Moving Out, à la Française..
The first time I lived away from home was when I went on exchange to France. It was a pretty safe move on my part. Fixed term, guaranteed
income for rent (scholarship) and the very big bonus of the fact that I would be living in France. It was pretty exciting.
Minor details that might impede my happiness were blatantly ignored or, let’s be honest, not even considered. So what if I had never lived out of home before? I was twenty and responsible. A real adult. So what if I was choosing to make my first move out of home a world away from anyone I knew? I would make friends. Skype was a thing. Besides, if I got really lonely, I had lots of lovely cousins and family friends in the UK, a stone’s throw away. Not to mention all the other wonderful European countries that could be reached within hours!
As the first few days passed, it became apparent that some of the minor details that I had brushed aside whilst in the comfort and safety of Australia began to seem not so minor at all. This was due in part to series of unfortunate events that I have chronicled elsewhere on this blog. Said events were probably a little harder to endure than normal because well, moving out of home was a little more of a challenge than I had expected. It’s a change and a big one at that. That’s not to say that I didn’t have the time of my life. I did. There are a few things however, that I wish I had cottoned on to a little faster. They are as follows:
I love cooking. I’ve always loved cooking. What I discovered when I moved to France was that I what I really love is cooking for other people. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to share a meal that I have prepared with people I love. Coming home to an empty kitchen, to cook for yourself is a whole other kettle of fish. Gathering the energy to cook for yourself, in a healthy way, takes some time to get used to when you have never done it before. I recommend doing what I didn’t: Compile a list of recipes that involve vegetables and proteins. Make sure they are both scrumptious and that you can put them together with a minimum of fuss. If you are stuck for ideas, check out Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver or any of the myriad blogs dedicated to food out there. There will be something for you, whether you are a health food nut or in dire need of a spot of comfort food.
Same goes for grocery shopping. Small but crucial items that are always stocked in parent’s cupboards – olive oil, pepper, chicken stock – have a way of fleeing from your mind when you go grocery shopping. Work out what ingredients pop up in all of your recipes and make sure they are the first thing you buy when you get to the store. Apart from anything else, being stocked on the basics will ensure that you don’t end up giving up the ghost and eating a chocolate bar for dinner. Sure, it sounds decadent and yummy but it won’t take long before it makes you feel like rubbish (whether psychologically or physically!)
On which note, bear in mind that grocery stores will be a culture shock, all the more so if you are flying solo. It is remarkable how disheartening it can be to find nothing recognisable on the shelves when all you want is some basic sustenance. All the more so if these items are in another language. When I first traversed the aisles of a French supermarket, I recognised few of the words. Sure, I could name the major meats and vegetables but apart from that, I was completely at sea. Packaging seemed to work differently – so much so that sometimes I couldn’t even guess what an item was supposed to be! Word to the wise, do your research. Write a list of all the things you would usually buy and find out what they are called in your new language BEFORE you are standing in the middle of the aisle, on the verge of tears, wondering if you will be condemned to starve to death. (Jetlag tends to bring out my dramatic tendencies..)
It’s really, really important to make sure that you bring things that you can enjoy doing. When you first arrive in a new place, you will spend quite some time by yourself. This time needs to be filled. Getting out and exploring is a wonderful way to do this so work out what the attractions are in
your new home. That way, you’ll have exciting stories to share with the new people that you (will) meet and with your loved ones back home.
However, there are going to be moments when you can’t get out to do new things. This might be in the evening, or first thing in the morning, or on a Sunday in a village in a remote part of France (because things really don’t open on a Sunday there. There’s a movement to start opening businesses on the day of rest but it’s controversial. I wrote one of my first French papers on the subject. Be forewarned.)
So cultivate a hobby. This could be reading or painting, knitting or playing solitaire. Just bring something that you can use a filler that is not mindlessly scrolling Facebook or binging on entire seasons of television series (Not that there is anything wrong with either of these scenarios but, trust me, they get old fast and they don’t leave you with the same sense of accomplishment that can be found in creating something or learning something. It’s all about the balance.) This brings me to my next tip which is…
Regardless of whether you are a homebody or a party animal, you will be spending a lot of time in the place that you reside. It doesn’t matter if it’s a broom cupboard, a single room or a penthouse suite (in my dreams..), you need to make the place you are living somewhere that you want to be. When I first arrived in France, the décor in my room could be described as hospital-like. The walls were a horrid white, the lights overly bright. It was also cramped because I was sharing my room with another girl. Luckily for me, my roommate – who became a good friend – had similar feelings about the necessity of changing the atmosphere of our room and quick smart.
Neither of us had much money and we were obviously pretty restricted in the kind of changes we were able to make. A paint job, for example, was out of the question. So, together, we built a postcard board and pinned up pictures, letters, maps and anything that caught our eye. (A real life version of Pinterest!) We stuck it right in the centre of the wall so it would be the first thing we both saw when we walked in the door. It wasn’t much but it did distract from the overall sterility of the room and made it seem much friendlier.
So… the photograph of your best friends you took last summer? Blue-tac it above your desk and everytime you look up, you will feel a little less homesick. Your battered copy of the first book that changed your life? Take it with you. Put it on your bedside table. It’s the little pieces of cheer that will make a big difference to your mood.
Trust me, when you have just moved across the world and everything is foreign and strange it’s the little things that will make a world of difference.