The Language Files 6: parlons anglais? Shall we speak in English?

English. Being a native English speaker feels like being in simultaneous possession of both the biggest boon and biggest bane. There’s no doubt it’s the most useful language to have on an international level, but it has also proved something of an impediment to my progress in French.

It is mind-blowing that a language I so take for granted is such an asset. Much as I am determined to master French, I know I can still work anywhere in the world simply by virtue of speaking English. My life as an exchange student here is infinitely easier with it; I can connect to a far greater range of people than with any other language, and activities involving foreign students always seem to be conducted in English. Even with those rare few who do not (really) speak it (because everyone does a bit), if I really cannot find the word in French, they will understand if I use English.

So, what’s the problem, I hear you ask? Indeed, I have no real right to complain. Yet, I do. The French-as-a-foreign-language-student in me protests. I did not go to such effort, not to mention expense (it is Switzerland after all), to uproot myself and embark on life abroad…to speak English. I did not need to leave England for that. Much as I am appreciative of the relative ease of life here thanks to having English, and I still prefer to have it than not, it will not be worthwhile having come if I do not leave fluent in French.

I count myself lucky, too. I will be here for the full school year, while a number of my friends are here for just one semester. They are already expressing concern that they have not had enough time to improve, or their progress has not been as fast as expected. I think this is a sentiment felt across the board by all my exchange buddies in all different countries. It is absolutely essential to force yourself into situations where English is not an option; much, much more easily said than done, especially with a language as pervasive as English.

Speaking English here (much like other places I’m sure) is considered “cool”. Lots of modern slang terms are English. This annoys me somewhat. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was “cool” to speak proper English and to be able to quote Shakespeare, but in fact it’s “cool” to be able to swear in English and imitate what you see in brainless blockbuster movies. The ever-invasive influence of American pop culture. Sigh.

Many words in the French language are English. I’ve already discussed this, but it actually irritates me a little. I feel it taints the language, and L’Academie Française would agree with me. I love English, but it feels wrong to be speaking it in another language; I find anglicisms frankly bizarre, almost a desecration of la belle langue francaise. I prefer to speak one language at a time. Mind you, I am the worst when it comes to speaking franglais, I do it constantly, so it’s a bit rich coming from me.

And yet. And yet most of my best friends here are English speakers and I would not trade them for any amount of French practice; I am lucky to have them in my life. Even though I do need more French practice. This is why it is both boon and bane. Pissing and moaning aside, I am still ever-grateful to be an anglophone, and to have at my disposal, to play with as I write these very words, this most wonderful, rich and accessible of languages.

This is what you get for being a cheapass…

A recent weekend break in Italy resulted in the most ridiculous, hilarious, surreal night I have ever spent in a youth hostel. Seriously. I would love to blog about exploring Milan and Pisa but this one night in Florence has to come first.

I committed hostel fraud. A friend and I, let’s call her Kay, decided we’d be clever and save money by booking just one bed in a youth hostel, and share it. Do not ask me where this sudden cheapness came from because I never normally do things like this. Well, god clearly wanted to teach me a lesson for it, because the resulting evening was, in a word, absurd. We thought it would be no big deal, right? Youth hostels are always full of people coming and going and no-one checking…

To start with, the hostel’s very location put me in mind of No. 12 Grimmauld Place. It was number 8 on the deserted street; we passed numbers 4, 6…then 10. No sign of 8 anywhere. Was it a scam? Did we need to utter an enchantment for the building to reveal itself? Open Sesame? But no, silly us, we didn’t realise 8 comes AFTER 10 apparently. We got buzzed in, and Kay waited downstairs while I checked in. Youth hostel isn’t quite the word for the place…it was an apartment. There were two bedrooms. Two. That’s not a youth hostel. I had booked one bed in a two-bed room. Apparently wandering in and out unseen was not going to be so easy.

The staff member with whom I had to deal with was…special. He was a young man; very pleasant, but with a drug-addled look about him. He spoke English (just), and wandered around, looking rather lost and confused, clutching a yellow notebook with booking details penciled in it. The boss was away, so he was running the place apparently. He showed me my room, then went off to try to telephone his boss.

How to describe to you the bed? It looked frail, little more than a camp bed. My worst fears were realised when I sat down experimentally on the edge, and was greeted by the terrifying grinding squeal of tenuous springs, with the bed actually bucking a bit at the other end. How were both Kay and I going to sleep on this thing without it completely disintegrating? I glanced hopefully at the room’s other bed – perhaps Kay could just sleep on that…but I noticed to my disappointment a messy pile of possessions in the corner of the room, indicating somebody had already arrived and, judging by the size of the shoes and the copy of A Game of Thrones, was an English-speaking bloke.

The attendant was still on the phone, and I was getting impatient, all the while highly aware of my friend waiting alone in the dinghy hallway downstairs. Finally he reappeared, proffering, for some reason, his mobile phone. I took it confusedly, and was greeted with a loud Italian man’s voice, presumably the owner of the hostel, who proceeded to go through a kind of remote welcome ceremony, completely unnecessarily as I would not be staying long enough the next morning to meet him, let alone allow him to “prepare me a breakfast” and advise me on the hotspots of Florence(!)

Finally, that was over; but fresh ordeals were on their way. Sneaking Kay in should have been simple enough. Except that the lights went out the moment we reached the front door, and I pressed a button on the wall, thinking it was the light switch but which was in fact the door bell, causing the attendant to come and answer the door, meaning Kay had to dash back down the stairs. But we got her in eventually.

I suddenly remembered that I had given the attendant my passport, and he had not given it back. So, closing the bedroom door firmly on Kay, I went to ask after it. Queue one of the most shambolic exchanges I have ever had in my life. His English, as I already mentioned, was somewhat lacking, but my request was simple: I wanted my damned passport. He wasn’t giving it to me. Another girl from the hostel, with whom he had been watching a movie in the lounge, came and tried to translate, but further confused things. Basically, he needed a piece of ID until I paid. I said I’d pay immediately. His solution was to disappear with his phone again. After much more waiting around, he finally acquiesced and said I could pay.

I had the money ready but alas things were not to be so simple. I had to wait further while he filled in, with extreme difficulty, a short form asking for my name, date of birth, and nationality. I think he was slightly illiterate, or, like I said, drug-addled, because it definitely wasn’t a language problem; the form had all the languages on it. We moved from English to French, which improved communication a little, though sadly not his mental speed. I didn’t have change for the €2 key deposit, so I didn’t take it, which worked fine for me. I was (we were) staying only one night, and it meant I had essentially checked out, so Kay and I could make a dash for it first thing the next morning.

Then came the matter of actually going to sleep. In the narrow, ominously creaking “bed”, we had no choice but to spoon. Kay kept a scarf handy to cover her face if need be. We had to suffer a lot of noise seeping in through the paper-thin door, not to mention the constant awareness of its lack of lock, meaning anybody could have come in at any moment (i.e. the risk of instant exposure), and above all of the imminent reentry of our unknown roommate.

This moment came much, much later, when we had both managed to fall asleep. Presumably our roomie had been out partying Italian-stylee, so it was probably around 5am when the door burst open loudly, jolting us both awake. All I could see in the sudden blinding light from the doorway immediately in front of me was the silhouette of a tall, hulking male figure. Thankfully he did not turn on the room light, and went straight to bed. I don’t know how drunk he was, whether he thought I was an extremely fat, oddly-shaped girl under the covers, or noticed that there was the sound of two other people breathing in the room, but judging by his own extremely heavy breathing, he fell asleep pronto.

The next morning, I woke automatically at 7:15, and soon after Kay and I were packed and ready to make a sneaky escape, Nikita-style. If only we were so smooth. We legged it without being caught, but once we were out on the street, and had already burst into relieved laughter at the ludicrousness of the whole situation, Kay dropped a bombshell. She had left her Blackberry behind. Under the pillow. The main door had just swung shut with a resounding bang behind us.

So of course I had to ring the buzzer, and dash back upstairs. I was greeted by the same young attendant, bleary-eyed, it clearly being too early in the morning for him to care why I was ringing the bell. Dash back into the darkened bedroom, grab phone, dash back out. Only then were we finally free, in the crisp, cold morning air of Florence, to reflect and snicker over the utter farce that had been the night before.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere. Don’t be a cheapass, and try to book a hostel two-for-one? Consider the hostel size more carefully if you do decide to try (and make sure you are VERY comfortable with the friend you intend on sharing a bed with)? Let your friend book the hostel next time? Still, we got away with it! Just. But never, ever am I doing that again.

How to have a long-distance friendship

Friends. Amis. If, like me, you are moving around a lot, and your friends are scattered all over the world, you’ll know there are two things that will try and get in your way. Time and space: the longer they stretch, the greater the test on a friendship. I certainly know lots of people; I have several hundred “friends” on facebook, but real friends? Friendship is a strong word for me; it is something earned, not circumstantial. A true friend is not just someone with whom you went to school, or with whom you get drunk, or even with whom you hang around all the time. A friend is someone you can go to for help without stipulation, who makes you feel like you can be a better person, who pours cold water on your delusions, acts as cheerleader for your successes, defends your honour and is proud to know you.

When you find a really special friend, it’s like falling in love. A strong alchimie, or chemistry, draws you together. You are fascinated by one another, want to learn each others’ life stories and opinions on a whole spectrum of subjects. You want to be alone together so you can talk into the early hours of the morning. Sometimes surrounding people seem to disappear because you are too busy sharing in-jokes and observations. A little sickening for everyone else perhaps(!)

But friendships, like all relationships, need work. That’s why it is absolutely essential to make an effort to stay in contact. Nothing worth having comprises zero work, and even the best friendships are not always easy; but if someone meets all that I described above, surely they’re worth the effort? You’ll know who your real friends are once you’ve moved away from them. They are those who move along with you, not necessarily nearby, but parallel in life. There are those who fall by the wayside, or keep moving, but in a line perpendicular to your own, until you find you no longer have anything in common.

On exchange you meet hoards of interesting people from all over the world, and what never fails to astound me is how it is possible to meet people who have grown up and been cultured in environments completely different to myself, but still share the same core values and aspirations. These are the indispensable foundations upon which a friendship is built, regardless of background or culture.

There are essentials to keeping a friendship alive, no matter how great the distance or time apart. It all depends on the person, not the circumstances. A friend has to be someone for whom you have respect and regard; someone you can admire, whose future you believe in, and who feels the same for you. Jealousy is poison to a friendship, and generosity, ambrosia. Though it may seem like a handicap to be leading far-apart lives, in fact it can be a blessing. When both of you have vastly different things to bring to the table, yet are perpetually connected and able to relate on that basic level, it is incredibly enriching. Friends learn from one another, and that is how they help one another to be the best that they can be. Not to mention providing a floor to sleep on in some far-flung foreign locale!

Friendship is a hefty investment; if someone is making you feel a little off, or draining your energy, even at a distance, it’s a bad sign. Good friends (and you know who they really are) lift you up. The world is a better place for them. They aren’t afraid to tell you when you’ve (often inadvertently) pissed them off. They keep you in check when you’re veering off on a ridiculous fancy. You can relax and be every version of yourself with them. They have more faith in you than you do in yourself, and they don’t judge you. They make you feel worthy. They jump to your defence if anyone is unwise enough to badmouth you in front of them. But it goes both ways; to have a good friend, you need to be a good friend.

My good friends are not all close at hand, nor are they numerous, but that’s what makes them special. Even à distance, the warmth remains. It is with pride that I can say they count me as a friend. A part of me wants to be more like each of them in some way or other, and that is why I admire them. They have my ears, my heart and my hands, to aid them in whatever way I can. Distance is nothing for friends like these. Never underestimate the importance of showing kindness to those you call your friends; they are all you have.

The “Feed me!” Files 2: Gimme sugar

There’s nothing quite like a sugar hit, is there? And, like heroin, it’s always the first rush that’s the strongest, with every following bite a mere attempt at replicating that initial thrill. If I am guilty of one vice, it is sugar, hands down; and I know I’m not alone. Whether it be for energy to get my sleep-deprived and droopy-eyed self through another two-hour class, a necessary epilogue to a meal, or in answer to a sudden late-night craving, sugar reigns supreme.

So you might venture to say Switzerland, home of Lindt, is the right place for me to be right now – or the worst place possible! In any case, I have wasted no time in trying out the local sucreries – sweet things. From local patisseries and their deliciously fresh (though overpriced) goods, to the impressive sugared bulwark that is every supermarket’s chocolate section, to the mouthwatering treats on offer at the university canteens, there is certainly much to keep a sugar fiend busy here.

Bizarrely, the one thing I have not seen much of is chocolate fondue. Cheese, yes, but not chocolate. I think I’ve just discovered my next mission… In the meantime, have a taste of some of the saccharin surprises I have encountered thus far.

Chocolate – it’s an obvious one; in fact, I’ve started to take it for granted. The chocolates that I am used to seeing in England (Snickers, Maltesers, etc.) are still readily available, with some interesting variations, such as white Kit Kat Chunky, or almond Mars. But of course it is the national brands such as Lindt, Sprüngli and Cailler which hold more interest. You can find some seriously interesting chocolates in the local supermarket, which in England you could only find in a specialist chocolaterie.

Carac – ahh, this most Swiss of sweet treats. When I first got here I was instantly intrigued by this omnipresent green tartlet, and it was only a matter of time before I sunk my teeth into its gooey, chocolately depths. It is intensely sweet; a bit too much for me. To have only when you are braced for a serious sugar shock.

Carac

Image via Wikipedia

Prune tart – On offer in impressively large slices at university cafeterias, dusted with white icing. Not something I would usually go for (probably too close to something “healthy”), but it is traditional, and good for keeping you regular!

Mövenpick ice cream – originally a chain of hotels, this Swiss company has branched out into ice cream, and at 12.95chf per tub, you know it’s gotta be something special. How can I describe their double cream (from nearby Gruyère) and meringue flavour? I don’t even normally like meringue. I haven’t tried any other flavours, and I don’t feel the need to. This stuff is so good I’m kind of too scared to buy it. Thank god for the ridiculous price tag.

Gaufres – or waffles, as we know them. I’m thinking specifically about the ones they sell at Coop. Big, chunky, with little bursts of sugar lumps at intervals; sure they may be from packets but these things are way better than the stuff you can buy from street vendors.

Chocolate truffle cake – get from a local bakery. I don’t even know if this the correct name for these little rectangular slices of heaven, but they are chocolate, with a definite truffle-y texture inside, and again, extremely sweet. A struggle even for me to finish a slice.

Tarte au citron – The nicest one I have tasted so far has been at Anthropole, the university building where I have most of my classes. They have these sort of square-shaped pastry cases, filled with a deliciously thin lemon curd and topped with tiny curls of chocolate. Beautiful.

There’s more; you know there is, I know there is. I just have yet to try them out. I probably ought to be careful though, seeing a dentist here certainly won’t be cheap…

The “Feed Me!” Files 1: Salé/Salty

It’s quite surprising, given the name of this blog, that I have yet to actually blog about food. Anyone who knows me knows how important food is to me. Having Chinese blood puts food as the absolute number one priority. My mother always taught me that you can scrimp on anything else but never, EVER with food.

Trying out new restaurants, and more specifically, trying the weirdest thing I can find on the menu, is one of my life’s greatest joys. I’m unabashedly adventurous when it comes to cuisine; the more atypical the better. It is important to try out “local” fare when I go to new places, too. In my mind, a place is largely defined by the kind of food eaten there, so I don’t feel I’ve really experienced somewhere until I’ve tasted the food.

I present here part one of my foodscapades so far in Switzerland; the salé, or salty, stuff (dessert will require a whole other post). So, napkins on laps and belts loosened in anticipation kiddies: this post is going to be of a highly gastronomical nature.

Fondue – of course I had to try fondue within my first three days here. It was bad enough being in possession of a blog named after this foodstuff for a month or so before having ever touched it to my lips. It’s fun, but I found it extremely heavy and a bit too rich; definitely needs to be accompanied by a side dish to tone it down. Nice, but not nearly as tasty as…

Raclette – It took me two months in Switzerland before I tried it, but boy is this stuff good. (I had had a McRaclette burger in McDonald’s but it doesn’t count, and let’s not talk of that again…) The general consensus seems to be that raclette tastes better, but fondue is more fun. Tip: drink only hot drinks with raclette and fondue, otherwise you risk causing the melted cheese to solidify in your stomach. OUCH.

Stag – that’s a funny one, because I ate this once and I didn’t even know it. I thought it was strangely-textured beef, seasoned with a bit too much red wine. I found out later it was in fact cerf (stag), hence the very strong flavour.

Bambi – as all my friends insist on calling it. Yes, I had deer, it was yummy, and it was a microwave meal. The kinds of meat you find in supermarkets here are very different to what we’re used to in England. For example, last night I made…

Horse steak – ready-seasoned with red curry. It was good. Rather tough, and spicy, though that was more due to the curry than the actual horse meat I suspect.

Wild boar – now this is one I’m really proud of! Sanglier as it is known in French, and eaten in a vibey beer hole in Zürich accompanied with spätzli (a kind of pasta) and red cabbage. It tasted somewhat like pork, but leaner (nicer). It was the beginning of November, hunting season, so what I had on my plate was genuinely hunted wild boar. I felt like an Ancient Roman.

Saucisse Vaudoise – as I’m in the canton of Vaud, I see this stuff everywhere (and there are loads of sausages everywhere anyway). It’s a kind of smoked sausage which you need to boil for about 45 minutes. Well worth the wait though, it’s yummmyy. However the first time I bought one from the supermarket, I didn’t exactly know what it was, and failed to spot the cooking instructions, so I peeled back the skin and started to eat it…raw. I realised quite quickly that you’re not supposed to eat it like that. It’s ok, I was alone, no-one saw me…

Salty crêpes – yes, I was confused too when I first heard about this. To me, crêpes were those overpriced flimsy sweet things which are made even sweeter by adding Nutella and sold from street stalls in England. However, a recent trip to an amazing crêpe restaurant with a Swiss friend (who knows all the good places to eat) initiated me into the wonder that is salty crêpes. They are made of blé noir (buckwheat), and the menu was extensive, because there is a whole host of things you can add. In my crêpe was spinach, tomme (a cheese local to Vaud, so I had to have it) and sausage. It was fairly gigantic, but naturally I couldn’t pass on a sweet crêpe for dessert, which had sweet chestnut paste, a ball of vanilla ice cream, and a shot of liqueur which the waiter poured on top then set aflame. So I had a flaming crêpe.

Rösti – You can’t really go wrong with potato, onion, cheese and (in my case) an egg. A traditional Swiss dish, very hearty and filling.

Phew, I’m feeling rather peckish now… Next up, sweet stuffs from Suisse.

I also realise that my last post promised this one would be about differing national perspectives… you should know better by now than to expect me to be able to predict where the blog Muse will take me!

Away from home, at home

A recent trip to Zürich had me marvelling; how is it possible to feel like you are in a completely different country when you are just in another city of a country as tiny as Switzerland?

Zürich is stunning. I was taken by surprise; before, when I heard the name Zürich I just thought finance, and Carl Jung. I never thought breathtakingly beautiful buildings, streets and lake, clocks literally everywhere and a real sense of peacefulness. It feels safe, affluent and classy. Every different city in every different country has a different feel. Yet it wasn’t the appearance or atmosphere of Zürich that made me feel light-years away from Lausanne, but the language. As always, the language.

Not knowing German, let alone Switzerdeutsch, rendered my friends and I instantly blind, deaf and dumb to the words around us. Well, I exaggerate. GCSE German served me for some very basic comprehension, but otherwise we spoke English. And everyone speaks excellent English in Zürich, it’s quite ridiculous. I would approach shop staff with the usual rehearsal going on in my mind of the sentence I would utter in French, only to realise that I could use English. My French probably dropped a notch this weekend.

Yet Zürich is two hours from Lausanne. Two hours, within a country a third the size of England, is enough to make a native (French-speaking) Swiss unable to communicate with a waiter in a restaurant. My Swiss buddy said it felt odd using English, and not being able to properly communicate with someone, in her own country. How odd, discomfiting, yet mind-opening that must be. You are obliged to have a consciousness and acceptance (if not appreciation) of languages and cultures different to your own, existing side-by-side with your own.

Talking of perfect English and opening minds, at the Kunsthaus museum, a friend and I ended up having a nearly hour-long conversation (in English) with the guy distributing and collecting the audio tour headsets: a well-travelled actor, Swiss born and bred, but with both American and British English (not to mention three types of German, French and I think a bit of Italian). It was a most fascinating conversation, full of reflections on differing national perspectives, and will form the basis of my next post.

This is why I love travelling, and Europe; you never know who you’ll meet or when. People are cultured, interesting and interested in others; and you might just end up having a conversation that enriches your world view that little bit more.

The Language Files 5: You are what you speak

Much as I adore the French language, there are some things I just can’t say in French. Not because I don’t know the word, but because the word just doesn’t exist. Take “awkward” for example. Completely overused in everyday English conversation, therefore completely necessary! There is no French equivalent. Bizarre? Gênant? Embarrassant? None are quite the same.

The language we use reflects the person we are; how we see things, how we process our thoughts, how we choose to share them. Yet we are limited to the language(s) that we know, and as illustrated above, even between languages that are relatively close both geographically and lexically, there are concepts which do not translate. A French speaker told me that whilst speaking French, he would simply toss in “awkward” in English. Perhaps feeling “awkward” is something that comes with speaking English?

Your language must have an effect on the way you think. Though there are universal themes that translate in any language – love, sadness, hunger, etc., the more subtle differences surely play a role in your outlook on the world. In fact, what if there was no word for “love” in the language that you spoke – could you technically feel or understand it? Do words validate, or create, concepts?

One thing that both charms me and befuddles me in the French language is the classic question of whether to use tu or vous when addressing someone. French is not the only language to have a more “formal” form of the word “you”, but it doesn’t exist in English. Everyone is equal according to the highly democratic English “you”. In French, there is a distinction, and a vital one at that. Personally it makes me stop and think a little more carefully when I am about to speak to someone. Of course it can be a source of bother and confusion, but there is something appealing about it. Apparently in French schools, teachers switch from addressing their students as tu to vous around the age of 17. So it marks the transition from being a child to an adult, and shows respect to strangers and superiors. Does having this extra layer of etiquette alter the way francophones view others? Does that micro-pause needed to choose between vous and tu render them more cognizant of others’ status in relation to themselves? Japanese has a whole host of suffixes to attach to the end of someone’s name when addressing them, depending on your relationship with them, and that is a society dominated by status.

I’ve talked about idioms before, and they are a perfect demonstration of how a language affects perception. Idioms are unique to a language; that’s the whole point of them. There might be similar phrases in other languages (or even identical ones, as there are between French and English), but some things will never fully translate, and that’s where you have  notions entirely dependent on a given language. Keep a stiff upper lip, old boy! Translatable, probably, but that old English sentiment surely rests within those shores beyond the Channel…

What if you have multiple languages? On the whole it’s fantastic to be multilingual. Practical travel uses aside, it opens up the esprit to more than one way of understanding and conceptualizing the world, as well as other cultures and a wider range of people. But is it possible to know too many languages; do you risk losing yourself in a plethora of tongues? So much of one’s wit and personality relies on the full mastery of a language. It is also practically impossible to maintain multiple languages to the same degree; some are going to slip depending on where you are and what you’re using the most. I have bilingual buddies who could definitely attest to that.

I knew a Malaysian who could speak English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Malay, but none of them perfectly. As my French (oh-so-slowly) improves, I find myself on occasion reaching a complete mind-melting mix-up in my head, where I’m caught between two languages; sometimes three, when Mandarin is throw into the mix. Yet English for me will always, always be the best of the three; I couldn’t imagine being caught equally between four. It’s quite an unpleasant thought, not being able to truly, properly express oneself in any one language.

So, what’s my point? I admit I’ve rather lost myself over the course of this post. I suppose I’m questioning whether one’s language(s) has an impact on one’s actual thought processes, and to what degree. Though at some basic level, all humans are the same and many concepts traverse all languages, I’d be inclined to say yes, the language you speak has a major impact on how you interpret and define the world. From every little nuance (such as not having a word for “awkward”) to the phrases that are indigenous to a language or culture, we think in words, and we can function only within the framework of the words that we know.

The Best Days…

You have four years to be irresponsible here. Relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So, stay out late. Go out on a Tuesday with your friends when you have a paper due Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have. Drink ’til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does

- Tom Petty

It’s been said a thousand times but I’m repeating it here: university is the best time of your life. I like to think that things will only get better, but as it is, uni life is pretty sweet.

Being at university here in Lausanne just seems to add that extra touch of unpredictability to my days. I wake up every morning not knowing what to expect. Take yesterday, for example. I had just planned on going to my morning classes, having lunch with a friend as per our usual Monday routine, then going home and studying. However, a study break in the library turned into a rather disastrous attempt at riding two to a bike (I don’t even know how to ride a bike alone) after running into another friend on campus. We enjoyed a pretty backdrop of autumn leaves at least, and had passed from the staring, crowded canteen area to a more secluded spot before we fell to a heap on the floor. In the evening, on the way back from dumping my laundry into a dryer, I got caught up in an impromptu trip for late-night ice-cream with a group of guys from my residence, who are pretty well-versed in the hot spots in town and friendly with the locals, not to mention genuinely cool and chilled-out.

It’s the spontaneous decisions to go out on the town when you’re already halfway into your pyjamas, the unplanned outings, the chance encounters, the split-second invitations and decisions to go and do something crazy that make university life such an adventure.

University is intense, there’s no denying it. A mix of hard partying and hard studying. Everything is accelerated, magnified and more vivid than in normal life. Brand new romances blossom suddenly, age-old ones crumble by Christmas. Anyone who has started a relationship at uni, especially if you’re living in halls, especially if you’re both in the same halls, will know. It is INTENSE. Things move at the speed of light, and predictability is the last word on anyone’s lips.

You’re constantly broke, yet dispensing of your money on non-essential little luxuries. You stay up too late, spend too much time on facebook, daydream about that cute European boy you met when you should be studying, spend an entire Sunday just on laundry and dinner. On exchange, you’re living just for you, your friends, and fun times. Everyone knows everyone, or will do soon enough, and there is always something going on. Oh, and there’s your course as well.

The real learning doesn’t always happen in the lecture theatre or the seminar room, though. Trying to avoid coining the term “university of life” here, but an exchange year is frankly wasted if you spend your whole time studying and none of it exploring, getting to know people from all over the world, and pushing yourself waaay out of your comfort zone.

This post reflects not just mine, but all my friends’ uni experiences. If you’re reading and nodding along in agreement, then you truly have lived the student life. Enjoy it while you can, kiddos. To re-iterate Mr Petty: the work never ends, but college does.