Opinion

19th April 2020

A Year Abroad en France

Mes Top 5 Tips

Opinion pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflects the view of the Liverpool Guild Student Media or Liverpool Guild of Students.

I admit it. Twenty-five minutes into my year abroad and I’d already ballsed it. I was lost in Geneva Airport, burdened with two suitcases, a hefty backpack, a stagnant tuna sandwich and I couldn’t find the airport’s coach station. Anywhere.  

Then – as though beaming with a divine light and resounding with heavenly angelic chorus – there stood, The Help and Information Desk.  

Halle-frickin-lujah.  

Right. Deep breaths. Here goes. Two years’ worth of university lectures, binging French films on Netflix and blitzing Quizlet vocab ALL boil down to this. Come on, Jacinta. THIS is your time for all your French Flair to Shine. 

Excusez-moi, monsieur, mais parlez–vous anglais? 

Yep. I choked. GASP. SHOCK HORROR. JAW DROP.  

That was the beginning of my year in France and to put it bluntly, I was (evidently) brickin’ it. A year abroad is by far, one of the scariest, most I-feel-outside-of-my-comfort-zone experiences I think I’ve ever had to do. When you board that Easyjet plane, after you’ve said a teary farewell to the fam in John Lennon departure lounge, you’re full of anticipation, wondering whether your experience is going to live up to the quintessential, finding yourself ‘Gap Yar’ experience or whether it’s going to be a complete and utter Fusty French Flop.  

Well, I’m here today to give you a little insight into what my little seven-month-long francophone life was like for me and I’m going to summarize my experience in 5 Top Tips. I lived in a small town just outside of Chambéry and worked as a Language Assistant with the BCLA. My year had its fair share of its downs but plenty of ups too and I can safely say that, overall, I am so glad I took that leap of faith and completed a year abroad. 

1. Stick with it and don’t give up

A year abroad is never going to be straightforward no matter how much you prepare. Trust me, my arrival in France was the epitome of ‘Give Up and Go Home’.

Shortly after I disembarked my Flixbus, I met with a teacher who’d arranged to come and pick me up and drive me to my accommodation, and honestly, she couldn’t have been lovelier. I really thought I’d hit the jackpot. She spoke with me in English (thank GOD) and we were having a proper good aul’ chinwag in the front of the car, when she just casually slipped in:

(French accent) ‘Ah yeah, so glaad to ‘av you ziss year becuz our last assistante, well she left after one day, you see, becuz she hated eet ‘ere.’  
 

Smile. Blink. Blink. Nervous laugh.   

Then, we rolled up to my accommodation – or what I should more appropriately describe as a grey concrete apartment/prison block – and I was shown into my small, one-bed studio hellhole.

My room was modest, to say the least.

Seriously, you’d find greater embellishment in a nun’s bedsit. It was adorned with a (broken) two stove cooker (that had most definitely NOT been replaced since the sixties); a single, decrepit-looking bed; the tiniest shower cubicle that stopped emitting hot water after approximately 2 minutes 12 seconds, and a black, PHAT-legged spider that was so big, it was definitely worthy of featuring on an episode of a David Attenborough documentary. Just when you think it couldn’t get much worse, TA-DAH: I found out that there was zilch, zero, nada wi-fi available in my accommodation which as you can imagine, for any millennial, basically translates to: the.end.of.your.life.  

The best picture I could find of my 5* kitchen facilities (featuring a cardboard cut-out of my adorable doggy.)

Did I give up though? Oh Hell NAH.

(After a little feeling-sorry-for-myself cry) I took a deep breath and got straight on the phone to me Ma, got her to raid British charity shops for books/DVDs; I bagged myself a French SIM card that was loaded with 60GB of data and I figured intermittent showers would be the best solution to the whole hot water issue.  

My point is, with a year abroad you can’t shy away from challenges. It’s never going to be plain sailing, stuffing your gob with pastries and baguettes.

Accept that sometimes it will be hard and try your best to simply persevere and see those hard times through. (After all, it’s the s**t experiences that make the BEST anecdotes once you’re home!) Of course, on some occasions, coming home is best for some people, but all I suggest is do try and stick it out for as long as you can because, whilst seven months might feel like an eternity, BELIEVE ME it will fly by and you’ll be back on U.K. soil before you know it. So, adopt a positive ‘can-do’ attitude and in true British style, Keep Calm and Carry On!  

Plus side: my room had a top-notch view!

2. Bon Voyage!

Travel across France isn’t dirt cheap but if you get your hands on a Carte Jeune you can choo choo away…for a reduced price at least!

The trains in France are SO cool as well. Here in the U.K., we’re so used to chewing-gum-stuck-under-your-seats-Merseyrail or carriage-stinks-of-weed-Arriva trains that we forget what nice transport is actually supposed to look like. Well, in France, not only are the trains fast, they are also double decker and some of the carriages are even designed in that Harry Potteresque style of two rows facing each other. Siriusly.

Marseille, ’19: MTV can THIS be my new crib?!

Also, blablacar and Flixbus (i.e. the French equivalent of Megabus) are cracking choices and a very cost-effective modes of transport. With Flixbus, I managed a three-city tour of North Italy all for under €60! Sometimes they even put out a €1 travel deal for ALL trips so keep an eye out for that. Safe to say, with offers like that, Flixbus definitely gives DFS a run for their money…

Tour d’Italia with my BCLA pals.

Plus if you’re doing a BCLA placement, the two major benefits are: you get plenty of holidays and a bluddeh’ good paycheck at end of t’month, so use your time wisely and, whilst you’re in France, travel as much as you can!

*Just LOOKOUT for shifty pick pocketers, especially if you visit the Maccy D’s opposite Milan’s Duomo Cathedral* (It’s okay. I’m okay. I’ve lived to tell the tale. All I can say is, thank DUCK it was only a primarni handbag.) 

3. Mange tout.

No, I’m not talking about the crummy vegetable. This is an ORDER to EAT EVERYTHING YOU CAN. Because no one else can cuisine quite like the French.

Le Pain et les baked goods.

It’s a stereotype but bugger me do the French love their bread. Legit, there are daily lunchtime queues that snake their way to every boulangerie door and yet the bizarre thing is, this population always seems to stay so slim and healthy looking – HOW?!

Strasbourg visit in February half-term: ‘I’ll have one of EVERYTHING, please.’

They’re masters of the baking game but fall short on tea-making ability so always ensure you have plenty of Yorkshire Tea in stock and carry it EVERYWHERE with you.

Do remember to spoil yourself though and indulge in glorious French patisseries whilst you can. Every day, I felt like I was on set of the Great British Bake Off and drooled over the copious creamy desserts and delicate, glazed tartelettes.

The weight gain was worth it.  

4. Nights Out

You can forget your fake tan and lashes and you might as well leave that PLT bodycon dress at home, because take it from me, nights out in France are casual TO.THE.MAX.

Seriously, no one would bat an eyelid if you wore jeans paired with an old charity-shop hoodie.

Get used to hearing a French DJ set list too. They LOVE a bit of Celine Dion 80s pop and you’ll definitely hear Yannick’s classic, ‘Ces Soirées-là’. In terms of anglophone music, gear up for throwbacks and polish up on your rapping skills because the French go hell for leather with songs like Macklemore’s ‘Can’t Hold Us’ and Jay-Z’s ‘New York’. 

5. Scrub up on your French

In case some of you hadn’t already guessed, I didn’t have the most confidence in speaking French.

I had somehow managed to blag my way through the prior two years of uni and, keeping it between you and I, I’d say I left the U.K. with (at best) a Year 9’s standard and level of comprehension of le français.  

That was because though, in my eyes, the year abroad was going to change E V E R Y T H I N G. It was going to be my quick-francophone-fix; the miracle whereby I just MAGICALLY soared from being shoite to being practically Mother-Tongue Fluent. So, until my year out, I didn’t need to worry at all about being crap at French, right? 

Wrong. I did. 

I was a teaching assistant and early on, my daaaarling students twigged I had a low grasp of French, so I can hardly blame them for thinking their weekly 30-minute lessons with the Dimwit English Assistant were going to be Total Academic Pissups. One day, two bickering students wouldn’t stop arguing, whinging that ‘he had done this…’ ‘no but he did this…’ etc (you get my drift.) Ever the mature teacher, I stayed calm, composed and patient and politely asked them (several times) to go back to their seats and resolve the issue afterwards. 

15 minutes later… The squabbling still persisted. Hmph. 

Naturally, you can see that my patience was beginning to wear a little thin and I decided that I needed to say something short and punchy that would shock them and put an end to this petty Eastenders melodrama once and for all. So, as one of them sullenly moped towards my desk, locked and loaded with yet another complaint about his classmate, I prepped myself and dusted off my G.C.S.E. brain cells to recall a very apt phrase which I’d learnt was the translation of ‘I don’t care’: 

‘Madamme –  

‘Eh. Ecoute. Je m’en fous. D’accord? Allez t’asseoir.’  

Pencils dropped. A hush descended. Mouths were agape.  

OH, COME ON year 9s‘ I thought, ‘bit of an exaggerated response don’t you think given that all I said was I don’t care?  Jeez…’

Well in the famous words of Holly Willoughby, SURPRISE SURPRISE, Jacinta B had mistranslated. What I had actually said was unfortunately the more expletive version of I don’t care:  

‘Miss-’ 

‘Hey. Listen. I don’t give a fucking shit. Ok? Go sit down.’ 

That is Jacinta. Jacinta swears at fourteen-year-olds. Don’t be like Jacinta. 🙂

In all seriousness though, do push yourself, make friends with French people, join a French book club or gym class and if you do meet English people, be disciplined and try speak in French together when you can. It sounds mundane and goody two shoes-y, but after all, it’s what you’re there to do and TRUST ME, if you do, you’ll be so glad of it when you come back to uni and can finally understand what lecturers are saying. 

J’ai fini!

So, to summarize, these are my Top 5 Tips for a French year abroad: 

1) Persevere and embrace the challenges – they’re character-building! 

2) Travel, travel, travel (let’s be honest, it’s worth it for the insta) 😉

3) Eat all the bread and desserts you can because supermarkets here just simply don’t have the knack.  

4) Relish and delight in Trainer Nights Out – your feet won’t hurt for a whole 7 months WAHOO!  

5) BRUSH UP on your French – for your own sake! 

But most importantly, have FUN! It’s your year abroad and you only live once, so just remember to give it your all… and bring stacks of tea.   

Feature Image Credit: Ammesy 2019