Monday, 6 February 2017

what noone told me about living abroad

I've now been on my year abroad, in France, since September of last year! And looking at these pretty photos I took in Nantes, you may assume that I've been having a whale of a time - as everyone keeps reminding me that I must be having! I did actually have a good rebooting day that day. It was the first time being to the cinema in nearly 2 months (!) and the first time I'd left the little town I've been living in. But truthfully, the year so far has had a lot of ups and downs.

Prior to this year, I feel like when talking to people who had lived abroad during university, would tend to tell you that it'll be the best year of your life. Or you'll have people that hint at it not being so smooth sailing, but when prompted, would reassure you that it'll still be "the best year of your life".

I'm just going to be straight up and say, this year abroad has been far from peachy. I think there is a degree of shame in admitting when you're not having a great time. Firstly, what a first world problem, right? You're living in France whilst the rest of your friends are slaving over dissertations in the not so great British weather (which by the way, I miss desperately), so what are you even complaining about. But also, it seems like everyone who is on a year abroad at least on social media seems to be, all smiles in the sun with beautiful views with their new friends or drinking tequila in Instagrammable looking locations.

 I can't say the year abroad experience has been difficult throughout and just a disclaimer, I'm really speaking to my own unique experience. I know people who are having a great time. And I do genuinely believe that whether good or bad, the year abroad is a worthwhile experience. Just want to say that before I slag of France and everyone in it (jokes).

Here's what no-one told me about living abroad.

You might find you have a lot of free time. 
Most teaching assistants work around 12 hours a week - I actually work more than that. And even though it's more hours than I would spend on campus, at university you're always busy doing something - whether it's societies or seminar prep. Outside of working hours, the day really is yours. Now, this has been nice - I've had so much more time to read, blog, etc etc. But, i'm also living in a really really small town which is so difficult to leave. I haven't lived somewhere without busses or trains before this year. And so though the biggest city nearby is about an hour away, it's not that easy to get to. So I've found myself with these free time and being quite bored.

Little loosely related rant, I miss THE CINEMA. Oh my word since leaving England, it's as though 2016/17 has been the best year for film and I've missed everything. It is awards season right now and I have major FOMO. In fact no fear, I'm missing out. People on Twitter were pissed earlier this month, saying Taraji P Henson was snubbed at the Oscars and I couldn't even be mad and join in, because I haven't seen Hidden Figures yet :) I'm going back to England for a week and I can't tell you how happy I'll be to be close to a cinema.

Anyway, all this free time on my hands hasn't been great for my mental health.

It can be a lonely experience.
Like I said, I've felt geographically isolated and as a result, isolated and lonely in general. The situation has definitely improved. In October, my living situation was at times emotionally unbearable but since the start of this year, I've been living with two other assistants who work at another school and I love it! It's so nice having a flat of girls you get on with and it has definitely helped with feeling less alone. Yet even in France, you can feel far away from your family and friends. And if you're living alone or in a far from ideal living situation, you do have to make an effort to find people and reach out,which isn't always easy. I'm someone who normally likes my own company but sometimes I feel really lonely. And a phone call to a friend or my parents, literally makes my week. That's been great though because before, I'd literally never call a friend and now I just really look forward those conversations.

You don't just move abroad, and become fluent in a foreign language.
And what a rude awakening that was.  If you're more than a year into learning a foreign language then you'll already know this, there is nothing glamorous about learning them. So I really thought, like everyone had been saying, that I was going to move to France and alas, be fluent just by breathing in the French air. Ya know? Well, the first few weeks were also eye opening because it felt like I couldn't catch everything people were saying and it felt like I was constantly on the outside of a conversation (again, quite isolating). And I've really had to continue doing grammar and reading French and always trying to talk to people. For an introvert, that doesn't come so easily.

I know I've probably painted a pretty bleak image of the year/whined endlessly but I do think it's important to also just talk about times when you're not feeling 100%. It's been challenging yes, but that's been good for me. The saying "you don't grow when you're comfortable" has never been truer. It's kind of like awkward growing pains that you need to go through that aren't fun. No matter your experience living abroad, I promise you you'll lean so much about yourself and you'll leave more confident than you were coming in.


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