The final week of my time in France is upon me. In a week’s time, I’ll have left Laval for the last time and will be in (hopefully) sunny Toulouse; in just over two weeks’ time, I’ll be back in little old Lincoln for some well earned rest and relaxation. My feelings about this are summed up fairly well in this tweet:
The goodbyes have begun. On Wednesday night, Matt and I had our leaving party (the final gathering chez moi) featuring much pizzas and many wine. About twenty of our friends came. Towards the end, we were each presented with an A4-sized card, filled with messages about how much we’d be missed, how people wished they’d had more time to get to know us, how we’d always have somewhere to stay in their respective countries. I’ve just reread it (now sober) and it was just as moving the second time round. This card triggered an important realisation. Somehow, in amongst struggling with French bureaucracy, getting to grips with my job, and trying to maximise the amount of French spoken, I’ve managed to build some sort of coherent life here. It’s not the same as the life I have in Lincoln, or the life I have in Oxford, but that is not to say that it is worse. It’s just different. I’ve made friends, and good friends at that; I’ve managed to make the most of the weekends; I even feel like I’ve done a fairly good job at work. In other words, I’ve survived the experience of living like a fully functioning adult for the first time. Could anything be more emblematic of this than the fact that I created a LinkedIn profile the other day?
The past six months have, undoubtedly, been some of the most formative of my life so far. I have no regrets with how I chose to spend the French part of my year abroad. Yes, my job has sometimes been difficult, no, Laval is not exactly a throbbing metropolis, and yes, I am slightly relieved to have heard that life in Spain is (considerably) less bureaucratic, but, honestly, everything has come together and resulted in some considerable self-growth. My bosses’ often unnecessarily harsh approach has made me less sensitive to criticism; Laval’s (actually really quite perfect) size has meant that friendships have been strengthened around organising day or weekend trips away; the bureaucracy, frustrating as it is, has actually been quite useful for French practice. If year abroad has taught me anything, it’s that the experience is very often (and that is not to say 100% of the time) what you make of it. As in life, there are always going to be hard parts but (and I can speak only from my own experience here), they are almost always cancelled out by the good parts.
I think I’m in danger of falling into the trap of waffling here, so I’ll leave it there. But, in summary, it will be with very mixed emotions that I board the train out of Laval on Saturday. I will never forget the time that I’ve spent here, and I hope that some of the people I’ve met will be friends for life; equally, I’m ready to move on to the next thing. Fingers crossed that it will be as far-reaching an experience as the past six months have proved themselves to be.