It has been an appallingly long time since I’ve posted on here, and for that I can only blame the ridiculously small amount of free time that I’ve had on my hands for the last couple of weeks. Although the individual days in the office sometimes seem to last the length of my entire life, time as a whole is absolutely flying by; I’ve now been here for more than 5 weeks, meaning that I’m almost a quarter of the way through my internship. How has this happened?
Here’s how: as well as being at work for the best part of ten hours a day, I’ve been very busy in the evenings and at weekends too. I have long been well aware that the first few weeks of my time in France would be absolutely crucial in terms of having a social life. Before she left, Laura warned me that no amount of tiredness could be allowed to get in the way of jumping on any possible opportunity to make friends; I know from past experience that you can only reject invitations a certain number of times before people give up asking you, and so I was resolved to avoid making the same mistake again. And, amazingly, it seems to have worked. Matt and I have managed to find ourselves a group of proper friends, almost all of whom are equally as keen to socialise as we are. Wonders will never cease.
Luckily, Laura and Shaun introduced us to some of their friends before leaving, so we were not left floundering completely. One of these friends in particular, Adri, has been fantastically welcoming and kind, always inviting us out for drinks at O’Regans, the Irish pub down the road. He also insists on speaking French to us all the time, which is an added bonus. As well as him, a chance encounter on the stairs (not as risqué as it sounds) with Elisabeth, a German gap year student who arrived at about the same time as us, was the start of another friendship, and through Elisabeth we also met Edith, also a gap year student but from Austria. Throw in some of Adri’s other friends from the foyer who I think I can just about consider myself to be acquainted with, and I’ve suddenly found myself with a decent group of friends. As I said, wonders will never cease.
Making friends on a year abroad is, I have realised, very different to doing so at home. Whilst you are aware that many of these friendships will, in all likelihood, last only as long as your time abroad, you also don’t want to end up spending all of your free time toute seule, and what seems to end up happening, perhaps rather paradoxically, is that everyone you meet for long enough to have a conversation with, however short, becomes a friend. Additionally, most of the non-French people who I’ve met so far have been in a very similar situation to me, and so further bonding is brought about because of that. “You don’t really know what you’re doing either? Let’s be friends!”.
In fact, today marked an important step in these new friendships: five others and I took a day trip to Rennes, the capital city of the region of Brittany, and not too far from Laval. The city itself was beautiful, with majestic architecture and and lots of quirky shops:
but the company was what made the day so much fun:
I’m hoping that there will be many more trips to come; there are lots of (apparently) interesting cities and towns to visit in the region and in neighbouring Brittany. And I’m very keen to get my money’s worth from my carte jeune, the French equivalent of a 16-25 Railcard, so really there’s no excuse whatsoever.
On the subject of friends, I had my first friend from home to visit last weekend. Amy is in the year below me at New College, and we became friends by chance halfway through the last academic year, bonding largely over a love of tea and a shared struggle with mental health problems. The weather, miraculously, was glorious, and we spent the weekend exploring Laval (which has more sights to see than you might initially believe) and taking long walks along the river Mayenne. Additionally, it was Amy’s (21st!!!) birthday on Sunday, and so we celebrated on the Saturday night by going on a dinner date to an absolutely divine restaurant recommended to me by someone I work with. I tried my first galette (a savoury buckwheat pancake, in case you were wondering):
and decided that I will definitely be taking any future visitors there to share in the delights. It was a really lovely weekend over the course of which many chats and cups of a whole plethora of different varieties of tea were enjoyed.
I’ll finish this post by saying two things, the first of which will no doubt conjure up a somewhat amusing mental picture: I’ve started going to a salsa class. It’s free and held in a Spanish bar that does delicious sangria for only €2.50 a glass and, as I have started saying on a perhaps slightly too regular basis, pourquoi pas? Dancing is not really something that I have ever been particularly good at but, thankfully, the class is for beginners and goes at a very slow pace. More importantly, it’s trop amusant to worry about looking silly. The second thing is that my French has improved no end since being here, something that I am somewhat relieved to be typing. Understanding what people are saying to me is getting easier all the time, and my vocabulary has also improved. Before coming to France, I thought that speaking French was the most important thing to focus on; however, the last five weeks have taught me that, although speaking French is important, having a good time and making the most of every opportunity are infinitely more important.