Now that the blog is back up and running, I should fill you in on what has happened since you last heard from me. My last proper post was mid-lockdown. I did think about finishing off some of the blogs that were half written from when I was in China, like My Free Time which was ready to go, but in the end lockdown itself was enough to deal with. I was at home during the inital lockdown from March 2020 until the summer, trying to keep up with my Chinese and French studies and preparing for my final year at university.
I returned to Edinburgh in August 2020, ready to battle my way through one more year of studying. I won’t lie, it was not an easy year. When classes started again in September, everything except my speaking classes were online. That was two hours a week for Chinese and one for French, so three hours of in person teaching in total. And I was one of the lucky ones. Most people had just one hour of in person teaching a week, if that.
Waking up and sitting down one metre away for a day of classes was a big adjustment. Even after coming out of six months or so of lockdown and restrictions, some of which I had spent doing at least some level of studying, the intensity of the final year of a degree at the University of Edinburgh was difficult to handle at times. Along with this, I was treasurer of the Swimming and Water Polo Club as well as captain of the womens second team and was working in a small French bakery (very appropriate!). I can get stressed very easily so I took a few extra steps to try and prevent that this year.
The first of these was not to work from my bed. I have been guilty of this before but considering that most of my work was happening in my bedroom, usually a place for relaxation, I still wanted to have at least one place that was purely for rest. Another was that I made sure to get dressed for all of my classes even though they could have easily been done in pyjamas and a hoodie. It made me feel ready for the day and I was more productive. I also tried to make sure I left the house at least once a day, whether that was to go to the shops, to meet a friend for a coffee and a lap of the Meadows or for a swim during times when the pools were open.
Throughout the final year of university, the focus is not just on the now but also on the future. It becomes about multitasking the classes and responsibilities you have right now with figuring out what the hell you’re going to do next and how you’re going to do it. For me, this was… challenging. To be honest, challenging doesn’t even cover it. I had multiple breakdowns while trying to figure out what was next for me and even a little bit of an identity crisis.
The first idea I had won’t be unexpected to anyone (at least anyone that has been around a while). From the moment I first set foot back on UK soil in January 2020 I was desperate to return not only to China but specifically Dalian. After a while though, this desire waned. I began to think that trying to recreate the time the I had there, or the time that I lost, could only lead to disappointment. I had an amazing experience in China but the parts that were specific to Dalian were the people. With many of my friends having finished their studies since I left or not being able to continue their studies because of the pandemic, I’d be missing out on the parts that I wanted most.
After coming to this realisation, I kept my sights on China but adjusted the angle, if you will. The Chinese deparment at Edinburgh were periodically sending out information about various masters programmes and there was one that caught my eye. Johns Hopkins University has a campus in Nanjing, China and run various masters degrees in their School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The focus on global affairs and politics, specifically in East Asia, and the fact that many of the courses are taught in Chinese was a big attraction for me. This was the first time that I realised that International Relations might be an area of work and study that would interest me. It would be a great way to put my languages to use and combine my interest in politics and social issues. Lightbulb moment!
However, it took one of the aforementioned breakdowns to decide that while the Johns Hopkins course had been instrumental in deciding on IR as a future career path for me, the timing wasn’t right for me and the course itself wasn’t a good fit (mostly for my bank account, American unis are ******* expensive!). Something I maintain all the time is that there is no rush. Sometimes it feels like you have to come straight out of school into university and then straight out of university into a career that you will have for the rest of your life. This is absolutely untrue – as already evidenced by the fact that I took a gap year. It was time to remind myself of this and take a step back.
With a future in IR and a potential return to China in the back of my mind, I still had to decide what was next. This is when I turned my gaze towards France. I’m sure most people know by now that I missed out on the opportunity to go to France at all because of the pandemic. Maybe this would be the perfect opportunity to make up for lost time.
I really felt like my French suffered more than my Chinese from the interrupted year abroad. This might sound obvious seeing as I did at least get 5 months in China and no time at all in France but it’s a bit more complicated. My French was definitely at a higher level than my Chinese when I left for China and my reading and general comprehension still is but my confidence and ability in speaking Chinese just skyrocketed in a way that only comes from immersion. Unfortunately my French hasn’t had that opportunity since a week long French exchange when I was 16.
This desire to improve my spoken French was a driving force in the decision to move there. My aim with all my languages is to get them up to a high enough level that even if that level dips over time or with lack of use so that when I need it I can pull it out of my back pocket again and brush it up to where it was. I definitley achieved this with Spanish through living in Honduras and I’ve had opportunities to test this logic on a trip to Barcelona, a return visit to Honduras and with various friends. My Chinese isn’t quite there yet but with a return to China on the cards for the not so distant future, I’m not too concerned. Due to the nature of Chinese, I also see it being much more of a life long learning process and effort to keep it up (not that its not the same for all languages).
I turned my sights to how I could get myself to France, looking at internships, jobs, anything I could find. There is an English teaching assistant programme run through the British Council that a lot of language students do on their year abroad instead of attending university but what I hadn’t realised was that it was open to graduates as well! I applied but also kept looking as it would take several months to hear anything back.
In the meantime one of the lecturers from the Edinburgh University French department reached out to all the final years with an opportunity to work in France. The department has close links with a number of french universities and every year basically recruits a number of students from its ranks to go and work as lecteurs or lectrices (like a speaking tutor or language assistant). There are usually quite a few places but there were less this year because of covid-related uncertainties. This year there were 2 spots in Rouen and one each in Caen, Metz and Mulhouse. I sent in my (French!) CV and cover letter and was given an interview. It must have gone well because I was offered the position in Mulhouse (but you already knew that).
So that brings us a bit more up to date. I am currently procrastinating by writing this blog instead of packing (and even rewriting because the previous draft didn’t save…). I will of course give you more information on what Mulhouse is like and what being a lectrice even is as soon as I know myself! But for now I should get back to packing because I leave tomorrow!