10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before My Year Abroad

  1. Choose the place and not the uni
    To be honest, whilst I enjoyed a few classes last semester, I’m finding the majority of my classes here to be pretty dull, not to mention really long!  The university leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to Edinburgh.  But I’m in Paris, and that makes it totally worth it.  Choose a place you’re excited to go to, and you’ll manage with the classes.
  2. Live somewhere you feel comfortable
    I moved to Paris with nowhere to live, despite applying for countless student residences.  Before I got here I wanted to live somewhere that was as close to the university as possible.  However, my priorities totally changed when I got here and walked different areas of Paris.  I have a thirty minute metro commute to uni, but I love my flat and the area it’s in, and now I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the city!
  3. It’s okay to want to go to bed at 9pm sometimes
    I found my first few weeks in Paris to be exhausting.  Between longer days of uni than I’m used to and a lot of socialising I was knackered.  Sometimes you’ll want a night in with Netflix, and that’s okay!  Make the most of this opportunity, but make sure you’re looking after yourself so you can enjoy it.
  4. Try to avoid FOMO
    I am that person who is always organised and rarely late, and I’ve hated missing some of my best friends’ 21st birthdays.  But they understand, and you’ll be around for their next birthday so don’t stress.  Home will still be there when you get back, so make the most of picnic-ing on the banks of the Seine this year!
  5. Make friends with whoever you like
    My home university continually stressed the importance of making French friends.  In fact, I think it’s one of the reasons they give you no assistance at all with finding accommodation.  But the thing is, you just need to make friends you like, whether they’re international or native speakers of your target language. At some point in the year you’re probably going to need help from your friends.  Make the kind of friends who will help you out when your laptop breaks less than 24 hours before an essay deadline in the middle of exams when the library closes ridiculously early.  Make friends who share your attitude and you can have a laugh with, regardless of their nationality, and you’ll be okay.
  6. Be prepared for your relationships back home to change
    Some of my friends from home have surprised me by how wonderful and supportive they’ve been.  But this year I’ve also been let down and hurt by people I definitely didn’t expect.  Friendship is a two way street, and even if you’re prepared to put the effort in there’s no guarantee of reciprocation.
  7. Every day is awkward moment day
    If you’ve not embarrassed yourself daily I don’t think you’re trying hard enough!  Or you’re just more together than I am.  For me, every day is an opportunity for a linguistic error, a cultural faux pas or just sheer clumsiness (which I know could happen anywhere but it happens more often here!).  The good news is if after you’ve made said mistake, you’ve worked out why people are laughing/shocked/offended, you’re less likely to make it again!
  8. Bring lined paper
    I don’t know what the situation is in other European countries, but the French are big fans of squared paper.  Now every time someone visits me I ask them to bring me an Oxford lined notebook.  This is also a great way to spot the other anglophone students, who will probably be the only other people in the lecture hall rejecting the squared paper favoured by the Frenchies.
  9. French people like Scottish accents
    Nobody ever told me this and I have no idea why.  Sometimes I’ll be talking to a stranger in French and they’ll tell me they like my accent and ask where I’m from.  Ninety percent of them then go ‘Aah, l’Écosse, c’est très beau, oui?  J’adore les montagnes!’  As a result of these conversations, I’m on good terms with some of the staff in my local G20 supermarket, the dads in the park where I take the wee boy I babysit, and a few of the artists round Place des Vosges too.  The Auld Alliance really does exist!
  10. This year is going to be really hard (but you’ll manage)
    My degree is French and Linguistics so a year abroad in France has been inevitable since accepting my UCAS offer.  I was apprehensive about spending a year in Paris and I probably wouldn’t have done a year abroad had it not been a compulsory part of my degree.  This year has been really hard.  I’ve never felt lonelier or more homesick than I have this year.  But hey, look at me, I’m doing it!  And I’m proud of myself for it.  I’m passing my classes, I’ve got a job, I’m living independently, I’ve met some wonderful people and seen incredible places.  This is an amazing opportunity, it won’t last forever and you can do it!  And I hope you’re lucky enough to enjoy it as much as I am.

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