A Term Abroad in France: “oh the people you’ll meet”
Fitting in is hard. Unfortunately for humans, fitting in and feeling part of the group is a major desire. During your first year at university you tend to find that everyone is in the same boat as you, no one has any experience with anyone around them, and everyone’s looking to make friends. Sure it takes a while, but at least you feel that other people are willing to listen.
Welcome to your year abroad, the rules are quite simple:
1. you have no friends
2. the people around you have friends
3. you don’t share a language or a culture with them
Good luck. When you write it like that it can be genuinely off-putting; many don’t quite realise the implications of taking a year abroad in regards to the social factor. There are even some ways in which it is harder to rely on your home-friends to help: The time zones can mess up your plans to talk, you don’t go through the same things as them, or even perhaps the fact that they might be in final year and can’t make so much time for you. It really sucks to lose your footing, but this is part of the experience. Dive into the deep end.
Before I even went to France I told myself that I would escape the Erasmus bubble as soon as possible and try to make as many native friends as possible. This turned out to be quite difficult. I was placed in small classes with the other non-francophones, and for 2 weeks the only class we had was French (something I do commend Ensai for, we had 5 hours of French a day in a relaxed environment, it wasn’t so much grammar or writing exercises, mostly listening and speaking). There weren’t even any other students there because we had arrived 2 weeks before everyone else. The campus, being a soulless wasteland, offered little to explore, so my foreign friends and I set out to get to know the region. I felt myself entering the bubble…
As real class began I found myself the only non-francophone in most of my classes, entirely in French. The biggest problem I found was (apart from the extremely uncomfortable desks) that I could either listen and understand what was being said or make notes and not process what I was writing down. In situations like these it’s helpful to have someone else who prefers to make notes share theirs with you so you can focus. I for one wasn’t about to introduce myself to a random French person and ask for copies of their notes, so I just sat there and tried to get what I could, spending much time after class in the library trying to decipher what I had just heard (using an English textbook).
Determined to escape my Erasmus helpline that I’d inevitably created, I joined the music society. I got very lucky as they needed a singer for a concert they were doing in a few weeks. Perfect. Joining societies is the best way to make local friends. You already have something in common and if all else fails you can just talk about that. Another piece of luck struck as I mentioned that I had never been to a raclette in conversation during a seminar. An acquaintance of mine, whom I had met in my intercultural communication class, was shocked and insisted that I come to the next one they host. Humans follow the path of least resistance, and if you make it easy for them to talk to you/make friends with you/invite you to stuff then they will succumb eventually. You plan to infiltrate the country to harvest its culture may commence.