Before I set off on my Year Abroad adventure, I had countless people remind me to just take every experience as exactly that, an experience. And never before has the phrase ‘it’s all part of the experience’ been more apt (and vital to prevent me from losing my marbles) than it has been these past few weeks.
Walking for an hour to get to church on roads with no footpaths and getting offered lifts from strange men is all part of the experience. Going to the cinema, being shouted at by the lady at the ticket office and sitting in an empty theatre as a 20 year old girl to watch the French version of the Incredibles 2 is all part of the experience. Realising that you’re sharing a kitchen (and by kitchen I mean a room at the other end of the building with four hob tops, a microwave and a sink) with 30 other students in University accommodation is, also, all part of the experience.
Two and a half weeks ago, my two heavy suitcases and I relocated to University with the help of my wonderful friend and her Mum who I had met at church a few days prior. In many ways I have been having the time of my life. I have met so many wonderful people from all corners of the world; Australia, Germany, The Netherlands, Bulgaria, Spain. We’ve been living in a little international student nest these past few weeks which has been a great support system when French bureaucracy has taken its toll, and bit by bit we are fledging and gathering the courage to fly out into full on French uni student life.
Despite initial transport issues, I have found a great church. Listening to God’s word and worshiping Him in another language is so beautiful and it’s bringing a new vibrancy to my faith. I hesitate to say that God has drawn close to me since I moved here because actually there is no ‘since’ about it. He is ALWAYS so close and ALWAYS so good, ‘since’ the beginning of time. But I’ve found that these past few weeks He has really opened up my eyes to see His goodness and unblocked my ears to hear His loving voice leading me on. And providing me with a church is just one of the ways He has been so faithful.
And boy have I needed His faithfulness as I tackled the University registration process. It’s definitely been an ‘experience’. Don’t get me wrong, the Erasmus students have been made to feel very welcome on a social level. We were invited to a drinks reception at the Pavilion des Arts in town which was something to do with, well, I’m not really sure. All I can tell you is that there was wine and a goody bag. We also did accrobranche (high roping) which was super fun, not least because we were accompanied by one of Pau’s regular thunderstorms so there was the added adrenaline rush of slipping on the trail or getting struck by lightning. And we also headed to a beach in Hendaye, a stone’s throw from Spain, where we learnt to surf. I managed to ride a total of ONE wave before I fell and bruised my bum. As Crush from Finding Nemo would say, it so totally rocked, dude.
However, other things have proven adrenaline inducing for entirely different reasons. The French are fans of ‘paperasserie’ (‘red tape’) meaning that registering for Uni was a process of filling in 100 documents and jumping through 1000 hoops to get to an end where a simple explanation and a signature would have sufficed. And for an extra challenge, signing up for modules has been like a treasure hunt. There are lists of modules pinned up on random walls throughout the campus which, if you are lucky enough to stumble upon, you then use to find the classes you want to take (hoping that they don’t clash with other classes) and then get them signed off by somebody somewhere. I’m still in the process of finalising my modules which, avec espoir, will all be sorted soon and I can start to get into a routine.
I’ll check in at a later date with how I am finding my modules and my French student life. Despite it’s challenges, I am beyond excited for this semester and I feel so #blessed to be here. Being surrounded by frenchness on a daily basis makes my heart go ‘squee!’, and it’s in the simple moments when I make a joke with the cashier or overhear sweet little conversations between French children that I remember why I love it so much. But for now, I wish you well.