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