I'm home. I don't mean my Brussels home, I mean home home. Family home. And not just for the weekend or Easter before going back to my year abroad life, but for good.
My year abroad, is finished. Over. Ended. Done. I've lived in Germany and Belgium for the past 50 weeks... And now I don't any more.
It's a strange feeling actually - anticlimactic somehow - and I'm full of mixed emotions.
Of course, it's so lovely to be back in the house in which I grew up, in the British countryside, with my parents and the dogs, the Aga and my childhood bedroom.
|Yummy Mama-made dinner left for me on top of the Aga. "7 vegetable pasta with mozzarella and pesto"|
|Care packages were very welcome all year...|
|But of course I brought my own tea supplies. In bulk.|
It's not just food though. Living away from the UK has made me really pick up on and appreciate what makes Britain Britain. I mean things like cricket and country pubs, pomp and pageantry, the ability to create a nationwide furore over a Baked Alaska being thrown in the bin on national television (#bingate.)
No-one else gets it.
I love Great Britain, truly, I do.
It was sad to finish my internship though. I've had a frightfully fantastic six months working for the BBC alongside amazing colleagues who were all incredibly kind, welcoming and friendly too.
|Excitement on my first day...|
|And a selfie on my last day, of course|
I genuinely can't believe I've not only met but worked with so many talented, smart and respected journalists, all of whom I really admire. They all took the time to talk to and advise me too.
Not only that but I've had the opportunity to go out filming for news stories, do interviews (they don't call me the voxpop queen for nothing!) and even find, research and write my own feature for BBC News online, which is undoubtedly the hugest achievement of my internship.
It's been a lot of fun. Hard work, but fun. And not only have I learnt so much about journalism and the EU, but also (and forgive me because it's a cliché) a lot about myself and what I really want to do.
I suppose there's only one aspect of my time in Brussels which could have been better... My French improvement. Or lack thereof.
Yeah, considering the point of the year abroad is to improve your language fluency, I haven't done massively well in Brussels. This is largely because a) Brussels is so international and I swear you hear more English-with-an-accent than French, and b) I've been working predominantly with Brits all day every day.
But I don't regret it in the slightest. When I said yes to my internship offer I knew it wasn't going to be the best for my French, but I weighed up what was most important to me and I firmly believe I made the right choice. The work experience I've had is totally worth it.
|I worked here for a bit too.|
In Germany I was travelling round, dressing up in my Dirndl and occasionally teaching some English.
In Belgium, I've been working. Working a lot. Yes, I've travelled too (holla travel tab), but not in the same way.
I feel like I've left a part of my heart in Bayreuth (my home for the first six months of my year abroad), but I don't really feel that way about Brussels. Maybe because it's bigger. Or maybe because I've only just left.
Maybe when I look back in a few months I'll feel warm and fuzzy towards it like I do with Germany. We'll see.
Don't get me wrong, Brussels has been fine and different and nice and interesting, but I slightly feel like I've missed out on the French experience.
|Brussels' Grand Place|
But again, skipping French-ness was a sacrifice I knew I was making in coming to Brussels for my internship. And it was still worth it.
(Seriously, not a day went by when I didn't think "OMG am I really working for BBC News?!" The amazement did not wear off.)
Before my year abroad, I la la laaaaaved French. I was all about the French. How could you not love French?
When it came to German I was a bit more, well, meh. I didn't dislike it as a language, but I didn't love it. I'd started German from scratch at uni, and it was bloody hard. Trust.
Upon hearing French, I would smile and swoon a little. With German, well, just meh.
Oh, what a difference a year makes!
Since leaving Germany, I may have become an even bigger Germanophile than I was when I was there! Any time I hear someone speaking German I (internally) go "OMG GERMAN OMG I LOVE GERMAN!" I even get excited upon seeing a German number plate on a car. And if it's one from Bavaria, well, I can barely stop myself falling over with excitement.
And with French? Well, I wouldn't say meh, but I'm less infatuated, put it that way. Maybe it's because I have actually been hearing it around me for the past six months, and maybe that inner swooning sensation will come back in a few weeks.
It's strange how the year abroad had changed me. It definitely has, but I'm not sure I realise quite how much yet.
Just like everyone said I would, I've definitely grown up.
When I think back to this time last year and the nervous girl I was, about to be plunged into the complete unknown... I realise that I'm now much stronger. I hope so, at least.
|This was the first night of my year abroad. Keep calm and drink tea.|
It's all cliché but it's all undeniably true: I've broadened my horizons, learnt about myself and grown up.
I feel weird. I don't feel overly happy or overly sad. What I do feel is tired. I think it's going to take some time for everything to sink in and for me to realise what I feel.
Similarly, I imagine going back to Bristol for final year is going to be a bit weird. The city will have changed, and so have all we returning year abroaders.
From a year of travel and working life, I'm going back to studying. It's going to be lectures and libraries, essays and exams, seminars and study groups. A far cry from how I've spent the past 50 weeks. (Well, year abroad essays aside.)
All that said, I really am looking forward to going back to Bristol and one final year of student life. I love that city, and even though I'll be one of the older students on campus, I think I'll appreciate the perks of uni life.
In classic me fashion I'm already stressed about how much I have on my plate and how I'm going to balance the jobs I've got with my degree AND attempting to have a social life, but let's not think about all that just yet, yeah? And I've also realised recently that I thrive on being busy.
Another outcome of this year is that I have totally and completely caught the travel bug. I never imagined I'd travel as much as I have done, and I am so thrilled that I did. In fact, how much I've travelled has really made my year abroad.
As well as travelling round Europe, I've made some fantastic friends - I really think a lot of them will be friends for life too. I hope so anyway. It's been a year of people and places, both absolutely awesome.
|Charlotte and me in Wuerzburg|
|Emily, me and Emma in Bayreuth|
|Me and Sofia at the end of our European Elections all-nighter in the European Parliament in Brussels|
It would be a real challenge to pick my favourite place of everywhere I've been over my year abroad, and it'd take a lot of thinking.
One thing I can say with absolute certainty, however, is that this has been, undoubtedly, the BEST YEAR OF MY LIFE thus far. Just like everyone said it would be.
I've particularly loved writing my blog over this year abroad, I hope you've enjoyed following my adventures and I hope you stick with me as I enter a new phase of my life
Rachel, out. xoxo
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