Before leaving, one of my biggest fears was spending a lonely year in some remote corner of France with no friends and no one to talk to. Despite the fact that the town I lived in wasn’t the biggest or most exciting, I needn’t have worried. I lived with 4 other language assistants of different nationalities (English, American, Spanish and German) and we were also introduced to other language assistants in the same region.
I was lucky I got along with every one of my flatmates and 2 years on, we’re even arranging visits to see each other! It was fun to share cultures (particularly when it’s food-related!) and I feel I learned a lot by being surrounded by people I wouldn’t otherwise have met or spoken to.
My one regret is that I didn’t do more travelling while I had the chance. We spent most of our time in Paris as it was only an hour away on the train, but I wish I’d gone to a few more places. Living in the UK, we’re not used to being able to hop on a train and visit another country easily, so I really recommend that you make the most of being able to do that!
We did have a few really good trips though, although mainly to different parts of France. I particularly enjoyed Switzerland with all the mountains and lakes.
I think I could talk about French food all day, but I’ll keep it short. Weekly supermarket trips were a struggle because it’s just not practical to buy and eat everything in there. Restaurants were also difficult because there were the safe choices (sometimes) and the potentially risky dishes like snails or steak tartare. I tried both in the end, but only because my slightly braver flatmate took the plunge and ordered these things for herself!
I definitely think my French improved over the year, even if I didn’t speak it as much as I should have. It’s good to talk to people in real situations and not just in the classroom, and it’s such a confidence boost when people actually understand you. At first, it’s really tiring having to live your life entirely in a foreign language, but after the first few weeks, you really start to see an improvement and enjoy learning and using new vocabulary.
As a language assistant, I also enjoyed being able to share my own language with the students and also the people I lived with. It was really satisfying to see the students do really well in their exams and to measure the improvement from the time I got there up to when I left.
It may be a bit of a cliché, but the year abroad is such an extreme situation, you can’t help but notice where your strengths and weaknesses really lie. I definitely learned to relax a bit more when things weren’t going to plan and to enjoy new opportunities whenever they came along. It was also fun to adapt to a new way of life and get over the initial culture shock of being in a foreign country.