April 23, 2015, by Rachel Bainbridge

A long way from Nottingham

So I’m now a month into my year abroad, where I’m working as an English language assistant in France and thought it was about time I wrote about some of my first impressions. My first reaction when I got the letter from the Académie de Nice Rectorat in July, saying that I had been placed in Le Muy was “Where?!”.

I promptly looked it up online and discovered that it is a village in the Var department in the South East. This still meant nothing to me. After a succession of emails from my ‘predecessor’, which were full of information and enthusiasm, I became much less worried about where I was going to be spending my year. He advised me to live in the nearby town of Draguignan, where there will be plenty of other assistants and reassured me that there are good transport links, that the school was great and that all the locals are extremely friendly.

I’ve been through this same process of panic followed by reassurance since I’ve arrived. On 25th September, I got off the plane from Nice airport and took a taxi to the train station where I was to catch the next train to Les Arcs Draguignan. The next train was a 2 hour wait and then the train itself took an hour an a half. The train journey was utterly beautiful – it travels along the Côte d’Azur, through Cagnes-sur-Mer, Antibes and Cannes, with views of the bright blue sea, sunbathers and sticking red-rock cliffs. From St. Raphaël the train turns inland, through an agricultural landscape of vineyards and lush fields. The longer this voyage through the countryside went on, the more worried I became – how far from the coast was this place?! When I finally left the train at Les Arcs, it felt really very isolated – beautifully peaceful – but isolated. I then had to wait 30 minutes for the next bus to Draguignan – which is much bigger than Les Arcs but, as a result of a mysterious dispute 20 years ago which the locals are unwilling to explain, has no train station. I expected this journey to be 10 minutes. It was 25.

Although the apartment which I had arranged to stay in was well-located, cheap and full of lovely other assistants, I still felt a long way from civilisation. I realised France is a much bigger country that it looked on Google Maps; it took over an hour to get to Toulon, when I expected it to take 45 minutes tops, my journey to the school in Le Muy, which I thought I would easily be able to cycle, took 25 minutes on the bus, a trip to the beach in Fréjus took us about 2 hours! I was panicking – how would I make any friends?! Would anything exciting ever happen in Draguignan?!

A month on, Draguignan is still as far from the coast and public transport takes just as long, but it feels neither as far nor as long any more. There is plenty to do here – we’ve walked into the hills which gave incredible views of the Argens valley, gaped mouths-open at the fantastic markets, been to a wine-tasting festival and have met plenty of locals who have taken us out with them. When I write emails to home I discover I’ve done loads without even realising it! When we do want to travel elsewhere, the journey’s not so bad – especially when you have a good book and an ipod full of the Harry Potter audiobooks. In fact, because we have to make an effort to visit places, it’s more rewarding when we get there and we make the most of our days – rising early and returning late. And it’s certainly worth it – this area is utterly beautiful, I wouldn’t want to be isolated anywhere else!

Posted in First impressions