Back Tae Buckfast: a year abroad and back again

I specifically told Glasgow not to move anything until I got home! Now that I’m back I can’t find a thing!

I spent eight months living in Bordeaux so that I can get a degree in French. Before I left I spoke to a mate who was just back from his year in Spain. ‘Best year o’ yer life’ he said, ‘it’ll be the best year o’ yer life.’ I was sceptical. The French grade I left with was easily one of the lowest pass grades of the year group (42) but I thought, ‘fuck it’.

The year was a disaster. Not a single thing went to plan. I couldn’t get accommodation so found myself doing a fair bit of couch-surfing and therefore dinner-buying and stranger-trusting. When I did find somewhere to stay it was with a 64 year old lady who insisted on total silence in the house. Luckily, she turned out to be almost completely deaf.

I found the primary school I would be working in and introduced myself to the head mistress just as I’d been practising on the bus. She complimented me on my French. I smiled graciously. She asked me a question… ‘pardon’, and another, ‘pardon’. I had used up all my French in the first conversation. This was going to be a long year.

Then I lost my house keys on a night out. Two French students lived with me and old Madam Balagué so I phoned their mobiles. Nothing. I chapped the door. Nothing. I tried to find a police station. I tried phoning other assistants for a couch to crash on. Nothing. I ended up spending 69 euros on a hotel room and then a further 73 euros replacing the locks.

The tables turned when I was asked to take my guitar in to school. The international language of music bought me a few more weeks of not being able to string eloquent sentences together, and the kids loved me!

I established a ‘local’: The Sherlock Holmes. They served real ales and often had staff’s dogs in begging for scraps. I started to feel at home. I started to make good friends. We adventured around Bordeaux together, drew pictures of the buildings, and drank wine while singing children’s songs with my guitar in the park.

I came home sporadically throughout the year but there was still nothing like the shock of actually moving home. My parents drove me back in the car. At the last stop in France we filled every last nook and cranny of the car with wine. In my first few hours of being on English soil, and with a mind boggled from travel, I tried to reserve a table at a restaurant in Kent in French.

This summer has been spent readjusting to working in a supermarket rather than singing songs with children. I now speak English rather than French. I drink lager rather than ale. My single friends have boyfriends my coupled friends are now engaged. When I left I was in a relationship, now I’m single.

What the hell happened, Glasgow? I told you not to move anything!

On reflection I think the main thing that has changed was me. I left Glasgow hating kids and returned wanting to apply to do primary-school teaching. I was too shy to sing in front of anyone now I sing in my band and to anyone who’ll listen. When I left I had a long history with anxiety and depression, I am now cured and have the magic of adventure to thank for it.

Best year o’ ma life. 

Words by Claire Alexander, picture by Emily Villwock
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