Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A trip to Brussels

Apologies for another photo-heavy post, but I went on my first proper trip since arriving in Lille a month ago. The squad (minus a few members) travelled to Brussels for the day and, honestly, it was one of my favourite days in a long time. I stopped off in the Belgian capital for a few days last year when I went interrailing and fell in love with the city, so I'm very pleased that it only takes around 35 minutes to get there from Lille.

We arrived in Brussels nice and early to take advantage of the whole day, and I'm so glad we did. Being able to see the city in a chilled way without rushing was very pleasant. 

Making new friends is an opportunity to show whatever side of your personality that you want to portray, as these new people will never know any differently. Unfortunately for me, this has backfired as I've managed to convince my new friends that I'm fantastic at using maps and guiding people around new places. This gained me both the nickname "Tour Guide Barbie" and the role of navigator in Belgium. Argh.

Somehow, I pulled through and we didn't get lost at all.

Our first stop was, of course, to the Mannekin Pis - a small, bronze fountain of a boy peeing and arguably the most famous landmark in the city.  The legend states that centuries ago, the city of Brussels was under siege and an explosive was placed to destroy it. A young boy saw this and peed on the fuse to put it out, thus this fountain was placed. It has over 900 outfits and when we visited, he was dressed in a cycling outfit. Next to the fountain was one of Brussels' many waffle take-aways, so that was where we went for a quick breakfast.

With our waffles, we walked a few minutes to the city's George Square; the beautiful Grand Place. There isn't a word to describe how simply stunning the buildings here are. Most of them are decorated in real gold and the photos don't do them justice. As I stuffed my waffle into my mouth (Nutella and banana, would recommend), an excited Nia came running up to us and all I heard were the words "horse" and "tour". Next thing I know, the eight of us are spread between two horse-drawn carriages and taking the most unique city tour I've ever experienced. It definitely felt more regal than a standard walking or bus tour and I'd definitely recommend taking it if you're ever in Brussels - even if just for the novelty!

"let's take candids"

Our next stop-off point was the chocolate museum, which was full of free samples. My favourite part was definitely the machine that spun melted chocolate, with a stack of speculoos biscuits next to it to be dipped and sampled. After so much chocolate, we decided on another of Belgium's food specialities for lunch - Belgian fries and mayonnaise, which was to die for. I love me some mayonnaise, but in France, mayonnaise is mixed with mustard and it is impossible to find any jars of plain mayo. I miss Hellman's. Thankfully, the Belgian mayo was incredible. 

After a busy morning, we spent the afternoon wandering around the city and just seeing what it has to offer, especially the beautiful chocolate and sweet shops. We finished the day off by relaxing outside in the Grand Place in the autumn sun with a Belgian fruit beer, before getting another 35 minute train back home.

Jess, Nia, Lauren, Luke, Beth, Julia, Claudia, I couldn't have asked for better company for the day and I'm so grateful to have such fantastic friends to share these experiences with. Here's to the next adventure, and I can't wait to return to Belgium as soon as possible!

the best year abroad friends <3

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Hello October

It's been a busy couple of weeks, so I definitely thought it was time for an update! It's been a fortnight since I updated so this might be a long one..

Settling in

Since my last blog post, there's been lots of adult-ing, and as a whole it's gone very smoothly. The main priority was to open a bank account, and after hearing horror stories about French banks, I was terrified. Thankfully, there were no problems and we felt very accomplished having done it all entirely in French! Aside from this, there has been lots of paperwork, namely for social security and my work, and it was necessary to have a health check-up with a French doctor. I've also been taking time to see my new city and I'm (finally) starting to know my way around. Lille is a fairly medium-sized city but there are lots of things to do and see, and they're packed into a small space. I've been keeping very busy - and because of this I've not really been feeling emotional at all (which is a complete surprise considering I usually get upset at the smallest thing).

a trip to the palais des beaux arts
got to love a French protest

New friends

Part of the "settling in" process is meeting new people. As much as I love my flatmate, Lauren, we both know we'd go crazy if we didn't have any other friends for this year! There are a few Facebook groups dedicated to people who have moved to Lille to work as English language assistants, and through this I've fallen into a group of crazy people who are very similar to me, and spending time with them makes the whole moving abroad experience much easier. There's always someone there when I'm in the mood for food / wine / a zoo trip and I'm making some amazing friends. Going through something like a move abroad together makes everyone bond so much quicker. Special shoutouts to Nia for making everything happen, Jess R for keeping me sane during the most uninspiring of induction days and Jess P & Luke for accompanying Lauren and I to Franglish, a French/English language exchange evening in a cute pub in the Old Town. The two of us also spontaneously went along to an ERASMUS event two weekends ago. It was called "City Game" and involved travelling around Lille completing tasks and learning about some of the main attractions (which definitely pleased the tour guide within me). We befriended some lovely ladies from Germany and ended up going out for burgers with them afterwards. Hopefully, we'll meet up with them again soon!

when Nia is in charge of dessert *heart eye emoji*
exploring the city with new friends
burgers and swapping phrases in Scottish and German
friends who year abroad together...

Work work work

I'm not just here in France to make friends and have fun - I'm here to work in two secondary schools as an English Language Assistant, and yesterday was my first day of work! I'm surprised about how well it went. The staff are all lovely (even though I didn't understand 95% of the staffroom chat) and the kids seem fantastic. I spent most of yesterday introducing myself to my classes and answering questions about myself and Scotland, but I'm looking forward to planning lessons and working more with them; I even get my own classroom for some lessons! Most of the time in this school, I'll be working with troisèmes, who are around the age of 15 and are preparing for their baccalauréat exams. They're so eager to learn and hopefully, they'll continue to be inspired to improve their English throughout this year. I will also have the chance to work once a week with a class of children with learning disabilities, which is something I've never experienced before. However, I already love the class and they are desperate to improve their English, so I feel like this will be one of the most rewarding things about my new job.

Not everything has been rosy, though. The other school I'm working in haven't contacted me yet, or responded to my efforts to get in touch. I don't even know yet when I'll be working with them! My first school phoned the headmaster for me yesterday to find out what's going on, and it turns out that somewhere along the line, I was forgotten about. The teacher who will be looking after me at this school is also on a trip to Scotland at the moment (oh the irony) so I am still clueless. Hopefully, I'll find out by the beginning of next week what's going on.

October plans

October is looking to be a very busy month! This weekend, Lauren and I are going for dinner with one of the teachers at my school and her son to practise French and English, followed by a daytrip to Brussels with some of the assistants! Then, I have a full week of work and at the weekend, our bestie Katie is coming up to visit from Switzerland!!! We're super excited and can't wait to show her around Lille! After she leaves, there are only two days of work before La Toussaint, France's equivalent of our October holiday. I'm starting the holidays with a visit from Daniel which I'm very excited about. After he leaves, there are a couple of days to relax before we head off to Paris for a few days in Disneyland! Upon our return will be our Halloween party, and then it's November and back to work! Very excited for such a jam-packed month!

I think that's everything to update on for now, but I'll be sure to keep posting throughout the month of October with all of my travels and plans! My priority now is to enjoy the last of the French sun before winter comes, cheers to my Mum for pointing out on Skype that I've caught a little bit of a tan!

A bientôt !