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I Wanted to Learn French and It Landed Me in Paradise

Emily Wright

When I applied to study French at university, working in a tropical country was not what I expected.    

Six weeks ago, I landed amidst the palm trees and rum cocktails, and very quickly grew to love this wonderful little place: The island of Guadeloupe.

Thanks to a tenuous connection between my university and a small diving club on the island, I was able to secure the job through a long series of very badly written French emails. I’m here as part of my year abroad—without a doubt, it's a strikingly different path to the usual British Council or study abroad placements most of my friends opted for. Yes, I decided to make life a little more complicated for myself in coming here, but is has definitely paid off.

Every day in Guadeloupe is filled with new experiences (and sometimes, unwelcome) surprises:

Never before in my life have I been the "exotic foreigner," but it certainly seems that way over here.

I am the only native English speaker I know who currently lives and works on this corner of the island. The only other English speakers I have encountered are American tourists on vacation, so it’s safe to say I’m missing a good old Northerner accent.

Being la petite anglaise (as I’m known at work) certainly comes with its perks. For one, it has done nothing but wonders for my French speaking skills. I’m learning things here I didn’t even grasp after four months living in France.

Quite often, I adopt the role of an English tutor.

People over here crave the ability to speak English, hence why I often find myself unintentionally conducting a grammar lesson. The guys at work want to know all the dirty words in the English language, while my housemates are tackling the more complex grammatical constructs, so it’s a mixed bag.

With all the amusing perks of being foreign comes a certain feeling of isolation. I can’t count the number of conversations I have effectively observed, because contributing to a conversation you can’t follow is near impossible.

It is, however, a constant learning experience and I know that I’ve improved somewhat since arriving.

Without going into too much detail for now, I have had my fair share of culture shock. 

Learning to hitchhike, drinking rum neat, and kissing everyone at work every single day being only the start of it, adapting to the Guada lifestyle has been nothing short of a whirlwind.

The main thing I’ve learned so far is that everything on this island happens slowly. Ordering a drink from a food truck can take up to half an hour, and buses are a whole other ball park. Timetables? You’ve got to be joking. No, these buses go where they like, when they like. It’s been fun trying to catch a bus without accidentally hitchhiking a ride at the same time.

A year abroad is for trying new things. I was, however, ridiculously unprepared for the sheer amount and frequency of these new things.

Within my first month I had scuba-dived, snorkelled, climbed a volcano, been in a car accident, hitchhiked, been stung by a jellyfish and slept on a beach under the stars.

And those are just the ones that stand out. Alongside all that I have been introduced to countless Caribbean traditions and tried my fair share of new and interesting cuisine.

There will definitely be countless adventures to report on in the future. I am working here until mid-June, by which point I hope to look less like a sunburnt-Brit-abroad and more like a cultured traveller. (A girl can dream.)

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Emily Wright

Emily Wright is a French student at Newcastle University. From February until June 2019 she will working at a scuba diving centre in Guadeloupe, a French territory in the Caribbean, as part of her year abroad.

Website: www.emtravels.org

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