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Articles > Life February, 17, 2012

Channel Hopping – surviving a year abroad

February, 17, 2012

Abi Jenkins Student Panel member, studying French at the University of Exeter. Member since March 2008.
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Now don’t get me wrong, I was fully aware when I signed up for this French degree that I was going to be spending a year abroad in France, with people who speak it all the time, think in it, dream in it, and have done since it was their first word, but now it’s a matter of months away it’s all sort of hitting me. Right in the face. Like a giant baguette. The prospect of travelling to a foreign country is filled with promise and excitement, but the concept of actually moving there, on my own, for an entire year, is tainted brown with more than a little terror.

Photo by Francois Schnell

I’ve studied French for more years than I actually care to remember, and there is now an entire French section on my bookshelves, filled with everything from Madame Bovary, to L’Histoire de France Pour Les Nuls, but that alone is just not going to cut it. It’s possible to read about and study something to within an inch of its entire concept, but in reality the leap from page to practice is a giant one.

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Tell anyone you study a language at any level, and they will immediately regale you with a (mercifully) potted history of their entire experience of any language ever, and then expect you to know the answer to any and every obscure conjugation question they’ve ever pretended to care about. And that’s before producing some member of their family who just so happens to be visiting from France/Germany/Spain/Lithuania (delete as appropriate) and would simply love to converse with you at such a level of fluency, and such a frequency of words, that only a particularly adept foreign dog could respond with any level of coherence or sense. Simply put; I’ve been researching the characteristics of selective mutism, just in case. I’m of course aware that thousands of University students go abroad every single year, and more importantly come back alive, but it hasn’t stopped me wincing at the merest whiff of garlic, and having pre-emptive flashbacks at the briefest sight of stripy-chested men on bicycles with strings of onion round their necks. (More common in South-Westerly England than you might think).

As inevitable as the tides, I will go, I will survive, maybe even excel, and then I will return, with a wealth of self-discovery and personal growth under my belt, and an acquired taste for escargots. In spite of the fact I made it this far without a snail joke, (remarkable, I know) you may have noticed that I’m still trying not to take the inevitable too seriously, in the vain hope that I can laugh my way across the channel in as smooth, and calm a motion as possible, to avoid spending the next year sat in a corner rocking back and forth muttering the Marseillaise in order to try and fit in.

I’ll be fine; I know. It’s going to be an incredible year of discovery and fulfilment, just with the subtitles switched off, and the capacity for living cranked all the way up to 11. Oh, and if I do in fact fall flat on my visage, it is only a matter of 12 months, 52 weeks, or even 365 days, and when it’s all over I can come crawling back to this fair isle; tail between my legs and yesterday’s frog legs still between my teeth.

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  1. Sergiu Rosu
    February 17, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    You’ll be fine indeed. I really try hard not to think whether or not I’ll be able to think/dream, speak and write in English the next four ears. I’ll be a foreign (Romanian) student in your country and I find it very strange to have to learn in English (even if I’ve been able to do it for years). It just scares me. The change…
    But I wish you the best 🙂 (I’ve been learning French for 10 years now and even if I understand it I still can’t speak fluently… it just isn’t for me. As a Latin-originated language speaker I find French “ugly” and hard… even if Romanian is harder and “uglier”.)

  2. Hannahjane
    February 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    As ever, Miss Jenkins, your wonderful way with words makes me smile with joy and grimace with envy. Translate some of your marvellous wit into French and your visage will run no risk of hitting the ground. And be sure to blog lots while you’re away, so that the world can stalk you AND read your beautiful words. 🙂

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