“It all balances out in the end”

Négatif et positif. It has been pointed out, correctly, that this blog seems a little negative so far. Its easy to show the positives with lovely photos but remember the negatives when alone in the apartment. So where does the balance come from? Here’s my attempt to balance out what I’ve struggled with so far:

Everything is terrifyingly new = I’m actually doing something new

This year abroad is forcing me to do something I would have never thought myself capable of before. Had this year been optional, I’m really not sure if I would have come – or, if I would have stayed for so long, so far. I’ve survived almost 3 months (87 days so far) and each day is a little easier. It’s genuinely an opportunity in a lifetime. Sometimes all we need is a mandatory shove in a new direction. In each situation, I need to remember that this is something I wouldn’t have encountered back in Birmingham and I wouldn’t have thought myself brave enough to handle.

University life is very different = It’s an insight into another culture of study

No Freshers week (save for one day event in the first week, a ‘dj’ that ended at 10pm. Wild). No societies. No general sense of fun-loving student communities. Not many friends.

Upside? English university students have one side of studying and from a Birmingham perspective, the socialising and ‘becoming an adult’ seems as important as the study itself. This is an opportunity to experience studying another way, something I hope will improve my sometimes mediocre attitude when I return. Also, the lack of overwhelming support / welcome from the other students means the friends I have made are genuine. Not quite the same as meeting countless people in Freshers and never speaking to them again.

Seriously though – blackboards and chalk in 2016? Ink pens and handwritten essays? Clearly the French system isn’t that concerned with plagiarism checks or modern technology.

Nothing is simple = Everything makes for a funny story

Whether it is charades to explain a mosquito bite in a pharmacy (who has the time to look that up when running to the shop in between class?) or failing to understand a money system in a boulangerie, each experience is a lot less painful when I can laugh about it. The simplest thing can be incredibly frustrating but succeeding is equally as rewarding. I’m still entertaining by recounting my pain and humiliation during that 2 hour long bank meeting.

Take razors for example – either they don’t exist in any pharmacy or supermarket or they can only be found in a locked cabinet, alongside batteries and other incredibly dangerous objects. A simple purchase becomes a treasure hunt. Or, take my french grammar class, where the majority of students aren’t english. However, they all have a strong belief that their English is better than their understanding of French. Cue a free-for-all of students using the wrong English translations to try and understand each grammar point. I am genuinely corrected (incorrectly), by both the students and the teacher. In the moment, it’s infuriating. Afterwards, it is hilarious.

I can’t speak French as a French person would = It’s okay to make mistakes

Often I’m frustrated that I can’t express myself directly. My response is limited by my language skills, regardless of how close I can get. I don’t feel like I have any sort of personality in French, and I don’t feel like I can be myself. Note to self – this is not always a negative!

There are certain moments in my grammar class when my teacher shrugs and simply says “It’s the french way” as an explanation. Even if it doesn’t seem natural, just understanding this different culture is still rewarding. Reassuringly, the two long-term expats I’ve met out here both expressed the same feeling, of ‘playing’ the role of being French before they felt French. Making the extra pronunciation effort or using an idiomatic expression can seem silly on one level, but on the other it is a positive step towards understanding the culture a bit better (and coming across less obnoxious).

It became clear very soon that the reality of living and studying abroad can, at times, be very different from what university tells you. The smiling, cocktail filled photos with foreign friends on Facebook can seem cruelly deceptive one day, then a nice reflection of study abroad experience the next. The negativity in this blog isn’t to put anyone off, or paint a miserable picture of survival out here. Rather, I hope it’s an honest insight into something I had romanticised before coming.

Finally – Eating croissants isn’t the key to becoming French but it surely can’t hurt to try. Croissants are always positive.


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