This week my work as an English language assistant in the south west of France has come to an end, and yet my year abroad adventure is far from over. After spending seven months living and working in Pau, a town in the Aquitaine region of France, I can now say with complete confidence that I feel truly at home in my French life. With what has surprisingly turned out to be just the first part of my year abroad coming to an end, this is the perfect time to reflect on my experience so far.
I am currently on my third year abroad from the University of Sheffield. I normally study French and English Literature, but this year I took on the challenging task of working as a language assistant in a French secondary school through the British Council scheme.
A year ago, when I made the decision to become an assistant, I cannot deny that the prospect terrified me. I was unsure of both my language skills and my ability to adapt to such a big change in my life, but I could never have imagined what this time abroad would do for my confidence. The benefits of spending time abroad as part of your degree are infinite, I have experienced how it’s not just about improving your language skills but the independence and self-reliance you gain.
Starting at the beginning seems appropriate. I remember receiving the letter with the name and address of my school as this was when the reality of going abroad really started to sink in. The journey from my initial panic at not knowing how to pronounce the name of the town, (for anyone who is interested Pau sounds a bit like the name of the fourth Teletubby) to teaching my last ever lesson has been full of ups and downs. Fortunately, any obstacles along the way have been rendered insignificant by all the good memories I have made.
Teaching itself has been both frustrating and rewarding. Although I struggled at first with aspects like retaining authority when teaching pupils my age, and chatting confidently with teachers in the staff-room, over time I learnt the best tricks to engage my students and formed better relationships with my fellow English teachers. However, my small amount of hours of teaching has acted more like a platform on which to build my life here in France.
The highlight of the year abroad for many people is the freedom you have to travel and explore new places. Like many, I have had the opportunity to travel not only around my region of France but further afield. Whether it’s been city breaks to Barcelona or Paris, beach trips to Biarritz and St Jean de Luz, or hiking and skiing in the Pyrenees, I have more than made the most of these opportunities. The freedom to travel has definitely been one of the most invaluable aspects of my time abroad.
And finally, it would be impossible not to mention the people I have met this year, without whom these last seven months would not have been the same. I have made friendships for life with not only the people on their year abroad like myself, but many international students from every corner of the world. I have been lucky enough to live with French students, and although integrating into an all French social group has its challenges, I have been incredibly lucky to live with people that have made my year abroad so much fun.
Now I’ve finished my assistantship, after a week in Madrid and a quick trip back to England, I’m staying in France to keep practicing my French and to enjoy the last few months with my friends here. Then in July, I will be working on a beach on the south coast of France for two months. Basically, I plan to stay in the south of France for as long as possible. Sorry Sheffield, but with places still to visit, French still to be spoken and the sun starting to stick around, coming home just isn’t an option.