This blog is written by Charlie Cooper, a third-year Consumer Behaviour and Marketing (CBM) student at the University of Reading. Charlie is currently doing a Professional Placement Year in Cape Town, South Africa, where he joined Avirtual to learn SEO, digital communications and PR.
Everything you need to know about planning your Professional Placement Year, from where to find vacancies to how to apply and where to get support, visit reading.ac.uk/careers/placements. Here you will see videos of ex-PPY students talking excitedly about their experiences as well as a list of Placement Coordinators at the University and events specifically designed to prepare you for your placement experience.
My name is Charlie and I’m a third-year Consumer Behaviour and Marketing (CBM) student, currently on a Professional Placement Year learning SEO, Digital PR and a host of other skills with Avirtual in Cape Town, South Africa. To me, a Professional Placement Year is the best thing anyone can do for both themselves and their career. I spent 5 months planning my placement, so I wanted to share with you some of the things I learnt. Without further ado, here are some things I have learnt on this journey so far:
Start your Visa First
This is the task that will most likely be the last to finish. My visa to South Africa took me five months – admittedly that was alongside going to lectures, handing in essays, and exams season. This task takes a lot of organisation and planning skills, but these are skills that will also help you when you start your placement.
Depending on the country you’re visiting, you may need to get a medical check-up or even a background check. Nobody wants to have the start of their adventure delayed by paperwork. So, believe me when I say this, start this first!
Do your research on living and travel costs
You can’t really start budgeting until you’ve lived in the country for about two months. Figuring out what costs you might encounter is essential to making sure you settle in. For example, my office is located half an hour away from Cape Town and, unfortunately, I cannot rely on public transport. To make sure I get to work on time I had to get a car which turned out to be a great idea as I use it to make my way around the city as well.
Having a rough idea about how much money you will need is useful and will go a long way towards ensuring that the first couple of months go smoothly!
Tip: If a placement is something you know you want to do from your first year at university, start saving up early by either working part-time for RUSU or getting a job on campus through Campus Jobs. You can find out more about vacancies on and off campus on reading.ac.uk/careers. Trust me on this one, your wallet will thank you in the end.
Start with a clean slate
When moving to a new country, it’s important to keep an open mind; you’ll end up discovering new passions and hobbies you haven’t thought of before. For example, I’ve taken up hiking (that’s me on the Lion’s Head watching the sunrise). Treating your placement as an adventure is key if you want to make the most of this experience and develop self-awareness along the way.
Every country has its set of unspoken rules. They may a bit tricky to navigate at first, but you pick them up quickly. This is where meeting and interacting with locals really helps.
Pre-Arrange meetups and meet up with people from the start
When you first arrive, it can all feel a bit overwhelming, that’s normal. What’s really helpful is having locals around you to ask questions. Not sure where’s the best place to pick up some toothpaste or where to buy lunch? Just ask. This is also a great way to meet new people and make lifelong friends while on a Professional Placement Year (chances are they’ll love your English accent).
Find out what financial aid you are eligible for
A little extra money can go a long way towards helping you make the most of your placement. If you need financial support, at the University there is a team of professionals on hand to help you find financial solutions that work best for yourself. Your Placement Coordinator is your first point of contact and the best person to help you with relevant information and point you in the right direction to get extra support.
Soak up every minute
You may think that 10-12 months is a long time, but it really flies by. Seize every opportunity with both hands. Try new things, new food, and new ways of thinking. Being as open as you can to as much as possible is the best way to make the most of your placement. At the end of the day, your Professional Placement Year is as much a learning experience as it is a personal growth experience. I know that by the time that I have finished my placement, I won’t be the same person I am now.
With the right amount of research, a lot of preparation and an openness to adventure and new experiences, you’re ready for a year that will have an incredible impact on your life. And, with a bit of luck, you may end up with a job offer at the end of it.