Josie is a third year languages student on her Year Abroad, spending fourteen months travelling from Spain to France to Russia, and recounting tales of her battles with the day to day dilemmas of living in a foreign land.
It has now been almost two weeks since I arrived in Millau, a small town in southern France, also known as the middle of nowhere. A thirteen hour journey, starting with a 6 a.m. alarm after a heavy night and three hours sleep, and involving – in no particular order – two taxis, two buses, three trains, a tram and an aeroplane, came to its end soon after my final train hit some sort of animal on the tracks (to this day, I still have no idea what poor furry being the train conductor lady was describing). I was met at Millau train station by two of my now-housemates, who ushered me into a taxi and back to our new ‘home’ where I will be living for the next seven months as I work as an English Language Assistant in the town’s primary schools, as part of my year abroad.
Home is a bungalow – which have always creeped me out for some reason – and I can’t complain too much as it’s free accommodation, but to call it basic would be an understatement. The hut, as we affectionately call it, is situated in the grounds of the town’s lycée (sixth form/college to those of you who don’t remember your GCSE French) and boasts three very bare bedrooms; two grimy showers – only one of which actually works; a toilet whose door doesn’t shut properly; and a kitchen. The kitchen is well equipped with one wobbly hotplate, a broken microwave and three bathroom sinks. Best of all, we don’t have internet.
Needless to say, I was not in the homely, comforting environment that I needed after over 12 hours of travelling. I was already in a bad mood, as I had been charged 90 euros to cancel a hotel reservation that one of my French contacts had told me I would need – only to be told it wasn’t necessary by my other mentor, a conversation which took place through email on my phone while I was wandering around Primark, a stressful enough activity as it is. A piece of advice for anyone planning to move to a foreign country: phone, email or write a letter to every contact you are given, and ask every question you can think of until you are in no doubt of where you’re going, what you’re doing, and what you’re paying for!
Thankfully, my housemates are lovely and we all get on excellently – which is very lucky. I had managed to get in contact with one of the girls through the magic that is Facebook, so we sent each other a few panicked messages, comparing packing lists and swapping tips, before we left England. If we hadn’t all bonded immediately, I think I might have hopped on a plane straight out of there – and that is saying a lot for me.
I don’t normally get overly homesick, and I’m quite used to spending time away from home – especially as a week before moving to France, I had just got home after spending three amazing months in Malaga for the Spanish part of my year abroad. That was one of my issues; after an entire summer of a job I loved, new friends, daily beach trips and hilarious nights out, I was positive I would not enjoy France – Spain was too good. Never a good attitude to have! It just goes to show how important the people around you are and how essential it is to make friends when you move to another country.
In fact, I would say that the most important thing to do in this situation is to make friends; from making sure you get along with your housemates, to introducing yourself to every person you meet. These people can give you advice – I have relied on other people’s help to sort out most of my paperwork. They can also hook you up –the father of a teacher at one of the schools I’m working at is a ‘paragliding champion’, so there’s a free paragliding session sometime in the future; and somewhat more importantly, they may well provide you with cake. With our lack of internet, the housemates and I have become regulars at two cafes in town which just happen to have free Wi-Fi. The waiters quickly realised we would become a solid source of income over the next seven months, so we very easily made friends with them, resulting in occasional gifts of delicious pastry.
So here I am, rapidly approaching my two week anniversary in the most boring town in the world – which, with a little bit of positivity and some good friends, is actually quite pretty and can be vaguely entertaining.
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Image by Gordon Werner via Flickr