Category Archives: France

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

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

 

Free time. Me time.

Ironically, I have had little free-time to write anything for this blog for a while. And I know my avid readership cried in despair, waiting in agony for my little name to pop up with another post about my eclectic and wonderful time on my erasmus study placement. And for that, I do apologise…

Anyway.

One thing that you surprisingly don’t hear much about before you do a study placement is the amount of free time you will inevitably have. This is especially the case when studying something like politics. People doing similar courses will agree, we have of course all seen the course booklets “12 hours a week in lectures. 40 hours a week in reading.” Which means, especially for a fresher, “lots and lots of lie ins.” I’m not going to shy away from that fact, subjects in the social sciences really don’t involve a lot of lecture or seminar time, and you will eventually learn that the reading is incredibly important, however, on a study placement, you find that you free time is frequent.

At sciences po anyway, the workload isn’t anything compared to the masters students or even the french undergrad students either. This equates to a heap of free-time with which you have a free reign to think about all the things you could do while you lie in bed becoming a lazy slob… UNLESS you follow my advice.

Find a hobby! Find more than one in fact. In my case, the Braderie of Lille, the biggest flea market in Europe, pulled on my hipster heartstrings and eventually I bought two old, manual cameras on the cheap. I had absolutely no idea how to handle them or whether they indeed worked! Yet, through sheer perseverance, free-time and a useful tool called the internet, I developed a real love for 35mm film photography and I now take my two new-er film cameras EVERYWHERE.

But what I’m trying to say is, it is important to practice the cliché of expanding your horizons. But this isn’t only in terms of integrating into a new country, culture and language, but also in developing yourself, your interests and your hobbies. This helps cure the boredom that not only occurs on a study placement, but in the day-to-day life back at home. I’m happy about my placement because of the people I met and the things I did, and too of how I integrated. But I’m also extremely happy that I developed a new love for something like photography and it has helped in more ways than I originally thought.

Either way, find a hobby. You will have a lot of free time on a study placement and this time is important. University work can also cause stress and you need this time. However, without a hobby or some way of spending this time on you or in a positive way, boredom is only going to add to this stress.

Also, have some pictures from my 35mm cameras. Because why not?

Why Should I Choose to Study Abroad?

We are now nearing the end of March and this period for me, last year, consisted of looking into potentially a work placement to add to my already accepted study placement. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t find anything that suited in terms of dates and job responsibilities but even in my failure to find an additional work placement, I always knew I had a my study placement and the option to extend it to a full year as something to fall back on. Now, looking back on the decision to extend, I cannot really complain.

I think that those who are still in the position of looking for a placement, work or study, should seriously consider a study placement.

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Vegetarian in France:

Apparently I am a rare breed in France. I exist here as part of a small and slow growing population of vegetarians. Yet really, that isn’t as much of a problem as I thought it would be.

In the 90s in France, 1.5% of the population were vegetarians and that has only increased to 2% recently, yet in the UK, 12% of us are either vegetarian or vegan and this rises to 20% when you look at people aged between 16 and 24. But despite the huge gap between the two countries, there are no real problems.

Telling a french person you are vegetarian is met with a few french ‘uumms’ and ‘errs’, of course, but after only just passed a year of turning vegetarian, I am already a seasoned-pro when it comes to batting off stupid questions about a seemingly rational choice.

– Where do you get your protein from?
– How do you not crave meat everyday?
– If you had to choose between eating meat or dying, which would you choose?
– If I touched you with a bit of chicken, would you be pissed off?
– Is it not really difficult to be a vegetarian?

And so on and so forth. These are genuine questions I and many others have had by the way, and they really aren’t worth answering. Except the last one.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:

Channeling my inner Clint Eastwood with this post. An erasmus placement can throw up all types of situations. Some are Good, some are bad, and some are just plain ugly.

The Good

Clichés may exist for a reason, you can’t talk about France without mentioning food, for example. But as a longstanding anti-cliché-r, and because the food in Lille actually isn’t that great, I have to instead talk about the beer. Lille and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region has some of the best beer I’ve ever tried. You can forget the watered-down lager of your 15 year-old days sat in the local park, and instead, actual enjoy a nice beer here in the north of France.

But also, one of the huge bonuses of Lille is its location. The city is heavily influence by the 30 minute drive to Belgium, and the beer there is just a different class. Furthermore, with an airport for the city; two airports an hour away in Brussels; bus links to the likes of Amsterdam, Antwerp and Paris; and finally a Eurostar connection, you pretty much can’t go wrong when you need to escape the bad parts of the placement.

The Bad

Apologises for the lowering of tone. I know, I know, all that talk of beer made me happy, too. But it is important to note that while the placement year is a fun distraction from the work of final year and can really impress on your cv; it is also a time of change and it is only natural that there are going to be bad points.

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