"I was immediately thrust into the hustle and bustle of central Paris"Ines Magre

6th September 2021. It was a sunny Monday morning when I first stepped foot in Paris. Wide-eyed and armed with two huge suitcases, I was immediately thrust into the hustle and bustle of central Paris, as I cautiously attempted to find my way from the metro station to my new home, the École Normale Supérieure. This was the biggest leap of faith that I’d ever taken - even bigger than the 200-kilometre move from Swansea, my hometown in South Wales, to Cambridge. I found myself in unchartered territory, and none of my anxious summer planning could have fully prepared me for this moment. Yet, my nervous uncertainty was mixed with a sort of feverish excitement that many year-abroad students before me have probably felt. Coinciding with the impending change of season, I felt like I was on the cusp of a new chapter, one which would push me further than ever before.

“I have been left thinking that I can now take on almost anything”

Fast forward to the present. The last few months have been extraordinarily dizzying. Extraordinary because if you’d have told me a year ago that I’d be on a weekend freshers’ vacation in the Vendée with a bunch of random French students at my new university or staying up until the early hours exploring pretentious Parisian art museums with people I barely knew, I would have probably laughed in your face. Dizzying because, thrown into a vast sea of people in the French capital and forced to swim, I have felt myself being pushed more and more outside of my comfort zone, something which I would have once been fearful of but now embrace.

If you’ve been on a year abroad, or you know people who have, then you may know that curious friends and family love asking, ‘What is your favourite thing about living in [insert random country]?’. Often, the expected answers are ‘the new friends that I’ve made’, ‘the new cuisines that I’ve tried’, or ‘the beautiful places which I’ve stumbled across’. These are all valid responses. I remain grateful for my new friends of many different nationalities whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise, for the delicious viennoiserie that France has to offer (it’s honestly worth a trip just to try), and for the tucked-away parks and museums discovered during lazy autumn afternoons after the slog of morning lectures. But none of these things can beat the best tool that the year abroad has provided me with: a lesson in resilience.

“Resilience comes from learning to deal with the unexpected”

It may seem crazy, but after a few months spent away from family and Cambridge friends, I have been left thinking that I can now take on almost anything that life could throw in my direction. And boy, have a few obstacles been thrown in my direction! From confusing French bureaucracy paper trails and visa nightmares, to embarrassing language blunders and feelings of isolation in a foreign country, these past few months have presented me with bewildering challenges. When grouped together, these obstacles inevitably seem overwhelming. However, when dealt with separately, on a day-by-day basis, they soon become manageable. And this ability which I have learned over the last few months to roll with the punches and take each day as it comes has empowered me with the greatest feeling of all: resilience.

‘Resilience is about being able to overcome the unexpected. The goal of resilience is to thrive.’ (Jamais Cascio). After two years studying MML at Cambridge, with a sizeable chunk of my studies falling during a pandemic, I honestly thought that I knew what resilience meant. And maybe I did. But having to start life from scratch in a different country has offered me a broader perspective on what it means to be resilient.


Mountain View

What teaching English abroad taught me about myself

Back at Cambridge, I used to think of resilience in narrower terms. I thought of it as balancing on a tightrope by managing to submit work whilst still finding time for everything else that happens on a daily basis. To some extent, this is true for any student wishing to survive a gruelling term. But now I can see that there is so much more to resilience. It involves continuing to place yourself in new situations with unfamiliar people, sometimes out of necessity and sometimes for the fun of it. It also involves learning to accept that life is not always like a university term, with everything already organised in a rather predictable order from the get-go and a clear sense of what needs to be done. In short, my year abroad thus far has shown me that resilience comes from learning to deal with the unexpected, be it visa paperwork dilemmas, ever-evolving travel rules or perplexing societal customs. It comes from within, as one learns to embrace change and make the most of the present, rather than stressing about hypothetical scenarios.