Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Greatest Challenge That Became The Most Incredible Life Experience!

Fourteen months ago, I wrote my very first blog post in which I introduced myself and talked about how I was coping with preparing for my first placement of the whole year. At the time, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from my year abroad and how it would feel to get to the other end of it. In June 2014 when I boarded my first Easyjet flight to Nice on the south coast of France, I was nervous, overwhelmed, vulnerable, anxious, and completely unprepared for the challenges that I would later face. However, now that I am at the other end of it all, I feel completely different. Although there were some very tough times throughout the year and it was not all perfect, I now feel blessed to have had so many incredible experiences and met people who have had such a positive impact on me as a person. In fact, if I had my chance, I would most definitely do it all again which this time last year I never ever imagined myself feeling. It goes to show how many changes can take place in a year!

My year abroad was organised through the Erasmus programme but it has been very different to the average Erasmus year abroad. This is because I chose to do work placements which were completely self organised and led me to cities and regions that my university had no previous links with. For this reason it was an adventure on a whole different level as I went to work for companies that I knew very little about. Although this prospect seemed very daunting to begin with, I am very glad that I did it as it gave me a year of very individual experiences during which I fully immersed myself in the languages, cultures, and communities that I lived in.

My year abroad started off in the French city of Cannes where I did a self organized study placement in a French language school for one month. This was a fantastic month because I lived with a French family which gave me the opportunity to really gain confidence with the spoken language whilst studying the technical sides of it at the language school. I also traveled completely independently for the first time in my life which was a very important thing to do at the beginning of my year abroad. During this month I traveled to Nice, Monaco, Mougins, Grasse, and Antibes, This was a great preparation for the whole year as I learnt how to confidently use French trains and buses which later became something that I did a lot of.

 At the end of August 2014, I set off to the city of Grenoble in the French Alpes where I worked as a hostel receptionist for five months. This was the most challenging part of my year abroad as it was the first long placement and was also the most demanding in terms of the work that I had to do. When I was in Grenoble, I really struggled to get across my true personality as I had a language barrier to deal with as well as constantly feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and homesick. Although there were many points during semester 1 at which I felt as if I would drop out at any second, I managed to stick at it and for this, I learnt an incredible amount of French and made some good friends so I am pleased that I did not let my initial struggles get to me too much.

The second semester of my year abroad was the most amazing semester ever but also came with some huge obstacles and difficulties that I had to face. I set off to the city of Seville in Southern Spain on 4th January 2015 to work as an English teacher in an adults language institution for six months. I worked in this language school for three weeks and then very unexpectedly received an email from the company's central office informing me that my contract would be ending the following day due to financial issues and that I would therefore have to leave the institution within 24 hours. This was an extremely difficult situation to be in as I had been living in a hostel for the past three weeks due to not having been successful in finding accommodation. I also had no idea what to do as I felt as if it was my fault that I had lost my job and was terrified as to what would happen to my degree as this year abroad was a compulsory part of it. However, as the days passed and I was informed that I had done absolutely nothing wrong and that it was completely a consequence of over-staffing and financial problems within the company, I started to think about what I needed to do in order to get my year abroad back on track as soon as possible as I was aware that I would possibly have to go back into second year if I did not. I therefore traveled back to my university in North Wales where I received the support that I needed with paperwork and finding a new work placement in Spain. I also spent the two weekends that I had back in the UK at home with my family as it was very important that I spent time with them during that challenging period of my year abroad. After two weeks in the UK, I managed to organize an internship in a company called Roommates Sevilla. I was quite knocked by the previous bad experience for a few weeks, but as time went by I started to really enjoy my work at Roommates Sevilla and got to the point where I felt so happy and comfortable with the people and the routine that I did not want to leave when it came to June. In fact, I was an emotional mess on my last working day in Sevilla because I was sad that such a fantastic few months had come to an end. When I look back on my year abroad I find it incredible how a semester that started off in such a bad way turned out to be so perfect in the end. I left Sevilla almost two months ago now but I miss it everyday as well as the lovely people that I met there. Because of this, I have already arranged to go back in November and visit because I really want to go back and see everybody.

I rounded off the whole of my year abroad this summer by doing a five week internship in the language school in Cannes in which I studied during the summer of 2014. This was a very different and very very good experience as I worked as a French assistant in the school. This involved working with groups of children of varying ages, teaching grammar, playing games, and singing songs. I also attended adult classes for myself which really brought my French on from where I left it off at Christmas. I am very grateful to the school for giving me this opportunity as it helped me put my French into practice after six months in Spain. It was also lovely to see some of the people that I met last year again as I got to know them better and had a fantastic time with them.

So this is a summary of my year. It has certainly not been easy as I have faced a number of obstacles that I did not expect to encounter at the age of 20-21. However, I have got through it and most importantly of all I now look back on the year extremely fondly as I am very grateful for the opportunities to learn French and Spanish to a high level. I also feel very thankful that I met so many wonderful people who have had such a positive impact on my life. Now that I am at the other end of my year abroad, I have wonderful friends from the school in Cannes, the youth hostel in Grenoble, the Language School in Sevilla, and the Housing Company in Sevilla and I know that many of them will be friends for life. There are not many people my age who have friends from all over the world so I feel extremely privileged to have found these friendships in which I am continuously learning new things and making wonderful memories.

Now that I have finished my year abroad, I think that the most important aspect of the year was the people that I met. After all, it is impossible to learn a language in an environment where you do not feel at ease with the people. However, the most incredible thing for me is that the people who I met on my year abroad gave me a new found level of confidence that will stay with me forever and help me enormously in everything that I go on to do in the future. For this I am extremely thankful to them as although I was not a shy person before my year abroad, there was something within me that was stopping my full personality from breaking through. However, I now feel as if I am my complete self and am therefore ready for the next life adventures that await me as I have the confidence to do my utmost best in absolutely everything that I do.

Living abroad is not easy but if you overcome the initial barriers that most year abroaders face, like me, you end up surprising yourself and seeing life from a completely different perspective. I know that the third year of a modern languages degree is commonly referred to as being the best year ever but I would like to really emphasize how true this really is to all future year abroaders. Each time you are faced with a challenging situation, look at it as an experience rather than a disaster. After all, there is no harm in gaining life experience. It is the key to employment in the end!.

I think that this is a good note to end on as it sums up the year abroad in the best way possible. It is certainly not all perfect but it leads to incredible things. It is a year that will always stay with me as it was completely different to any other and I think I learnt more in that one year than I have in my whole life!

Now that I am back in the UK and experiencing the beginning of reverse culture shock, I am going to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading my blog throughout the past twelve months. It has been really nice to know that I have been able to share my adventures and experiences with you and hopefully help any of you who are going to embark on a year abroad in the future. I will very much miss writing my blog but I am hoping to work abroad for a few year after my degree so I might very well be back to continue the blog where I have left off in the not too distant future :)

So for now thank you very much for your interest and support! I hope that we will meet again soon for more foreign adventures :)

A bientot/ hasta luego!

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