This past few weeks (and whole time living abroad) I feel like I have gone through just about every emotion physically possible and I had no idea why. I’ve gone from being really happy, to feeling lonely/homesick, to anxious, to getting annoyed at the slightest thing too and let me tell you it is tiring work being a human! I stumbled across these posts a few weeks ago (Practising self-care whilst studying abroad by Jael Vaquero and I can’t believe it’s over! by Rory Moore) and they have both really resinated with me and consequently inspired me to talk about the emotional rollercoaster that is a year abroad.
Stage 1: University Application – idea of a YA is cool at this point
I’m going to cast your mind way back when you are at the application process for university. You are thinking about studying a language as a part of your degree (awesome) and you notice that your university offers a compulsory year abroad programme, (how cool is that?!) Where do I sign up for the chance to go an live life like an étrangère in France? Eating croissants and/or pain au chocolat every morning for breakfast, drinking wine with all your meals and eating baguettes until you physically can’t bare bread anymore, dream. It seems so far away at this point and doesn’t cause alarm.
Stage 2: Wait…it’s just around the corner!
So this stage kinda started to kick in for me around the time that your university will be organising those days for you where you get bombarded with information and you find it difficult to be able to process it all at once. Oh sh*t. It’s here. We actually need to put plans in place now for this and decide what it is we want to do for the duration of our year abroad (sounds simple enough?). For me I wanted to be a part of the British Council Language Assistants Scheme and work in a school of some kind teaching English, but this position required an application process (you can read a little more about this in my post A day in the life of a language assistant). I remember just worrying and panicking about getting the position (like any other job that you really want) and also hoping for the region I wanted to be placed in (Montpellier). No matter how much my teachers tried to reassure me I’d get the position, it didn’t help haha! This time in general is a bit of a stressful time gathering all necessary info you need and starting to try and find somewhere to live but you will get through it!
Stage 3: Excitement – so ready to live la vie française
Okay so now you’ve heard back from your corresponding agencies (university, British Council or work placement) and you now know where you are going to be living the following year! Sense of relief washes over you that you are not just going to be left wandering aimlessly somewhere in *insert country of choice here*. For me I didn’t get my first choice of region but I was placed in the Académie of Nice to work! I was buzzing! Live on the French Riviera for a year? YES PLEASE! Sun, sea and sand was going to be my new Hakuna Matata 🙂 You now are looking forward to going and you begin to feel impatient to get there as the countdown begins!
Stage 4: Sheer panic/nervousness
This happened about a week or so before I left for France. I just had a complete meltdown about the whole thing. Leaving my friends and family, leaving Manchester (the city I’ve always known) and going into the unknown. I wasn’t able to feel totally comfortable with everything because I had never experienced this before, it was this fear of the unknown that got me most I think. It was the first time I had moved out of home too, double whammy for me (nice one Han). Again this stage will pass, don’t panic.
Stage 5: You find out your language isn’t as good as you thought.
So this stage you can more or less expect during your first few weeks in your new home. I personally just remember feeling really excited and happy one day then totally overwhelmed the next by having to do the slightest thing like go to the supermarket. When I got here I didn’t have a guaranteed flat because I wanted to actually see the properties before handing any money over or signing any contract, so that was first thing on my ‘To Do’ list. Thanks to le bon coin I sorted myself out with a cute little studio flat right in the centre of the old town in Hyères (and so returns some of the confidence that makes me feel like I can actually make it through this year sane and in one piece). There are other options out there for you to find some accommodation – you can always try to find Facebook groups in and around your area for either Erasmus students or other language assistants and then try and roomie up together, or even get in contact with your school early and ask for previous assistants details to see if they can help you out with any accommodation recommendations!
Stage 6: Travel bug sets in
I remember this kinda setting in for me after a few weeks of being in France, you have had a bit of time to get accustomed to your surroundings and you feel a little more comfortable living life in a foreign country. You now want to put everywhere onto your bucket list of places to have ticked off by the end of this year. One of the things I’ve loved most about living in France is how reasonable some flight prices have been to get around Europe! Sadly the same can’t be said for some train prices within France but yes this stage will happen to you and it’s great when it does.
Stage 7: Homesickness
Throughout this whole year I wouldn’t say I have suffered with terrible homesickness but it has appeared a couple of times. The main time it got to me was around Halloween/Bonfire Night as this is arguably one of my absolute favourite times at home back in the UK and I also feel like homesickness hit the British assistants out here more than the American assistants because for us Brits home is a lot closer to France than the USA and consequently relatively easy to reach! It won’t put a complete downer on your whole year abroad just know that it’s normal to feel this, but fear not, it won’t last forever 😉
Stage 8: Appreciation of your new life/culture
Yep believe it or not I have actually appreciated my new culture and life in France (albeit some of the time aside from transport strikes and the smoking like chimneys). The little things that make life seem so different to mine at home in the UK are what makes this country what it is; boulangeries open early in the morning for you to get your freshly baked croissants and pain au chocolats before you go to work, having an alfresco meal, even sitting outside a little café having a coffee. All these little things are the things that we would look at and think “That’s very French” haha, but you learn to love them and consequently appreciate the different culture that you are now a part of.
Stage 9: Wait a minute…where has all that time gone?
Before you know it it’s time to start saying your goodbyes to people and wrapping up your new life you started not too long ago. I feel like I’m getting to this point now where I have started to say goodbye to other assistants and my time as a language assistant has come to end, sadly. I’m really gutted that it has finished, it literally only feels like yesterday that I was packing all my life up back home to head out here and now soon enough I’ll be packing it all back up again to head back to Manchester. Luckily I have decided to take some time for me and stay in France until the end of June 🙂 I’m going to be doing some more travelling around France and I will most definitely be ‘profitez-ing – bien’ of all the sunshine here (and working on a killer tan haha)
For anyone who has done a year abroad do all these feelings sound a little familar? Let me know if you have experienced them in the comments.
Stay tuned for my travel updates of all the places I’ve managed to see in France during these past few weeks 🙂 (it’s just taking me a little while to get through it all haha but fear not the info is on its way)