Advice from a Year Abroad-er

12 Dec

Hello lovelies!

I recently was reading some articles on thirdyearabroad.com, which is a fantastic resource if you’re prepping for a year abroad, travelling or even if you just love reading about what other people get up to on their adventures! The more I read, the more I nod along. However, I recently read a very well-written article by Craig that I mostly totally disagree with (soz Craig), so I thought I’d respond. Everyone’s experiences are different on a year abroad, after all!

1. French bureaucracy is a pain that is mostly unavoidable…

Unlike Craig, my bank account was set up within a day of arrival, my housing was sorted in a relatively smooth fashion and my MGEN paperwork all sorted. I can thoroughly recommend sending lots and lots of frantic e-mails before your year abroad starts, to your mentor or a teacher, but since I’ve arrived, it’s been pretty fuss-free. One thing to mention, if you don’t feel like you’re carrying around your identity in paperwork for the first week, you’re doing it wrong. Check again. Photocopy everything. Trust me.

2. Interaction starts with YOU!

I won’t lie, I found the whole first week a bit of an ordeal, and it quite frequently was overwhelming. However, the second week, I decided to really make an effort to communicate. Sure, there will be people that have no interest in talking to you, but do not be disheartened, it gets better! The teachers at my school are incredibly friendly, the people in my apartment building are always throwing a ‘bonjour’ my way, and I’ve even started to have little conversations with the shop assistants now. Breakthrough!

My advice if you’re an assistant like me is to find the other assistant in the school, if there is one. The Spanish assistant at my lycée speaks zero English, and I speak even less Spanish, so we have to communicate in French. She is the best person to talk to, because I don’t feel scared about making mistakes, and we’re both patient when the other person is trying to find a word or do the classic Erasmus-rephrasing!

3. CAF

Yeah okay, it’s a massive pain. There’s just no way that you’re going to beat the system here, but my apartment building is a foyer, which means that when the aid eventually comes through, they’ll give me the difference back on the rent from previous months. Result! The best thing I did was listen to the assistant from last year and contact the foyer. It’s safe, resonably priced (even before the CAF), in a nice part of town and there are tons of social activities. There are loads all over France, but here’s the one for where I am in the Basque Country, just in case.

4. Transport is cheap, but you might have to swap buses eighty-five times to get somewhere..

It’s not quite the €10 a month that Craig says it is in Toulouse, but it is cheap. Travel anywhere on the bus system in the area for 24 hours and it will only cost you €2, which is awesome, but be prepared to change buses to travel some distance…and never, EVER get off of a bus by the front door. A bus driver will shout at you in a very agitated voice. Use the back door!

5. Different teachers want COMPLETELY different things

I’m not an Erasmus Uni student, I’m a language assistant, so Craig’s number 5 doesn’t really apply to me, so I’m going to talk about being prepared for the total inconsistency of teachers. I teach nine hours at a lycée and three at a collège, which is basically a middle school. The lycée has a pretty large English department and about 1800 students, so I work with seven different teachers. Some gave me lesson plans, some said ‘do whatever, just make them talk!’, some tell me five minutes before the lesson what they want me to talk about, some give me a topic, some give me resources. It’s taken a few weeks to get used to doing what they want me to do, but before that, I planned every lesson just in case. Don’t expect all the teachers to want or do the same things. Sometimes I work with four students, sometimes it’s fifteen, sometimes it’s seven. It really depends.

My advice if your teachers are like mine is to prepare lessons just in case, you don’t want to stand in front of 10 18-year olds with nothing to say!

6. An Erasmus society is not always an option!

If you’re an assistant, it’s quite likely that you’re going to be in a school with maybe one other assistant, and that it’s going to be the only school in the area. A lot of assistants get sent to small villages that are quite isolated. Make friends with the teachers or locals first and the other assistants or students will be a bonus! If you’re introverted, it can be difficult to take lots of risks with a society. If you’re homesick, you might not want to socialise with people who don’t speak your language. It’s really difficult to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. I would say that a good place to start is your induction with your académie, add eachother on Facebook to stay in touch with people. Plan visits from your English friends so you can show them your new home. It’s totally possible to have a great year abroad without having a society there to organise activities!

7. Your language level probably is better than you think…

Before I left for my year abroad, I would maybe rank myself a 4/10 in French. I was petrified that I would just not understand people, and that’s occasionally a reality. Think about it, you’re moving your whole life to a completely new area, alone, where everyone speaks a different language to you. It’s scary stuff!

The first couple of days were a whirlwind of paperwork, formalities and information overload. But I made it through, and probably understood 90% of it. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves or talk slower, but I can confidently say that I’m living in a foreign country, speaking a language that is not my own, and that it’s not a disaster. I’m pretty proud of that. I’m probably a solid 5/10 in reality. 🙂

Now I’m off to get a chocolatine. Which is a pain au chocolat here in the south of France. All I know is that they’re definitely better in France, and as Craig said, you should definitely be jealous!

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