So it’s been a while since I’ve hit the blog, I just haven’t known where to start with what I’ve been up to. It seems like I’ve been busy, but not doing anything of note. The Christmas holidays were great, it was lovely being back in England doing my usual uni holidays routine – seeing friends, family, doing band stuff, hanging around in Norwich and all the boring adult stuff (which incurred a hefty dentists bill, but I shan’t complain as I am glad with my family’s history that I still have all my own teeth). But getting back to my Spain routine was a little difficult – just at the time when festival lineups are coming out, friends are proposing holiday plans, and I’m having to say “sorry, I can’t, I have to be in France” more times than seems fair. But I’m trying to see the positives of it; as my trip to visit my fellow Durham year abroader Fiona revealed, France is actually a pretty cool country.
Clouds so cool they hang out with mountains
But my trip actually started in a different country… The alpine location of Fiona’s living quarters meant that it was closer to fly in to Geneva, where we spent New Years Eve. The constant border hopping almost made me dizzy; it was odd to comprehend that a 15 minute bus journey required a passport. Our air b’n’b was actually situated in France, and the host was really lovely. Even offering to pick us up if we couldn’t figure out buses; which, as you can imagine with my sense of direction, came in very handy.
It was a trip of almost comical mishaps – accommodation misunderstandings, terrible air b’n’b breakfasts in Aix, ordering vodka shots instead of Coca Cola – but being around my uni friends really reminded me of the uni life that I love and miss. It also made me realise how different the French and Spanish cultures are; with their geographical proximity, you would be inclined to think their cultures would be built on similarities as well, but daily life just felt completely different to the atmosphere in Spain. I have to say it did make me feel a bit nervous about my next Erasmus placement, realising that I’d become so accustomed to the Spanish way of life.
Another beautiful alpine view!
However, on my return to Spain, with the one quarter of my laptop screen which was working (the poor fella has kicked the bucket since, partially explaining my lack of blogging) I managed to have a Skype call with The Bless Network, the charity I’ll be working for in France. This comforted me massively and in fact got me really excited for all the great things I will be able to get involved in.
Which leads me to probably the most interesting part of this post – I have decided to change where I’m going in France.
I was offered either Normandy or Paris, and I had complete tunnel vision about going to Paris. I thought if I chose to be in Normandy I would be isolated, planted in ruralisation like I was for the first 18 years of my life – except this time with no car and with more responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t drawn to Paris for all the clichés of the cosmopolitan life, but I thought it would be nice to live in somewhere which could actually be classed as metropolitan for once. Especially considering that I would never be able to actually afford to live there (or risk spending all my hard-earned money from Spain), it would be a great place to choose in the unique situation of having a host family.
However, after going to Haute Savoie during the Christmas holidays, I realised just how completely overwhelming the change would be to go from relatively tiny Tudela straight to the French capital. As I was saying above, going to France is going to be a big enough change as it is.
But the truth is my decision was mostly made taking into account the things I could be doing in Normandy. After this Skype discussion I found out that I wouldn’t necessarily have to live at the rural and mostly English-speaking base in Béthanie. In fact, Bless have really understood that for the 4 months I’m going to be in France I need to be speaking as much French as possible, and will endeavour to put me up with a local French woman who sounds lovely. This meeting really got me looking forward to all the great things I could be doing in France – helping with a youth group, living with a native family, doing odd bits of translation, and getting involved in outreach projects with the local university, in addition to several pathways into the musical sides of church and various Bless events, which is probably the biggest pull toward this option.
Although Paris would be a more useful CV booster (as a more office-based role), I realised I had to follow my heart with this one. If it’s taught me anything being in Spain these last few months, it’s that I’m not one for the regularity of a normal work routine. I need my free time to travel, write stuff and to wow at new things. I fear that a desk job in the capital would not appease the more fidgety side of my personality, which has possibly worsened these last few months.
Being a person who can’t sit still for very long definitely has its inconveniences – I’m bad at saying no, I let important things sit on the back burner, and I’m awfully forgetful – but when I do have those rare chill moments, I’m always itching to tick things off my ‘To-Do’ list.
When I look back at some of the busiest periods of my life, they’re definitely the moments where I feel like I was getting the most out of it.
So I want to give the same advice for future year-abroad students as a fellow language assistant friend was given about eating seafood. Make sure you get every small part of delicious flavour out of all the best bits:
Chupa la cabeza.
(Suck the head)