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Surviving Nantes

Jess' year abroad

I did it! 7 things I have learned from my year abroad, and why everyone should do one too.

 

“J’ai décidé d’etre heureux, parce que c’est bon pour la santé”

Voltaire

 

Salut, and Hello,

Sat here at my desk right now, and looking around at my room, it is such a strange feeling knowing that I am having to start to pack my things up and leave for good. May has rolled around so quickly, as have the preparations and mad revision for my finals, and it is strange to think that in less than three weeks my time here will have come to an end. It is hard to believe that eight months ago, I woke up on the biggest and scariest day of my life, and got on a one way plane with just one suitcase and a shed load of nerves. That day I flew, I think I cried for the entire morning at the thought of arriving at Nantes. Now, 8 months later, I think I will be crying the entire morning of my departure at the thought of saying goodbye.

 

This year has been a huge learning curve for me, and like many of my friends here, I will leave a very different person to the one who arrived. I spent the first four weeks of my year abroad desperate to drop out, drafting emails to my tutors telling them that I didn’t want to be here, and having many tearful phone calls to my family and friends telling them how much I hated being away from them. I was that close to giving up in the October holidays, that my parents came up with a plan that would enable me to drop out at Christmas and work until September. By some sort of miracle, and I really mean that when I write it, they convinced me to step foot on the plane and give the year abroad one last shot. I think the rest as they say, it history….

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I’ve done it!

 

This year has honestly been the best year of my life. I am eternally grateful for staying on, and almost every single day here has been amazing. I thank myself every single day for getting back on that plane at the end of October, and I can say hand on heart that I have no regrets here. I hope that one day, someone might read this post, perhaps someone who was just as sceptical and fearful of the year abroad as I have been, and I hope that I will give them a bit of hope that they really can do it.

 

So anyway, moving on from that rather soppy essay, here are 10 things that I have learnt from my year abroad in Nantes!

 

  1. This year will be tougher than you think

After speaking to my friends, I think that we have all agreed on this as one of the biggest lessons we have learnt. Moving to a new country is a HUGE deal, and I really don’t think Erasmus students get enough credit for this. I have been told sooo many times by countless people that erasmus is just one big “holiday”, and while it has been so much fun, a lot of work had to be put in first. The first few weeks of the year abroad are the toughest, and if you can get through those, you will get through anything. Having to sort out finding accomodation, transport, bank accounts and studies (more on that later), in a language that you are very rusty in can be a nightmare, but you just have to try and keep a cool head and hang in there. Somethings will never truly get sorted out, for example I am still having a bit of a marewith the Banque Postale (if you ever end up living in France, DO NOT get an account with them) , but most things will get much better and slot into place.

 

  1. French University will make you really appreciate your home Uni

The one thing about my time in Nantes that has caused me the most laughter, tears and stress has most definitely been the university. French universities are the most unorganised places I have ever seen in my life, and I will not miss it at all! Whilst there have been one or two amazing aspects of the university in Nantes, such as learning and practising interpreting, I have found that the attitude is just a little too laid back and slow for my liking. Also, French students can be nightmares, by protesting every few days, covering the campus with graffiti, setting up fires outside and trashing classrooms, I am really looking forward to being back in the haven of MLANG Cardiff.

 

  1. Laughing off mistakes will make you a much more relaxed person.

I think this lesson is more or less a slightly less crude quote from my friend Meg. You will make so many mistakes on your year abroad, most of them language based, or through lack of understanding the culture, but it is okay! Making mistakes in French is part of helping you improve, and there is no point being afraid of speaking French in case you make a mistake. Everyone in Nantes has been wonderful, and really understanding when I have slipped up or forgotten the word for something. People really appreciate the fact that you are learning and trying. I think this lesson has helped me massively in life this year too.  The minute you stop caring and giving a damn is the minute you relax and start to have fun. The minute I stopped worrying about everything this year was the minute I started enjoying this amazing opportunity, and learning to relax has helped my confidence in general come on leaps and bounds.

 

  1. French culture is wonderful

Although I’ve probably moaned about it on the daily, I do really love French culture. France is much more relaxed about life, and of course their dining culture is the best in the world. France has really shaped my tastes this year; I am now converted to red wine, baguettes and French cheese,I despise milky coffee and sugary lattes, and my wardrobe is ridiculously full of stripy Breton tops.The thought of having a coffee or a meal outside in the freezing cold, going to the outdoor market in the rain, or putting a fish on someone’s back on the first of April may seem outrageous back at home, but here in France it’s part de la vie, and I have been totally charmed by it.

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French Cheese- heaven!

 

  1. The year abroad is a great time for a new hobby

Two things that I have found out this year from studying in Nantes is that 1) I have a lot of free time, and 2) I had gotten rather fat due to embracing the french food a tad too much. This year has been brilliant for trying new things, and I decided to be brave in January and sign up to the gym as a new years resolution, seeing as the uni gym in Nantes is so ridiculously cheap. Having been called the least sporty person in the world by my family, I’m really proud of my progress. Exercise clears my mind, and I always feel a million times better after an hour and a half at the gym, or after a decent run. My hatred of the gym has now turned into love, and I have now lost all of the weight that I have gained, but more importantly, I have found a new hobby which I want to keep up. Getting fit has been so much fun, and I cannot wait to partake in my first 5k race in 2 weeks time! Getting fit was not something I had expected to do this year, but it has been an enjoyable challenge.

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Progress so far!
  1. Get out and see the world!

One of my favourite things about this year has been being able to travel around and see as much as I could of France and Italy. This year, I have had bordeaux in Bordeaux (and loved it so much I have been twice), explored the castles of la Rochelle, played gig overlooking the eiffel tower in Paris, tried bolognese in Bologna, gotten lost in the rain in Venice, sunbathed in Nice, gambled in Monte Carlo and met mickey mouse at Disney. And it has been incredible! The year abroad and the erasmus grant makes it easy to see a bit more of the world, and I would recommend to anyone to get out and see as much as you can, as there will never be a better time! The memories I have had are priceless and will stay with me forever, so it is so worth it.

monaco viewview from palace monaconotre dame 4 of usvenice view gondolas and building

 

  1. Not everything will go as you planned it to, but that is okay.

This one is a very important lesson that I have learned this year, and something that I will take with me for life. Before I set off on this year in France, I had a fixed idea of how it would be, what my life would be like, what would happen afterwards, and I fought so hard for this image that I had created for myself in my head that the first four weeks and my first visit home were completely miserable. My goals for the start of the year were not the goals that I went on to achieve, and where I wanted to be at this point is the complete opposite of who I am and what my life is like now. Not everything in your year abroad will go to plan, but most of the time this will be for the best and the goals that you do achieve will shape your outlook and change you as a person.  This year has been everything that I didn’t expect, and I am so glad for it.

 

  1. The friends you make will be friends for life.

I think it goes without saying that I would not have made it through this year without my amazing friends.  The year abroad is a rollercoaster, it’s got the highest highs and the lowest lows, and the people who are with you through every moment are the ones that will stay with you for life.  It is really bizarre to think that a year ago, I had no idea that I was about to meet the best friends a girl could ask for. My friends here have made my memories so brilliant, and have experienced every strop, every laugh, every tear and every adventure with me and I am so grateful for them. The friends you meet on your year abroad will be so special to you, as you have shared this amazing experience, and they will become your family when you hundreds of miles away from your own home. I have met some amazing people from quite literally all over the world and learning their cultures has been amazing, and hopefully them learning a bit about the Welsh life has made them smile too.  I have had the most amazing laughs with so many people this year, from spending thanksgiving in a power cut watching Bridget Jones with my Seattle friends, teaching my French friends about Tinder, the endless quiz nights spend in Giggs with the happy hour cocktails, the unintentionally hilarious French night classes, and every single trip I have taken outside of Nantes. Those of you who have been like my family this year (you know who you are), thank you so much for making this year so lovely.

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And that is it really! If you have been reading these blogs from the start, or you have been supporting me through everything this year, then thank you so much! I cannot believe I have done it, and with a huge smile on my face too. I can only hope that whoever is due next in my tiny box room has just as good of an experience as I have. If you ever have the chance to do the year abroad, please do it, and take that chance. That chance may end up being the best experience.

 

Nantes, c’était genial

 

Jess

 

xxxxxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Travel Diaries: The one in the south of France

“I’m basically a feminist. I believe women can do anything they decide to”

Princess Grace of Monaco

Hello and Bonjour

As you may have read before, this term has been a bit of an adventure for me. Burning through my overdraft, and having not slept properly in over a month, I’ve managed to pack in as much travelling and tourist-ing as possible whilst still trying to pass my studies this semester at the Université of Nantes. This time, after the most incredible break in Italy, and then three overcast miserable days of lectures, myself, Harriet, Abi and Beth decided to head south for a bit of well deserved sunshine.

This was my first ever adventure to the French Riviera, and it did not disappoint. Nice is one of my new favourite cities in Europe, and it was just amazing to step out of the airport and onto the beach.  We stayed in an AirBnb right in the centre of the old town. We were really lucky with the apartment as it was so cheap and in the best location possible, and it was a great base for the rest of the trip.  The first night in Nice was spent in the best way, from getting to see the main square at night-time to heading out for cocktails in the old town.

 

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Four meufs in Nice

 

The next morning was spent firstly by relaxing on the beach, which I’m still smug about (beach weather mid-march is unthinkable in Wales) . We were really lucky weather-wise, and being typical brits abroad, the sunglasses came on and the jackets came off! We then decided to hike up castle hill. This was brilliant as we got to see the most amazing views of Nice and watch the sea and the beach in the glorious sunshine. We also got to see the marché aux fleurs, and have lunch outside, making it feel  like a  proper summer holiday.

 

The afternoon was then spent visiting Cannes. To be honest with you, I think Cannes is really hyped up. In my head I had all these images of Leonardo Di Caprio on his super yacht, and millionaires strolling around in the sunshine just oozing with Hollywood glamour. Maybe because it was off season, or maybe because Cannes was slightly overcast, but to me it was a let down. I think I actually called it a “Newport but with a Chanel”. Cannes seemed just so overpriced for what it was, and the views were honestly sub par compared to Nice. I don’t even think the buildings were that nice, and I’m still confused as to why rich people come to spend their money there. However, whilst we were in Cannes, I did get to see some of the celebrity hand-prints (Fun fact: my hand is the same size as Meryl Streep’s) , and have a hot chocolate on the beach.

 

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My identical hand twin 

The next day, we decided to visit Monaco. After Cannes, I really didn’t have any expectations for Monaco. But I will tell you now, it is so worth the journey. Monaco is MAGICAL. It should be on everyone’s bucket list to visit, and it has really captured my heart. It almost didn’t feel like a real place, it was that perfect and sparkling. You felt completely safe walking around Monaco, as if you were part of a film set. We started our day in Monaco walking up the hill to the palace to watch the changing of the guards. This was really interesting to see, and is such an intricate spectacle to watch, not to mention that of course the guards were pretty nice to look at 😉 The weather once again was gorgeous, and Monaco looked even better (if that’s possible) in the sunshine. We managed to stop for lunch just off the palace, before walking through the beautiful jardins exotiques, where we found the summer house that once belonged to Grace Kelly. Here, the views of Monaco were insane. The sea was literally so blue it looked like it had been painted, and the amount of super yachts and millionaire apartments around were unbelievable. Monaco really is the land of the big money ballers.

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Pretending to be a rich bitch in Monaco
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Monaco Palace
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Million dollar views

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of big money ballin’, after lunch we decided to walk along the harbour of the super rich (unfortunately, I didn’t manage to seduce anyone)  and head to Monte Carlo. Amidst the designer shops and heard of super cars, at the heart of Monte Carlo lies the grand casino. Walking into the casino itself, you feel like a bond girl, as the room is solid gold and covered in the most expensive crystal chandeliers which I’m sure cost much more than my house. Watching so many rich people stroll into the casinos was overwhelming, and almost enticed you to enter the room and try and gamble your savings away to try and become them. Unfortunately this illusion was shattered as I managed to lose us 5€ in less than 5 minutes, but I can definitely  cross gambling in casino in Monte Carlo off my bucket list!

 

All in all, my time at the French Riviera was an expensive (but amazing) experience. I think that us four girls really enjoyed it, and it was lovely to spend a few days in the sun with some of my best friends. I hope that one day I can go back to Nice and Monaco, but only time and money will tell. So here’s hoping I find a millionaire husband right?

 

 

Top tips for visiting the French Riviera: 

 

Nice:

  • Nice is a great central spot in the French Riviera. There’s lots to do, and it’s also so easy to see the other major tourist spots. It takes around half an hour to visit Cannes via train, and you can get to Monaco via bus for 1.50€, which is ridiculously cheap and a must!
  • When you’re in Nice, as well as making the most of the beach, go and walk up Castle Hill. It’s quite a big hike, but the views are priceless, and you also get to see the stunning waterfall.
  • There are loads of great and cheap Air BnBs in Nice. When booking, try and stay as close to the old town and the fountain as possible- this is the most central location and  close to lots of bars and restaurants.
  • Nice town centre gets stupidly busy in the evening- so learn from our mistakes and try and do a shop before then!

Cannes

  • Seems like a given, but it’s worth going to Cannes to look at the hand prints of the stars
  • Try and avoid eating in Cannes. It’s very overpriced, and you’ll find that you can do all of Cannes in less than an afternoon.
  • If you live in France and have your SNCF rail card, bring it with you- you will safe a lot on train fairs. The train from Cannes to Nice is also beautiful, and probably the nicest scenes you will ever get on a train trip.

Monaco:

  • It’s worth heading over to Monte Carlo to see the grand casino. If you want to gamble, but don’t want to spend 10€ on the entrance ticket to the main casino, it is free to enter the Café de Paris Casino. Just bring some ID just in case, and get clued up on your gambling. Don’t lose all of your money like I did!
  • Food in Monaco is going to be expensive. With Monaco, you are paying for the experience, and there are still some good (and relatively reasonable) restaurants around the palace that will do a formule de midi (a lunch deal).
  • The gardens in Monaco are exquisite. It’s one hundred percent worth going for a stroll in the sunshine, and the view of the ocean and the super yachts are one of a kind.
  • If you can speak French, then do. As monaco is such a tourist place, the people find it a great relief to find french speakers, and everyone will be extra nice to you.
  • Head to the castle and watch the changing of the guards, it is so fascinating and they really put on a spectacle.

Until next time

Gros bisous

 

Jess xxx

The Travel Diaries: The One Where I go To Paris

“If you look like your passport photo, then you probably need this trip”

Salut, Ciao and Hello

As many of you already know, and if I haven’t annoyed you enough on the internet, the past few weeks have been very busy for me. Sat here in my tiny little bedroom in halls, I feel today is the perfect time to sit and reflect on the amazing experiences I’ve had travelling in the past 6 weeks. Incase you didn’t guess (though I’m sure many of you are sick of hearing about it) , this term I decided to  bite the bullet, and do a bit of well needed travelling around Europe. Because I am only in uni Monday-Wednesday, this gave me the chance to enjoy long weekends exploring. Although I haven’t had a decent sleep in about 5 weeks,  and my bank balance is so low that the uni café suddenly seems like gourmet dining, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I’m hoping too that by writing this up, I can share some tips/ give advice to people wanting to see these places.

Week 1: Paris

These adventures all started at the end of February, when I received an invitation to play a solo set at an event in Paris by the Welsh Government.  I’m still pinching myself and so so grateful for Visit Wales for having me at their launch of French and Welsh relations and the Welsh year of adventure. The opportunity to play right by the Hotel des Invalids, in a beautiful room over looking the Eiffel tower will be something that will stay with me for life. The reception was a truly special evening ,and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to speak to so many people about my experiences in Nantes on my year abroad.

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An unforgettable night- that view was EVERYTHING

As well as having the gig of a lifetime, I also managed to get a good day or so of sightseeing the main attractions of Paris. Paris in late February is rather quiet, as the rush of Valentine’s day is over, and it isn’t quite Spring. We were all really lucky with the weather, as it was unusually warm for February. In terms of location, we also struck gold by staying in Les Marais, which is on the number 1 metro line, which took us directly to the Louvre, and the Champs Elysée. Les Marais is known for being the Jewish Quarter of Paris, and has been described by the New York times as the best place to eat falafel in the whole of Europe. After the night of the concert and several post performance gins, I can say that we have tested this claim and it is 100% true.

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Eiffel Tower at night- a must see!

Paris indeed was absoloutley magical, and I always fall in love with the city every time I visit. The food, the drink and the atmosphere is always so unique and special, and I know that this is not the last time I will visit. We managed to see everything in around a day- from the Eiffel Tower , the Sacré Coeur, the Panthéon, Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe, so it can be done!

TOP TIPS FOR VISITING PARIS:

  • Get around Paris via the metro. It’s not as confusing as it looks and is a LOT cheaper than a taxi. Also, Ubers in Paris are suprisingly cheap- the four of us got an uber right across Paris to the Eiffel tower one evening and it was only 12€
  • Try to catch the Eiffel tower at night, it is far more breathtaking than in the day. To get the full effect, get to the tower for just before the hour to watch the sparkling light show
  • Paris can end up being super expensive to eat somewhere. Look for restaurants that are down side streets and not immediately next to the main attractions, the prices will be so much more reasonable. If you know Paris well, then venture a bit further out towards the Panthéon- this is a more student-y area and has some great cheap lunches.
  • Make sure to be extra careful around Montmartre- do not stop to talk to any passers by as the area is full of pickpockets. Also, be wary of the men on the steps of the sacré coeur- they may try and grab you and make you buy a bracelet but keep on walking and ignore them .
  • If you have the time, go and see the inside of the Notre Dame. It is honestly so spectacular that it doesn’t even look real. A truly special and awe-inspiring experience.

Anyway, I think I’ll carry this one on place by place, but thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope this was of some help to you!

 

Gros gros bisous / Big big kisses

 

Jess xxxx

 

 

 

 

The Travel Diaries: The One Where I Go To Italy

Ciao, Bonjour and Hello

“And you may have the universe if I can have Italy”

After the glamour and glitz of visiting Paris the week before, Italy was going to be a complete (but amazing) contrast. Me and Beth had booked our flights in January, and we were flying over at the start of March to visit Meg, one of our best friends who we met studying in Nantes last semester. The plan was to land in Venice Marco Polo Airport, and then to get the shuttle to the Mestre train station, before finally getting a high speed train to Bologna. This at first seemed terrifying, as although both myself and Beth spoke Italian, neither of us had put it into practice recently (it’s been two whole years since I studied Italian- can you believe it?). When the actual day came though, it was all super easy, and I cannot believe how quickly all of the Italian came flooding back and I was able to order out tickets at the counter and navigate us around without any issues.

Visiting Meg in Bologna was truly amazing. What surprised me the most was just how colourful Italy is. The buildings are bright orange and yellow, unlike the drab  grey that I am used to in France, and Bologna really seems to have a relaxed feel about it, which is totally the opposite of Paris.

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Le Porte, Bologna

Our first night in Bologna was actually Beth’s 22nd Birthday, so the three of us celebrated by heading out to a gorgeous little restaurant not far from the Piazza Maggiore (which is BEAUTIFUL at night). There, I managed to tick some things off my bucket list- like eating bolognese in Bologna. It really is true what everyone says about Italian food in Italy- it is truly one of a kind. I think I must have eaten a million calories over my 4 days in Italy, but the food was truly incredible. From pizza, melanzane, antipasti, ravioli and lasagne, I tried pretty much every Italian cliché there was and I was not disappointed!

That next day we then spent exploring Bologna, where we all climbed the tower (there are actually two towers, named Le due torre Asinelli, but you can only climb the one). This was a great experience, and although it involved walking for at least half an hour up the least stable steps in the world, the views of Bologna were breathtaking and worth the climb!

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At the very top of the tower, Bologna

On Saturday, the three of us decided to take a day trip to Venice. To be honest, because Venice is such a famous and well known city, I was expecting to be underwhelmed. The exact opposite happened. The second you walk out of Venezia St Lucia station, you are right on the grand canal, and the views really do take your breath away! The whole time in Venice felt like being part of a film set, as everything looked almost too perfect to be real. However, I now know that Venice has a lot more little side roads than anticipated, and us three girls were lost for about an hour. There are so many churches and beautiful squares in the city, which were also great to look at and explore, as well getting to see the beautiful bridges.

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Venice

When we were in Venice, I had the chance to meet with my lovely course mate Claire, and she showed us around the city, and introduced me to Venetian biscuits. It was so nice to see Claire, and I was so proud and impressed at how amazing her Italian is , as well as being insanely jealous of her living in such a marvellous city. It was so wonderful to walk around Venice in low season, as we had much more time to take everything in, and we also got to see all of the main attractions, such as St Marks Square and the Rialto bridge. Even if we did have to run through venice in the pouring rain to catch our train home, every second of the day was perfect, and Venice has certainly captured my heart.

All in all, I was probably the most sad to leave Italy. It is such a charming country, with so many quirks, but yet so laid back and friendly. I loved being able to see Meg and Claire, and I really hope that they have the chance to visit me in Nantes before my time here is over. This is definitely the start of my love affair with Italy, and this has inspired me to take Italian back up again in final year of uni in September.

 

Italia , you were bellissima, Ciao!

Top Tips for Visiting Bologna and Venice: BOLOGNA

  • When in bologna, try eating their Bolognese (or as they call it, Ragu). There’s a reason why they named the dish after the city!
  • For 3€, it is worth going up the tower to see the views of the city. You can find the towers easily just off the Piazza Maggiore
  • Bologna is really good central point in Northern Italy, it’s reasonably cheap and quick to go and visit one of the other major cities in a day (Bologna to Venice was about an hour and a half train journey)
  • If you have the time, go and visit a traditional Italian Deli- the food looks as good as it tastes!

Venice

  • Gondolas are very expensive in Venice: if you are still keen though, then go in a group to reduce the cost
  • It sounds stupid- but do not ever consider swimming, dipping your feet into the canals. The water smells quite a bit and is very dirty, and there are known to be lots of rats about (so a no go!)
  • It’s worth trying to go further afield to find somewhere to eat, as tourist places can charge over the odds. We were super lucky to have Claire to guide us!
  • As expensive as it is- you must try a hot chocolate in Venice. It is literally melted nutella- my dream come true
  • Lastly- for any musicians out there- go and visit the Vivaldi Museum. Entry is free and they have some beautiful examples of old instruments on display!

lots of love

 

Jessxxx3 best friends

 

Hello Again (You’ve Changed…)

“If it doesn’t challenge you, then it won’t change you” – Anon

 

Hello and bonjour,

First of all I would like to apologise for not being able to post on this for such a long time! As I’m about to go on and explain, it’s fair to say I’ve had an incredibly busy two months, and haven’t really had a chance to sit down and type everything up.

This term in general has been pretty good for me, and its fair to say that life in Nantes has gotten into a good routine, and that studies are going really well and problem free (so far!). As time is going by, I’m finding the language aspect so much easier, to the point of where I can think in French, and not really notice the transition between languages as much, which is a big personal achievement for me. Taking interpreting classes has really boosted my confidence, and it’s a lovely touch that both the secretary of my halls, and my music lecturer have commented on how much my French has come on in the past six months.

It’s also slightly weird to think that 6 months ago, I began this year abroad and journey to Nantes. It is crazy to think how much life has changed since then, and how much has happened in such a short time. Believe me, if I had a pound for every time I have come home in the holidays and I’ve had old friends tell me “You’ve changed” (and maybe in some people’s opinion not entirely in a positive manner), then I’m sure I would have paid off all of my student debt by now and more. And  in whatever tone it has been said to me, I completely agree. I know it sounds laughable and maybe a few of you will roll your eyes when you read this, but I honestly do not feel like the same girl that first got on the plane from Bristol. Moving to a foreign country on your own will change you, whatever way that may be. You realise just how small the world is, and how you kind of get into a bubble, a wonderful bubble, but still a bubble, when you are in university back home.

This year has changed me so much for the better, and it’s given me the confidence I never knew I had, as well as a much more positive and laid back attitude (the minute you learn to forget and not stress about the French bureaucracy and education system is the minute you start enjoying yourself ) The year abroad teaches you that you really can set your mind to anything you want, and that you should never worry about making mistakes or worrying what people think about you and your choices. To think that 6 months ago I came to Nantes with a really bad level of French, a horrible sense of direction and knowing hardly anybody, it’s mad to think that everything has kind of slotted into place now. I’m still an absolute idiot with millions of blonde moments, but I am so much more confident as a person now. You may loose all sense of naivety and rose tinting everything (this most definitely left me about a month into living here) , but I honestly do not think that this is a bad thing. Being an Erasmus student has definitely taught me to have a backbone and buckets full of nerve!
Again, sorry for drivelling on! Anyways, the reason this term has been brilliant for me is because I decided to take the plunge and go on a different adventure every week. This may have bled my bank balance dry and left me very sleep deprived, it has honestly been incredible. Your year abroad gives you the opportunity to go and see other places, and really is the best (and cheapest) time to pack your bags and explore other parts of France and Europe. In the past 5 weeks, I have managed to see Paris, Bologna, Venice, Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo, and finished it all with a trip to Disneyland. All of these places have been so different, and I’m hoping to write about them in a bit more detail just in case somebody in the future may want to visit them. I haven’t had a favourite as they were all so special, and all so different.

This time though, I’m going to write about my first adventure, which was having my lovely friend Kate visit me. It was so special to have a friend from home introduced to Nantes, and it really made me realise just how far my French has come on, as Kate was not a French speaker, so I had to become her personal interpreter for her 4 day stay.

It was also great to see Nantes through a fresh pair of eyes, as I think I have been taking the amazing things to do for granted. From visiting the “Grand Elephant” at the ile des machines, to strolling through the slightly quirky botanic gardens, it was so nice to remind myself of Nantes’ quirky little details, and make the most of the tourist experience before having to say goodbye to Kate 😦 and return to 9 hour days in uni

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Getting to see the Elephant with Kate

I really enjoy life in Nantes now, and it’s so sad that I am getting so close to leaving for good. I would like to thank any of you who have read this, and thanks for sticking with me after all the tantrums i’ve had in first semester

Gros bisous

Jess

Beating the January Blues (Semester 2) 

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all”

Hellen Keller

Hello and Bonjour,

I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas break! It has been a whilrwind January , and I am already settled into the first few weeks of Semester 2. This semester feels very different from last, and whilst I am missing the wonderful people that have moved on to different placements (more on that in a bit), I am feeling much more determined and confident about facing French life for a few more months. As cringey as it sounds, I honestly am all for the “new year new me” attitude for 2016, and I already have so many amazing plans that will hopefully make this year the best one yet. I should probaly update you on all of my goings on so far, and it is fair to say January has been a manic month. Whilst most people at home complain of “January Blues”, I will admit it’s been one of the best months I’ve had on my year abroad.

Exams, exams, exams

Although I have mentioned that uni life in France has calmed down a bit, I can confirm that it was back to its disorganised self for the exam period 😂😩 Back in the UK, exam season is extremelly strict, with so many rules and regulations . I can confirm in Nantes, that this is the complete opposite😂👍🏻 . Exam season in France is a huge disorganised mess, with the “laissez faire” attitude taken to the absolute max. What shocked me the most was definitley the attitude in the exam halls. For a translation exam, me and Beth were not even registered, but we were waved in without any check. During this exam, the hall was full of people paying zero attention, invigilators playing on their ipads, and even people getting boxes of chocolates out and eating them…quite the difference from Cardiff! 🙊 For one particular module, myself and my friends were given 4 days notice for an exam which would count for over half of our grade, which caused quite a bit of stress on our parts! On the positive side, in the end exams seemed to have gone relativley well, and I was delighted to have recieved a first in my french support class, which shows that sometimes hard work (and a lot of luck) can pay off here in Nantes! Now that exams are finished, we are back again to the wild dash of the new semester, with lecturers not turning up, and having to leave certain modules, but I am still feeling positive and deterimined. This term I am experementing with lots of new classes, including Jazz and improvisation, Linguistics, and Interpereting (which is terrifying but so useful!) so I will have to update you on how I am finding them.

Let’s get physical…

Although this may seem like one of those “new years resolutions” , another change to my life has been a rather positive one which has helped keep my energy up…joining the gym! This has been something I have wanted to do for ages, but I did not have the guts to sign up before Christmas. Thankfully, I have my best friends here to go with me, which makes it so much easier for motivating myself. The gym here in Nantes is run by the university, who are in charge of all sporting activities too. For the ridiculously cheap price of 25€ for the semester, you get to chose 3 activities to take up. I have chosen African Dance and Pilates, but more importantly,”Musculation”, which is just the gym. Although the gym is rather basic, it does the job, and we have been trying to aim for 3 times a week which has gone rather well so far. I’m hoping that this will help me shed the weight I have put on here gorging on pastries (which are wonderful here😍😍) , and more importantly, get my confidence up even more! 

 
Travels and adventures….

Another one of the amazing plans I have got for 2016 is to travel! We have already kicked this off after  exam finished, when myself, Abi and Harriet went for a short stay in La Rochelle. La Rochelle is a gorgeous little port town about 2 and a half hours south from Nantes. Although it was mid january, the weather was surprisingly warm, and we were able to go out and spend the day walking without freezing to death. Whilst in La Rochelle, we had plenty of time to explore the old castles, and walk along the port at sunset. We also managed to spend the morning in La Rochelle Aquarium, which was absolutley amazing and well worth the money!

   

La Rochelle adventures
 

Last week, we were all also lucky enough to have the day off to visit the tiny village of Trentemoult, just outside of Nantes. It was super exciting for us all, as we were able to take the boat (free on our tram passes) to reach the other side of the river Loire and explore the surroundings. There wasn’t  a huge amount going on, but the buildings were beautiful and brightly coloured, and we finished off our afernoon exploring by having a drink at the Lieu Unique  (which was once a biscuit factory) back in the city centre, aswell as getting to walk through the famous Chateau at sunset, ending a lovely day. 

  

trentemoult
  
 

I can’t go any further without mentioning that the past few weeks we have said goodbye to so many close friends, that I will seriously miss. It was particularly hard to say goodbye to Carrie and Meg, but this week myself and Beth have cheered ourselves up by booking a weekend in Italy at the start of March, where we will be going to visit Meg in her new home of Bologna, as well as getting to explore Venice. I am super excited for this and cannot wait to pratice my Italian and of course try all of the food!

A few more plans that we have for this year include Paris in February, and Nice and Monaco mid-March. Although I am now very poor, it will all be worth it getting the change to finally have some adventures!

And finally….Turning 21

Although I am about to head home for my actual birthday, my friends here in Nantes have made sure that I have had a wonderful celebration in France. From Abi making a lovely cake, to us all having a meal in a gorgeous restaurant, my french festivities were absoloutley perfect, and I am so grateful for all of the lovely girls here! The night ended up into some glorious drunk karaoke (which I will spare you the details of), but I can say that I have entered the age of 21 with a huge smile on my face, and hope that this year will be just as full of laughter, joy and adventure as the last. 

    
 

And viola, there you go! Apologies for such a long post but I feel as if I owe it to you all!
If you have made it to the end then thank you so much, you really are the best

Gros bisous
Jess xxxx

Semester 1: A final note

“Attitude is the difference between an adventure and an ordeal”

Hello all! It’s been a while, and I apologise for being so absent from my blog, but I really mean it when I say it has been a hectic few weeks/ months. It is shocking how quick my first semester in Nantes has passed, and I can honestly say it was the best few weeks of my life, and I have made the most amazing friends from all over the world who I hope will stay in touch for life. 
Firstly, I cannot go any further without mentioning how Christmas was in France! Nantes turns into a beautiful fairtytale land in the festive season, and the town is covered in beautiful light displays. There are also 2 large Christmas markets, where they serve wonderful vin chaud as you get to walk around the stalls which all sell traditional french goods. During my time visiting the markets, I managed to buy some hand made french Christmas tree decorations, as well as sample one or two hot mugs of wine 😉 As we had all become a little family at this point in the semester, a few of us put on a “Christmas Day” at the end of term, which included a lovely secret santa, and afternoon tea at the very famous La Cigale, which boasts a gorgeous art deco roof and a stunning interior, which was the perfect end to a rollacoaster term. 

Heading in to La Cigale for “Christmas Day”
  
with our mugs of vin chaud
 

Aswell as the festivites, I can happily say that things are starting to finally come together with the university! Classes are starting to run, and I finished first semester by achieving a first in my final exam for French Support classes, something which I couldn’t have dreamed of before arriving here. It has been a great struggle, and a big change adapting to the french universities’ more “laissez faire” attitude to education and lectures but the perseverance has paid off and now I finally appear to seem to know what I am doing. Another thing that has changed rather dramatically since arriving in france has been my attitude and confidence. I feel like a completely different girl to the one who left for France in September, and I am now so much more happy in myself and my abilities. Although I am nowhere near perfect in French, I feel much more at ease with the language and can get by now without any problems, and since adapting to a more positive mindset when I came back from half term in November, my time here had greatly improved. If any one else has the simular problems that I have faced in the past few months, my advice would be to hang in there, as it will get better! What was first a strange and scary place is now my home, and now I know the city inside out instead of having to check the map every five minutes. 

Finally, I couldn’t finish this short blog without mentioning the best part of this semester by a mile: meeting the most amazing people. It is one hundred percent true that you will meet friends for life on your semester/ year abroad, and I have been blessed with meeting people who have become my family here in Nantes. It has been a joy to meet so many lovely people from Seattle, Canada, Germany and Romania who have taught me so much about their cultures and I hope I will stay in touch with them for life. It was also so special to meet so many British friends here, who have become family. I’ve been so lucky to meet some of my best friends here and I would relive this semester over and over again. 

   
 
Sorry if it’s a short one, but again, thank you to all of you who have stuck with it and supported my adventures so far! Let’s hope second semester can bring me as much happiness as this semester has!

Bisous

Jess xx

A slight change of heart (and other thoughts)

“The question is not how to survive, but how to thrive with passion, compassion, humour and style”
Maya Angelou

Hello and Bonjour

Apologies for the slight leave of absence from this blog, a lot has happened in the past few weeks, and so much has gone on that has changed my outlook on this whole Erasmus year abroad. Autumn has now turned into winter here in France, and unbelievably its time to start revising for my end of term exams (how has this happened so quickly?!) In just over two weeks, this mad rush of a term will be over, and for so many of my friends, so will their time in Nantes. It’s crazy to think that I have been here for close to three months, time really does start to go quicker once you get into a routine.

Firstly, I cannot go any further on this post without mentioning the terrible events that happened last week in Paris. These horrible attacks have affected us all here in France, and we have all been overcome with sadness and shock. Living here  during this very sombre time has been difficult, and it’s heartbreaking to see this amazing country go through such sadness. However, it is amazing to see how the people of France have come together to show solidarity to the victims of the Paris attacks. This week, the university gathered to hold a minutes silence for those who had lost their lives, which was a very humbling  experience. The overwhelming attendance and show of respect is a testament to the French people and their spirit, which will not be broken.

Paix-a-Paris.jpg

 

 

 

These attacks, as well as a few recent events that have gone on, have sort of made me have the “lightbulb” moment that so many previous erasmus students have experienced. It has suddenly hit me how lucky I am to have this amazing opportunity to study abroad, and that I should make every moment count. This blog should not be “surviving” Nantes, but living it, enjoying it, seeing everything in a positive light rather than physically counting the days until I can go home, which I used to do in the first month of being here. Since forcing myself to put this experience in a more positive light, I feel like I’ve been enjoying things so much more. I’ve brought myself out of my comfort zone and spoken more French, met more new friends and have tried many new things.
This has also (finally) included a bit of travel! I’ve taken up the opportunity to leave Nantes and try and explore other parts of France. Last weekend, myself and the girls headed down to visit Bordeaux. Although the early start and the 4 hour train journey wasn’t amazing, the city itself was beautiful and we all enjoyed ourselves. The weather for mid November was incredible (no coats needed) , and the sights to see around the city were breathtaking. That evening we all went for a wonderful meal just outside Mériadeck, with incredible food and of course incredible wine. I think that I have fallen in love with Bordeaux thanks to that weekend, and I really hope that it’s not the last time I visit. 

   
   
 In terms of studies, things have finally calmed down a bit too. Thanks to our amazing coordinator, exams have been sorted and professors have now become very kind to us Erasmus students, offering us different workloads to cope with tackling a module in our second language. Everything seems to be coming together at last, even if it did take 10 weeks! 

So, as life in Nantes here goes on, I’m starting to feel really lucky and more a part of the city than I have ever been. I’m starting to know more faces, and they are also starting to recognise mine. 2 hour lectures on my own no longer scare me, and I’m starting to make more conversation with my course mates. Although there are days when I miss home, they are becoming less frequent and I’ve stopped counting down and wishing my time away here. No matter how tough the first few weeks will be for anyone who does this experience abroad, this moment will happen, mostly when you least expect it, and you’ll realise that while surviving your year abroad is very commendable, it’s living it that will make you appreciate things so much more 
Bientôt
Jess xxx 

9 Things I have learnt from the first month of my year abroad

“Experience: the most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my god do you learn.”

Bonjour and Hello,

Apologies for not posting for a while, this week or so has been a whirlwind with lectures and evening classes , and the work is finally starting to kick in at university- about time too! Believe it or not, I’ve managed to survive a full month of my year abroad in France without any major problems (as shocking as this is). Upon reflection, in a weird sense these past few weeks has taught me more than anything I’ve ever done in two years at university. Some days have been brilliant, and others really tough but I feel as if I have learnt so many lessons (some albeit the hard way) that I thought I would share my experiences, in the very small chance that someone can read this and learn from my mistakes.

Lesson 1: Do not worry about the French bit, it will come with time!

This so far has been one of the hardest things about my time in France. It seems like a no brainer, but trying to change your daily routine and then attempt it all in a second language is even more difficult than it seems. The first week for me was the hardest, when my level of French was embarrassingly low for a degree student, and it was so overwhelming and disheartening not being able to understand even the most basic questions. I promise that it will soon get better though! Little phrases will be picked up every day, and managing tasks in French no matter what the size (from asking for directions to the supermarket, to having to open a bank account) will soon get easier and confidence will grow each day. Although my French isn’t exactly amazing, I do feel a lot more confident getting my point across, and I feel a lot more confident as a person in situations where I have to speak to other people, which I know will help me so much in the long run.


Lesson 2: University Residences are not exactly 5 star…

To be honest, I think we are a bit spoilt by our British Uni residences. Back at home, we get our own flats, kitchens between 8 people and plenty of fridge space, ovens and sometimes even double beds. Arriving in Cité U Berlioz (my new home), I couldn’t have been more shocked. It’s fair to say the French keep things rather basic, and there is a reason why the monthly rent is so low. As well as the fact that there are no ovens (Why?), you are expected to share two electric hobs and one microwave between a whole floor of 30 people, something which has been a total nightmare.  As there are no communual fridges, each rooms contains a mini fridge that can just about hold some butter and a tiny bottle of milk. Although I’m glad that at least I have a bed for the night, I would definitely recommend expecting the unexpected with halls, as cooking meals every day may just be out of the question. Luxury eh?

not quite paradise 😂


Lesson 3:  French Universities will stress you out (a lot!) 

Many tears of frustration have been shed between myself and my friends over this one! Never again will I complain about uni back home- you will never realise how blessed you really are until you try your hand at enrolling and attending a French university. From 8am lectures, to most lecturers not even bothering to turn up, life as a student in Nantes can be extremely frustrating. Whilst throwing the word ‘erasmus’ around can be beneficial (which I will touch upon later), for some of my friends it has become a nightmare, where professors have the nerve to turn them away from certain classes stating that the priority should be for French students. Teachers are extremely inaccessible and sometimes don’t even appear in their office during their office hours, thus making the French uni experience for us similar to being a headless chicken running around.

However (and it’s a big however!) French uni has taught me some big lessons, like the importance of patience and attendance, and also how much I actually want to learn, as I’m often gutted when the lecturers don’t show up. I’ve also met some amazing people on my modules, who have become really good friends. Lastly, not all of the professors are terrible; my music lecturer has been so supportive from day one and has not hesitated to help me with any problems. This has definitely given me the boost I need to keep going with lectures. Things have already started to improve so fingers crossed! 🍀


Lesson 4: Be Prepared for public transport to dictate your life
It’s fair to say that public transport is a big thing here in Nantes. Trams and buses are frequent through the city, and due to the location of most things such as uni, town, or halls, it is often needed. Having never even seen a tram before coming here, I now swear by it. It’s not unusual to find 20 plus students waiting for the bus or tram for an 8am lecture, and I have rarely seen the tram anything less than half empty. Although waiting for the tram can be a pain, it is often the quickest, cheapest and safest way home and will even stay open late on a Saturday night if you ever need to get home from town (not that I would know 😉) If you are ever in Nantes I would 100% recommend buying a tram pass, as it will make your life so much easier.



Lesson 5: France closes on Sundays

Let this be a warning to anyone who is as stupid as me: everything here is shut on a Sunday. Whilst the trams may be working (but with very limited hours) , most businesses are closed on Sunday, as France effectively has a duvet day. Do not make the mistake that I have made by planning your food shop on a Sunday- you will end up annoyed and very very hungry! Use your Sundays to rest, do the household chores and plan your week ahead, as honestly there is not much else to do!

Lesson 6: Be safe and aware

I don’t want to sound like a nagging parent, but this is so important. Any naivety I had before moving to France is long gone, and I’m having to admit that it’s never entirely safe to walk on your own in the dark, especially in certain areas. Whilst you meet the most incredible people on your year abroad, there are definitely some undesirable types you bump into as well. As I have already mentioned to some of my friends, I was involved in an incident waiting for a bus alone at sunset when a car full of men pulled up to verbally harass me and try to make me get into their car. This really shook me up , and if it wasn’t for the bus arriving at the last second, who knows what would have happened. Although I found this incident shocking, I was then overwhelmed by the amount of my  female friends here who have been in similar scary situations. Although the best thing to do is hold your head high and not let incidents like this get the better of you, it is so important to stay safe. Walk in pairs, stay alert and always ring somebody you trust if you feel unsafe. This incident has left me a lot more aware now, but I will refuse to let it knock my confidence or taint my time here.

Lesson 7: Homesickness is perfectly normal, and it’s okay

This is an important one: it’s not a competition of who can go the longest without wishing you were home. Homesickness is a natural feeling, especially if you experience the culture shock of being in a different country. Whilst I’ve had an incredible time here there have been days when I’ve been desperate to be home with my family, friends and boyfriend. It can be particularly hard on Sundays when I haven’t got a lot to do , but thinking about home is something that should be embraced. Sometimes, me and my friends can spend hours daydreaming about roast dinners, cups of tea and the soaps, but if it keeps you going then so be it! I can’t stress how important it is not to be ashamed about missing home, and if you get the string of comments such as “I can’t believe you wanna go home already” , ignore them and rise above it! FaceTime and Skype have been life savers, and regular contact from home has actually made me enjoy my time here a lot more.

seriously missing this!


Lesson 8:The friends you make will help you get the most out of your time here

One of the best things about this month has been meeting the people that I have become close friends with. France has given me some great opportunities to meet people from all over the world (and from home) , and learn so much about their culture. The international friends that I have made have made me open my eyes to a world of culture, and I have learnt so much about the world through these people and I couldn’t be more grateful. Making French friends too has improved my confidence in my language ability, and they have often helped me out in many situations in public when the language barrier has often made things difficult. However, I can’t go without mentioning the girls I have met from home, who have made daily life bearable. We all go through the same struggles everyday, from culture shock to lack of classes, which has made us all really close. It is so important to surround yourself with great people, as they will make your time here a lot more special, and the memories you make a lot more fun!

 

Lesson 9: Go and explore!!

This again may sound silly but the most important lesson I have taken from my year abroad so far has been to HAVE FUN! I will never get this opportunity again so I have made an effort being a bit of a tourist and exploring the city, which is what this year is essentially about. Although I have bad days here, Nantes is a beautiful city and every day feels like a mini adventure here (wonderfully cheesy but true), and I make sure that I drag myself out of bed as much as I can to see every bit of Nantes that I can.

So that’s it really! Thank you guys for sticking to this post as I know it has been a bit different. I can’t believe that people actually read this so thank you and I’ll keep you updated.

Bisous

Jess xx

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