Bronjour: Actually Moving Abroad

When you anticipate something for years, it can sometimes feel like it’s never actually going to happen. At the time of filling out my UCAS form, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “This year abroad isn’t even going to happen until my 3rd year of uni, I’m only in my first year of sixth form”. It felt like it was never going to come round.

But here I am, in France.

I’ve been here about ten days now and I’ll be honest, the transition was initially much harder than I ever thought it would be. My boyfriend came over with me for a few days so that we could get to know the town a bit together and if it weren’t for him, I think the move would have felt much more lonely and intimidating.

The thing that made it so difficult to quickly adjust to life in Montpellier was the culture shock. Everything is just so different and for the first few days, everything felt so strange and alienating. Everyday things that you can do in the UK without even having to engage your brain (including using public transport, ordering coffee, buying fruit in a supermarket) are not so straightforward here. It’s all just a case of trial and error and looking a bit silly but it’s all part of a necessary learning process.

Another ‘culture shock’ factor that really caused me a lot of stress was French bureaucracy. To do the simplest thing in France, you need to jump through so many hoops.

I’ll write about this more in detail next week as honestly, it’s an entire post of its own. Briefly, though, the lack of simplicity really contributed to the difficulty of the first few days.

If you’re reading this before going on your own year abroad to France, don’t be disheartened at all. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can adjust to doing things the French way and you’ll be even more impressed by just how much new language you unintentionally absorb. The social side of life is great too. I can only speak about Erasmus study placements because that’s what I’m doing but there are always events taking place and tons of lone wolves looking to make friends. I’m not a particularly outgoing person and I’ve found it easy to approach people and start conversations and turn up at events on my own. It’s probably because everyone is in the same boat so there’s no risk of ‘looking like a weirdo’.

I recommend that you spend a few minutes per day on Facebook looking at the nearby events and also download Meetup. You’ll find a whole variety of things to attend: student parties, music festivals and language exchanges. These will allow you to meet other Erasmus students and more importantly, actual French people. Don’t be afraid to add everyone on Facebook, ask for people’s mobile numbers and make further plans with anyone you meet. Go to every event you can, even if you think you won’t like it.

One thing we’re all told to avoid but I’ve seen people doing already is finding a group of people from back home and sticking with them. This may be comforting but you’re not going to be able to practise the language as much as you could. Similarly, if you’re currently picking where you want to go, don’t think to yourself “Oh, ___ is going there so I’ll go there too so that I know someone there”. It’s already been way too tempting for some students to just stick with the people they already know.

Go places alone, get used to not having that comfort of a fellow Brit. You’ll get much more out of your year.