That’s All, Folks!

As you’re reading this, I’m probably (hopefully!) about 36,000ft in the air, somewhere between Paris and Belfast, nose stuck in a book. I’m on my way home, for the very last time.

That line was supposed to sound very cool, not quite so final and dark… :S

I’m on my way home from France, for the last time.

No more “I’m home for three days, let’s do everything!” no more living out of a suitcase for a week, I’m coming back, much like Take That, for good.

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This is the last post I’ll write as a language assistant living in France, and yet it seems like only two minutes ago, I was crying to my mammy about having to go in the first place.

I’m finally at the end of this crazy year of adventures, and I’ve been looking for the word or words which could pin it all down and describe it perfectly. But there have been so many mixed feelings and emotions, ups and downs, I never thought I’d find a way to describe it. Until the great and wonderful Sharon Flynn’s recent comment on one of my photos, when I found the word- “unforgettable”.

The thing is, I’ll never, ever forget the people I’ve met- both good and bad. I’ll never forget the kindness of my French flatmates, who listened to my awful attempts at speaking French, nor will i forget the one lady who made fun of me when I couldn’t understand her, nor the neighbours who would bang on my wall as a sign to stop talking if it was after 10pm. I’ll not forget the pupils who said things like “Your French is really good, Miss!” or “You’re an amazing teacher!”- but I’ll also never forget the kids who would NOT COOPERATE. The friendships, the kids, the teachers- completely unforgettable.

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And how could I ever forget the travelling? Sailing 36,000 feet above the earth as I sped towards some new horizon, where I’d chat to people from all around the globe in dingy hostels at 2am while eating amazing food and drinking all the caffeine so I didn’t have to sleep. I’ll also remember the time my bank card stopped working half way through a holiday, the time we thought we’d went to the wrong airport because who even knows that the Spanish word for “Stockholm” is “Estocolmo”, and being scolded by chemistry teachers for not getting high in Amsterdam… Ah, memories!

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The feeling of walking home from the train station in Compiègne at midnight after a wonderful day in Paris, when the air is bitter and the sky is littered with stars, and there I am, listening to On My Own feeling like Eponine from Les Mis.

The feeling of being completely and utterly lost and alone when everyone ditched your plans for the 10th time in a row (and the 2am “You CAN do it!” pep talk from your poor, unsuspecting boyfriend, who was asleep-everyone knows you can’t REALLY wake someone up in the middle of the night unless a celebrity has died, or it’s snowing).

The feeling of absolute smug gittiness when you absolutely rocked a conversation in near-perfect French…

…always closely followed by the sheer embarrassment of not being able to say a word when your brain poos its’ pants, whereupon someone will say “So, exactly how long have you studied French?”

The feeling of pride when a lesson plan goes oh so well, contrasted with the feeling of “to pot with it boys, I’m going on the whiskey” when your class hate the lesson you thought was going to win you a Nobel for teaching.

The warm fuzzy feeling you get when your student says “You’re only here for seven months? That’s a shame, you seem like a lovely person” or “You mean so much to us, we appreciate you! Thank you for everything!” or my most recent, gut-wrenchingly cute one: “Thank you for making English fun for us this year” ❤

The feeling of wanting nothing more than to go home and hug your parents, and drooling at the easy jet website like a weird man googling ‘boobies’ at 1am, but THEN sticking it out and feeling “like a boss” when you step off the plane in Dublin airport at midnight at Christmas, thinking “I MADE IT!”

All of these experiences, completely different, some negatives and some positives, but utterly unforgettable.

Some things this year has taught me:

  1. You cannot rely on other people. At all. Ever. If you want something, you have to make it happen for yourself. Not everyone you meet is going to be your friend, no matter how much effort you put in. You want to spend the day in Paris? Go alone. Don’t let someone else’s no hold you back.
  2. On that note, you don’t have to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.
  3. This year teaches you who your real friends are. It pulls you closer to some people, and a million miles away from others (or, 515 miles to be super precise). And that’s just life, and it’s okay not to be everyone’s best friend. If you’re the one putting in all the effort, give yourself a break. There’s such a thing as Skype, Facebook and unless you’re living in the dark ages, MOBILE PHONES, and they can use them, too.
  4. You are probably a heck of a lot stronger than you think you are. If you keep going and pull yourself out of bed when things are tougher than you’d like to admit, then you bloody well are.
  5. There is a thin line between independence and loneliness. Being by yourself is sometimes good, and necessary, but too much consumes you.
  6. French wine is always better.
  7. Violet syrup in champagne is always a yes.
  8. I much prefer being on this side of the classroom, but that’s not me saying I’m becoming a teacher anytime soon!
  9. Long distance relationships are hard, but very much doable, and oh so wonderful. You know that lovely “butterflies-in-your-stomach” feeling you get when you start going out with someone? You get that every time their train pulls into the station when they’ve come to see you (I swear I feel just like John Montague #KissingStillUnableToSpeak)
  10. We are so, SO lucky to have English as our native tongue.
  11. I can’t drink red wine , nor can I eat blue cheese.
  12. Nothing is more genuinely grateful than the merci of a homeless person you’ve just reached your change to.
  13. The Internet is important. I could not have done this experience 20 years ago.
  14. Letters mean so much more than Facebook messages, but Facebook messages mean so much more than nothing. If you love someone who is working or studying away from home, go send them a message right now!! They are a superstar, and they probably don’t hear it enough.
  15. This year takes real courage. Not in a cringey way at all.

I could add hundreds of things to this list, but I’ll leave it there.

I’m nervous to come home for good, because I know that means that all of my wacky adventures have come to an end. Readjustment will be hard, because while there were days where all I wanted was to be curled up on the sofa with a chinese and Modern Family reruns, I had my own quirky little life here in France, that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe. It was in no way perfect, not always comfortable or happy, but it was still my life for several months, and that’s just it. It was NOT a holiday, or a break, or an easy 7 months.

It’s reflecting at this point that I cannot believe how close I was to not going. Last April, I was all set to switch to a single honours degree in English. I’d been to the university counsellor, who agreed with me that going to France was probably a really bad idea, given everything I’d been dealing with for the past two years. She encouraged me to talk to the head of department and my year head in French, to explain why I didn’t think I could do it. She promised they’d be understanding. They were not.

I’m not going to go into details about what they said, but all I will say was I was holding back tears, especially when they told me I wasn’t an adult and therefore couldn’t make this kind of important life decision. In the end, I didn’t even bring up the whole councillor thing. Who wants to talk to someone about really personal stuff when they’re being incredibly insensitive?

I was therefore, very annoyed when I got a smug email from one of these people in November which basically said “Told you so!” i.e. my being in France going alright. Douchepants.

The year abroad goes so much further than getting better at French. You learn so much about yourself and others and life, and that’s the part which is invaluable. We took a test before we left, to measure our level of French, and we were told we’d have to repeat it at the end of the year to see how our level had changed. I retook the test this week, and got exactly the same mark.

I was sad for about two minutes, and then I got angry. How can someone give you a test that goes beyond learning a language? At no point did they ask me how to phone your French bank from Stockholm to explain that your card had stopped working and could they check if it was blocked, or just a smidge naughty. Nor did they examine my competencies concerning staffroom etiquette en France. It was disheartening, because I feel like I’ve learned so much in the past 7 months- way more than you can just throw into a dumb French test. You learn so much about yourself and life and people and how to survive, basically. I felt like they were putting a mark on my life. You can’t grade someone’s life, people!

So, France is over. What next, I hear you cry! I don’t know what I’m going to do next. All I know is, I need a good sleep, and a good month and a half of relaxation.

I want to drink lots of tea, read books, hug my family and friends lots while telling them how much I love them, wake up with the cat at the end of my bed, and only say bye to my boyfriend knowing that I’ll see him in an hour once he’s done with class, not in 6 weeks.

I’m now crying as I write this- GOOD GOLLY, that was the last thing I wanted. I’ve packed my tissues into my suitcase, too. Good one, Amber.

I’ll miss my freedom (ie eating ice cream for breakfast, followed by a mad dash around Paris, for no real reason other than to soak up the humdrum and atmosphere of the city). I’ll miss planning holidays because I have a week off, I’ll miss freshly baked chouquettes still warm in the bag, the sound of the owl hooting outside my window, the sound of the little mouse scampering around as I walk home through the trees (I’ve named him Pepinot and he’s adorable). I’ll miss looking forward to Skype sessions with Chris to hear about his day, and endless attempts at trying to get my dog to notice me on Skype (I think he did, he’s just much cooler than I). I will miss drinking “Very Pamp” wine with Bekah in my room on a schoolnight, because we are naughty little teachers. I’ll miss shutters and friendly Bonjours and castles and cathedrals and little, round glasses and “Ch’ai pas’s” and tutoring and tartlets and the novelty of a million things.

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This blog post deserves a big fat 0 for structure. I don’t even know what I’m typing anymore. Bananahammock.

No, I’m not fluent. No, I did not make 50 fabulous French friends who smoke and wear black and sip red wine while discussing how the Bordeaux is always better. No, it wasn’t easy.

But yes, my French got better. Yes, I made a few friends, who I will stay in touch with. And yes, I’m glad I did it.

If you read this and take one thing away from it, let it be this- language assistantship is not easy, but it’s worth it. Amber of this time last year was probably sat reading Oscar Wilde, feeling very close to tears at the thought of France because she couldn’t do it, but she could do it, and she did it.

Go and travel the world guys. Talk to your family, ask them how they’re feeling regularly, and listen to everything they say closely. Turn off your phone and live in the moment. Don’t forget to take pictures. Say yes more often, smile at old people and say hello, and above all else, do everything with love.

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen me, drop me a message, leave a comment. I pushed the pause button on life in Northern Ireland, and I’m about to hit play again. Let’s have coffee and catch up! I want to get France out of my head, and hear what’s new with all of you instead.

Above all, thank you for reading this, and thank you for your encouragement. I literally could not have done it without you all.

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