Juliette Coutand: One year of Erasmus adventure in Canterbury
Juliette recalls her personal experience of living in a completely foreign country for an entire year.
Looking back at my year of study abroad, I realise how much it has changed me without me even noticing it. Living abroad for any period of time sure is quite an experience, but I do believe studying abroad makes it even more special in some ways. Keeping a journal during the period definitely helped me put things in perspective and follow up on my own development! It’s quite amusing to see your thoughts and views on things change as time passes.
Being a very optimistic person, I tend to look at things with an “open and friendly” mind when I come across them. As time changed, I got to become more critical, and maybe realistic towards what I was observing and living. Overall this year has been very positive and surely made me grow. I expect it would have taken me a bit more time to get where I am today if I had stayed in my home country. It might seem quite pretentious, or odd, but I do believe so. As to saying what changed in me, I’m not sure I could say precisely. I guess studying in another country and university introduces you to different ways to look at things, different methods and different people which widens your mind to new possibilities. Differences between England and France might not be dramatic, but their sure is small cultural changes that also open your mind to new “philosophies” of how to live and think on a daily basis.
A big part of the growing-up process comes with being challenged to fit in to a new environment. I will always remember the moment I set foot on Canterbury. It was 5am, September. It was fairly dark and lightly raining. I was knocked out with tiredness, and did not know where I was. I took my map and made my way slowly but surely to the gates of Uni, dragging behind me my heavy luggage, bits of home I brought with me. I was exhausted, but excited, and even though what I’m describing does not seem like fun, I had fun. I was discovering for the first time routes that would become parts of my daily life, houses, signs, pavements… all looking so very British! It was a great moment. At first you have absolutely no spatial landmarks. And surprisingly rapidly, you learn how to make a completely strange place, your home. I loved this process. And it is one that never stops. Even after months of living somewhere, you always find new places, new routes, and new exciting things to see. I think being Erasmus, meaning you’re only a temporary resident, pushes you to make the most out of the time that is given to you. This means as soon as I got the chance, I wandered around, tried new things, and went to places. Things I wouldn’t necessarily do somewhere I know I’ll have the opportunity to visit anytime I want. And when you stay too long somewhere, you often end up doing nothing and not knowing the place so well, because we easily fall into habits.
You also have to do things by and for yourself, you need to get on with the foreign language, the foreign ways of doing things, the foreign administration… And this surely gives you a lot of independence, and also freedom. It’s always very nice to realise you can sort things out by yourself!
I had a lot of fun becoming part of the city, and part of its inhabitants. It is a nice feeling to walk around and fit perfectly in. I could definitely be an English person to someone who doesn’t know me! Yet I loved thinking I had that “secret” (that really isn’t one as soon as people hear my accent) to be a foreigner. I gained the good things of British culture to add up to the good things of French culture! It’s a big win-win. This also made me appreciate my own French culture better, see what is good about it, what I missed, what I liked to talk about. It’s nice to reconnect with your origins by living far (more or less) from them!
The social life has been quite interesting as well. It took some time to really make friends, and fit in an already built group of people, and after few months you still are “the french one”. Although people do take an interest for other reasons than my nationality, it remains a big aspect of the socialising process. Especially comparing cultures, teaching words. Everyone likes to hear how they are seen from a different cultural perspective, and it always is great fun to talk about this! Learning slang and “social English” is one of the things I’ve enjoyed most being here with English students. That’s part of why I haven’t tried so hard to connect with other Erasmus people. I also think deep down I didn’t want anyone else to spoil my experience with their own. I did make a very close Erasmus friend and it was always nice to talk about what sets us apart, and what we were living, but I like that I kept it to a minimum. I surely will be missing the friends I’ve made. I’ll try and keep in touch, I’ll try to visit and get them to visit, but I know it’s not realistic to hope to keep things just the way they are now. At one point, I was very sad to think I probably won’t speak to quite a few of them once I’ve left, but now I’ve accepted the idea. And I think it’s for the best as well. Such is life, Erasmus or not, you meet and say goodbye to people. But experiences I’ve lived and people I’ve met has helped me build myself and I know I won’t forget them, like they won’t forget me, which I guess, is more than enough.
The Academic part was also very interesting. I think having to switch your brain to another language makes it work a bit differently, in some way more quickly. And it slightly changes the way you think, simply because of the way the language works. This process is enhanced by following classes in a completely different system. The fact that it was a new system, one I had never experienced, was very refreshing. And just because of the novelty, I liked it better at first. Though there are good things about the French academic system also, I guess none is perfect! But here things are so much more relaxed and informal. It’s great because it makes the situation a lot friendlier than in France. This also comes from language differences, the absence of “formal speaking” is a true social blessing!
In a nutshell, this year was one big vacation, with anecdotic assignments and occasional classes that gave me opportunities to open my mind, enrich my knowledge, and most of all meet great people. It all went so fast, but looking back at it, I realise a lot happened. It’s been a lot of fun. Maybe it’ll never really end, as I take a bit of England and Erasmus with me!!!
Juliette worked with fellow Erasmus student Isabella Wach on a project with Partners in Learning through which she developed a helpful welcome presentation for new Erasmus students coming to CCCU which you can view here, alternatively you can view their short presentation on the Erasmus experience in general (for English students studying abroad) here.