Eleven months ago, if someone had told me I’d soon be packing my bags and moving across the ocean to live in France, I would have been amazed. Back then, fear and uncertainty clouded my vision and all I could think about was how I would navigate a country I’d visited only a handful of times in a language I spoke little of. This seemed even more daunting given that the world was still in the middle of a raging pandemic. Despite the odds, I had what was probably the most amazing year of my life to date, and hopefully by the time you reach the end of this blog, I might inspire you to do the same.
Although this is a sentiment I’ve always held, my belief in it strengthened once I booked my one-way flight to France. Arriving in the beautiful city of Lyon, I had to find my way to my new home. After trying to avoid being trampled on by straight-faced French people going about their daily lives, I managed to find a taxi.
It was then that the realisation hit—I would actually have to speak French in order to reach my destination. Me? Speak French? said the voice inside my head, as I slid into the backseat of the car. Granted, my French (if I can even call it that) was choppy, but with the help of a little app called Google Translate, the driver got the message. This was my first accomplishment, so I felt very proud. Little did I know that this was probably going to be the easiest task of the day.
However, after a painfully broken conversation with the receptionists at my accommodation, a brief but much-needed cry, and a hassle trying to open French-style blinds, I found myself marvelling at the view from the window. In that moment, the butterflies in my stomach felt more like excitement than nerves.
The 2021–22 cohort of Erasmus students was a melting pot of different nationalities. We had English, Mexican, Japanese, American, Swedish, German, and countless other patches of the globe all thrown into the same boat. Despite all of our differences, we were able to find common ground in that none of us really had a clue what we were doing, but were happy to do it together.
The first few months were full of nights out in French bars and clubs where we got to learn about each other’s cultures. We also planned wholesome activities, such as a wine and cheese nights, exploring French cities together (coaches around the country were dirt cheap), and attending the weekly meet-and-speak nights at an Irish pub. In short, we became one big multilingual family of 20-something-year-olds with a love of travel and knowledge.
My year abroad was full of adventure and travel, which I am extremely grateful for, as we were beginning to pass the worst of the pandemic. From never having skied before to skiing (dare I say rolling) in the French Alps, kayaking through the Calanques, and then paragliding off the great mountainous ranges in Annecy, it’s safe to say that I didn’t miss out in the thrill department. Luckily, we were also situated in such a good area that travelling was super easy. By planning our routes smartly, we were able to find return coaches to Italy and Spain for as little as £25! I often had to pinch myself to remember that I was actually there to study. But what better way is there to gain knowledge than through experiencing the rich history of another culture?
This is a quote from French poet and novelist Victor Hugo. Having studied him during my time in France, I feel that his words ring true on many levels. During my travels, I got to delve into the history of Rome. Whilst walking along the cobbled streets, it wasn’t just the museums and artefacts that opened my eyes. I was in awe of the ancient structures and impressive architecture that surrounded me. Imagining those who had stepped on the same cobbles before us and picturing them living amongst such beauty filled my mind with waves of creative inspiration. And it wasn’t just Rome—it was also the beaches in Barcelona and the mouth-watering Italian dishes in Turin. Everywhere I looked and every mouthful I took was a feast for the senses. It was splendid and stupid and unforgettable.
In the end, I took a lot from my time away from my UK home. Firstly, I realised that it’s okay to push your boundaries within reason; these are the moments in which we make the best and most valuable memories. It’s also important to recognise the privilege in being able to travel and experience new things. In my case, I was fortunate enough to benefit from the Erasmus scheme, which is essentially a grant arranged to give exchange students as much freedom to enjoy foreign life as possible. Following Brexit, I know there are other schemes to replace Erasmus, but regardless, I would encourage anybody who can to take the opportunity to travel and run with it.
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