As a joint honours modern language student (French and Spanish) I had no choice about doing a year abroad. I knew from the beginning of my degree that it would be the year that I properly learnt to speak my languages (I hoped!) and truly got to know the cultures that I had been studying for so long. That said, I had a lot of options for where I could go – including working abroad, which I swiftly decided against because I wanted to have some lie ins – and so my decision was a difficult one. I ended up spending my year split between France and Mexico, with my Autumn semester at the Université Lumière Lyon II in Lyon, and my Spring semester at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City.
First up – Lyon. I chose this city because I knew that, as a person who had dreamed of living in London my whole life, I needed to be somewhere big and exciting. Lyon was absolutely perfect for that as it is one of the largest cities in France, and is filled with so much interesting culture – from its location right by the Alps, to its history dating back to the Roman Empire, to its massive jazz/techno scene (they go together better than you’d expect…). It also has two rivers running down the middle of the city and, apart from all the Instagram opportunities it gave me, many of my favourite memories of the semester took place just hanging out on the steps that led down to the river, with some friends, music, and drinks.
While these riverside hangouts soon became a favourite of my group of friends, we were introduced to it by one of the many Erasmus groups in Lyon. It’s true that you can very easily be caught in a kind of Erasmus bubble, as the study abroad groups in the city are so large, and you sometimes very obviously stand out as a foreigner to the French people around you. A lot of the events I went to during the semester were held by Erasmus groups, and as a result a lot of my closest friends ended up being English-speaking. To be perfectly honest I think I was lying to myself when I thought I would go over and exclusively hang out with French people. Although I ended up living with two French girls – who were both lovely – the truth is that often French people can be harder to get close to at first. One of my biggest regrets while in Lyon was choosing so many final-year modules that all the other Erasmus students were avoiding, as it often made me the single foreign student in a class where there was not much student interaction and very few opportunities to get to know my classmates. However, that said, the few French people I did manage to get to know ended up being great friends and I’m very glad they were a part of my experience abroad.
One thing that came as a bit of a surprise was the bureaucracy that I came across – that was hard. Really hard, in some cases. I knew that France relied more on paperwork than the UK did, but I had no idea to what extent. One painful (but annoyingly common) example: in order to get a travel card, I needed a French bank account, but was only able to get one of those after 3 meetings in person at the bank, and over a week waiting for a debit card to arrive. I then moved out of my Airbnb, and in order to change my address on the account, I had to log in online, request to change my details, wait for a security code to be POSTED to my Airbnb, get my Airbnb host to send it to me, then log in again with the code to change it. After 5 months of this, as well as similar experiences in my university and in getting my phone contract, I was exhausted (I even spent €7 so that a website would send the letter I needed to my phone provider in order to cancel my contract, as it had to cite a specific law and be sent in tracked post).
However, even though my semester in Lyon marked the first time I ever cried in front of a bank manager, it was also filled with so many more amazing firsts.
It was my first time eating an Alpine taco (blatantly not even close to a real taco since it was basically just a wrap with meat and chips in it, but my god I still dream of how delicious those were), my first time at an underground jazz club, my first time writing a full essay in French that I was actually quite proud of, and my first time skiing. Incidentally, it was also my first time sliding bum-first down a mountain, but I still count that as a win overall. One thing that Lyon gave me that I’m not sure I would have found elsewhere was an amazing amount of opportunities to see and do things that I never would have thought of. And studying abroad, where I only had to worry about passing my classes rather than getting the best grade possible, meant that I had a lot more freedom to go out and do them. Even though I went to France, I managed to cram in Switzerland, Italy and Andorra on the way, and made so many memories that I will cherish forever.