The Louvre, ParisLouis Ashworth

Rewind two months. The prospect of having to start the big year abroad, which fills languages students with unabated excitement until they actually have to do it, was suddenly a reality. Time to buckle up and be an adult for the year. But not yet. For the first week, I was staying with my parents in an Airbnb, whilst I looked for permanent accommodation. Much to their, and indeed my, distress, I’d spent the summer in China instead of house-hunting in Paris. I scoured accommodation sites and found a limited selection within my budget, mostly undesirable “chambres de bonne” – tiny attic rooms that used to be servants’ quarters – in which you can sleep, defecate and boil pasta within a two-metre radius. Even after cockroach-ridden rooms in China had vastly lowered my expectations, things were looking far from my classy Parisian fantasies.

Fast-forward to November and I’m living in a lovely apartment with Jacques and Hélène, who have essentially become my cool French parents. Because it’s their actual home, it’s not a hole, there’s always somebody around to chat with, and the kitchen is equipped with an ungodly number of tarte tins for all my pastry-baking needs. So, other than Jacques breaking several bones in a moped accident a week after my arrival, his son following suit mere days later, and subsequent accusations that I might be the Omen, all is well.

“I’m not swanning down the banks of the Seine in an Instagrammable Parisian dream every weekend”

I feel settled, so much so that I almost forget I’m here, and am looking forward to the next nine months. Even Tripos isn’t managing to tarnish my experience, as the Year Abroad Project allows you to write on anything, as long as it’s relevant to the language or culture. I’ve chosen a 19th-century prostitute, meaning my research consists of 200-year-old gossip. That doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t have off-days, but “I’ve had fewer breakdowns than I expected” is my standard response when people ask how Paris is going. But the whole idea is to actually live abroad, not just be a tourist for a year, and that does include having rough patches and binging on Netflix. Surprisingly, I’m not swanning down the banks of the Seine in an Instagrammable Parisian dream every weekend.

Cafes and cats in Paris - you can't ask for much more on a year abroadKaty Cross

There is arguably an expectation that every day has to be an extraordinary journey of self-discovery. Whilst this is garbage, I do think that, at the very least, the year abroad provides a welcome break from the Cambridge slog; it’s easy to fall into a monotonous routine when everything is provided for you, and you spend most of your waking hours working or knowing you should be. Since arriving in Paris, I have discovered the elusive “healthy sleep pattern” and “weekends” that come with a standard 9 to 5, which I heartily recommend. The project still lingers, but it’s only a third of the work I’d do in just one term at Cambridge..

“Cambridge provides nearly no advice on welfare or mental health”

Nobody’s ever fully prepared for the year abroad, but I think it’s fair to say that Cambridge does not help. Practical advice is evasive: I found myself seeking advice on renting and opening bank accounts from other universities’ guides. Cambridge provides nearly no advice on welfare or mental health. As a result, a group of students are working to fill this gap through collating student experiences in the hope of expelling myths and offering student contacts to whom the “stupid questions” can be directed.

Furthermore, God forbid we should be taught anything practical on the academic side. A friend at another university had an oral exam in her second year in which she had to role-play a situation in an airport. Cambridge doesn’t even have any oral classes for second years! I can dissect a medieval French lai with relative ease, but faced with “did you do much at the weekend?”, find myself resorting to “j’ai joué au foot dans le jardin. J’aime le foot”.


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Mountain View

A year at home, abroad

Despite being slightly embittered by Cambridge’s failure to acknowledge the real world, I do feel a strange nostalgia for a Cambridge that seems dead and gone. Most of my friends will have graduated when I come back, whilst I shall still be clinging on with MML and NatSci stragglers, and whoever I can convince to stay on to do a Masters. Fourth-year Cambridge will be a very different place to what I knew before and will seem even more alien after having spent a year away from the bubble. But when the idea of this starts to get me down, I just remember I’m in Paris, and everything feels a little bit better

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