As I said goodbye to my friends going into their final year studying art history I had so much excitement for the year ahead… as I wasn’t staying in Brum, I was going to at last be living in La France! I had chosen the small medieval town of Poitiers in the western Poitou- Charente region of France. I was attracted by all the history and a small town would make a change from the sprawl of Birmingham. They call Poitiers the smallest large town in France, and it really does have a classic French village feel- from the little shops that are still workshops creating local products, to the weekly market, and the beautiful churches. The church closest to me, Notre-Dame La Grande is illuminated each evening to recreate the original coloured façade.
My moving day was set for the 22nd August so I could make the most of French life before lectures began. All through July the anticipation built and although I had made a little trip to Poitiers to secure my house share I was nervous about testing out my French for real. My journey to Poitiers was eventful to say the least. My stubborn nature meant that I said no to any help and thought that this is my little adventure and I can travel across Paris with a huge heavy suitcase and two backpacks with no problem. In hindsight I would have preferred to give up a bit of independence and not have nearly fallen down an escalator backwards! At least I started my year abroad on a note of hilarity and a grand entrance. From the moment I arrived I realised what a friendly and welcoming place Poitiers is. My landlord came to pick me up at the station and some people I had spoken to through Facebook met me to show me around town. Since then many adventures have confirmed that my year abroad has definitely been the best year of my degree.
In the first few weeks I tackled the administration nightmare of signing up to modules at the university, but I also went on some lovely trips around the region famous for goats cheese and the aperitif Pineau made from Cognac and grape juice. On one particularly warm summer day I travelled to the medieval town of Chauvigny where we were entertained by an eagle show and a medieval festival complete with dancing and a hog roast!
As my lectures began I have been exposed to the French culture in all its glory, from three hour lectures to great live music and huge meals! There have been some shocking differences to life in Birmingham, for example lectures going on until 8pm and students and lecturers going for their much needed cigarette break in between lectures. Also, I am not suggesting Birmingham is anything but pretty but I am enjoying living and studying in such a beautiful environment. The university buildings in the centre are old hôtels particuliers going back to the fifteenth century.
I have also had some hilarious moments of feeling like the out of place ‘foreign’ student. During a literature lecture we were being asked to choose which week we would like to do a presentation in front of the class. The lecturer thought it would be best for me to do the week focusing on an English writer. Then she asked the question to the class, ‘who would like to join Holly in this presentation?’ It was the first week and I was the only Erasmus student in the class. There was an excruciating silence until this poor boy gave in and unenthusiastically said ok yes. However, over all the students have been very friendly, and also intrigued as to where I am from. The royal family always seemed to be linked into everything!
Outside of university I have loved the French way of doing things. Everything has such a relaxed feel to it and nobody will be rushed. This is obviously frustrating when you want something done but then you realise that slowing down makes the quality of life so much better for everyone. I can understand that setting up my bank account took over three hours because I enjoyed the benefits my side of such good customer service. I also enjoy lunches that can go on until 5pm and that people take the time to say hello to their colleagues and people they cross in the street. I have also found people very welcoming of students in particular. I recently went to an event hosted by the town hall and the university that put international students in contact with French ‘welcome’ families. I met a lovely family that have invited me to stay in their house in the country and take me on trips around the region. It really feels that people are interested in students and sharing French culture with them which is refreshingly friendly.