From Ireland to France via Japan

Awaf Jponaise

A story by Aoife KAVANAGH, country of origin: Ireland, destination country: Japan, France

My mobility experience started 5 and a half years ago, when I moved to Kyoto for my third year of university. In Ireland, Bachlor Degrees with a 4 year programme mean one year abroad or in work experience. As my speciality was languages, especially Japanese, I spent one year living in Kyoto, going to university, and exploring a place so different to everything I knew. The year was a mandatory part of the course, and turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life.

The provided accommodation was in an international student residence, with 35 other students from all over the world. These people became like family very quickly, we shared such a unique experience that it felt like we had known each other all our lives. We visited, explored, travelled, and occasionally went to class.

Unfortunately, as my university course was a 4-year course, I was obliged to go back to Dublin at the end of the year. I left the day my visa expired; I didn’t want to leave a minute before I had to! I could have stayed forever, the year had been so perfect. My outlook on life had completely changed because of the year abroad, I was more confident, independent, mature, and fluent in Japanese (it would have been a bit of a wasted year if I wasn’t). It had also given me the desire to travel more and see more of the world.

I had the strangest sensation of homesickness while being at home in Dublin, all I wanted to do was go back to Japan. However, Japan was not to be my next mobility experience.

During my year in Kyoto, I had discovered a new interest in France. That interest remained with me until the end of my studies, and one week after finishing my final exams and handing in my dissertation, I booked a one way ticket to Bordeaux. That was almost 4 years ago, and I’m still in Bordeaux.  My motivation for coming to France had nothing to do with my studies (I had always hated French in school…), but being fresh out of university, the next step was work.

It was difficult at first, with a poor grasp of the language and no experience of the French recruitment system. My first job was based on languages, as a saleswoman for a modern brand of jewellery. 2-month contract, mostly there for the many tourists who didn’t speak French (and had no idea I was Irish…), it gave me a chance to improve my French, very quickly. It also taught me many things about the differences in working in France and in Ireland, the two cultures are like chalk and cheese. In Ireland, your colleagues and friends can overlap, you can mix business with pleasure, as long as the job is done right and well, you can enjoy yourself along the way. In France, your colleagues are your colleagues, and your friends are separate. Of course this is a generalisation, there are exceptions to the rules in both cases, but the general atmosphere is very different.

My second job, is the position I still have today, as educational coordinator for a language school. I teach English, and together with the boss, keep the place running and growing. Thanks to my boss, who had confidence in me from the beginning, I have learnt so much about business in France, I have participated in the growth and development of one of the most reputable and successful language schools in the region. This experience was all the more enriching because it was all done through another language (that I used to despise!), in a different culture and environment to my own.

These two experiences have changed my life in a way I would never have imagined possible. I would (and have many times) recommend a mobility experience to everyone, there is nothing like it!

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