This week marks one whole month in Mulhouse and I don’t know about you but I can barely believe it! It seems to have flown by but when I stop and break it down, a lot has happened already (you can read more about that in my last post). Something I started doing while in China was writing more reflective blog posts to mark the anniversary of arriving, so at 1 month in, 3 months in and so on. I want to continue this and hopefully get to do a few more than I did in China. I never quite made it to the 6 month mark and the ensuing blog post… These posts give me the chance to sit down and reflect on my time here, which I like doing and really see the benefit of but struggle to do without some kind of outside impetus.
In the short time I’ve been here, I feel like I’ve already achieved so much. I would say the biggest thing is how at home I feel already. Mulhouse is exactly the kind of city I like – small, very walkable with lots of little streets to explore and full of things to do. I’ve managed to set myself up as far as all of the logisitcs go – I have a bank account and French number and all those kind of things. I feel very comfortable walking around and am starting to piece together all the little streets and create a map in my mind. I’ve only taken the wrong tram once which is an achievement in itself! I’m here for at least a year, the length of my contract, but there is the option of extending it for another year. I don’t know exactly what will come next for me but I like the idea of being rooted somewhere for a little while. Since I left school I’ve been lucky enough to live in a lot of amazing places but there has only been one stint anywhere that lasted longer than a year, during my first two years at university in Edinburgh. I’ve tried to approach setting myself up here with that in mind, thinking of this as a more permanent move rather than something temporary, regardless of how long I end up staying here.
I’ve also completed my first two weeks of teaching and it now feels like I never left the classroom. It was a bit intimidating at first, the idea of being back in front of students, especially some that are my age or older. My first few days felt like a case of fake it ’til you make it – going in with the confidence I needed but didn’t necessarily have. It’s very different dynamic to any of the teaching I’ve done, whether in Honduras or as a swimming teacher, which took a bit of getting used to. Now though, two weeks in, I genuinely am feeling confident and comfortable. I’m excited to keep working with my classes and getting them talking as much English as possible.
The biggest adjusment since I’ve been here has definitely been the amount of French I’ve been speaking! I’m sure that’s a surprise to no one but what has been surprising to me is how well my French has been holding up. The main reason I took this job was to have the chance to live in France and improve my French. I managed to get a distinction in the spoken French part of my degree which took me by surprise because the speaking part of it has always been the most challenging to me. I know what it’s like going into an immersive language experience. It can be very overwhelming and a bit rough to start with. It has always taken me at least a month to feel comfortable and up to three to feell fully at ease but this has been much more accelerated here. I’m not fully in the ‘at ease’ stage yet but I haven’t struggled. What has been nice is that whenever I’ve been trying to do something in French, nobody has twigged that I’m a foreigner and starting talking to me in English, as they are likely to do in some other parts of France…
You’d think I’d be used to all the covid-related adjustments by now, especially when it comes to university after spending the last year trying to finish a degree in the throes of the pandemic. However, things are a bit different on the other side of things. Thankfully, teaching is in person for me and the majority of my students are vaccinated. Masks must be worn inside although social distancing is not required in educational settings by the French government. Where possible I still try and have my students spread out but sometimes there are too many of them in my fairly small room. Instead I have the windows open for ventilation and am very strict about keeping their masks over their mouths AND noses. One unexpected side effect of this is that sometimes it is much harder to understand or hear what someone says when I can’t see their lips moving! It’s something I never thought about before masks were necessary but I noticed in my job at a bakery in Edinburgh last year too.
Another smaller but even more life-threatening adjustment has been everyone driving on the right! It sounds silly and it is definitely a more lighthearted one but every time I cross the road it takes me a few more seconds than normal to figure out which way to look so that I don’t get hit!
Luckily there have been many high points so far. One thing that I was very apprehensive about before coming was making friends. It feels like the first time in my life that I’ve gone out completely by myself and had to find my people. In Honduras, I was part of a large group and found some amazing friends there. Even in China there was another student from Edinburgh there with me which was a comforting thought. This time I came here alone and didn’t have the built-in mechanisms to make friends that you have at university for example. Thankfully that’s not been an issue. From my very first night I immediately got on with my flatmate Emma and flatmate number two, Andy, arrived last week and it’s been the same thing. I also met a great group of people through Annabelle, the last lectrice in my position, and Àine, another lectrice this year but who has been in Mulhouse for two years already. I also know some girls that are here on their Erasmus year from Heriot Watt. I’m quite a sociable person and I like keeping busy so I knew that not being able to go out and do things with other people would be a sure fire way for me to get homesick and not enjoy the start of my life here. Just having people that you can message to go for lunch or for drinks or to do something new makes such a big difference.
Another highlight has definitely been getting back in to water polo. The last time I was able to play and train consistently was in May 2019, before I went to China. I had a brief return to the game when I was back in Edinburgh in early 2020 but we all know what happened next. In my last year at university I was honoured to be the captain of Edinburgh’s seconds team, the Queens, which I loved but there wasn’t a whole lot of playing because of restrictions. Once I arrived in Mulhouse, one of my priorities was to find the water polo team. My first session was about a week in and was my first time playing in an outdoor pool – very cool! I’ve been training mostly with the elite women’s team but don’t be too impressed! They are definitely far above me in ability and even more when it comes to fitness but I’ve been enjoying the challenge and being pushed harder than I have in several years. I have also trained a few times with the U65 mixed leisure team which has been great fun. Usually you don’t really get to play mixed polo after you turn 18 and it goes from juniors into men’s and women’s teams. It’s also great fun seeing a range of ages all the way up to higher end of the under 65 limit.
I don’t want this blog to be just a highlight reel (although it is great for that) so I think it’s important to talk about the lows points as well. I’ve been fortunate in that there haven’t been many so far. One of the hardest moments was when my aunt got married and I had to miss the wedding. I got major FOMO (fear of missing out) from seeing a lot of my family members in the same place which is hard to make happen! I did join the reception via Facetime for a few minutes but the tunes were too loud so they couldn’t really hear me. I was disappointed to be missing out on what looked like a fabulous weekend but congratulations and all my love to the happy couple, Auntie Gillian and Kipper!
In the next few months, I’m looking forward to a little bit of travelling! I have plans to go to Strasbourg for the first time on Saturday and I also want to get over to Basel and Freiburg for a day each. There are other lectrices who got their jobs through Edinburgh University, the same as me, in Rouen, Caen and Metz so there may be some weekend trips on the cards too. I also have a week off at the end of October so I’m planning on visiting my friend Lucy in Valencia who is on her Erasmus year there. I’ll be there for a few days and then I’m going to head up to the tiny, little known country of Andorra. It is nestled on the border between France and Spain and covers just under 470km². I’ve always wanted to visit and I was determined to make it happen this year!
I think a nice way to end these blogs is with a few goals for the next few months. Most of what I want to work on is teaching oriented. I want to push myself to try new formats with my classes and have a diverse range of subjects. I think it could be easy to settle into a routine and keep using the same formulaic lesson plan that works but that’s not interesting for me or my students. I obviously also want to keep using my French as much as possible, keep putting myself out there to make new friends and get to know Mulhouse more!