The year abroad can be an amazing experience. Unfortunately, it can at the same time feel frankly awful. Shockingly, it turns out that having an entire academic year whose success is defined by your ability to interact with people is actually the worst nightmare for someone who has spent the past three years of their life in a library, avoiding human contact like a malevolent plague.

Given my inability to undo so many years of behavioural training, I started this year with the firm intention of making use of all the cultural experiences available to me without talking to people; namely, seeing foreign language films in the cinema for a fraction of the price in Britain.

The year abroad can feel like both a torment and sand slipping through your fingers

In an ‘introduction to French culture’ class we were all instructed never to admit not knowing a text, be it literary or cinematic. The correct phrases to hide any such failing were “Ca me dit quelque chose”, ‘Oh I recognise that’, “il faut que je le relire”, ‘I really should reread that’. Paris is apparently a city of Cambridge students pretending to have done the reading. Equally Cambridge reading list-esque, my grand cinematic dreams were always doomed to go unachieved. I have been in Paris since the 4th of September. So far, I have been to the cinema once.

And like all good students, as soon as I failed to do exactly what I intended, I became paralysed by this sense of insufficiency. As everyone knows, you will after all simply fail your entire degree if you do not watch at least two hours of old white directors waffling a week, no matter how many lectures you go to or essays you write. Returning year abroad students (and even some supervisors) always tell you that really you should give yourself some time off, that watching Netflix in bed is a necessity every so often. This is as true in Cambridge as it is on your year abroad.

But relaxing is difficult when you feel like you are wasting your precious time in this country. The eight months required manages to feel both like a torment and sand slipping through your fingers. So how do you combine life-saving vegetation and (relative) cultural immersion?

Cartoons. Children’s cartoons, adult cartoons, it doesn’t really matter. Find a cartoon series you can bear watching on Netflix (or your preferred streaming medium), go to the settings, and, shockingly, so many of them will be available dubbed in your target language – many will even have subtitles too. Frankly, the more mainstream and childish you go, the more success you will have. Disney is dubbed into every language on the planet and then some, as are most Netflix originals.

Language is ever evolving – a weekly cartoon is much more likely to keep you up to date

And cartoons are actually, although people might not want to admit it, an amazing way to learn a language through film and media. Firstly it somehow makes that most heinous of crimes – dubbing – just that little bit less torturous. Never underestimate the quality of a professional voice actor; the real problem with live-action movie dubbing is the mind boggling effect of hearing someone else’s voice come out of George Clooney’s mouth which throws you out the flow of story telling more effectively than any of the surprise nudity which so often appears in French films.

Secondly, and far more importantly, the language – and slang – used in animated media, especially in the increasing amount of media produced for a more mature audience, will be a far better reflection of the everyday use of your target language than the script of a French director-cum-philosopher who fancies himself the next Sartre. For one, they may actually use modern slang and colloquialisms.

Language is ever evolving, and a cartoon which releases episodes weekly has a much better chance of keeping up to date with these evolutions than even a team of script writers producing a two hour long movie which will premier two years after the script is written (plus what really are the chances that these philosophising script writers will even know the cool colloquialisms to begin with?).


Mountain View

A Room of One's Own: A Cantab in Paris

And do you know what? Watching Klaus, Netflix’s most recent offering on ‘the power of Christmas’, even in French, is always going to cheer you up more than watching thin French women getting it on with men thirty years their senior in the bizarre nationwide Electra complex which seems to be every French cop show ever made.

The year abroad is unpleasant. Cambridge, all too often, is too. We need what little joy we can find in our lives, and if watching Klaus in bed in French, or Russian, or German, is going to go some little way towards making it bearable, then embrace it. It is even educational.