenance and tuition fee loans, so I encourage you not to be put off a year abroad by concern for the expense. On top of fantastic work experience, a network of international contacts and the most fun you can imagine, the year abroad gives you confidence, independence and opportunities: just check out these year abroad graduate case studies to see how! As a final note, If you’re worried that the UK job market will have nothing for you when you graduate but you speak Spanish, then don’t forget about the job markets in Latin America, Menorca or Cuba, for a start! The opportunities are endless.

Can you take a guess at the most popular destination for a year abroad?

Spanish is the most widely-spoken foreign language (not including English) in Europe, and Valencia is the most popular destination for European students who study abroad; the city is hot and sunny and has two particularly excellent universities, so it’s not surprising!

We are seeing more and more niche online communities starting up – did these inspire your idea?

No, the idea was one of those ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ situations; I needed an information resource on my year abroad (the community aspect came later), so I decided I was in a good position to set it up myself.

Presumably the idea came from your own experience. What do you think you would have found most helpful?

I think our Mole Diaries are the most useful articles on the site: they are insider guides to settling into a new city, written by students who’ve been through it themselves. The articles include everything previous students wish they’d known before they left – where to find accommodation, what to take with you, student discount cards and offers, registering at the University and taking exams, understanding local dialects, shopping, eating out and secret discoveries they want to pass on to future students. I love the fact that these articles have been written by students from universities across the UK

Finally, we ask everyone ‘Is this generation startup?’

This is definitely generation startup! I think year abroad students in particular are in a very good position to start a business during or after their year abroad; they encounter a lot of problems which they could be in a position to solve, they understand another language and culture which effectively makes them a bridge between two (or more) countries and as 19-24 year old students who are well-travelled, speak a foreign language, have had 2 or 3 years of Higher Education, understand the internet, worked in an international team and developed independence, self-confidence, determination, enthusiasm and resilience through living abroad, they are already showing key entrepreneurial characteristics. Here’s an article about it. There is amazing support for student startups now, especially with NACUE the National Association of College & University Entrepreneurs, and each university’s innovation/entrepreneurial office which provides free advice, support and events for young entrepreneurs. Living in London now, I definitely feel part of a young startup community. I have met some incredibly inspiring young people who have spurred me on, which makes me so happy that I chose to bite the bullet and run a startup instead of getting “a proper job”.

Find them on facebook and twitter.

Crowdsourced journalism

By Kaamil Ahmed

Egypt is voting for a new President this week. In the period between the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and these elections, Egypt hasn’t featured very much in the news apart from when there have been riots. When the Egyptian situation has been analysed, it’s largely been on a very general scale that talks about the ‘big’ issues such as that of the president, religion in politics and economy. But no one really spoke to the people. I thought there was a gap that could be filled, so last summer I decided that I was going to head down to Cairo with some friends and talk to some Egyptians.

Problem was, I didn’t quite have enough money to get there and buy all the equipment. I’d heard of this thing called crowdfunding and i’d seen someone on Facebook asking for money by using a website called Indiegogo. Hesitantly, I tried that route. It kind of worked.

I say it kind of worked because we did raise enough money to make the film but it felt too much like begging. The funders were just my friends because ultimately I don’t think that I had enough to offer anyone else. The idea was to produce some good quality campaigning journalism and, though I think we achieved that to some degree, I don’t think that’s enough. Crowdfunding thrives on being able to offer people something, so goods thrive because you can actually provide a person with the product in return for the funding. But with the film, I think anyone I didn’t know would probably wonder why they should fund me? There are probably a number of people who could go out and do that and I wouldn’t really be offering anything in return other than credit and the chance to have some input into the way the film was made.

The main problem is that crowdfunding, for journalism, is unsustainable. Sure, if you come up with a really good campaign and can find enough people that care about it, you might be able to raise some funds. But what about next time? You can’t keep going back to the same people and at the end of the day when it comes to campaigning, why give money for a piece of journalism instead of to a charity?

Crowdfunding can definitely work for certain types of projects but when it comes to the media, it is too simplistic.

Kaamil Ahmed is editor of Off The Tangent. He also writes a football blog here.

Ocqur: Smart Enterprising

by Caz Parra

Joseph Stashko is one of the co-founders of Ocqur. He won the Guardian Student Media Digital Journalist of the Year Award in 2011. You can find him on Twitter here.

Ocqur is an upcoming platform for live-blogging events with the potential to change the face of online live reporting. It is sleek looking, super fast and able to work with a range of other platforms such as Twitter, Youtube or Flickr. Ocqur’s main feature is that it automatically displays new updates, without the need to refresh the page. Earlier last month we spoke with Joseph Stashko, who along with Andrew Fairbairn and Jonathan Frost, is responsible for Ocqur.

“The idea came about because we looked at the market of live blogging and we saw that what was out there already wasn’t affordable or was just terribly designed,” says Joseph, who also thinks that there’s no reason why design and functionality can’t work together.

In true 21st-century entrepreneurial style Ocqur was developed in parallel to Joseph, Jon and Andrew’s university studies. Ten weeks of hard work over evenings and weekends resulted in ‘Ocqur 0.1’, the first version of the service, which is currently in its testing stage. “We have over 100 testers. Getting feedback is amazing, we didn’t want to build what we thought was best [version of the product] and then find out that it’s not. We rather give it to people as early as possible so they can help build the service. We’ve given the raw ideas, now you fill in the blanks”. This is, potentially, what will guarantee the success of Ocqur. Through the testing stage and the feedback process the team are determined to build the service users want.

But can a side-project be considered a startup? “It’s hard to define yourself, I would say yes from my personal standpoint,” says Joseph. For him, being a startup is an attitude more than a business label: “It’s a mentality, it’s looking to disrupt what’s already available. We’re not trying to make a product that is a little improvement to what already exists, we are trying to rethink how something works and come up with a better way to do it”.

We can’t let Joseph go without asking our already infamous question: is this generation start up? Joseph believes it could be, as long as “people see things through and actually try to realise them”. Speaking from his experience developing Ocqur he tells us that the quality of the idea is as important as having “one or two other people who have the same one”. What do you think?