For my Year Abroad, there was an element of being thrown in at the deep end. I wondered if I would sink or swim under the pressures of living in a new country. If that was not enough, the thought of speaking a foreign language in a different country left me feeling slightly anxious. Any linguist will know that there is a huge difference between studying a language and actually speaking it. Luckily I survived and ended up having the time of my life.
So, what did I actually do? I had three options available to me: finding an internship, studying or becoming a British Council assistant. I chose the latter. For seven months I taught in two secondary schools in Montpellier and another in a small, nearby village called Magalas.
The assistantship was a very rewarding experience, even if my first week was incredibly nerve-racking. I remember stepping inside the schools and instantly feeling like a thousand and one eyes were watching my every move. At the time my French was a little rusty and I was scared of having to deal with a class full of hyperactive French teenagers. I felt completely out of my comfort zone but in hindsight I am extremely grateful for this. I built on numerous skills, including communication, problem solving and organisation. The teachers were supportive and I really enjoyed teaching the students who would often shower me with funny (and sometimes bizarre) questions about La British culture: “Madame, do the British really love Fish ‘n’ Chips?” “What is the Queen’s favourite type of tea?”
As for my language skills, I was blown away by the transformation. Probably one of the most common pre-conceptions is that miraculously after several months you become fluent. This is not true, but that is perfectly fine. Although I do not know every single piece of French vocabulary, I have added many new words and phrases to my repertoire (for example, “Quand les poules auront des dents”– literally, “When chicken have teeth”, meaning “When pigs fly”), thanks to my parroting skills my pronunciation sounds more French than ever, and producing a grammatically correct phrase no longer feels like climbing Mount Everest. What I am most proud of is my new found confidence. It is one thing having a fine set of linguistic tools, but using them to speak to a native speaker takes a lot of courage. After a while I overcame my fear of ‘sounding stupid’ and learnt some valuable lessons from my mistakes.
The Year Abroad did much more for me than simply improving my French. It gave me a new lease of life. Having had no choice but to be self-sufficient, I faced fears that I would have normally run away from such as the terrifying ‘adult’ tasks of setting up a bank account and dealing with French landlords. Seizing every exciting opportunity allowed me to make lifelong friends and gain valuable experiences. I gradually crawled out of my shell and flourished into a strong, independent woman.
But it was not all sunshine and rainbows and to be honest, no Year Abroad is. Within the first month of living in France, it was a nightmare trying to find accommodation, I temporarily lost my suitcase, experienced one of the worst floods to hit Montpellier (On the day of my arrival, would you believe! My Dad saw the brighter side of things as he delighted Montpellier with his rendition of Singing In the Rain), thus unsurprisingly I felt rather homesick. Nevertheless, these low moments were short-lived and provided me with a thick skin. And when the time came for my best moments to make an appearance, I appreciated them that little bit more: I dreamt in French (a linguist’s lifelong ambition), completed a 10km run in Marseille, climbed a mountain in Germany and saw the Austrian Alps.
What was the best part? Travelling. From the snowy Alps to the hot beaches of Monaco, onto the picturesque châteaux in the Loire, I made some fascinating cultural observations. I discovered the power of a delicious French crêpe in curing homesickness and learnt to accept the national love of paperwork, queues and strict mealtimes. Luckily for me, I could hop over the borders to other countries and from Montpellier I caught direct trains to Barcelona, Brussels and many other destinations without any hassle. Out of my numerous adventures, perhaps my favourite sites were: the famous Christmas markets in Strasbourg, the view of Mont Blanc in Grenoble, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and St Bernadette’s grotto in Lourdes. During my trips I came face to face with new cultures and outlooks on life. I fulfilled the best parts of travelling, discovering and learning.
My time abroad has truly been the best year of my life; I could not have asked for a better experience. I have been on a thrilling rollercoaster of events with some fantastic memories to add to my collection. Never have I felt happier and more confident in myself; I feel like I can take on anything. If only I could do it all over again!
Vive La France. Vive Le Year Abroad.
If you would like to read more about my exciting Year Abroad adventures, follow this link to my blog: