Some advice: Post-Christmas Blues

Getting the blues is almost inevitable after the decorations have come down and the lights have been turned off. January is probably the worst month of the year in that respect: Christmas is over, there is no excuse to eat your entire body weight in chocolate, it’s back to work and back to school and a bunch of extremely annoying people are telling you to start a health-kick.

To top that all off, I had to return to a cold, rainy, grey and sunless Northern France for the worst month of the year.

So, to make this month slightly more bearable for you (and for me!), I have a few important tips:

  • Don’t force yourself to stick to a punishing diet: a raw, gluten-free, vegan, carb-free salad diet might help you shed some pounds quickly in the height of summer, but it is a bad idea to do this in the middle of winter. For one thing, you might need that extra padding for warmth (student housing, I’m looking at you). For another, cooking warm, hearty meals can make any rainy January day feel so much better. The diet can wait until the sun appears.
  • Stock up on reading materials: classic novels, cheap beach-reads, trashy magazines – who cares? Gather all your old favourites and one or two new reads and indulge yourself – preferably in front of a fire, with a steaming mug of hot chocolate and marshmallows. Perfect.
  • Get a colouring book! I know, not the most original idea. But they are best-sellers for a reason. I have found that colouring in Johanna Basford’s beautiful Secret Garden is both relaxing and satisfying. You don’t have to think about what you’re doing and generally will produce something pretty, whichever colours you choose.
  • Stick the radio on: listening to the radio is such a great way to feel better, whether it’s music or chatting, because the presenters put in all the effort that you seem to lack this month. Also, you can listen to the radio wherever you are in the world, so it’s also a good way to make you feel connected with those at home.
  • Get on the phone: or Skype, FaceTime or whatever you use! I know some people say that when you’re abroad or away from home at university you should avoid relying too much on people at home, but I think that’s rubbish. Sometimes the one thing that can make you feel better is a call to your loved ones, so just do it. Plus, they will want to hear from you too.
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Year Abroad: Days 10 and 11

Day 10

I didn’t feel very well on Thursday. I woke up without a voice because I was dehydrated, I ached all over from the running the day before, and I felt generally exhausted – so I remedied myself with strepsils and chocolate. In the morning, I did some work and put together a presentation for the 3emes (year 9s) but little else. I didn’t have a class until 3.30, so it was a little boring. I went to the secretary and have now definitely signed my process-verbal-d’installation, so I will get paid. I also requested an advance because I have to pay rent for my flat in Vire, among other costs, and it is expensive to transfer money from pounds to euros online.

I had my one and only class of the day at 3.30 and it was okay. It was a class of 4emes (13 years old) and they had to make a leaflet on a country in the European union. None of them got very far because they were mostly messing around, but some of them did ask me questions about grammar and translation, with which I was happy to help.  What did annoy me was that I won’t see that class or my other Thursday class until November because of class trips and other things. So now I have another day off per week, with nothing to do!

At about 6.30 I went for a drink with some colleagues. It turns out that ‘cider and black’ is a totally foreign concept here. I think the closest you can get is a ‘Monaco’ – beer and grenadine, which is very sweet but quite pleasant. Nevertheless, I enjoyed that and then went back to the pavillon and cooked myself some dinner. The teachers staying in the pavillon were amused by my baked beans and quorn meat supplement because those things don’t exist outside of the UK, and certainly not in such a carnivorous country as France.

Day 11

Stage d’accueil, Caen, 9 October 2015

At 6.30am I got up because I couldn’t sleep with nerves, then a colleague picked me up outside the school at 7.15, it was freezing and before even the dawn. She drove me to Vire, which took only 20 minutes, dropped me at the train station from where I caught my lift (the car share I mentioned before).

It was a full car but a nice journey nonetheless; I think I will do more like this in the future. After about an hour’s drive, I was dropped at a bus stop in Caen. As luck would have it, I heard some English spoken and it turned out that the people speaking were going to the same place as me, so I tagged along.

When we arrived there was a breakfast prepared, which consisted of coffee, cake, and fruit. I hate coffee, but on this occasion it was necessary! I had a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see a friend from Exeter smiling at me. It was lovely to see her again and the assistant from St Hilaire.

The first presentation was about the region (Normandy) and important people in the academies, all in French of course. Many of the assistants volunteered to speak and their language was so good  – one guy even had a southern French accent. I think he had definitely done an Erasmus year before.

The assistants came from all over the world, but they split us into Anglophones (American, British, Irish, Australian, Canadian) and other (Italian, German, Hispanic etc) and we went to classes. I found it quite annoying that the classes were separated into ‘college’ and ‘lycee’, meaning that those of us working in both could only be trained in one.

My friends and I ended up in the ‘college’ class, where we had to come up with ideas for lessons and activities. It is safe to say that we were not prepared at all. To be honest apart from it being nice to go to Caen and meet the other assistants, I didn’t think much of the day. Or the dinner. As three vegetarians, we just ate a measly lunch of mashed potato and salad.

After we finished, I waited a while to be picked up and taken to the Mairie in Caen where I would get a lift back to Mortain. The Mairie (town hall) is quite stunning and I made sure to take some photos, but, unfortunately, I can’t upload them without wi-fi. I was a bit worried about finding the right people and car to get a lift back, so I asked some strangers and they were very kind actually and waited with me until I went. I think that was because I looked like a lost child but hey, whatever works. I tripped over twice saying goodbye and thanks to them.

When I arrived in Vire and paid my 2 euros for the lift (so cheap!), my colleague’s daughter picked me up. That was quite amusing because we were both texting her mum saying ‘what does she look like?’ when, in fact, we were standing next to each other! She studies languages (including English) at the University of Caen and is about my age. By this point, I was so tired that I could not be bothered to speak French, but she said she wanted to practice her English anyway.

At their house, I met my colleague’s other daughter, their cat and their dog, Cookie. Cookie was very docile, but the cat jumped on me at the dinner table and dug his claws in. My colleague made us some ‘Breton Galettes’, which is a traditional dish from Bretagne that I could liken to pancakes. We washed it down with a few glasses of cidre, which made for a very pleasant evening.

I’m not sure yet what the weekend has in store, but I will be sure to write about whatever happens.

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