Culture / French / Travel

Reflections on an unexpected experience abroad

I knew my experience in France would be utterly distinct from my classmates’ the second I stepped off the TGV all the way back in September. No midnight strolls along the Seine complaining about ever-increasing price of the baguettes in my favourite boulangerie, or drinking wine in Bordeaux in a friend’s candlelit apartment. Instead, my days have been filled with peculiarities that are home only to Alsace.

What the British Council failed to tell me, when I applied to be an English language assistant in Strasbourg, was that I would effectively be moving to Germany. I’m sure most people don’t have the feeling they ended up in a completely different country when they first arrive at their destination abroad. However, despite initial my skepticism, I saw this as a grand opportunity to experience the best of two cultures simultaneously. The combination of German beer and French patisserie has certainly left me with nothing to complain about.

So I arrived in Strasbourg in September filled with optimism about earning money, working just 12 hours a week and with high hopes for learning the language. But my thoughts were also clouded by fears concerning the spotty and moody teenagers I would be teaching (turns out I was half right as French high-schoolers are not far from aesthetic perfection, but this is of course levelled with an extra helping of impertinence), plus the anxiety of finding a flat, opening a bank account and generally being a responsible adult, only all in French.

Retrospectively, my eight months in France have been a bit like a whirlwind romance, with lots of ups (mainly involving patisserie and cheese) and a few downs (primarily concerning the aforementioned teenagers and injuries inflicted after treacherous bike rides in the wee hours of the morning). Regardless, every day I spend living abroad is a new adventure. Which new beer can I sample? What new words can I learn and actually use? Who am I going to meet next week? It’s unbelievably easy to strike up conversation with strangers who are charmed by your accent and intrigued by your very presence in their country. New experiences occur every day and once the exhaustion of speaking in another language wears off, plus the paperwork is all signed and sent, there is no excuse but to live, breathe and completely consume the new and foreign (in more ways than one) environment you now call home.

First appeared in ESN eXpress magazine no. 14, Summer 2012, which can be viewed here:


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