Hi! My name is Marvin, I’m from Germany and currently studying an International Business BA degree at Westminster Business School! I’m now in my fourth year and have just returned from my year abroad, spending the first semester in Brisbane, Australia at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the second half of the year on a work placement at HSBC in Germany.
Why I chose the year abroad programme
I knew when I started my degree at Westminster Business School that I wanted to take a year abroad. I strongly believe that it helps students to differentiate themselves from competitors and it adds to your professional and personal life. You grow with it and learn more about yourself. I thought it was a great opportunity to get out into the world and see different places. I chose QUT as it is a well-established and reputable university, whilst also providing me with the opportunity to study a wider range of modules. I could study any business modules I wanted to, so I decided to opt for finance modules to align it with my interests. This then helped me later on when I applied for HSBC because I had already learnt a substantial amount about financial markets.
Semester 1: Studying abroad in Australia at QUT
The university helped me a lot from the very beginning. I had organised my accommodation beforehand with their help and when I arrived, they actually picked me up from the airport. We had a welcoming session where they gave us advice and they had a huge welcome programme for all of the exchange students. I studied with Australian students and exchange students from Scandinavia, Brazil, Germany and others, so there was a good mixture and you never felt alone. It was a great experience from the very beginning.
A typical day at QUT
I lived very close to the university so I walked to campus – the sun was out, it was really warm, and it was a great feeling. The campus is really nice, it’s in the city centre and right next to it are the Botanic Gardens. Then you have the river which is similar to the Thames with beautiful scenery. Our classes were very good, I enjoyed the modules and the lecturers were amazing. It was very similar to what you do at Westminster – I did four modules over the same length of time and I had an exam at the end of every module plus one assignment.
Between classes you can just chill, catch some sun in the garden, grab some food, do your sports (they have a gym) and later on you go home and relax. In the city they have an artificial beach, which is where I spent a lot of my time. In the evening then you go out with your friends you made, either to party or enjoy something quieter. The nightlife is great, there are a lot of pubs, clubs and there’s a place called the valley, which is similar to the nightlife in Soho. There’s something literally for everyone!
Culturally, Brisbane is often very similar to England, although I have to say it’s sunnier! It’s very friendly and you have a huge presence of people from the Far East which makes it very international.
I’m a travelling person and I love the environment, so one of my highlights was to see the Great Barrier Reef and to go scuba-diving. During mid-terms we went from Brisbane up to Northern Australia where we saw crocodiles and visited some nice islands within the Great Barrier Reef. I also visited Sydney, which is an amazing city with a unique skyline. I was also very lucky and got to travel for six weeks in Asia after the programme, where I visited Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.
Semester 2: Work placement with HSBC, Germany
As part of Westminster’s Student Exchange year abroad programme, a student must take a semester abroad with an exchange partner university. You then have the opportunity to either stay at the university for a second semester, or take a work placement which needs to be at least 16 weeks. I chose this option and decided to take my work placement for 6 months in order to gain the maximum amount of experience. I started to apply for a work placement whilst I was in Australia, had several telephone interviews and was lucky enough to choose between a numbers of offers.
I decided to choose HSBC as it is a well-known universal bank with a global reach and the financial industry is my area of interest. The location was in Dusseldorf, which is near my hometown in Germany, thus it was relatively convenient to make the transition. Finally, I thought that this placement would give me a huge advantage when I start looking at entering the Graduate market in London.
From the very beginning I was really incorporated into the team. Given my international experience and my ability to speak German and English fluently, my colleagues assigned me the international clients, who I supported on a day to day basis. It was a really international role and we were the customer facing side for Asset Managers who were located in Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States, and the UK. The official title of the role was Account Management – Fund Services Intern, which is part of the Global Banking & Markets division. My colleagues really embraced me as a valuable team member and entrusted me with a number of different tasks. Looking back at my time at HSBC, I can certainly say that through the experience I was able to significantly develop as a professional.
Improving my employability with a work placement
The experience has certainly given me more confidence in applying my skills to other roles. I have learned how to enhance my communication skills when dealing with people from various countries in a professional setting and I was able to improve my Excel, analytical and presentation skills. I gained more practical experience of the financial services industry at large and given the nature of the job, I got to know more about financial instruments such as equities, debt securities, foreign exchange and derivatives. It was also a great experience to go through monthly appraisals – it was another opportunity to develop and I was offered the opportunity to re-join as graduate.
Thinking about taking a year abroad? Here’s my advice…
- Make sure that you think of all the options available in terms of where you want to go – you don’t want to regret making the wrong choice! Do your research and ask yourself where you see yourself living for the next year or so. Also, plan well so that you have enough time to secure a placement!
- Be curious in your mindset. Don’t go with the expectation that you will do something similar to what is available here. You need to be open to meet new people, so that you can embrace a different country, different cultures and make the most of it. You need to get out of your comfort zone and try to be curious.
- This is what people expect us to do if you want to stand out. You have to take risks and need to be curious in life to succeed. In order to reduce your anxiety, you need to plan. Make sure to get that part-time job in your second year so you can save up. Also, some locations offer scholarships, so if you need financial assistance, that’s worth exploring. Exploit the resources available!
- Don’t worry if you’re not so confident – when I started my work placement, I wasn’t so confident either! But, over time, step by step, I gained confidence.
- If you’re able to get a work placement, wherever it is, do it. You gain some experience regardless of the job and you have some experience which you can refer to when you go for a job interview. You will have gained new skills and will have experienced real working life. Maybe you find what you want to do, or maybe you exclude something – this is also one of the great things about doing placement is that you can filter out what is and isn’t for you.
Overall I would definitely recommend going on a year abroad – it helps you to learn more about yourself, about how to be happy in life, and it improves your graduate prospects. I think what I’ve learnt is that I can succeed in different surroundings. When I came to Westminster I was worried about passing because I thought it might be really difficult, but so far I have excelled academically. I then thought that this success might be limited to Westminster but after taking this year I can say that I now have the confidence to say ‘Marvin, you are good’. I also learnt that if you give 100% commitment, you can apply what you know to various situations – I gained a huge amount of confidence and self-belief. Partly because of this experience, I’ve also been able to get a summer internship with PWC in Frankfurt, Germany within Financial Services Consulting, something which I’m really looking forward to before I start my Master’s degree. This year abroad has been a brilliant experience and one I recommend to everyone!
Thank you to Marvin for this great blog on taking a year abroad! You can connect with Marvin on LinkedIn and find out more about his course here. To learn more about the Student Exchange year abroad option, either read more in this blog series, or take a look at our website.
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