What I wish I had known about myself before the Year Abroad
Something that I wish I had known before I embarked upon my Year Abroad? Well, there are a lot of things I wish I had known; the extortionate price of shampoo and deodorant, the inexistence of Azera coffee and the fact that not one person in France uses lined paper for University. Maybe if I had known this then I could have stocked up. But these things are merely material and I’m almost sure that I’ve just about got over them (emphasis on just…). In fact, there’s only one thing I truly wish I had known before moving my life to France for a year, and that is that you will well and truly astonish yourself with just how capable you are. Days and months spent panicking and worrying about moving away; leaving friends, family and my boyfriend; how would I cope being in a completely different country, without all of the support that I was used to? I suppose being in a relationship can make you somewhat reliant, and I wasn’t sure that I was ready to face big bad France on my own. I wish I had known that in being solely responsible for myself, and being the only person I could truly rely on, I would quickly realise that I am so much more capable than I could have ever imagined. The worry was a waste of time; you have well and truly got this.
I’d mastered the art of travelling around England alone, and I really do find solace in solitude once in a while. Travelling to a foreign country, in which you will be spending the next year of your life, is however, a completely different kettle of fish…
Being alone is a blessing in an utterly terrifying disguise. I travelled to Aix-en-Provence with a friend with whom I study at university, but upon arrival we departed for different halls of residence. In fact, both of the girls from my university studying in the same place as me in France were allocated the same halls and I - due to a glitch within the administration at the French university - was placed in accommodation on the other side of town. I’m a worrier by nature; I panic about everything and anything and analyse until there’s nothing more to possibly think about. This to me was quite the horrific outcome. I did not want to be placed in halls, alone, left to fend for myself (yes, I am trying to make myself out to be a small animal left alone in the wild) without having a friendly face nearby. I’m making myself out to sound psychotic here; I’m exaggerating of course, but I really have always been one to enjoy knowing someone else is there. Just in case. I wish I had known before, maybe as far back as my first year of university that being left to your own devises without a friendly face is actually pretty great. Of course, in my first year of University I was essentially ‘alone’. I remember it well; dropped off by my parents to my new home in Southampton to embark on a journey of independence, to make new friends and to become more self-sufficient. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the time of my life so far. However at the same time, I lived merely a half an hour away from my actual home, and it was easy to visit when I wanted. I was supported by my boyfriend, whom visited often, and if I was ever feeling like I was missing home comforts then I could visit home quite easily. What I am trying to say is that although University IS indeed a step towards independence and self-sufficiency, I can now confirm that it is a lot more sheltered and cloistered than I had once thought.
So picture this; I arrive in France and have to travel alone to my accommodation, fear instilled of what is to come (will ANYONE speak English?). The lady at the reception desk of my halls of residence has the quietest voice I have ever heard in my life, and my French is suddenly really quite rusty. I am always the one to ask someone else ‘Oh, will you just return this to the shop for me?’ or ‘Will you ask so and so this for me?’. I am by no means shy or incapable, but if someone else can do something instead of me, well then I’ll always try my luck. But in this moment, I am totally alone and I have to do this for myself. Well, I manage to fill out all of the forms without much hassle, hand over documents and collect my key. That was surprisingly easy… maybe I’ll be alright after all?
Things have only gone up from that point. Yes, I have had the odd moment at university where I am well and truly baffled by the situation and decide I can no longer and never could, understand or speak a word of French. But that’s just one of the bumps in the road of studying in a foreign language, in a foreign country. To be frank, studying abroad is hard - it’s terrifying at times, and it’s equally as tough and disheartening. Yet at the same time, it is truly the most incredible experience that I have ever embarked upon. Once so reliant on the moral support of others, my Year Abroad has taught me thus far that I am not that person at all. If someone offers you an easy way out, then, of course, you are likely to take it. That does not mean that you are weak or incapable. Being left to my own devices, on my own and entirely self-sufficient in a country approximately 300 miles away from my own, has shown me that I am a million and one times more capable than I could have ever imagined. I am on my own, with the most incredible new friends, in one of the most beautiful parts of France and I am having the absolute time of my life. Worrying is not always necessary. You have so got this.