[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y year abroad is very over. I’ve been home from Paris for about three weeks, or so. Damn. I’ll be honest, Paris seems like a long time ago, if it even happened at all. I feel like I’ve been on my sofa watching Jeremy Kyle for years and years, maybe even my whole life, and that the whole Paris thing was actually just a pretty intricate dream that I had a month or two ago. It’s a very surreal and uncomfortable feeling. Now I have to go back to university, something I’ve forgotten equally about, and get on with my life. Curse you, year abroad.
But, all that aside, what can I look back on, now that I’m out the other side? What can I say I’ve achieved, done, learnt and what mistakes have I made. Well, I’ve managed to pin-point 15 things. 15 little things that I’ve picked up on during the last 10 or so months.
Want to know what they are? Let’s go.
- FRENCH. Okay so this is an obvious one and I won’t dwell on it. I didn’t speak French. I moved to France. I now speak French. Done and dusted. (And really bloody cool.)
- ORGANISATION. I’ve had to organise my life way more than I ever had to organise my life before. Things that have always been organised for me, by university, landlords, friends and family, I now had to sort myself entirely. I had to set up a wifi contract, a bank account, a phone, electricity and television, as well as organise my entire uni timetable without anything to go on, from scratch, in a foreign language. Bite me.
- LOVING MY OWN COMPANY. I had to get pretty used to being by myself, both literally and mentally, for 90% of the time. Not only did I do that, but I loved it. Completely cut off, in my own little flat, loving life. I wrote a post about coping with living alone, here.
- THE UK ISN’T ALL THAT. I missed home and the UK for months. I literally spent months being a bit homesick and comparing everything to the UK like ‘ugh why don’t they do things like this’ and it was awful. One day I just stopped. Other countries are different and you just have to get over it. The supermarket is going to be laid out differently, and the paperwork is going to be different. Stop bitching about it and get over it, sooner rather than later. You might even start to prefer it all soon. I know I did. (In fact, right about the Brexit vote I actually considered marrying a random Frenchman just so I wouldn’t have to go back to the UK…)
- TECHNOLOGY IS GREAT. No matter how far away you are from home, you can always be in contact with the friends and family that you left behind. Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, twitter, instagram, whatever. Social media is your best friend (except when it comes to keeping up with the News at home because then it’s just a nightmare of different opinions). If you want to keep in contact, you can.
- EXCHANGE RATES. Okay so maybe not now that the Pound is going absolutely crazy, but overall I’m pretty good at guessing exchange rates. Mainly in Pounds, Euros and Dollars, but also in a few random currencies that I picked up on the way. As I say, it’s a bit hit and miss now, but I used to be really damn good. A British girl, living in France, with a number of American friends? Yeah, you need to get your currencies down.
- I CAN DO ANYTHING. I can literally do anything. I can move abroad and learn French and theology and change foreign phone-line plugs and set up a television and travel solo and do literally anything. Anything. Next year is going to be a breeze compared to how difficult the last year has been. I’d take a dissertation over 21 hours a week of lessons you can’t understand, any day of the week.
- IT GETS LONELY. That’s okay. Loneliness is okay. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Don’t think less of yourself because you can’t handle it. This is your year to make of it what you want, and that could mean being constantly surrounded by people. Go do that. I wish someone had told me, before I left, that you didn’t have to spend your year partying in France with a load of other British students. It got to me for ages and ages, wondering what I was doing wrong and why that wasn’t happening. It was awful. Once I realised that actually, that wasn’t what I wanted, it all clicked into place and I was so much happier. You’ll be happy, and sad, and busy and lonely, and that’s okay.
- IT’S OKAY TO SEEK OUT HOME COMFORTS. I’m looking at you, M&S. My little saving grace. Trips to M&S really did pick me up when I needed it. It’s okay to miss fruit packaged how you’re used to, and tea bags, and sausages. It’s okay to miss Percy Pigs and decent supermarket sandwiches. Don’t feel bad for needing a little bit of home now and again. It’s a year abroad, not a year in prison.
- SENSE OF DIRECTION. Lol, don’t worry. Not in a ‘finding myself’ kind of way. I mean literal sense of direction. I learnt, while in Paris, that I’m really bloody good at finding my way around, without any actual idea of where I am. Dump me at a random Metro station, tell me you want to get to the Louvre, and let me go. I’ll get you there, map free. We actually used to joke that I knew Paris better than my Parisian friends. It’s one of the easiest cities in the world to navigate – opinion, not fact.
- THE IMPORTANCE OF TRAVEL. With all this EU talk on at the moment, I’m going to put this right here in plain English. Travel, and specifically EU travel, is the best thing that I have ever done, and the best thing that I have ever had the fortune to experience. My life was enriched by the EU and by the freedom of movement offered to me on my year abroad. I have met amazing people, in amazing places. I am incredibly grateful to them all for being so welcoming. Britain can learn from each and every one of them.
- I AM ME. Lol brb finding myself. But actually I did learn a lot about myself on my year abroad, and not in a Thailand kind of way. I didn’t get drunk and high and see a few colours and think I’d discovered happiness. I learnt that I’m actually kind of a bitch, and that I can get very angry and frustrated, and that I’m strong and fierce and privileged. I’m also really funny. Cool.
- HOW BLOODY GOOD AN ACTUAL CUP OF TEA IS. I used to get visitors to bring me teabags and squash when they came out from the UK. Ollie, my parents, my friends, anyone. Bring me teabags and squash. My British friend and I used to head back to mine on the reg. and make up a brew each and it was just heaven on earth.
- IT’S OKAY TO STRUGGLE. Similar to it being okay if you get lonely, it’s okay if things on your year abroad are really bloody hard. I’ve cried all over Paris. I’ve cried in school, a few times. I’ve cried on the Metro. I’ve cried in the Louvre. I’ve cried in bed, on the sofa, in the kitchen and in the bathroom. I’ve cried on a street corner in the middle of tourist Paris. I’ve cried twice at Newcastle airport. I’ve cried at Gare du Nord. I’m not even bothered by it. Things got too much and I cried. Then they got better and everything was okay again. It’s okay to feel completely lost, for ages and ages. And it’s definitely okay to ask for help.
- PEOPLE ARE WONDERFUL. On my year abroad, I met people who I will be friends with forever. No lie. I turned up, alone, no French, and was immediately made to feel welcome by absolutely everyone. French, American and everyone else. I was treated entirely equally and with so much love and compassion. If I can ever repay them, it won’t be enough.
Et voila! 15 things that I’ve been fortunate to realise about myself and the world, while faffing about in Europe on my year abroad. I’ve been very lucky. I can’t even begin to explain how lucky I have been.
What have you learnt lately?
Would you/have you taken a year abroad?