Year Abroad Adventures



From the middle of French Mayenne to living next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris and now Barcelona’s touristy Gothic quarter, so far I’ve had a more varied year abroad than most.

My journey started out at the end of June on a long overnight ferry to Caen, and a four hour car journey to Chailland, Laval. I was in the middle of the French countryside with Normandy to the east, Brittany to the west, and Pays de Loire to the south.

And this was the easiest part of my year abroad! The team worked a hard forty-hour week at the summer camp: instructing, teaching, cleaning, serving, and doing night shifts. But when you work hard, you play hard.

Twice a week we took a dip in the pool, other times we went to the beautiful beach of St. Malo, the market and castle of Fougères and the pretty city of Renne. We also had the opportunity to try out some of the activities ourselves; archery, zip-wire, climbing and fencing.

After this soft introduction to the year abroad where accommodation was sorted for me, and I was catered for, it was off into the real world. Paris was a sharp contrast to say the least! I had organised accommodation in the suburbs just outside of Paris with a host family.

Most students who have been on a year abroad will say that the first month is the hardest, and I wholly agree. It takes more than a month to settle into a routine and I initially felt isolated in Paris since I had arrived long before the start of the ERASMUS term or when the British Council Assistants were starting, and knew very few people.

It was time to join some clubs. I decided to volunteer at an art workshop, attend a church and go to capoeira (Brazilian martial art) classes and slowly but surely began to make friends. A month in, however, I still felt isolated in my suburb location. This was one of the most stressful points; finding somewhere else to live, especially in expensive Paris.

Luckily, I came across a lady who rented her extra bedrooms to students (not uncommon in the French capital) in the fifteenth arrondissement just a ten minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. This was where I spent the remainder of my three months, though I didn’t spend much time in the apartment! Out of the house, I worked twenty hours a week as an English instructor to children under ten years old.YA3

Over these four months I only had twenty hours of work a week and Fridays off, so I took the chance to travel on the weekends, visiting my summer home Laval, my old home London, Strasbourg for the Christmas markets, Amsterdam for a spontaneous weekend, and Cologne to visit another year abroad friend.

Travelling was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Paris, though others included sight-seeing with fellow Durham year-abroaders and capoeira classes. Without church and capoeira I think I would have found it very hard to make friends, especially as I was not working in an office or going to university.

Paris flew by and so did the Christmas holidays and it was not long before I found myself in quirky Barcelona. I managed to bag myself a job with a French travel company so that I could keep up my French, but I had organised beforehand to live with Spanish people so that my Spanish would not be neglected.

Accommodation in Barcelona was less than half the hassle of Paris, I quickly found a reasonable double room in a shared student flat for just over half the price of my tiny single room in Paris. Although I was lucky with my job; the office is relaxed with a chilled-out atmosphere mainly consisting of young people in their twenties, it seems my luck is not with finding accommodation, because in a week I’ll be moving apartments again.

My location is almost perfect, here in the Gothic quarter I’m a short walk away from the beach and minutes away from eccentric bars and quirky tapas restaurants. For the first two weeks I did not even buy a metro card, I had just walked everywhere!

But this touristy area soon gets tiring, especially now as the city is starting to fill up with students that are beginning their ERASMUS semester. In addition, all the winding, narrow roads, though charming, mean that the apartments are quite dark – not really what I was looking forward to in sunny Barcelona.

YA1So, my next stop is the modern Eixample, still not far from the centre (just four metro stops from the beach) and still adjacent to many delicious restaurants and bars. Barcelona really is a magnificent and varied city. It’s framed by mountains, yet fronted by a great beach and in the centre is a city with every amusement you could imagine.

I won’t lie: there are times when things get harder than you have ever known, and you have to grow up a lot quicker than your Durham counterparts.

Whilst they are struggling with dissertations or applying for graduate careers from their comfy English houses, you’ll be applying for something in a different language, dealing with bureaucracy that’s ten times worse than in the UK, and trying to set up your new life overseas.

One thing is for sure: nothing back in the UK will be difficult again. The Year Abroad is a phenomenal experience, a moment in your life that you will never forget. And once you have the travel bug it is certainly hard to get rid of it!


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