Placement blogs

Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences' students share their placement and year abroad experiences.

Tagged: France

Year Abroad III – things I’ve learnt whilst on placement abroad

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.                                            December, 2016.

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The Herring Festival in Fécamp.

Bonjour! Last week I returned home after my 3-month-and-a-half placement in Fécamp, Normandy, teaching English. I had a blast while I was there and was really sad to leave. However, after reflecting on my experiences of living abroad in France and Britain, I have found various similarities between the experiences. There is a certain pattern that repeats itself each time you spend a period of time away and I thought it would be a good idea to share with you what I’ve learnt. Maybe you will find it helpful.

The most important thing is, first and foremost, make the most of your time in this new place. Sounds like a given, but believe me, time flies. Whether you are doing a placement for professional experience, to improve your language skills or whatever the reason, you are there for a limited amount of time and it is easy to get stuck in the routine and forget to wring out every little opportunity your placement has to offer. It would be a shame to arrive at the end of your placement realizing you could’ve done much more… And because time goes by incredibly fast, you must make a conscious effort.

Visit the area you are in. It might seem like a stupid thing to think about but when you are working all the time the last thing you might feel like doing is going out and exploring. It used to happen to me in Bath. It wasn’t until my second year when I lived in town that I took the time to explore the culture that the city had to offer. I wasn’t going to let the same thing happen this time. Despite being quite tired after the work day and really just wanting to stay in bed and catch up on sleep during my free days, I pushed myself to explore every little thing Fécamp had to offer. I wrote down a bucket list and it felt great to tick things off: visit the Bénédictine Palace, climb up to Notre-Dame du Salut like the fishermen used to, try the food from the area… I used the holidays to travel throughout the region with my dad. We rented a car and visited many cities which I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. It was tiring and intense, but it felt great to visit so many different locations and actually get to know the area! As a language student, learning about the culture and customs of the place is one of the most important aspects of the Year Abroad and sometimes you have to go that extra step to expose yourself to them!

Here I am, squint-eyed in front of Mont-St-Michel!

Here I am, squint-eyed in front of Mont-St-Michel!

Mingle. This sort of goes without saying but it is extremely important to put yourself out there. You arrive in a new place on your own and it is easy to embrace the fact that you don’t know anybody and let the homesickness trickle in. All you really have to do is go out on the street and talk. Talk to the other customers in the supermarket, talk to the baker, talk to the people waiting at the bus stop, talk to the other person at the bar. Just try. Particularly if you are an introvert like me, it might be hard at the start but I cannot stress enough how important it is to talk to people. You will practice the language and make friends – you have so much more to offer than you think! I also noticed, particularly while in Fécamp since it is a small town, that people knew who I was even though it wasn’t the other way round. Well, the solution to this is to get to know the others, and mingling is the way!

Hop onto every new opportunity. Be safe, of course, but if people propose plans, it is a great idea to tag along and you never know what might come out of it! I really followed this piece of advice while in France and I had great experiences. I was invited over for lunch by a French family which let me catch a glimpse of the French life-style. I was invited to tea by another family and then we decided to meet the following day for a day trip around the nearby towns. After an event I was invited to go to a farewell party and hesitantly agreed – it was one of the best decisions I made because I met a lot of younger people with whom I became friends! You really never know what opportunities have in store for you, so it is better to give things a try and see how it turns out than regret not even attempting it! And this ties in with the next advice, get out of your comfort zone.  It reminds me of a recent viral video in which Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski uses lobsters as a metaphor and states that “the stimulus for the lobster to be able to grow is that it feels uncomfortable” (1). You have to challenge yourself and put yourself into uncomfortable situations in order to grow and learn, and the Year Abroad in particular is all about personal development. Get out and experience new things. Not just a different culture but also different foods, places and activities you had never thought you’d ever do. I ate shark while in France. True, I didn’t know it was shark when I ordered it. But it was really tasty, even after I learnt what it was. I took part in a film festival and had to make a short film in 48 hours. We had to form the teams, come up with a story, film the scenes and edit the film. I had never acted before nor did I know anyone else taking part in the challenge, but I signed up nonetheless and it was a fantastic experience and I made new acquaintances and learnt a lot of French. Push yourself.

Les amis.

Les amis.

Another important thing I’ve learnt while living abroad is that you make memories to last you a life-time. Because you are alone in a new place, the friends you make become very close in a short amount of time. I became really close with the other two stagiaires in particular because they were both students like me. Because we were in the same situation, we shared the same problems and similar opinions and got along very well. However, I also became close with some of the other French people I met who had extremely different interests and opinions than mine, and I find this diversity enriching. They helped me learn more about France and its traditions and they made me not feel alone, which sounds so cliché but only when you find yourself alone do you realize how important having people who are close to you is. They soon become your family abroad and saying good-bye (for now) is one of the hardest things to do.

It is also hard to say good-bye to the place you’ve spent the last few months in. You finally feel at home and suddenly, you have to leave again. I’ve spoken about this before but every time I land in a new place, I make myself a new life in this new location: new acquaintances, new routines, new home. You get used to the place; the dent in your bedroom wall, the smell of the bread as you walk past the bakery in the morning, the frost on the grass by the Abbey. They all become part of this new life you’ve had for a limited amount of time. And when you leave, a small part of you stays behind and a new part of you has developed. Constant change and development, that is what I believe life is all about.

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L'Abbatiale de Fécamp.

I now have memories and experiences that I will cherish forever and I have had an amazing time working in Fécamp as a teacher of English. It was sad to leave, but I am excited for the new chapter in my Year Abroad. Bring on the next adventure!

Next stop: Siena, Italy.

France, à la prochaine!

Zoe

 

 

Source 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aDXM5H-Fuw

Year Abroad I - moving to France

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Fécamp, Normandy, France.                                                                                                   October, 2016.

Bonjour! My name is Zoe and I’m a Modern Languages and European Studies student at Bath. My language combination is French and Italian and I am currently on my third year, which means that I am doing my compulsory Year Abroad with the aim of perfecting my skills in both languages. I’ve divided my year into two parts. First, I will be doing an English teaching placement in a small English language school in Fécamp, on the north-western coast of France, until Christmas. Then, I will be heading to Siena, in the Italian Tuscany, for an ERASMUS study exchange during the second semester. I hope you will find my blog posts interesting at least, helpful or relatable at most.

So, what is moving abroad like? The prospect of having to move to a new country is something I find quite daunting. It means having to move to a foreign and unknown place, far away from your home and all you know and are comfortable with. You have no idea what to expect or what the place and people will be like. You will probably be on your own having to deal with the ever-so-tedious tasks of finding a place to live in, opening bank accounts and getting new SIM cards… all of which, to top it off, will have to be done in a language that is not yours.

Packing your life in a suitcase and a cabin bag isn't easy...

Packing your life in a suitcase and a cabin bag isn't easy...

At the same time, however, the idea of starting from scratch in a new place is always one that attracts me. You are bound to live adventures and discover new places, meet people of all sorts and have wild experiences. The feeling of adventure is one that, as a language student passionate for foreign cultures, has always appealed to me and keeps me motivated to pull myself out of bed every morning and go explore, wherever I am.

As a Spanish national, I had to do the ‘big move’ when I transferred to England in order to start a degree, so I already had a previous experience to reflect upon. That being said, every country is utterly different (praise the diversity) and so has been my situation, therefore moving to France in early September was still a different experience.

For starters, despite being an un-paid placement, my contract includes the accommodation and bills paid for, which saved me the trouble of having to find a house or a flat. I share a traditional Norman house with one of the other English assistants at work and could not have wished for anything better. Moreover, since I don’t have to pay the bills either, opening a bank account for the time I am spending in France is somewhat pointless. Basically, all the paperwork involving living abroad has been considerately reduced thanks to my placement.

On the topic of homesickness, I must say it was a whole lot worse when I moved away the first time two years ago to study abroad. Missing home is always going to be a thing, since it is part of your comfort zone and you will definitely miss your family, friends and – let’s be honest- the food. However, when the people surrounding you make an effort to make you feel welcome, and every day there is something new to look forward to, you don’t really have the time to feel homesick. I promise you, it gets easier but the best way to deal with homesickness is to keep yourself busy and avoid the temptation of curling up in bed to sob. If you don’t let it overcome you, you’ve won. You can always cook food that reminds you of home and, of course, call your loved ones. Just don’t let yourself get too tangled in the feeling – a little cry sometimes is good, but make sure you then cross the T’s and dot the I’s and put yourself out there!

The beach and port.

The beach and port.

So, where is Fécamp? Fécamp is a picturesque coastal town situated in the Valmont river valley in the Seine-Maritime department (Haute-Normandie region). North of the D-Day beaches and only 35km away from Le Havre, the town has around 20.000 inhabitants and is famous for its fishing tradition, Bénédictine Palace and liquor, rich history and, of course, the Falaises which are the beautiful cliffs in the Alabaster Coast. There is a pebble beach and the town is plagued with Norman style houses and narrow streets, so every time I go out I feel like I’m in a fairy tale town, so different from Bath and my home in the Canary Islands.

The Norman houses give the streets a picturesque look.

The Norman houses give the streets a picturesque look.

Still, it is a small town, which has its pros and cons. I chose to come here because I wanted a placement away from the capital and, since I was going to be here for only slightly over three months, I wanted to be able to make the most of my time and actually get to know the place I would be living in. One of the advantages, therefore, is that, being a small place, you will be able to get to know your way around quicker and actually explore everything available to you. On the other side of the coin, there is only a limited amount of things to do and places to visit, especially for young people. I’ve found it hard to meet people my age because, since it’s a small town, young people go to other cities to go to University or find a job – there is no Erasmus bubble in a place with no University. However, from experience I have also found that people in Normandy are very nice and more willing to help. I have no idea if this is just the people in the area, but from my trips to Paris and train changes in other parts of France, I have clearly noticed a difference in the way I’ve been treated. I have felt very welcomed here and people have been willing to help me with my French and other problems arising. That being said, you might also find that being a foreigner, people might be more wary around you, or that it is hard to integrate into the local community. I have been lucky and my hosts have helped me and the other assistants with finding activities to do and meeting people from the town, but you definitely have to make a conscious effort to put yourself out there and make acquaintances and speak French, just be warned. And, finally, since it’s a small town I feel that Fécamp is very traditional and picturesque in the best of ways. As I’ve said, the landscapes are unique and, as far as I’ve seen, everything is very typical French, with tons of cafés, boulangeries and other food shops, squares… I can say I am definitely living in a typical Norman town. That being said, I also have to mention the public transport, which is nothing like England. In the area, buses do not run on Sundays or late at night, and there are no train lines reaching Fécamp, making travelling around the region to discover nearby towns quite tricky. Fortunately, the people I have met have been incredibly nice offering to give me and the other assistants lifts if we need them. Having a car is the best means of transport here, but you can definitely get around if you don’t have one – most places in town are within walking distance anyway.

The Alabaster coast.

The Alabaster coast.

Overall, I am very pleased with my placement so far and cannot wait to see what else it has in store for me. I will be back in a couple of weeks to tell you a bit more about my placement itself.

À bientôt!

Zoe