Katie Cook, class of 09
Ma Vie en France!
At this very moment, I am sitting on the terrace of my favorite Lyonnais bouchon. It's the quintessential French image: red and white checkered tablecloths, a crepe stand, fashionable French women smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and little sparrows feasting on breadcrumbs (which in France, are of course, plentiful!) I am watching tourists walk by, in awe of all the beauty and perfection that surrounds them in this ancient Renaissance quarter of the city. "Le Vieux Lyon" (the old Lyon). I am reminded of what it was like when I first strolled down the famous rue St. Jean. I felt as if I had been swept away into a French dream world. That was nearly six months ago and I continue to pinch myself daily. I was fortunate enough to find an apartment here and love being a resident of an area, which in my opinion, is the heart of the city.
Perhaps you're wondering how and why I ended up in France. It all boils down to one word: relationships. I conducted both of my directed field studies with Bayer CropScience. During my time there, I formed a strong working relationship with our IT and web design providers located in both Leverkusen, Germany and here, in Lyon. Well after I left Bayer, I continued to build upon those relationships -using very simple methods and gestures: chatting over Skype, sending Christmas cards and emails; all the while working as a receptionist post-graduation from MRU (a terrible time in the economy!) After sending out dozens of resumées and cover letters without any bites, I decided it was an ideal time for me to go on some kind of adventure. I'd always loved France and been enchanted by its culture. I figured I would take two months of French classes, get a taste of the city and then return home to Calgary. However when my former colleague in Germany heard about my idea to visit, he offered me a job with his company. I accepted without hesitation.
I settled upon a one-year working holiday visa that would allow me to live and work in France without having to request temporary citizenship. This particular visa is offered to young people (aged 30 and under). After much ado (3.5 months of paperwork and a mandatory visit to the French embassy in Vancouver) I arrived in Lyon.
I had enrolled myself in 10 weeks of intensive French language classes, which occupied the majority of my time, but I loved every minute. Although I am nowhere near fluent in the language, my improvement since leaving Canada is exponential. At the school, my PR nature enabled me to make friends very easily with amazing people from all over the world: Brazil, Russia, Ireland, USA, Haiti, Norway, Australia and Korea. We enjoyed many summer nights drinking wine and stuffing our faces full of fresh baguettes and cheese by one of the city's two rivers (the Saône and the Rhône). I can honestly say these were some of the best times of my life.
Unfortunately life can't be all fun and games and so after nearly three months of living it up, I actually had to start working. My role began with the objective of attracting and attaining new clients, which proved to be extremely difficult in another language. The focus then shifted to preparing the tools necessary in order to effectively sell our service (think website, brochures, videos, blog). This is how I’ve filled the majority of my days. My boss had given me the freedom to scour the web and delve deeper into the world of social media so that we can provide a truly valuable service to our clients.
Before all of this, I had always considered myself very social media savvy, but I guarantee you, once you spend a few weeks researching the subject of social media consultancy, you will be blown away by how much you don't know! So this very subject became the topic of our blog: what newbie social media consultants need to know. The hope for us is that in the coming months, we will be able to offer this new service to international clients seeking perfect English communication - a rarity here in Europe. If you are interested in taking a peek at my blog, I'd be much obliged: http://ybr.thinkinnovation.de.
As Jim Wood advised in our International PR course, when you move to a new place, you must learn to adjust. I took his advice and did a great deal of research on France before I arrived - but there are some things you just have to learn as you go. I quickly had to figure out how to navigate my way through the city (quite the challenge for someone who could normally get lost in a circle), learn the French gestures and customs, make arrangements to find an apartment, set up a bank account and get a cell phone. Doing all of this in another language was frustrating at times but when I could check even one item off my list, I deemed it a small victory. Before I knew it, I was "bise-a-bis'ing" (kissing cheeks) with everyone I met, dressing like a French girl, eating very smelly cheeses, tipping only one or two euros at a restaurant (tipping more than five euros on a fifty dollar tab is considered more than generous), using the 24 hour clock, climbing a zillion stairs, declining several proposals from foreign men, living without air conditioning (in sweltering heat), air-drying all of my clothes, walking/taking the metro everywhere (driving a car here is a real luxury), shopping at the local farmers’ markets, eating dinner at 21h00, listening to terrible French pop music and living in a significantly smaller space than ever before (we really take our space for granted in Canada!).
I’ve had the opportunity to travel to a few French cities and towns (Paris, Versailles, Avignon, Arles, Chalon sur Saône and Annecy) as well as Geneva, Switzerland. I was glad to have some French language skills under my belt before venturing to these places, as it was much easier to ask for directions, order food and talk to hotel staff, etc). Each place was truly charming and picturesque…just how I’d always imagined France to be. I enjoyed some of the best meals of my life in these places…and I don’t know about you, but I think life is pretty good when you can get fresh-from-the-oven bread with each meal and pay less for wine than you would for a Coca-Cola!
There have been some days when I’ve felt homesick but with email, Skype, Facebook and MSN Messenger, I’ve had no trouble keeping in touch. Though I miss everyone back home, it’s been very interesting getting to know new people here. Although the French have quite the reputation for being arrogant and unfriendly, in my experience, it could not be further from the truth. Sure, I’ve encountered a few rude people but no more than I would find at home in Calgary. My life here reminds me very much of the beginning of the Disney film, Beauty & the Beast…you know, where Belle wanders through her little town, greeted by the butcher, the baker and the bookstore owner? I walk down the street in Le Vieux Lyon and experience the same type of thing. People here are very inviting, generous and thoughtful. For example, a man who works in the kitchen at my favourite restaurant gives me baguettes when he has extra, my server friends slip me extra glasses of wine, a café owner down the street always subtracts a few euros off my bill and my friend at the crêpe stand sings my name as I walk by. For someone so far away from home, this altruism, kindness and sense of family has truly made me feel welcome and less like I am alone in a strange place…they’ve made Lyon feel like my second home. As much as I look forward to returning home to Canada in May 2011, I dread the thought of leaving all of my new friends (whom I also consider my teachers) behind.
The reality here is that I do not make a lot of money. When I come home, my pockets will be empty…but I feel rich in so many ways having now experienced the French way of life. I’ll leave here not only having learned how to live in a foreign country, but also having learned a lot about myself. I don’t regret my decision for a second. For anyone considering a year abroad, consider my favourite quote by author Hunter S. Thompson: “buy the ticket, take the ride.”
Bisous à tous!
cell: +33 06 21 19 77 81
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