Earlier this week, The Oxford Tab published an article about why third-year students should hate their year abroad. I was, admittedly, particularly irritated by the esteemed publication’s criticism of my (and others’) latest venture.
But, as I read it a second time, the more I understood why I found it quite so frustrating.
Much as I love to hate The Tab (don’t we all), I realised that this time, I actually agreed with a great deal of this article.
I am unashamedly guilty of posting blissful Instagrams enjoying Barcelona’s cafés, sunny blue skies, and idyllic strolls through its parks. What my photos don’t show is that this week I have stayed around an hour and a half after work most days; I spend more time drinking coffee (Nespresso, puh-leeease) than Bombay Sapphire; and I haven’t even set foot on the beach. My life here is pretty mundane, so when I get to do exciting things like eat my recommended calorie allowance at brunch and discover beautiful leafy walks, of course I’m going to take photos.
Fortunately, I do like my job. I do not feel like I’m being exploited for my English language skills, I’m not photocopying and stapling. In fact, I’m actually producing work that is getting published online every single day. I am treated as an equal, as part of the team. But, I’m under no illusion that this is a common experience: I am regularly kept informed by other YA students out here that I am “a jammy bugger” for negotiating this internship, while they slave away for fewer hours but considerably less – or no – pay.
So far, I don’t think I have met or conversed with a single Barcelona native. Obviously, this is less of a problem for me, since I’m here speaking French, but still, outside of my apartment (English, German, Italian, French, Belgian, Spanish and Brazilian) and the office (95% French), my friends are English. This I agree, is pretty crap. How are ERASMUS students supposed to be integrated into a foreign society, without alienating their existing friends in the city? It’s tough. Even my Tinder out here is made up of French, German and American students.
Yes, the homesickness is acute. Fortunately, this has been my best week yet, suggesting this experience will just get better and better. But, when I see photos of Durham freshers’ week, of 21sts that I had to decline the RSVP, and receive messages saying “I saw so-and-so and we miss you!”, it makes it considerably more difficult to settle into a place when I am so desperate to be restored to my comfort zone. Last year, I was guilty of FOMO if I missed a single Loveshack Wednesday because I ought to be working: can you imagine how bad it is at the moment?
So, there I was, happily nodding along to almost everything Emily Shaw was writing. Then, it came to an abrupt halt.
“intellectual and cultural entitlement” … “the mundane suddenly becomes the magnificent simply because it is in a different language”
For me, the real issue was the idea that just because you are doing things in a foreign language it doesn’t make it any more significant. For me, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
I, Siena Morrell, can admit (almost unashamedly) that I passionately love my subjects. Anyone who has ever heard me wax lyrical about the political ramifications of architecture and town planning in early modern Europe can attest to my passion for history; when it comes to French, I get a nerdy thrill when I realise I am actually able to communicate in another person’s language – you feel an immediate affinity for those people that not only share your skill but your passion for the culture.
In my opinion, and, to be honest, I think it’s a fact, that the whole point of the year abroad is that it is significant that you are living day-to-day life immersed in a foreign culture of your choosing. Miss Shaw claims there is no culture-shock living in continental Europe, but surely the fact that she writes of people not enjoying settling in suggests that our cultures are different enough that we are not instantly at home upon landing in more temperate climes.
“YA blogs a celebration of the dull-as-f*ck” … “reconsider your priorities as there are starving children out there”
Now, of course I’m not going to agree with that final statement, but honestly, I’m not going to write posts about chairs. (Though eyebrow threading, foreign facials and the prospect of waxing may appear at some point.)
Here is where I angered quite quickly, even though I realise that this statement is made lightly.
Most people’s Year Abroad blogs are to keep friends and family as to what goes on, day-to-day for us while we’re abroad. I know I sound chippy, but this attack on our reportage of everyday life is so unnecessary.
At home and at university, we talk to the people we live with every day about our experiences, whether it’s walking past a hot guy while you puff and pant walking up Crossgate, or how you actually managed to get a table at the Palatine Centre café between the hours of 12.30 and 2pm. Why should it be any different just because one of us is in a foreign country?
I understand that with the perspective of distance, these things seem frivolous and trivial, but as someone who is actually using a blog as a means to keep people from pestering me about how I’m enjoying a year that I’m not particularly enjoying so far, the boring day-to-day chat might just be a coping mechanism.
Right, rant over. Ironically, I’m off to the beach. And you know what, I might just take my camera.