No matter how organised a person you are, or how well prepared you feel, arriving in a foreign country and knowing that you’ll spend the next seven months living there is a completely overwhelming experience.
Everyone has their own way of approaching a challenge as big as the ‘Year Abroad’. Some people like to go over and over every little detail of their plan, talking with friends and family and working out ways to cope with the separation and emotional upheaval. Personally I just chose to pretend that it wasn’t happening, a strategy which didn’t seem so clever when I suddenly found myself alone and homeless in France.
As I sit here at my desk in my beautiful, spacious apartment just outside the city centre it’s easy for me to say that it was the right decision to get on that plane. I wasn’t so sure at the time.
I stayed on at my summer job far longer than any of the other summer staff and lived as if I was going to be working in that rough, grotty Lloyds No. 1 Bar for the rest of my life, and I didn’t begin packing until about 12 hours before I had to be on the plane. My friends were telling me ‘You know you won’t really go’ and one even offered to marry me so that I could stay in the country, prompting me to explain that I wasn’t actually being deported; I had CHOSEN to put myself through this ordeal…
The reality was I knew in my heart of hearts that working in a bar in South Wales forever would just not do. Much as I love South Wales (I really do, I know it’s weird), I’m rather hoping for something a little more exciting from life, and for that I need a degree and for that I need to live abroad for a year. So I got on the plane.
And I spent the first two days completely petrified. Moving to a foreign country, especially one such as France which is heavy on the paperwork, can be extremely stressful and very frightening. Running around in circles in inevitable – you’re told that you can’t open a bank account until you have a fixed address and you can’t pay the deposit on the accommodation that you want until you have your contract of employment and you can’t have your contract of employment until you have a bank account for your salary to be paid into…and so on.
But only one week into my Year Abroad experience I can already tell you that all the panicking is worth it in the end. I’ve been at my job (in a lycée or sixth form college) for just two days but am already finding it a rewarding experience. My vocabulary is increasing with every day that passes and I am taking full advantage of the opportunity to make new friends. Moving to a foreign country is a bit like being a fresher again- you can talk to whoever you like and not feel like a total freak.
So my one piece of advice to anyone going on their year abroad would be to accept the fact that you’re going to feel nervous and scared. Despite your worries embrace the experience, give everything a go and speak with as many people as possible. Never refuse an invite, and for God’s sake don’t worry about grammar. Just TALK and people will want to talk to you!