Postcard from Abroad – Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier
Hannah is a down to earth, pedigree Mancunian who is currently away from her French and European Politics degree at Leeds on an Erasmus placement at the Université Paul-Valéry in Montpellier. Hannah probably should say that she takes a keen interest in current affairs but in fact she would usually rather stay in bed with a brew, go shopping for floral dresses, or watch Strictly Come Dancing. She will be using this blog to talk mainly about subjects such as feminism, mental illness, and cats. Hannah would love to one day work for a non-governmental organisation, to try and help the world become a slightly lovelier place.
I hope you are all well, that you all had a pleasant half term and are feeling positive for the next leg of academia before the Easter break.
I spent the February half term in Italy visiting my boyfriend, splitting our time between Genoa, Bologna, Venice and Verona, and I cannot put into words how beautiful each and every one of these Italian cities is. I have obviously been to Genoa multiple times throughout the year to visit him, but this time we managed to stumble upon a hidden gem in the form of a seemingly enchanted forest with gorgeous trees, caves and a waterfall, which also boasted fantastic views of Genoa from high up. The first stop on our adventure around Italy was Bologna, which was cool, despite the rainy weather. We went to see to the Towers of the Asinelli and the Garisenda – popularly known as the kissing towers. It was here that I, with the lung capacity of an ant and some degree of vertigo, ascended the 100 metre tall Garisenda Tower (on foot – lifts weren’t such a hit back in the 14th century), but the view at the top made it worth it.
Next up was our trip to Venice, which we had conveniently timed with the last day of Carnivale. Seeing everybody dressed up in traditional Venetian gear and beautifully hand painted masks just made it a little more magical. We spent the day wandering around sneaky side streets and finding a gem around every corner. The Rialto bridge really was something spectacular too. The evening was…an experience. For some reason we reverted to being 15 years old and went out drinking on the streets, trespassing on construction sites and hopping on a boat home. It was all in the name of Carnivale though, so it was all good fun. My only complaint is that I consumed no pancakes on Pancake Day, but you know, swings and roundabouts. The next day we went to a beautiful church, climbed up another tower and then took a water bus down the Grand Canal before getting lost and sauntering back to our hotel with pizza to watch the one available music channel which only played cheesy Europop (until it stopped working).
Verona was a pleasant surprise. Coming from Venice, we thought that Verona would be an underwhelming and mediocre pit stop on our way back to Genoa. Actually, it was really quite stunning. We did what we do best and visited castles, climbed up things, and took pictures of gorgeous landscapes. And yes, I did go to Juliet’s balcony. And yes, it was disappointing. Verona gave off a vibe quite similar to Leeds – I think it could be the dark horse of Italian student cities.
Back in Genoa, we celebrated my boyfriend’s 21st in a way which suites him to a tee: pizza, football and Mexican food. I jumped in at the deep end, and attended the Genovese derby for my first ever football match. At first I was frightened for my life. The home fans were throwing firecrackers onto the pitch, hanging off the railings and aggressively chanting some Italian words. That said, once I had settled into my place I too shouted the odd nonsensical word in time with everyone else, cheered when everyone else did and held my head in my hands when the man next to me would. It was character building, and I did have fun, and seeing my boyfriend’s happy lil’ face was worth me risking my life.
After a wonderful time in Italy it was time to return to Montpellier, where life is as relaxed as ever now that summer is beginning to show itself. Relaxed being the operative word, as I have not yet received my new bankcard, which I have been waiting for for over five weeks, and the application for CAF (accommodation funding from the French government), which I submitted in October has still not gone through. But you know that’s the price you have to pay for living in this beautiful city and experiencing the best year of your life. I continued to be committed to my New Year’s resolutions. Every day for the past two weeks I have got up before 11am, eaten three healthy meals, showered and got dressed and even attended every class. As my therapist calls it, I have mastered my “diet for life.” I feel like the depression side of things is currently under control, although the anxiety and BDD have become more exposed, but my mindfulness skills have now developed a bit so I am able to embrace my relapses and moments of anxiety instead of seeing them as a setback. It’s all a learning experience and character building in the process.
So far, my year abroad has been a very profound experience, more than I could have anticipated. But at the moment, I’m feeling grateful for my mind’s newfound capacity to experience happiness, instead of just reaching the threshold of being ‘un-sad’.
Take care of yourselves and thank you for reading.
Until next time,
Images courtesy of Hannah Lewis