I discovered what it means to leave your comfort zone when I rejected all offers of help finding university accommodation, arrived in Lyon with my backpack alone at night on New Year’s Day and got a taxi to go to a youth hostel where I had no food and couldn’t sleep because someone was snoring. My (very idealistic) plan was to look for apartments online and become best friends with my new French housemates before I began an amazing semester on exchange. Two weeks later I was still living in a hostel, uni was about to start and I was stressed and crying almost every day.
In the end things worked out and I realised that, while I had been freaking out, I had actually been doing some really cool stuff . I managed to navigate the infamous French administration, open a bank account, find a studio to live in and learn how to make friends in a new city and new university, all in a foreign language. I even managed to pretend I was actually French so that I could get into a museum for free!
Once I had a place to live, my worries shifted from, “Omg is this apartment in a ghetto suburb” and “will I like the housemates” and “I’m scared” to, “I think I bought too many potatoes”. Uni started, and it was just like being in first year again. I was SO unfashionable with my backpack and knitted jumper and I was always lost. I had no idea what was going on with my timetable, which meant I missed quite a lot of classes by accident.
Uni eventually got easier too, and I began to drink long life milk, eat crème fraîche and accept that I just had to write on graph paper (lined paper doesn’t exist in France). I learnt to ski, trained myself to be up and ready for 8am classes, and sort of (but never quite) got the hang of kissing on the cheek.
There were a couple of setbacks (of course!). One of them was unexpectedly failing a final exam about History of the Middle Ages. I had to extend my apartment contract and miss a trip to London so I could re-sit the exam, but staying longer meant that I had more time to spend with my new friends.
Somehow, I made it through the semester and sort of managed to hold myself together when the time came to say goodbye. I never knew that I would be able to count amongst my closest friends, people who come from Colombia, America, Bosnia, Finland, Canada and New Zealand, and I never knew how tough it would be to leave them behind.