“Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.” – John Keats

My time in France is drawing to a close and, in less than four weeks from now, I will have left Laval for the last time. The fact that I’ve now been here for five months is bizarre; I’ve learnt and done so many things but, equally, I feel very ready to leave.

Day One seems like a looooong time ago…

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a great time. I didn’t know it at the time when I was organising my placement, but I landed very firmly on my feet with living in Laval. I’ve made more friends than I’d ever imagined – which was, and still is, a massive relief – and the town itself is, for me, perfect for a year abroad student. It’s not expensive, it’s neither too big nor too small, and one can easily find everything necessary for day-to-day life.

Laval being cute

But there are other aspects of being here with which my frustration has run its course. My internship, for one. I’ve learnt a lot from it, most of which are transferable skills that’ll be useful for any job, and the majority of the people I work with have been indispensable work colleagues – Matt has before described the château team as a “big, dysfunctional family” – but it has not been stress-free. The work can sometimes be dull and is invariably thankless and one of the bosses is extremely volatile whilst the other doesn’t really believe in workers’ rights meaning that any extra hours (of which there have been many) are unpaid and unappreciated or even unnoticed. However, as I’ve said before, it is extremely varied (most of the time), the adult clients are, almost without exception, interesting and kind to talk to, running the courses for teenagers is, erm, interesting (and would definitely be fun if you enjoyed working with children more than I do), and, despite their flaws, the bosses do ultimately care about their interns and want us to enjoy ourselves. My complaints are probably little more than highly reflective of my lack of experience in the workplace, and I’ll definitely finish the placement better equipped to tackle whatever future work might throw at me than I was when I arrived. Also, I feel like my level of French has improved enormously – which is, after all, why the year abroad is a compulsory part of my degree.

I wrote about some of the other frustrations about living in France in a previous post, so I won’t bore you by repeating them here. Suffice to say that there are some things that never get any less annoying and/or bewildering.

Another thing that I’ve tried to make the most of during my time here has been the opportunity to see a bit more of France. Before arriving, I’d been to the country a handful of times but definitely felt that, as a French student, my knowledge of it should be considerably better. Laval’s unexpectedly excellent transport links and the popularity of organising covoiturage through sites such as BlaBlaCar have meant that I can now proudly say that I’ve visited quite a few of the northwest’s major cities, namely Nantes, Rennes, Angers, Le Mans, and Tours. Last weekend, a friend came to stay and we took a day trip to Mont-Saint-Michel, which was every bit as spectacular as I’d hoped.

And my travels aren’t over yet: the day after finishing my internship, I’m leaving Laval for good and going to the south of France for a week with some friends from the foyer. We’re going to Toulouse, Carcassonne, Montpellier, and Avignon, and then I’m getting the train back to Paris and flying to Budapest, where I’m spending a long weekend with my friend Sarah, who is currently doing a year abroad in Vienna. Then, finally I’m flying back to the UK, where I’ll spend a week with my family and a few days in Oxford.

And THEN – apologies for the monologue – I’m going to Spain for the second half of my year abroad! After a bit of a mare with sorting this part out (long story…), fourteen weeks starting from the beginning of March are now organised. I wanted something totally different to my experience in France, and it seems pretty safe to say that that’s exactly what I’ve ended up with. I’m spending the first four weeks volunteering in a hostel (in exchange for free accommodation and some food) in Granada, which I have heard is spectacular from literally everyone I’ve mentioned it to and, if my cursory research is anything to go by, seems like a pretty cool city. From there, I’ve got a Ryanair flight to Santiago de Compostela, home of the famous pilgrim trail, the Camino de Santiago, and about as geographically far from Granada as it is possible to be without crossing a Spanish border. In Santiago, I’ve got a ten-week internship with a company called ESN Santiago, an organisation that helps Erasmus students to integrate and arranges activites within the city for them. Being an Erasmus student and a keen museum-goer myself, I think it sounds as if it should be a lot of fun and will lead, hopefully, to making friends with some fellow year abroad students. It is, sadly, unpaid, but my Erasmus grant should be enough to tide me over for the ten weeks.

So, that’s the update on what my life is going to look like over the next few months. Coming back to France after Christmas was tough because I had such a nice weekend in Paris with my friend Katy followed by a glorious week and a half at home with my family, but the end is near and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in to something new and saying hola to Spain.


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