It is only sometimes when I stop and glance at the majestic, snow-capped mountains outside my bedroom window that I remember how lucky I am to be living abroad. Caught between the French Pyrenees and the Mediterranean beaches, my home away from home is a French-Catalan town in the South of France, called Perpignan. Not many people can just pack their bags and jet off to another country to live for a year. But as a modern languages student, this opportunity is actually compulsory. Forced to go abroad to meet new people, explore new cultures and enjoy weather that is evidently going to beat the gloomy UK any time of the year? Go on then.
But is the year abroad as easy and fun-filled as jumping on a plane and living a life of luxury for a whole year? If someone asked me this question about two months ago whilst I was lying on the beach in 28 degree heat, a Mojito in my hand and a Nutella crêpe on my lap trying to defeat the hideous hangover from the night before, I would’ve impetuously answered ‘of course it is’. However, I am currently writing this on my way back to the South of France with the dark cloud of revision looming over me, because I have 5 exams lined up for the next week. As you might have guessed, I chose to study on my year abroad rather than do a work placement or become a British Council teaching assistant. All three options, however, are cunningly devised so that the Year Abroad can never be a smooth and easy, work-free vacation, as there is always a lesson to be prepared, a task to be completed or an exam to be studied for. Without these obligations it would literally be one year long holiday, but as a compulsory part of a 4 year bachelor degree, some physical or mental effort clearly has to kick-in at some point.
One thing is certain about the Year Abroad; it’s not all about funding the local discothèque with your Erasmus grant and wasting your days lying in bed stressing over the awful internet connection. There are so many things to do and see, you just have to search and motivate yourself to do them. If you’re not going to bother with lectures, going to see the sights and knowing a few facts about the history of the country will make an impact. Isn’t this education in itself? Learning about new cultures through one’s own exploration of the country and landmarks, in my opinion, is much more beneficial than sitting in a classroom with coloured chairs, drifting in and out of consciousness whilst the teacher hopelessly tries to teach you ‘different types of reported speech’. Yes, University here is completely different to the UK. As a 22 year old, third year French and English student, I felt like those unmotivated teenage days of sitting in a school classroom, daydreaming and doodling until that obnoxious student at the back of the class starts an argument with the teacher were truly over, but not quite yet. This is one of the reasons the Year Abroad is depicted as a vacation, because there is no hard academic work or challenges. In general, there is no particular interest or passion in what you study, you simply just do it and pass (if you’re lucky). One good thing however, about dragging yourself to classes every day, is that you are swamped by the you chosen language, even if you are not fully conscious of it.
Is the year abroad a time for you to relax and renounce the world for a year, or a time to work hard and strive towards academic excellence? In all honesty, for me, it’s neither of these things. The year abroad, I have concluded, is a ‘Vaducation’; An enlightening vacation, where you will only be educated by your own willingness and motivation to try new things and embrace new cultures. It is only yourself that can determine how much you learn on your year abroad. Put yourself out there; the only way to beat those awkward, banter-free, ‘what did you last weekend?’ conversations, is to keep having them until you break that barrier and find yourself dreaming and cracking tremendous jokes in French. As paradoxical as it may sound, speaking French to an old man selling hot dogs outside a club at 3am may be more beneficial to your education than a 3 hour lecture on the French linguistics of the Middle Ages, will ever be.
Article: Ffion Enlli
Photographs: Ffion Enlli