I’ve been in France for a month now, and having moved to Saint Etienne after struggling with the lifestyle in a smaller town, and attempting to organise a bank account, phone contract, social security, wifi and gas, my housemates and I are finally settling into French life (the amount of baguettes we’ve bought is quite ridiculous). It’s no surprise to any university student, or basically anyone in general, that when moving house, starting at university or a new job, or opening a bank account, there are a lot of forms to fill in. You need to remember to tick this box and sign that document by a certain date or your whole world will cave in. However I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced, or ever will experience, anything as complicated as French admin. From what I’ve heard from friends in other countries, it’s not just France that has this problem, so my next tip for surviving the year abroad would be:
2. ADMIN IS A NIGHTMARE, BUT IT’S JUST A HURDLE – it’s difficult and complicated and it makes you want to curl up in a ball and just wait until you can go home, but it’s one small thing in a whole year of new experiences, and once it’s done it leaves you free to enjoy them properly – plus it’s amazing for your language skills!
It’s not easy. You want to open a bank account? Make sure you’ve got proof of accommodation! Still don’t have accommodation and need to find somewhere? Get a letter from your bank WHICH YOU CAN’T DO WITHOUT ACCOMMODATION. Want to set up wifi in your new flat? You’ll probably be expected to provide a passport, birth certificate, bank account, that essay you wrote in first year, a picture from your family holiday in ’08 and the name of your cat.
The most frustrating thing is that, at the same as drowning you in an endless sea of forms and documents, they also have no urgency. I’m living in one of the highest cities in France at the moment and I can assure you that not having heating, a shower or an oven for a week and a half is sort of hellish, as the weather here is already like the UK in late December, but apparently no one in the gas company felt the need to come and fix it any sooner. You might be asked to create a scale model of the Eiffel Tower in order to get a supermarket loyalty card, but once you’ve done that, it’s likely you’ll get told to expect the card by carrier pigeon in approximately 1-6 weeks. Oh and if like me you bring a car to France, don’t crash it ok? Just don’t. I can tell you that it will take up possibly more of your time sorting that than basically everything else put together.
I can’t say whether this applies to other countries as much as to France, but either way make sure you have absolutely everything you could possibly need to set anything up when you’re here. Find out what kind of things you know you’ll need before you go – is there a situation where you could need a birth certificate? And if so does it need to be translated? And for good measure, scan, photocopy and print off anything you can think of just in case – having photocopies of your ID and getting passport-size photos done before you leave could save you time and money when you get here.
Anyone who’s currently on their year abroad will probably agree with me that the first month or two of your year abroad are incredibly busy, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad. Your first few weeks will be exciting; you’ll be meeting new people, having new experiences and possibly doing lots of things you’ve never done before, like travelling alone, setting up bank accounts and organising phone contracts. I won’t lie to you and say that in amongst that it doesn’t sometimes get incredibly difficult and lead many of us wondering whether a year abroad was the right choice, but I hope anyone reading this who has been on a year abroad will say that if you just stick it out it’ll be worth it. It may not be for everyone, but for most people all this hassle will result in a really amazing year. The stress of setting up a bank account and starting a new job mean you can pop to Paris or Madrid for the weekend, or stuff yourself with gateaux and pastéis de natas and feel really cultural. Having to drive 2 hours to a training session in Grenoble is worth it when you’re surrounded by some of the most awesome views in the world. And honestly – at least this is what I’m telling myself – if you can explain in French to the technician that no, having the wifi set up next week is not “good enough” because you need to watch the Great British Bake Off final like now, you can do anything.