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The year abroad blues

I’m so sorry that I haven’t updated for such a long time. Things have been very busy – and also very hard. I’ve almost hit the two month mark, and I am practically counting the days til I can finally go back and have a break. I’m going to bullet-point the problems to keep it concise. At any rate, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to have faced these things.

  • I still haven’t sorted out my learning agreement.
    That’s right. It’s still all up in the air. After making many changes, which met the 30-credit requirement exactly, I thought I could finally sit back and relax. I emailed my tutor in the UK with my choices, and he said that since two of them weighed 7 credits, and were “too irrelevant” to my degree as a whole, I had to drop one of them and replace it with two classes in French language or culture. No way was I going to give up Hebrew – I’m enjoying it too much, and I’ve sought out the obscure book and everything (which, let me tell you, was not cheap).  But now, I have to absolutely bust a gut trying to find classes that not only fit my current timetable, but that are available for just this semester. It’s honestly like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The biggest problem is, I need to let Liège know what classes I’m finally doing by this Friday. This is just awful.
  • I am struggling very much with lectures and work.
    I don’t think the content is really any harder than what I’d be doing if I was back home. But, of course, since it’s taught in French, it’s very difficult. I listen for the first five minutes or so, then I find that concentrating is so exhausting that I just begin to daydream. By the time I “wake up”, I have no clue what the lecturer’s on about. I come out of the lesson with the bare bones of the topic – meaning I need to go and do my own research on the internet when I get back. The worst thing is, virtually none of them make use of the whiteboard, or even PowerPoint presentations, so it’s not like I have some sort of visual aid. I know this is something I should probably go and talk to them about, but I can’t imagine them modifying their whole teaching style just to accommodate the poor little foreigner. Anyway – going into shops and speaking French is fine. Having conversations one-on-one is fine. Having to actually pay attention to someone speaking it for two hours straight? Not so easy. No.
  • I am having a few social problems within the house.
    And it makes me feel very tense, since it’s in the place I have to call home. I was on the brink of moving out because I was so depressed. I was going to view a few places – but when I consulted the manager of where I currently live, he said that I couldn’t, unless I found somebody to replace me. So I guess I am just going to have to stick it out. I’ve devised a few methods of how I’m going to do that, which I really hope will work out and will make Christmas come quickly – as well as helping me have a somewhat good time in between.
  • I don’t feel “busy” enough.
    I know that sounds odd, because I’ve just expressed how much work I have to do. But obviously, non-academic activities are necessary so that you don’t go insane. I just can’t find anything student-run that I’m interested in. I’ve tried political groups, even things like cinema club, but nothing seems to be really “alive” and there’s no way to contact them. It is extremely frustrating, to say the least. If nothing else, it means I have no source of meeting like-minded people. It is so hard to go from being passionate about presenting a radio show each week with a friend and meeting people through that, to not having anything like that at all, and not knowing how you could possibly meet those sorts of people in a new place. My social life feels so drab.

That’s enough. I know that in the long run this will probably make me a stronger person – or whatever it is that people tell you to try and make you feel better – but in the meantime, it’s pretty painful. I’m facing the biggest test of independence yet.

Bienvenue & Wilkommen!

I was hosting this blog on Tumblr. However, it is now going out of the window since I decided WordPress would be a much better platform for what I intend to use this for.

My name is Rose, and I’m studying French and German at university. In your third year of any language degree, you must spend a year abroad in the countries where your language is spoken (most people in my year study two languages = two countries). And in your final year, when you come back, you have to write the equivalent of a dissertation about your experiences.

I should also emphasise that this year abroad, although giving many opportunities to experience travel and culture, is not a holiday. All the work you do on it contributes towards your degree.

In just 11 days (of which I only have 6 left to prepare, because I am going to a festival next week) I will be travelling to my first adopted city – Liège, Belgium. About a week after my arrival, my classes at the university are going to start. In case you are unfamiliar with the process of studying abroad, most universities in EU countries participate in a scheme called Erasmus. This scheme encourages students to study at other European universities with whom they have an alliance (obviously since I do languages, it was mandatory for me, but I think anyone studying anything can take part). They give you a grant for your trouble.

I chose to go to Belgium rather than France because to me, it is more culturally intriguing. Belgium has two official languages – French and Dutch, plus a small German-speaking area in the very east – and this is a cause of social conflict, to the extent that each community won’t teach the other’s language in schools. Currently, there isn’t even a government! I don’t know why, but this all fascinates me to no end. Also, I’ve only been to Belgium for a brief couple of times, whereas I have been to a variety of regions in France for two weeks each time, and I just wanted to try something different. Anyway, I’m going to stay there until February, writing essays and doing exams all in French, that actually count… which is more than a little daunting.

Then I am going to start the second part of my year, in Linz, Austria, which is when I will need to promptly forget all French, and put my German hat on! I’m going to be a teaching assistant in English lessons in two high schools. I am particularly excited about this part of the year, because… I will be getting paid. This placement is funded by the British Council. I cannot wait to live completely independently, and explore central Europe, which I’ve never ventured to (indeed, this will be my first time in Austria).

And why am I going to Linz? Well, I didn’t choose to. Originally, I wanted to try and get a work placement in Berlin, Germany, which is where I would very much like to live once I graduate. But this didn’t work out, and I was really adamant about not spending the whole year just studying – I wanted to try living in the “real world” as well as in a student bubble. Then I found out about the British Council thing through my German lecturer (who, by the way, is one of the best, most inspiring and encouraging teachers I’ve ever had in my life). Owing to Germany’s strange semester dates, I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to apply for a teaching placement in Berlin. However, I could go to Austria, and so I went for it, putting Vienna as my first choice. I didn’t get Vienna, but really, I am just as happy with Linz, as it looks nice and the capital isn’t too far away.

So, I’ll probably post again soon after I’ve arrived in Liège on 8th September, and I hope to have some photos ready.