By Daisy Michelson
In September 2018, I moved to La Celle Saint Cloud in the Île-de-France region of – unsurprisingly – France. Around five months after submitting my application form to the British Council language assistant programme, I was informed that I would be working in or around Versailles. A few weeks before I flew to Paris, I was assigned the more specific town of La Celle Saint Cloud.
I began working in a tiny primary school in a neighbouring town called Louveciennes, as well as spending some of my working hours teaching children via webcam link based at the head offices. This allows schools unable to have their own assistant for financial or geographical reasons to access a native voice.
I’m lucky to live equidistant from Paris and Versailles. In fact, these landmark cities are only a 30 minute journey away. Spending this year discovering all corners of such internationally sought after destinations is something I will never take for granted. My work placement with the British Council allows me with plenty of free time to explore and appreciate my surroundings.
Time really does soar past when on a year abroad. The first few weeks (if not months) of adjusting to a new country, climate and culture are challenging. Plenty of small victories feel closer to huge accomplishments – getting on the right bus without having to ask someone for help; giving directions to a tourist who is lost; or sustaining a full conversation in your target language.
For me, every little challenge has felt character building. Standing up in front of a class of French children who will understand approximately 15% of the words you utter forges a kind of confidence I’m not sure you could find anywhere else. Persisting in speaking French whenever you visit Paris despite every waiter, shop assistant and ticket sales person having an almost perfect grasp of the English language. Spending days discovering tourist destinations or hidden places of beauty with only yourself for company.
Those skills you’ve always said you have on your CV? A year abroad is the time where they are put to the test. Interpersonal skills: essential on a work placement to communicate with your new colleagues; also key when finding your way around when you’re lost and your mobile data isn’t working. Time management: vital for getting to your new workplace on time; you will also soon learn that buses and trains will absolutely never get you anywhere on time. A good sense of initiative: extremely useful when aforementioned buses and trains are malfunctioning and you need a new way to get to work.
A year abroad can be a turbulent time and new experiences can feel overwhelming. My advice? Take time to soak it all in. Write letters to your loved ones. Don’t believe everything you see on Instagram. Discover that new place even if you’ve got no one to go with you. Ask for support if you need it. Ignore the people who tell you to enjoy every minute – that’s impossible.