Returning to University after a Year Abroad


Sorry I went a whole month and a half without posting! I’m now halfway through the most stressful year of my academic life and blogging has fallen slightly to the wayside. I’m not taking a hiatus per-se, but until June don’t expect more than perhaps two blog entries as I’m so busy. But that’s not to say that I don’t miss blogging! Oh no, not at ALL. I’ve been writing up various drafts recently of future entries which I’d like to get my teeth into, and if you ever have any suggestions don’t hesitate to contact me through comments or by email (see my ‘about’ page)! I keep writing new ideas down on bits of paper and when I have more free time am interested in expanding this blog further, especially including hints, tips and resources for how to improve your French and German.

I’ve been back at University for five months now in what I have to call the toughest academic year of my life. It’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced before and while I’m semi-thriving on the stress in a now calm tranquility this is miles apart from last term where I was anxiety-ridden and distressed. There’s something very calming about knowing you’ve only got a few more miles of a marathon left, yet it’s also the most crucial point where you can’t give up and have to do your best work.

At the University of Nottingham our fourth year is 80% of our whole degree which is much more than most other people I know except Oxbridge Universities. Although this originally sounded daunting and implausible I sometimes wonder if this is actually for the best. My German, certainly, is the best it’s ever been, and I’d hazard to say it’s even improved more in the past five months since I’ve been back. Not perhaps on a speaking level, but on an academic one. This is the first year where I’ve actually felt on-par with my fellow students in terms of my German (mostly due to insecurity, I think, rather than inability), and it’s been interesting this year to focus on vocabulary learning, academic reading and more in-depth grammatical structures. In this way I’m quite glad that my German competence now is far more taken into account than it ever was before.

The problem is is I’ve gone the opposite way with my French. When you have a year abroad and you do two, or three (I don’t pity you!) languages, then you have a lot less time to hone in and focus your skills. I haven’t been in France since January last year and all the elements of lexis and syntax which I previously just knew I’m now struggling with.  I’m also undertaking a dissertation, where I’ve come up with a nifty highlighted calender to the joy of my tutor, which requires a lot of independent study. While I’m really enjoying the challenge it means my French is mostly concentrated on vocabulary for children or neologisms in Roald Dahl’s works, and not really colloquial every-day French.

This is the only picture I have of me in Nottingham this year, so as a tenuous stock photo this will have to do.
This is the only picture I have of me in Nottingham this year, so as a tenuous stock photo this will have to do.

In other terms, I’d say it’s very strange but normal to be back in England. I do often find it odd that I took a year abroad at all. When I think back I can’t believe that I went to a shop and spoke French or would only speak in German in class. In some ways, it feels like a dream. When I returned to my hometown in Essex over Christmas it was the longest I’d spent there in over a year and a half and the first time I could hone in on my English skills. Doing a degree in languages, especially at this stage, is much more focused on how you present yourself in English as well as your languages of choice, which was initially strange to get into after a year of only half-speaking English. I sometimes have real troubles explaining myself in normal situations: I forgot the word for ‘cutlery’ the other day so had to act it out with my hands, and called ‘napkins’, ‘those small hand towels’.

I think what I find strangest is my perception of British culture. I’d really started to believe the stereotype that all English people are very polite, which, actually, they’re really not. I’m a lot more forward now if someone is being rude to me in a shop or a restaurant, which is going totally against the cultural norm but is, in my view, necessary. I had also forgotten the rampant importance of the United States on British culture. I understand Americanisms entering the language, but sometimes when I turn on the news they focus on aspects like ‘there’s a storm in North Carolina’, which I don’t think the BBC would concentrate on if it were happening in another country. Bonfire Night last year seemed to be ignored and I was suddenly perturbed about how ‘black Friday’ has become a thing, even though we don’t even have Thanksgiving in the UK!

Then again, I do love that I can speak English on a daily basis and I love that I have permanent access to Dairy Milk, Love Hearts and Heat Magazine rather than paying extortionate prices in British shops abroad. I love that I’m near my family and I love that I can now say I’ve done a year abroad without having to do it again. While it was definitely the highlight of my degree, I did feel by the end that I was ready to focus on the next chapter of my life.

Now that I’m in the swing of things I’m finding academia a challenge but one where I can see an end. After a year abroad, what’s three more months of studying for my final degree? Nothing really.

Oh dear.That really is no time at all, is it?

Perhaps it’s only just hitting me. I’d better stop procrastinating… Brecht’s scintillating essays on theatre won’t read themselves!

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