Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Cold Climate, Warm Hearts?

I don’t know where it has gone, but a month has already passed in the wonderful city of Strasbourg. I haven’t yet tired of waking up in this beautiful suburb, of walking out to fields and being near a beautiful city, to speaking French, to the clean air and to the sense of opportunity for this year. I really do love it here. I feel so lucky to have this wonderful French family; they have welcomed me in and become not my landlord but my friends; it is great to have somewhere calm and caring that I can spend my year. It’s a strange thing coming abroad, because I’m surrounded by people, but sometimes it can feel isolated. I am grateful that I live with these people, they do look after me!

I had my first week in the European Parliament last week, it was too good for words. It sounds cheesy, but I felt at home- one day I want to walk down those corridors as more than an intern, but I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity. I have started uni, maybe not the best day ever (spent an hour sat in the wrong lecture, so confused why she didn’t mention anything other than the French constitution in what I thought was an International Relations class, turned out it was Constitutional Law…), but met some lovely French people and enjoyed finally being back to studying!

But despite all the wonderful things, there is one typically British thing I have to moan about. The weather. When I said I was coming to live in France, I’d expected to spend my whole year wearing my favorite summer dresses, embracing the Frenchness by sporting the odd beret not out of necessity but just because I can. I was definitely wrong. It is already unbearably cold, and the people here assure me it will get worse. They’re talking minus 15 and 20 cms of snow. Now I like snow in theory, but I hate the cold and I hate that sludgy excuse for snow we get in the UK (although I’m assured it’s a proper winter wonderland here). But it really is changeable here…when I get up in the morning, I look outside and it can be beautifully sunny. I get dressed and by the time I go outside, its throwing it down and theres a thunderstorm. Strasbourg doesn’t seem to have any middle ground- its hot or its cold. Just like its people…

Whilst having a little heart to heart with the wonderful Jess Bethom, we reflected on the people we have met so far, and how different our relationships with people have been. Just like the weather is either beautiful or unpleasant, we decided so are the people we have met! Seemingly, I have got exceptionally lucky…I have met so many warm and friendly people- people who have really made an effort to make me feel welcomed, happy and at home. But it seems there are two extremes, no middle ground. Either people have warm hearts, or they are cold just like the weather.

And to be honest, that seems to be the mood too. People are either really happy or not at all. I guess that’s the thing with a city like this, with such an opportunity as a year abroad: you either love it, or you hate it. But sometimes both simultaneously.  Me right now? I hate being far from home and from the people I love. I’m not a big fan of the weather either. But really, I love it. The warmth in the hearts of the people that are important in my French life is refreshing and reassuring. As my Dad’s favourite tshirt says….'Yep, it’s gonna be a good day (year!)’…

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Strasbourg Je t'aime...

Its Thursday morning, one week and 2 days since I got to this beautiful city. After going to an Erasmus party last night, I’m snuggled up in my bed listening to the rain drum on my window, thinking I probably ought to get up, but I’m far too cosy...

The first few days I was here, I was stunned by how incredibly hot it was, having thought it would be cold here, but since Saturday it has done nothing but rain...one night there was such a big storm that the thunder woke me up...it was scary!!  But anyway, enough about the weather...

I have done so many different things since I’ve been here I don’t really know where to start. With the basics I guess...I am living with a family (mum and 2 grown up kids, 19 and 23), and it is absolutely fabulous. They are so so nice and have included me in and helped me to sort out everything. I really have landed on my feet, my French mum does my washing and ironing and sometimes even cooks for me, its ridiculously good! I am living in a little village just outside of Strasbourg and its so beautiful. It really suits me, because I love to be able to go out running or walking in the fields (although my running has not always gone well, one day I ran 22 KM because I got so lost!!), I used to feel claustrophobic in Brum. The ‘kids’ are so fun and inclusive, its a lovely vibe in the house, and I have got to speak loads of French already. Its exciting, I’m happy.

Another very exciting thing to have happened is that on Tuesday I went to the European Parliament to sign my contract for a ‘traineeship’ over the next year. As I walked round the confusing corridors of this significant building, I felt at home. Its been a while since I’ve done anything ‘professional’, and I miss it. I am determined to be an excellent parliamentary assistant and to squeeze every little thing I can out of this wonderful opportunity. Its a little bit daunting, I am one of very few Strasbourg stagieres and I want to be a good one, but I’m excited about the challenge.

In other news I have started my French lessons, they’re alright, yesterday we did the passé compose for like the millionth time and it was a bit tedious, but all French is good I guess. I am really looking forward to term starting and getting into the routine, especially because that will mean there will be more people around, at the minute threes a bit of a weird vibe in the IEP (Institut d’Etudes Politiques), as there is no one but the 100 or so international students!

On Tuesday I went to basketball training for the first time...it was cool! It felt weird because I haven’t played in ages and they’re all really good, and given the length of my legs they expected me to be too! Also basketball is a million times harder in another language, there was a 5 second time delay between being told to do something and working out what they meant, but training there 3 times a week is going to be a great way to learn French and to meet people : )

So a week on and all is good...the French administration has not yet lived up to its reputation, all my bank opening, funds applying, phone buying has been remarkably easy. My only complaint that conforms to stereotypes of the French is WHY DO YOU HAVE TO GO ON STRIKE? I have to get the bus to uni and the parliament, and the strike was on my first day in the parliament, so there were no buses. Ah well, I am in France.

I am in my element: meeting people, seeing new things, trying new experiences, pushing myself to be the best I can. Strasbourg je t’aime <3