Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Time is ticking away, the language barrier is getting more frustrating, but I am almost there!

Less than 5 weeks to go until my return to the UK! Where on earth has that time gone? I ask myself this question everyday. It feels like I have gone from seeing no end to the everyday challenges of my second year abroad placement to seeing that the end really is in sight now. Although that is quite a relief in the sense that I have almost survived four months living in France and tackling a full time job in French at the same time, I am also finding that I am now thinking about how to fit all of the remaining travel destinations and cultural experiences into the space of just over four weeks. And that includes trying snails and frogs legs as I have not yet been brave enough to do that I am afraid to say!

November has so far been a month of many ups but also many downs. I think it has been the month where I have really started to feel the intensity of working full shifts speaking French and living in a culture that is not my own. This is because I have found that this has been the month during which I have had a few break downs but it has also been the point in my placement where I have started to really see a change in my confidence with the French language (even though that is not always obvious to me).

When I talk about the times when I have felt a bit down recently, I do not mean that I am not enjoying the placement but that sometimes the biggest challenges and learning curves can make me initially feel a little bit wobbly about the year abroad. However, when I look back on these times, I realize that actually, it is the weeks that seem like hell at the time that are probably the weeks during which I have learnt the most French and strengthened as a person in many ways. In fact, during some of the most difficult times here in Grenoble I have come to realize that although I sometimes feel like I am not doing very well in my work placement and that my French is awful, I am actually nearly at the end of something that has given me so many useful skills and will set me up very well for the future after university. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion in the last few weeks that I am possibly being too harsh on myself and that things are actually not so bad after all. In fact, I have come to learn that it is only the times when we are completely and utterly out of our comfort zones that we start to realize why we are feeling a bit rubbish. And for me that has definitely been the pressure I have been putting on myself to come out of this placement speaking perfect French.

Now you are probably thinking that I should be returning to the UK at Christmas speaking fluent French. This is not true unfortunately as it would have been very difficult to go from second year level to completely fluent in the space of just four months. However, I can definitely say that I can now speak on the phone in French without too much difficulty, understand and respond to people quickly and without too much hesitation, and also find the confidence to walk into a room of native French speakers and ask for something in French without going bright red. These may seem like silly things that I am now able to do but I can honestly say that it is going to make such a difference to my studies when I return to Bangor in September as the things that I feared the most have now been defeated. I still sometimes feel a little bit embarrassed when I have to speak French to large groups of people, but this placement has enabled me to see that facing my biggest fears is the only way that I am ever going to succeed as a modern languages student. I think actually going to live abroad in the first place has covered a lot of that though!

As well as coming to so many productive conclusions, now that the end of my semester 1 Erasmus placement is very quickly approaching, I am starting to really appreciate some of the things that I possibly didn't really notice or appreciate before as it is starting to hit me that it is now just over one month until I move onto another new country and culture. As a result of this, I have come up with four things that I definitely want to do before I leave France:

1. Try snails
2. Try Frogs Legs
3. Visit Aix-en-Provence
4. Visit Paris

I am definitely going to try my very hardest to do all of these as I think they will just top off the overall experience! In fact, I have already booked to go to Paris in a couple of weeks time with some friends from Bangor which will be lovely! We are going to spend one day at Disneyland and the other day visiting the main city sights. So that is very exciting! I is also just a few days before my 21st birthday so it couldn't work out more perfectly!

The other thing that I have recently done to top off my few months in France is join a social group for foreign residents in Grenoble in order to become more integrated in the culture and to meet more people who are in similar positions to me. I went to my first meeting with them on Monday and was so warmly greeted and made to feel so welcome that I have decided that I am definitely going to continue going there until the end of my placement. It is lovely because the group meet once a week to do french conversation practice over a coffee and they also go on monthly trips to interesting places around the region. I think it will be just the right kind of thing to make me feel really at home and have somewhere to go where I can offload any worries that I have with other people who really understand as a result of having similar worries themselves.

So that is all for today I'm afraid! I like to keep you informed about all aspects of the year abroad so please do not be put off by the odd post about some of the more negative aspects of it. I think that anyone who is thinking about studying modern languages in the future needs to be aware that the best experiences are those that come with challenges. After all, you do get a lot more out of challenging situations than easy ones!

A plus tard!

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