When I first arrived in Lyon to begin my year a l’étranger, I felt simultaneously at ease and bewildered. Being exposed to European and, notably French, culture growing up did prove an advantage. Leaving home, for me, was not so difficult; in fact, it felt no more daunting than going to Reading University for the first time three years ago. If anything, this was tranquil in comparison.
The moment that feelings of being overwhelmed crept in was primarily when dealing with University administration services… As much as I adore France, their admin does leave something to be desired. To be honest, I feel as though this was an aspect of the Year Abroad on which we were not hugely briefed by our own languages department back in the U.K. For a lot of people, as a result, this posed a gigantic blockade regarding the enjoyment of their time ahead.
Many people who were already apprehensive about leaving home for a year found themselves overwhelmed to the point of despair due to the lack of preparation provided by our home university, which ultimately affected how they perceived their time in another country. Having said this, I believe that any situation can be turned around in your favour if you take a step back and observe: how crippling really is this situation and how can I alter it to benefit from my time here as a result? For example, whilst the blasé French approach towards replying to emails punctually and with any useful information included can prove initially frustrating, it can be an attitude that you adapt yourself and render you much more a l’aise.
Once I realised that the stress that I was causing myself through frequent emails back and forth to different people to whom I was constantly being redirected was not reciprocated on their side, I thought it was about time to inhabit the Française within me and embrace their nonchalant “et bah” outlook.
I think that the phrase life is what you make of it really does apply to these types of situations. When we find ourselves far from what we know, in a foreign land or outside of our comfort zones, we can learn to make the experience a positive one – or, at least, one of growth and emotional stimulation.
First of all, by accepting that things here are naturally different to what we are used to, we can adopt an outsider perspective. Instead of constantly comparing life here to back home, we may start to notice differences in the way of life from a curious angle; we use this as something to incite us to immerse ourselves in these differences. Whether they be cultural, social, familial or work-related, embracing difference is a part of what it means to be Human. It is often reassuring, as well, to notice that natives here will also be thinking the same thing when they are in your country of origin.
I can, for example, understand the point of view that universities in England are incomparable to those abroad in terms of funding, facilities and exterior help (well-being, careers advice, etc.). However, the European angle on this would be to laugh at the ludicrously high price that we pay to study here. At the end of the day, it is not a case of good or bad, right or wrong, but purely of difference. Particularly nowadays, when one is encouraged to be cynical of things before they have even revealed themselves to you for all that they have to offer, we tend to approach new situations with the “glass half empty” or a so-called “realistic” attitude. Well, it need not be this way. Even approaching a new venture with a neutral attitude – a mind not yet made up – can be extremely beneficial as it requires us to abandon stigma, expectation and prejudice before we arrive. If we hold on to these things during our time abroad, new situations that seem tricky will be instantly clouded with negativity and presumption. Thus, every experience that we encounter henceforth can be affected!
For me, I would advise those going on a work or study placement abroad to not go into thinking that it will all be smooth sailing, as you will be in for a shock. On the other hand, though, try to embrace to the best of your ability everything about the opportunity that has been handed to you. A rocky road it may be, but you will arrive on the other end of it with your head held high, having not only survived but also taking the struggles in your stride, cultivating a stronger person at the end of the journey. (Which, if you want to get really deep only signifies the beginning of another one.)
Ciao for now,