To use one of the age-old clichés of the Year Abroad preparation handbook, everyone’s experience is different. Of course it is: you’re shipped off to a far-away land (with much less admin help than you would have liked, but hey, it’s all part of the process, right?) and told to get on with things.
The various requirements of your degree will mean that you probably won’t be having the same number of teaching time as other people you know. I’ve somehow managed to end up with only 7 hours of lectures a week, with 4 of those being French lessons with other Erasmus students, so my actual contact with French people of my own age is a little limited.
As you’ll have been told from primary school, however, activities outside of class are a great idea. Leaving aside all of that CV stuff, it’s absolutely great for the Year Abroad as well. Given that the whole year is a fantastic opportunity to try new things and get to know new people, keeping yourself busy in your free time is the best way to settle in.
Since the main aim of living in a different country is to help you improve on the language, finding an activity to do with local people is the best way to get to know the slang and practise your language skills. I’ve joined the local hockey team here in Rennes, and the amount of French that I’ve picked up from speaking to my teammates is way beyond what I’ve learned in my language classes at the university. Being the new guy has also meant that my team have been keen to show me what Britanny has to offer, so I’ve been subjected to some of France’s worst rap, but also its best cider.
Like most places, the locals here are thrilled that you are trying to learn and speak their language, so me making mistakes in French isn’t an issue. They’re sympathetic and they’ll help me out with vocab and grammar, and it’s always a very friendly atmosphere.
I know plenty of other Erasmus students who say the same thing. By joining the local hockey team I’ve very much stuck to what I know, but I’ve found that the reassurance of doing something that I was familiar with helped me to settle in. Other Erasmus students have gone a little more out of their comfort zone, and they’re having a great time.
My friend Myles told me that the best idea is to do ‘something that you’ve never done before’. From kayaking to joining the local choir, I’ve met students here who’ve really made the most of their new environment. ‘You really have a lot of free time as an Erasmus student’, Vera told me, ‘Extracurricular activities are necessary if you don’t want to be bored’. The university’s kayaking club has meant that Vera has been able to visit parts of Brittany that she wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. It doesn’t matter what you do, but make sure you get out of the house.
Whichever activities you do; sport-based or otherwise, make sure you chat to people in the local language, even if they’re English. Whilst I’m forced to speak French to the guys from my hockey club, I’m making a real effort to practice French with my Erasmus friends as well. It removes the embarrassment of making mistakes and allows you to have a moan about how bloody annoying French verlan and the subjunctive are.
As well as taking part in organised activities, exploring your city and getting involved with things you see is a great way to make friends. Myles arrived in Rennes before most other students, so had plenty of time to wander around: ‘Sometimes you stumble across something as random as a re-enactment of an ancient fable in the park, and if you’re a little bit brave and wander over, you’ll have surely made a few friends within minutes.’