The Four Stages of a Year Abroad
Before the start of my year abroad I was bombarded with information of what I was to expect. “The best year of your life”, “a lot of fun”, “partying all the time”, “challenging” and “difficult”. After returning from my year in Lille, France, I can say there are some truths to these statements. However I have come to find that my year abroad is more accurately characterized in 4 stages:
1) Homesickness 2) Excitement 3) Over-indulgence 4) Reverse culture shock.
I can only assume that other students have experienced these stages, maybe not in the same sequence or only certain phases. Either way this is my take of my year abroad in France.
Homesickness was the first stage I experienced. One would expect homesickness to come in the later stages. However not in my case mainly due to the fact I am very close to my family and having spent the summer with family members I had not seen for a long time. My homesickness was triggered off by my last waves to my mother at the train station. Difficulty with the language exacerbated my longing to be back home. For example a usually simple trip to the shop, became an embarrassing and awkward situation when I was unable to understand the sales assistant. My broken French was of no help, leading me to cause a huge queue of frustrated customers.
The second stage, excitement came about after realising what a great opportunity I had to live in France for a year. From this moment I wanted to live, breathe and eat everything French and have fun. I had dinner nights with my French roommates where-by we gorged on cheese, wine, crepes and other French delicacies. I was a frequent customer at the local patisserie and I made sure to visit the market every Sunday to get my fix of delicious, ready-made inexpensive food. I spent nights out at house parties where both the flow of wine and conversation was refreshingly new to me and entertaining. A night out such as this would have never appealed to me before as I was only concerned about the music and dancing.
The third stage, Over-indulgence, kicked in halfway through my year when I returned to France after spending the Christmas break in England. That’s when it dawned on me, my stay in France was temporary and therefore I had to make the most out of it. I began by rededicating the rest of my time to improving my French. I attempted to speak French all the time even with international friends. I delved into watching television in French more than ever and listened to the radio whenever I could. I made sure I made the rounds to all the important landmarks and museums. I engaged with the culture even more, with a trip to a contemporary dance show and the opera. By the end of my time I could make French classic foods such as a tarte tatin and tartiflette like second nature.
Unfortunately and fortunately everything has to come to an end, and so did my year in France by early June. That is when Stage 4, reverse culture shock occurred. The best way to describe this is that I was so accustomed to life in France that my life in England now seemed somewhat odd. For example a couple weeks after being back I ventured into shops and I would say hello and I was met with awkward stares. A regular custom which I found socially awkward at the beginning of my year abroad was now the opposite in England. The lack of a patisserie within a mile radius of me seemed completely absurd. The aisle of cheese stacked with every variety one could imagine was no more. However there were some good surprises such as the fast and efficient visit at the bank and other places which would have been a long and difficult process in France. My time in France was characterized by a number of varying experiences, good and bad. Overall I can confidently say that my year abroad in France was a life exchanging experience that made me more confident and independent than I was a year before.