A pastel picture of a young brunette woman standing in front of the eifell tower. It is sunset. The girl is wearing a pale pink skirt and a lilac sweater, smiling to the camera
Credit: Dorota Dziki

What my year abroad really taught me

By Kimberley Mannion

News Editor Kimberley shares the lessons she learned living in France, and how they helped her appreciate life back home.

I am extremely conscious of coming across as the pretentious gap yah or my year abroad is my only personality trait stereotype, but the ten months I spent living in Nice last year probably was the best thing I’ve ever done. I am also extremely grateful to have even been able to go during a global pandemic.

As someone who previously valued productivity over most things in life, I learned in France to let my hair down, and that there is much more to life than work and academic achievement. Everything during Erasmus seemed to be about how much fun we could have, how many good times we could squeeze into one week. As I try to prepare myself for classes beginning in Glasgow, I fear I may have gone too far the other way, but hopefully with time I’ll find the right balance. I’ve realised now I would rather get a slightly lower grade that I’m not going to care about in five years’ time, than miss out on making memories with friends during my student years.

“I learned in France to let my hair down, and that there is much more to life than work and academic achievement.”

The best part of the year abroad was without a doubt meeting so many interesting people from all over the world. I loved the fact that you never knew what character you’d meet on a night out, and what weird and wonderful experiences they’d have to tell you about. 

Given that my degree is in languages, they have always been a passion of mine, and it was so good to finally escape from the grammar textbook in a lecture theatre and use them in real life to make friends and have interesting conversations. My flatmate was an amazing Spanish girl who is now one of my best friends, and through whom I met an amazing band of Spanish friends who taught me a long playlist of reggaeton songs and poured me endless glasses of tinto de verano, This resulted in the slightly strange situation of speaking more Spanish than French during my French year abroad, which I originally chose to do because my French was weaker, but it was better than speaking English. Besides, nothing says cultural immersion like a botellón on the beach.

During my first week in Nice last September, a man asked me a question in the supermarket which led to him asking where I was from, picking up on my poor French accent. The chance encounter led to frequent walks along the famous Promenade des Anglais, talking about everything from French politics to our different upbringings, improving my French along the way. 

Although Glasgow is the city I grew up in, I felt I had grown up just as much during my stay in Nice, and Glasgow didn’t have that sense that something new and exciting could be waiting around every corner. Indulging in post year abroad blues during my ten-day quarantine upon return home and feeling that things would never be quite so good again, I realised I had spent much of the year in France proudly telling people I was from Glasgow, boasting of the great nightlife and friendly people (definitely friendlier than French people). 

“I realised I had spent much of the year in France proudly telling people I was from Glasgow, boasting of the great nightlife and friendly people.”

So why wasn’t I excited to return to Glasgow and continue doing all these things? None of what I enjoyed most during my year abroad had anything to do with the beautiful Mediterranean beaches from which I lived a stone’s throw, or the twinkling of the fairy lights wrapped around the palm trees on the promenade, reflecting on the sea. It was human experiences, which although seemed to be intensified by the thrill of living in a new and exotic place, are nothing that cannot be experienced in Glasgow.

All in all, I think the year abroad taught me to make the most out of what I have in front of me back in Glasgow. There are many ways to meet students from all around the world who study here, and benefit from that international atmosphere I adored in Nice. Academically, I know I should keep getting more practice with native speakers by going along to language exchanges run by the Francophone and Hispanic societies. You can speak to strangers in supermarkets and make random friendships anywhere. With a bit of effort, the new friends can be kept in touch with – I’ve already booked a trip to Spain and can’t wait to show my Spanish friends around Glasgow. Nice will always have a special place in my heart, but maybe for what it taught me about life in general rather than what I lived there.


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