I didn’t have much say in the matter from the moment I chose French as a subject at university, I knew that third year would entail going abroad (either to France, Belgium or Canada) and studying there for a year. No other options were allowed, as living and studying in a Francophone country is considered vital for your language skills.
“Landscapes complete with gites and those pretty French fields rolled past the window."
The year abroad is normalised and almost dismissed as something everyone does, just another part of university for language students like any other year. Except it really isn’t like any other year, and it was only a few months before leaving for Dijon, France, that I realised the magnitude of the trip I was about to embark on and realised that my life would never quite be the same again.
Landscapes complete with gites and those pretty French fields rolled past the window as I sat on the train waiting to arrive in Dijon, and yet I still couldn’t process that I wasn’t going on holiday, and that I wouldn’t be going home to Scotland for four months.
Articles about years abroad (plenty of which I read prior to departing for France) tend to create an expectation of brilliant fun all the time and meeting people with whom you will have the best time. It isn’t just articles: friends of mine who also went abroad before me praised it to no end, telling me how I was going to have the ‘best’ time.
“If you make an effort and break out of your comfort zone, you will have some of the best times you’ve ever had…”
In a nutshell, the reason you should go abroad is because, to an extent, these opinions and tales are right. If you make an effort and break out of your comfort zone, you will have some of the best times you’ve ever had, and if you don’t have the best times, you will at least have some of the most interesting times.
I cannot emphasise enough, however, the importance of not expecting fun to come to you, and the uphill battle that finding good people to hang out with is at the start. If you do not throw yourself at it, it will be difficult for longer. My experience at the beginning was being surrounded by people from all over the world (or all over Europe anyway), and feeling utterly lost and alone because you just want someone to be on your level or to get you, and it feels like no one does.
This passed with time. I realised that it takes time to get to know people, to break them in. For the first time, people were not handed to me on a plate - I had to engage with them (sometimes in English, sometimes in French) and take an active interest in what they were about as people. My favourite thing about Erasmus isn’t the nights out, but the trips I have taken with new friends who are still fresh, who saw me for who I was at that moment because they hadn’t known me before.
“A year abroad is a test of your ability to accept something alien, to be adaptable and flexible when everything is different.”
Studying in France is not like studying in Britain. I do literature and the approach is different - they prefer a more contextual approach with emphasis more on the historical, philosophical and ideas behind literature rather than a purely fictional approach. Going on Sparknotes no longer sufficed. There were some problems with organisation - offices closed at strange hours, and nothing gets done when you want it to, but I learned to meet in the middle with the French bureaucracy and accept it.
A year abroad is a test of your ability to accept something alien, to be adaptable and flexible when everything is different. If you can see things from a different perspective, you will thrive.
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