l’Université de Bretagne Occidentale, Brest
February 4, 2019

Bonjour, tout le monde ! Aujourd’hui je vais discuter le thème “self and relationships” ou « soi et relations » en français. Pour moi, il y a beaucoup de choses à dire sur ce thème mais j’essaierais d’être bref ! (Promise!)

Firstly, I want to talk about relationships – in all their forms. I’m going to start slightly off-the-wall and begin with my relationship with France itself. I know, I know. Bear with me! My relationship with France was a little bit like the relationship you have with kids at school you sort-of know and say hi to in the corridor when you pass but don’t hang out with at break and lunch times. You know, I’d been on holiday there a couple of times and I’d passed through on my way to other parts of Europe but I didn’t really know France. Comment les temps on changé ! (For me, at least.) 

So… When I rocked up in Brest, Bretagne (in the North-West of France), I had no idea what to expect and I learnt so, so much. J’apprenais le mode de vie français – les attitudes des Français, leur étiquette, leur fierté nationale et locale, leur cuisine et j’ai découvert une ville entière ainsi que toute son histoire et sa culture. J’étais choquée ! Brest n’était pas du tout comme Paris ou le village typiquement provençal. Brest was entirely its own place; ruined by the Second World War and hastily built back up with concrete structures, shaped by its coastal location and maritime trade, full of Breton pride and dedication to the local area, people and culture, Brest was a place I had no idea would be the way it was. It has shaped my relationship with France irrevocably – I can never think of France without remembering the lecture halls of l’Université de Bretagne Occidentale and the French students on all sides or accidentally ordering a lettuce sandwich in Subway and being laughed at or the bartender at the local pub we made friends with who played in the local football team and called everyone in Brest his friend. Il y aura toujours un lien entre moi et la France et ma relation est maintenant meilleure – parce que je comprends un mode de vie que je ne connaissais même pas avant !

One of the buildings on the oldest street in Brest: one of the only remaining with pre-war structures.
Some of the grey, post-war, concrete architecture! Not too bad when the light hit it right – and the sea is always beautiful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secondly, relationship-wise, I want to discuss a more typical understanding of the word. It’s a scary time, in the beginning, leaving your country and all your friends and just hoping you’ll be able to make some more when you’re abroad. Heureusement, je me suis fait d’excellents amis. La chose amusante est que l’un d’eux est venu de mon université, mais nous ne nous connaissions pas vraiment auparavant. Nous étions tous des étudiants Erasmus et nous nous entraidions lorsqu’il était difficile de trouver des salles de classe ou des examens, de traduire des choses difficiles, et nous cuisinions et faisions nos courses ensemble. Mon activité préférée était de traîner dans la cuisine et de boire du thé que ma maman avait envoyé du Royaume-Uni. Cela m’a vraiment aidé avec mon « hiraeth ». I missed my friends from home, of course, and was so excited when December came and I could visit them and I missed my family and boyfriend something rotten – but it was so important for me to have friends who all felt similarly and we all made sure that we made the most of our experience abroad. We were a little support system armed with tea! One of my fondest memories is the trip we took to Paris – hunting down the only vegan croissants I’d had in my whole four months abroad and seeing things like the (not-so) tiny Statue of Liberty, the art gallery in the Centre Georges-Pompidou and, perhaps most poignantly, the Holocaust memorial. We went in every cathedral we saw (never seen so much stained glass), visited a famous English language bookshop (whoops! I know, not the cultural experience I was supposed to have but Shakespeare & Company was amazing) stocked floor-to-ceiling with books (!!) and seeing the Eiffel Tower from absolutely every angle possible.

An excellent example of a Parisian cathedral – Saint Eustache!

 

Not really a trip to Paris without a shot of the Eiffel Tower. Yes, a little foggy and when I said from “all angles” I didn’t mean quite from this one… but technology isn’t my friend and you get the gist!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And these friends and all these experiences also shaped a different relationship: the one I have with myself. Je suis plus sûre de moi, plus forte, plus disposée à faire de nouvelles choses et je suis plus heureuse parce que je sais que je suis capable de faire ce que je veux. The monde is most definitely my huître! Je vais bientôt aller seul en Espagne, ce qui ne fait plus peur, je vis depuis quatre mois déjà dans un pays étranger et tout ce qui me fait peur n’est rien en comparaison ! Le semestre à l’étranger n’était pas parfait – pas de loin – mais cela a changé ma relation et ma façon de voir le monde et je suis tellement heureuse de l’avoir fait. I met such lovely, funny people and did so many things I could never have imagined me doing (like actually understanding lectures in French about how the way the brain works and how that affects the way people pick up and then speak languages) and I’m now ready for anything the universe could possibly throw at me. It’s a world away from sitting in my GCSE and A-Level classes and wondering how on Earth I was ever going to speak French well enough to pass my exams – never mind go to France and speak to actual real-life French people! I can do that now (90% of the time because, hey, I’m still not fluent… but another thing I learnt about myself in France is that I can be proud of all of my achievements whether they seem big or small) which is très bien, non ? 

À bientôt !

Grace x

Self and Relationships

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