Travel Blog: Homesick Winter Blues

Josie is a third year languages student on her Year Abroad, spending fourteen months travelling from Spain to France to Russia, and recounting tales of her battles with the day to day dilemmas of living in a foreign land.

Returning to France after an excellent two weeks at home celebrating Christmas and New Year with family and friends was a bit of a shock. It’s always difficult to motivate yourself to head back to work after the holidays, but returning to a challenging job in a foreign country? Even harder.

On the Tuesday after my return, a teacher commented that I looked ‘sad’. Well, I was ‘sad’ as well as tired and shell-shocked, but I realised I shouldn’t let it show. After all, that particular teacher regularly hosts myself and another assistant at her house for lunch – always a delicious traditional French dish. Being abroad, whether working or studying is such a great opportunity, it’s important not to forget to make the most of it.

Despite my exhaustion after two weeks of non-stop catching up with family and friends (Christmas is never a time to relax, is it?), I got in contact with a friend also on her year abroad. She lives in Aix-en-Provence, a city a few hours away from me. I had been meaning to visit her before Christmas but it didn’t work out (read: my Erasmus grant didn’t come in on time), and being old school friends who both do languages and travel a lot, we hadn’t seen each other in roughly two years. It turned out that she was finishing her placement and going home the next week, ready to study Spanish in Chile in a month’s time, leaving me the first weekend back as my one possible visiting opportunity. I booked my car shares, packed my bag, and set off to take advantage of her last weekend in France.

Unknowingly, my visit to Aix coincided with the inaugural celebrations of Aix-Marseille, the European Capital of Culture for 2013. On arrival in Aix, I found myself facing a long avenue lined with trees which were wrapped in red and white spotty fabric. Then, on Saturday, our intention to wander around the city was scrapped when we saw the sheer number of people who had poured out on to the streets. On one of the main shopping streets there were acrobatic displays and men on scaffolding playing musical instruments, which came to an end with hundreds of red balloons being released from plastic bags and given to onlookers. It’s always nice to visit a city at a time when it’s showing itself off – just like Lyon during the Fête de Lumières. Aix is really pretty and I’m looking forward to exploring more of the south eastern area of France in April when I’ve finished teaching, and the weather has improved a bit.

It was great to visit my friend, get out of town, and have a night out. The visit also helped me develop a few positive thoughts about Millau, mainly concerning money. It’s not cheap to live here, especially for someone who lived in Spain for three months before moving, but it’s a steal compared to Aix. Waiting for my friend in a bar on Friday night, I was charged 5 euros for a glass of wine – in France, where you can buy two decent bottles for that much! Then on our night out, a beer cost 5 euros which is more expensive than England! Considering that my friend works the 35 hour week, three times longer than my week, gets paid exactly half of what I do, and has to pay for her accommodation, I don’t know how she is surviving, and I feel lucky to be in my financial situation here in Millau.

I knew I’d be paid very well by the assistantship job, but I didn’t really take location into account when planning my year abroad. Aix is in a wealthy area so it’s a lot more costly to live, and of course living in a city has different costs to living in a town. I did avoid living in Paris partly because of the expense and partly because I knew I wouldn’t speak any French there. In bigger cities you’re more likely to meet people from the same country as you, and in my friend’s case, from the same university as her. Although I speak English with the other assistants here, I have a friendship group including French and Spanish friends, so I’m (hopefully) getting language practice outside of work. Living in a smaller town does have its advantages, as hard as it can be to get used to, my degree and bank account will thank me at the end.

As for work, there’s been a few amusing moments: one school I teach at is currently learning the English alphabet, which has involved word games including hangman. Not sure how to feel about the word of choice being ‘Gangnam style’, but I never stop them attempting the dance whenever they say it!

All in all, I’m getting back into work and life in France, helped by the fact that Millau is covered in snow at the moment, which makes even teaching more fun.

Josie Hough

Image by Mathias via Flickr


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