#lostintranslation is a feature in which PTL asks people who have moved abroad, temporarily or for the long haul, to comment on their experiences in their newfound homes. To tell us about why they moved, what they’ve learnt and all the awkward situations they’ve encountered along the way.
There are about 205,000 students, give or take, across Europe on an Erasmus exchange during any given year. I don’t know how many of them end up moving closer to their own capital city than they were when studying at their universities back home, but, hey, here I am. (There are 332 miles between Edinburgh and London – a city which is a measly 152 miles from Rouen, where I live).
Rouen, France, was actually my fifth choice for an Erasmus destination, right below all of the southern cities in France where – I imagined – I could doss about for a year, lying on a beach, maybe picking up a southern accent and going on train trips to Barcelona for pennies. I chose Rouen at the last minute, because it’s quite close to where some family friends live, I had to pick five, and I was too lazy to do my research into the long lists of possible universities. I was convinced I was going somewhere nice and sunny, and that was that.
Cut to: Josie wandering, bewildered, out of a northern French train station in the middle of the night at the start of September. I had done no research, had no place to live, had never visited the area before, and the town was still thick with the heat of the late-summer daytime. The following few weeks are now a useless blur in my memory – they were largely spent sleeping on my friend’s sofa, and angling myself towards the air conditioning in various people’s offices whilst trying to navigate messy French bureaucracy.
Of course, eventually, I found a place to live. It’s in the middle of nowhere, but we have a cat, and a garden, and a conservatory. It’s very tranquil, which is nice, if that’s your thing.
Most of the things I’ve learnt here haven’t been particularly concrete or measurable. I was lucky that my French was reasonable by the time I arrived, so for me, the things I’ve learnt are harder to put into words.
First of all, patience. Not only with obvious things, like the abysmal system of French paperwork, or dealing with La Poste when they misdeliver a parcel again, but with other people, and with yourself if you don’t get something right the first time, or the second time. It’s perseverance as well: When things go wrong, it’s very easy to say, “But Rouen was my fifth choice!” and give in and book a plane straight back home.
It took me a while to realise that nobody ever achieved anything by giving up and going home.
People tell you that years abroad are hard, but sometimes they are really, really hard, and you won’t have the motivation to get out of bed, and the most exciting thing you have done that week is try a new flavour of drink from the corner shop, and you feel like you are somehow doing your year abroad ‘wrong’. I suppose, in a way, your year abroad teaches you that there are a lot of gross, scary things out there… but it also eventually teaches you that you’re more than equipped to deal with them – which is lame, but kinda nice.
You meet the weirdest – and nicest – bunches of people, and you end up in places you never think you will end up – whether it’s dancing on top of French bars with expats, or finding yourself in a basement party at 4am in the countryside, or befriending strangers on a delayed 4-hour train to Lyon.
It is odd to think that my Erasmus year is already nearing its end, with less than three months to go until my lease is up on my room. I am hoping that I will emerge from this experience feeling like it was something other than a disorientating lost weekend where I disappeared for flighty weekends in Paris, wandered the old cobbled streets of Rouen and drank red wine with my housemates while watching American films (dubbed in French, natch). I know that it will leave me with fond memories.
I have enjoyed my year abroad so far. I have enjoyed finding myself in a town where the grass is very green, and the public transport is excellent, and there are lots of very old buildings that look like they’re going to fall over. I have made lots of friends. France may still not yet be home, and it’s important that Erasmus students are honest with themselves and others, but it is all good for now.
And hey, I’ve still got two and a half months left to finish my to do list. :)
Josie Miller is a French student at Edinburgh University. When not watching sitcoms on Netflix, Josie enjoys living life as a mermaid. After living in France for 6 months she can now tell the difference between red and white wine.
To hear more of Josie’s musings on life abroad check out her blog: www.josieisamess.blogspot.com.
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