July 21, 2015, by Rachel Bainbridge
Never say no, you have nothing to lose
I was extremely surprised when I arrived in a small city in France to be placed with 33 other English Language Assistants. It is every language student’s nightmare that you will arrive at your destination and feel isolated and very far away from anything that reminds you of home. But this was not the case. It came as an overwhelming comfort to discover that I was surrounded by a number of people in the same boat as me. Over the last 7 months, we have spent more time than anything else people watching over coffee, scoffing many a macaron, dining in local restaurants and travelling to different European cities most weekends. Before I knew it, I was panicking about leaving this lifestyle behind and returning to reality.
Towards the end of our stay in France we were known by most of the local bakers, waiters and shopkeepers as the English crowd living in Orléans. It was a really nice feeling knowing we were part of the local community and appreciated as foreigners. This is something that I couldn’t imagine experiencing if I lived in Paris.
In retrospect though, having a handful of English friends meant that I didn’t interact with the locals as much as I would have done had I been the only English in a small French village. So perhaps what I’m saying is when surrounded by English people, it becomes more of an option to interact with locals and you do really have to make that extra effort to befriend a native.
But these are some of the ways you can do it…
As well as meeting some great like minded language students, you can build connections with French people through language exchanges. My friend and I found out about a language café, which was a really good way of getting to meet people from different backgrounds and getting to know the local people.
A lot of people you meet on a Year Abroad are through chance encounters, so always have an open mind!
My friends and I stumbled on a couple of Erasmus events in the last couple of weeks. We were surprised at how much everyone wanted to speak to us because we were English. We suddenly became mini celebrities as everyone wanted to know how we got to be in their town.
Be friendly and chat to the local waiters and shop owners.
My main piece of advice is to never say no as you don’t know what opportunities could be missed. Whether it’s through colleagues, friends of friends or trying car sharing, there are so many ways to meet new people on a year abroad! You have nothing to lose.