When living in France becomes normal

What is ‘normal’ in life? There was a time when living in a medieval building was a goal, now it’s my reality. Every time I’ve gone back to Edinburgh, I’m reminded that ‘normal’ was once something completely different to what it is now and how quickly ‘normal’ can change.

When I first came to Strasbourg everything was terrifying. I remember staring at it from a tram, clutching my luggage and wondering if it was possible for me to live here for a year. Strasbourg was huge and everything was too different to take it. The streets, though picturesque, were labyrinthine. The university system was too complex for a mere mortal like myself. Speaking French on top of that? Not a chance. Now when I return from time away, the same tram ride reassures me. Strasbourg has become smaller and navigable. The picturesque streets are familiar enough to be comforting. Even speaking French seems possible, to my great surprise I often find myself doing it. The university system will always be too complex for mortals, but that’s just vaguely amusing. In short, Strasbourg has become typical.

Going back to Edinburgh has started to feel weird. The familiarity is both comforting and perturbing, as you’re reminded of something that seemed so far away it didn’t exist anymore. The thought of being back there for another year is tantalising, but unreal. It’s hard to reconcile your first love with your new one, a bit of you feels like you’re having an affair! Don’t tell Edinburgh, but I think I quite like Strasbourg…

As for ‘home’, with each year at university it’s become less and less that. I find myself having to specifically plan to spend a week there, otherwise I won’t go back for half a year. There was a time when I couldn’t spend seven weeks away, this year it could have easily been seven months. Of course it’s still lovely to go back, particularly to spend some quality time with my cat and a fridge fully stocked with Cheddar. But it certainly isn’t ‘normal’ anymore. You feel like an invader into your past life; you don’t quite fit into your room or your family’s daily routine.

University was always going to irrevocably change how I viewed ‘home’, but did I expect Erasmus to change how I view Edinburgh? I knew I would miss it and maybe part of me dared to hope that I would fall for another city. Feeling foreign in Edinburgh, a city I once wandered through with aplomb, is difficult. Yet although I might feel torn sometimes (doubtlessly also affected by being in a long distance relationship) I love the fact that life in a once foreign city is normal. But best of all? I get to be a Bristolian, an Edinbugger and a Strasbourgeois all at once and that’s pretty fortunate indeed!

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