Earlier this year, I went on a university exchange in Strasbourg, an old city in North-Eastern France. It took months of paperwork, all my savings and a lot of courage, but it was pretty great. Here are some of the wonderful things that I experienced.
The town of Strasbourg is incredibly beautiful, sitting on a river island filled with medieval houses and with one of the tallest Gothic cathedrals in the world. The town has been fought over between kingdoms for hundreds of years, and so there are both French and German elements to the city. On the first week of being in Strasbourg, I looked up from my computer to see snow falling down outside my window. It was magical. Every single morning I would walk 5 minutes to my local boulangerie (bakery) to buy fresh croissants and a baguette. I also got a lot of joy out of the endless cheese varieties to try.
It was challenging trying to follow classes in a foreign language and so satisfying when I realised I was finally able to have a real conversation in French. I lived in a residence a 4 minute walk from university and so could wake up and just sleep-walk to my 8am classes. My residence was also a 1 minute walk from a cinema, so I watched lots of French films.
So many lovely young French people invited us to dine with them, and there was wine and cheese with every single meal. I loved cooking with my friends in our communal kitchens, and being able to hang out whenever we wanted because everyone lived in the same place. Every Monday was a language exchange in a crowded pub, with people shouting to each other in French, English, German, Spanish and more. I made friends in every single continent. We would eat the regional specialty, tarte flambé, with local beer by the river. One night we went to an underground show of a punk band from Montreal, hidden in the Strasbourg suburbs somewhere.
I bought an old, creaky yellow bike for 30 Euros and used it to get everywhere through the old cobbled streets of the town where I lived. One sunny day, we biked out of town to some old forts in the countryside. We went on trips to all the adorable old towns, and tasted wine in the nearby wine region. We took day trips to Germany just because we could. I went skiing for a day in the Vosges Mountains. In the university breaks I went on incredible holidays to Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin and Vienna and other French cities.
The freedom I felt living in France was incredible. All I had was a 3 by 3 metre room, a few outfits and limited cooking equipment but it was all that I needed. More than being in France, it was being somewhere completely different that made my semester special. Suddenly I was able to be just myself, or whoever I wanted to be, outside the context of my normal life. The wine, cheese and pastries were just an added bonus.