Language students spent years of their teenage existence dreaming of life abroad, the independence it entails and the opportunity to plunge themselves into the unknown. So much so, in fact, that I refuse to believe a compulsory year abroad was not their top motivation for opting to study francophone literature, memorise phonetic syllables, and investigating theories that link Émile Zola with the current French education system. Realistically, the latter interests very few (if any) of us, yet we wilfully suffer through it due to vivid flashbacks of the prospectus that enticed us into this to begin with.
When the course gets rough we just remember those photos of the cheeriest and most ethnically-diverse group of friends you ever did see standing beneath the Eiffel Tower. Two years into this madness, and it is finally here; your year abroad. Your placement is confirmed, your flat share is sorted and your Eurostar is booked, but you can’t help the one million ‘what ifs’ spinning in your head.
What if my French is worse than I thought? What if I don’t understand their slang? What if they mock me and I don’t even get it so end up laughing along? What if all the local students already have friendship groups so I end up stuck only with the English-speaking internationals? I never thought I’d fear not making friends as a (supposedly) full-fledged adult, but alas I find myself in that very position. “Just join a club” – the emptiest advice given by anyone who has not known me long enough to appreciate that I don’t do sport and my musical abilities leave much to be desired. Thus, it is with great regret and a heavy heart that I confirm this is not an option.
“I am certain I will quickly befriend anyone or anything who is unlucky enough to catch my attention”
As a chatty person, I fear suffering withdrawal symptoms from the human interaction, awkward laughter and self-deprecating jokes I rank above oxygen. As just demonstrated, masking my apprehension with humour is something I do well but, all joking aside, I can’t help fearing loneliness. While these concerns circulate my mind from time to time, I am certain I will quickly befriend anyone or anything who is unlucky enough to catch my attention (I’m not picky, a French brick wall looks friendly from where I’m standing) and get trapped into my eternal friendship as I have done many times before.
My only true cause of upset is spending my 21st birthday alone and away from my friends. The 1st of October will forever be the best day of the year, but in this case it isn’t particularly helpful for my birthday to land merely two weeks after touching down in a new place. So, if any of you fancy celebrating a stranger’s birthday (and more importantly a free holiday to France) you’ll catch me eating chocolate by the river Seine, so please join me and you can do just that.
“For me, I predict my most difficult period of adaptation will be my return to Lenton”
Telling people that you are voluntarily moving away from your family and friends for a year often incites reactions such as “won’t you get homesick?” or “won’t you struggle adapting to the culture?”. For me, I predict my most difficult period of adaptation will be my return to Lenton. After a year surrounded by sophisticated 18th century architecture, refined French cuisine and more importantly responsibility-free university life, it’ll be difficult to re-accustom myself to life in Shottingham. I mean, I never got used to getting called at on Derby Road out of car windows to begin with, but I guess I’ll have to give it a second shot. The ever-eventful and always welcoming streets of Nottingham will have changed upon my return for it’s the people that make the town.
As an Economics with French student most of my course friends will be chained to grad schemes or 9-5’s as I rack my brain for dissertation ideas in my final year, and thus the spirit of the university life I have treasured these last couple of years will have faded. The lesson to learn from this, as any Economics student will happily remind you, is that there is an opportunity cost to everything and this is the price I have to pay for the most wonderful adventure of my young life. You can’t have your cake and eat it, but I’ve no doubt that my year abroad will be worth mingling with the younger years upon my return and that the friends I make in France will shape a new chapter in my life. Nothing screams personal growth more than being dumped in a foreign country, so cultural immersion will be a necessity that I can’t wait to embrace.