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Amy Hares: From the South Coast to Toulouse and Valencia. :-)

The end of an era: a year abroad in pictures

As the academic year draws to a close and I find myself with my feet placed well and truly back on British soil, it’s hard to believe that I’ve just spent a whole year abroad, on my own, and survived – who’d have thought?!

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survived!

So this blog post is going to be my final one for Aston’s Placement blog (cry cry), and I thought it’d be rather fitting to do it in pictures, rather than ramblings. Pictures are always more interesting!

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But firstly, I must highlight something quite important. If you’re thinking of undertaking a Year Abroad, there’s one rule I followed. I first set off on my year abroad over a year ago, not having the slightest inkling of what awaited me: lions? the jungle? Goodness knows! But I was only going to France and Spain! Having never lived in a foreign country before, I didn’t have a clue about how to feel. So I shut off the “feeling” part and just got on with it. I did this for the whole year and it worked. This is quite possibly the best advice I can offer. I’ve learnt not to overthink things as it’s not worth the time nor energy, this did wonders for my panic issues. Your family and friends will support you no matter what. Smile, make the most of the opportunity and get on with it – no looking back. Not everyone gets to do what you do, so please, for your own sake, make the most!

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I am honestly so thankful to Air France, because, without them, I wouldn’t have got to experience and live in the most beautiful city in France. I miss working for them, they were honestly some of the kindest and friendliest faces and I’ve learnt so much from spending 6 months with them. They did so much for me and I honestly can’t thank them enough. They taught me discipline and focus, and how to make my work exciting. My love for Toulouse is beyond words. Of course, there are ups and downs to every experience, but I feel blessed to have been able to live there.

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Toulouse is such a beautiful place and I loved living there. It’s a small city with a massive heart and it felt like home. Aside from my horrendous landlady, I had the best time there, and lived a carefree life (outside of work of course 😉 ).

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I got to take quite a few trips from there too because of its fabulous geographical location.

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Toulouse and Valencia, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

Be positive, be happy!

Amy

How my year abroad changed my mindset :-)

So… Summer has finally hit Spain, and let me tell you, it’s ridiculously boiling!

I’m a person that doesn’t like having a tan, as I tend to go bright red and when you put that with my blonde hair, you’ve got a walking fruit salad. So, I’ve been spending the past few weeks either shade-bathing, or revising. But… With one exam left tomorrow that I’ve no clue about, seeing as nobody (even the lecturer) seems to know when or where it is.. It’s time to go cray. By “cray”, I mean lots of gym sessions and eating lots of salad and fruit and all the good stuff… That’s the life!

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In this post, I wanted to write about how my experience this year has helped shape me, without going into too much detail or being too corny. If you’re thinking of taking a year abroad or a similar experience, this could happen to you too!

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viva la vida

Before I left The UK, I was struggling with panic attacks up to twice a week. It was awful and it was getting out of hand. Sometimes, I didn’t know why I was having them, and other times, it would be in the middle of an exam (not very convenient…). This is a very real thing happening to a lot of other students. I am super dedicated to my studies at Aston, and I love what I do, but the pressure I put on myself back then was ridiculous. I’ll also mention that I haven’t had a single panic attack since June 2015! :-)

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It’s only looking back now that I realise how much calmer I am (not just because of the siestas), and how much more positive I am.

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Things are going to happen, good or bad, and you just learn to deal with that and look at the positives that may come out of that situation. Nothing is worth stressing yourself to oblivion about. If it makes you that stressed, you should probably take a step back.

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I’ve spent most of my university life unnecessarily panicking when I could have been having fun and making the most of it. So I decided to compensate this year and let loose a little more. I’ve done things I’d never have dreamed of doing. When I arrived in Toulouse I went out on my own all the time, met people whilst I was on my own, travelled across the country in blablacars (with strangers) went to bars on my own, etc. I’d have never done that at home! It’s all about risk-taking, and learning that you can do things, you just have to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

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I’ve just started to learn to not take myself so seriously and to take things as they come. Now I’m at a ridiculously disorganised uni in Spain, I’ve become a lot more laid back and I’ve realised that it’s not going to be the end of the world if something goes pear shaped, just do your best and you’ll get there. Never compare yourself to others. People are going to do better than you, just learn from them.

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The more positive you are about things, the less you’ll worry. If you work hard, at least you can say you tried with everything you had. Everyone likes a try-er. My Spanish has definitely improved during my time in Spain, and as long as it’s getting better and I’m trying hard, I’m happy with that, but still… My already Italian accent has become even more prominent since living with two Italians. But the positive side of this is, it makes for a good laugh.

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“try and look spanish…”

But there’s something else that I must mention which is something important to me: never forget where you come from. Living in a beautiful country of organised chaos (yep, I’m talking about Spain), has made me appreciate what we have in The UK, and to never take it for granted. Sure, there are bits that aren’t so great, but you’re going to get that wherever you go. Valencia is beautiful and I love living abroad, but it doesn’t mean the grass is greener. People might moan about the weather at home – why? Be happy. The UK is beautiful, we get 4 seasons that we get to witness and we are very fortunate. Nothing can change where you’re from, and being away has made me become proud of the uniqueness of being British. Whether it’s milk in your tea or funny accents, it doesn’t matter.

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Be happy and stay positive,

Amy

 

Bonjour à tous!

If you’re interested in visiting or maybe even taking a placement in France, I’d recommend one city, and one city only: Toulouse.

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I lived in La Ville Rose for my first semester of my Year Abroad, where I undertook a Work Placement with Air France as an English Tutor. It was the most rewarding, challenging and enjoyable six months, and I’m dying to tell people about this small, beautiful and quirky city in Southern France.

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I first arrived in Toulouse at the beginning of July. My Dad drove all the way from my hometown (near Portsmouth) to Toulouse in one day. It was a journey that I thought would never end, firstly because it’s a 9 hour drive from Caen, Normandy to Toulouse; and secondly because I was so nervous to finally arrive, part of me wanted to stay in the car. But at the height of summer, the further south we drove, the hotter it became. When we finally arrived in Toulouse, the temperature was 36·c, and I really did want to get out of the car.

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The first thing that I noticed in Toulouse was pink. Everywhere. There’s a reason that the French refer to this as The Pink City: The architecture is superb and something exclusive to the Toulouse region. For the whole six months I was in Toulouse, I never stopped marveling at how beautiful the buildings all over the city were.

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The city is very well organised, with such friendly people (this is where Toulouse wins hands down against Paris). It has 2 metro lines, a tram and bus; and if you’re a student, you get to use unlimited transport for just 10€ a month! Even better: If you’re on a work placement with a big company, they pay for 50% of your transport… This made my fee just 5€!

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What’s more, I got to spend my summer discovering the south of France and even parts of Spain, seeing as Barcelona is only a 3 hour car journey away, it’d be rude not to hop down to sunny Spain! During my time in Toulouse, I managed to visit: Lourdes, Carcassonne, Agen, Albi, Montpellier, Béziers, Sitges, Barcelona, Madrid, Salamanca and Sevilla.

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My work placement with Air France taught me so many things. I absolutely cannot recommend this placement enough. The staff in Toulouse are an absolute delight. After a week, I felt right at home. Not only were they welcoming, but they were so enthusiastic to learn what I had to teach them about the English language, no matter their level of English.

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It taught me to be creative and really have fun with my work, because I knew how much it was appreciated by my students. Thanks to my placement there, I have become a lot more patient, organised and prepared. I was so happy to have a job that I looked forward to going to every day.

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I was the only Aston student out in Toulouse this year, which had both its advantages and disadvantages. I study French and Spanish, so my only objective was to improve my French, which is always easier when you’re not surrounded by English speakers. I also got to keep this little slice of French heaven to myself and it meant that I really had to throw myself in at the deep end. I was on a work placement, thus making it really difficult to meet other people my age. But I got there, after numerous tandems and erasmus events, I met people and made friends.

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One thing that I regret about Toulouse is my living arrangements. I feel this is too important to leave out of my Toulouse experience, and I’d say to anyone to meet the people you live with before moving in. My flat was in a beautiful quarter of Toulouse, in the centre. However, the devil does exist; it wears orange leggings and was my landlady who lived with me. I’m not joking when I say that I was chased out of my own house, shouted at, and generally been taken for a complete and utter idiot. “The nightmare” stole my keys, didn’t care if I couldn’t get in at night, asked me to clean a toilet with my bare hands, and even went as far as washing my baguette. So please, if a lady called Martine offers you residence in Toulouse, say NO. But she has equipped me with enough storytelling for a lifetime, I’ll thank her for that!

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But as far as Toulouse goes, it’s an incredible city, there’s always something happening: from quirky little markets to gatherings at Capitole. This is my favourite French city for a reason. It has the buzz of any big city, yet a local, familiar atmosphere, which is what made it feel like a second home to me.

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Even though I haven’t been back to Toulouse since December, I still feel like I’m going back tomorrow. It felt so much like home. I seemed to know this foreign, French city 100 times better than my university city of Birmingham… That really does say something about how welcoming TLS is.

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Thanks to my time in the most beautiful city in France, my French speaking has dramatically improved, I’ve made some friends for life, and I discovered a truly French atmosphere.

Toulouse, it’s been a pleasure.

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À bientôt,

Amy Hares