Image: Creative Commons / Andreas Borchert

Year Abroad Boar Diaries: ‘In the classroom, I can only speak in English’

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It is yet another school holiday here in Cherbourg (I swear half my time must be holidays). I’m in the home stretch of my year abroad now, and I have less than three months to go before I return to England. Truth be told, I am much anticipating my return home. It’s not that I haven’t been enjoying my time here, but it’s been a very different experience to how I imagined, both in the things I’ve enjoyed and those I haven’t.

In my first year French classes, we learned about the school system. However, experiencing it in practice is an eyeopener. I work in a lycée professionnelle – it’s like a normal school, but there is a big focus on learning a trade. My schools have workshops and studios, which I’ve visited, and they’re really very impressive. They’re packed with heavy machinery and detailed blueprints, and the kids can use them all to build boats, houses, anything. It’s a model I think would be very successful over here and it begs the question; why don’t we have something similar?

There’s a rule in the classroom that I can only speak English. The idea is that it forces the kids to have to understand, but it has left me wondering how much I am gaining from the experience. One of the children asked me how that helps my French, and I struggled to answer. It’s difficult to have a prolonged conversation in French, simply due to a lack of someone to have a conversation with. There are teachers in the staff room, but they’re normally working – I’d feel too rude to bother them so I could practice.

I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t haven’t preferred to have been at home, and at uni, despite the benefits the year abroad offers.

Even so, I have managed, and I’ve learned what I would term more useful French – the kind of everyday expressions, things that you need and which are commonplace. I went out with my favourite class last week to play pool, and I told them about the topics I had to discuss in different years of French. Some were so absurd, they thought I was joking. I had a good night, and they understood me. I don’t think that would have been possible when I stepped off the boat.

It was sold by people far more effusive than I as the ‘best year of your life,’ but that never erased my lack of excitement about coming.

You come on the year abroad primarily to improve your language and to try new things. Well, on that front, I feel it’s been a success – I struggled with the language far more than any content modules, and I’m sure I’ve improved (I guess next year will be the judge of that). However, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t haven’t preferred to have been at university, despite the benefits the year abroad offers. There’s more structure at university, and I prefer the feeling of having something to do (I miss being societies keeping me busy). It was sold by people far more effusive than I as the ‘best year of your life,’ but that never erased my lack of excitement about coming. I reckon I shall miss it when I’m back but, for now, the allure of the plane home is a strong one.

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