"I have learnt many languages in many different ways. At school, university, following ‘teach yourself’ programmes and various training schemes. Now I teach English myself. What have I learnt as both a student and teacher of languages? That there is NO substitute and NO quicker or more effective way of learning a language than spending time in that country.
I chose not to follow the paths which I felt the university pushed most: teaching assistant or attending a foreign university. I wanted to find a job placement myself. I had several reasons for doing this.
1) I resented having to pay fees (even half fees) to the university when I wasn’t even attending.
2) As a teaching assistant, whilst you have three destination ‘preferences’, your final placement may not be where you wish to end up.
3) As a student in a foreign university, the temptation to stick with other Anglophones would’ve been too strong.
As a result, my year abroad represented not only my first year living abroad but simultaneously my first year in the professional world. The practical challenges of setting up a bank account, a mobile phone, finding an apartment and negotiating a new city are hard. In a foreign language, you can feel like you are drowning in a sea of incomprehension. Add to this the task of constructing yourself a social circle in a place where you do not know a single soul? Tell me, how many 30, 40, 50 year olds, lawyers, recruiters, teachers etc. can say that they have done that?
The person who comes out of the end of that experience, not only whole but happy, is a changed one. I dreaded the thought of going to Paris. I was excited, so excited, but so scared. But the most challenging year of my life was not that one. The most difficult year I lived was the one that I spent away from Paris, away from my friends, my boyfriend, my work, and my home, back in Manchester diligently completing the fourth year of my degree.
Nothing that I can write can truly justify the immense emotional transformation I have undergone. I have become French. I have the conscience, the reflections, the social codes and the cultural references of a 22 year old girl, fiercely proud of her Yorkshire roots and the fact that her country produced Shakespeare, Gilbert and Sullivan, Monty Python and The Rolling Stones and those of a 22 year old Montmartoise who complains about the metro, smokes like a chimney and adores the word play in George Brassens’ lyrics, roars with laughter at the films of Louis de Funes and goes weak at the knees at the sight of Eugene Delacroix’s ‘Liberty leading the people’.
That’s the best I can do. That is my testament to my year abroad. Written on the 6th of December 2011 from the very same apartment in Montmartre where on the 30th July 2009, I arrived with all that trepidation, fear and excitement that spurred me on to create the most amazing experience one could hope to have."