After studying French A level at School (St. Bede’s in Bradford), I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to develop my knowledge of French language and culture through the John Speak trust.
Through connections with the wool industry in Bradford (Bob Jowett) I travelled to Mazamet near Toulouse and spent half my time working in a ‘délainage’ (wool mill) on the production line and half in the export department of the Banque Nationale de Paris.
I was fortunate enough to be closely mentored by a local wool trader, Eric Rouanet, in Mazamet who helped me find my assignments and accommodation there. Bridging the gap between school French and colloquial French was really tough at the beginning as I felt isolated not being able to communicate properly. This slowly went away and the lasting memory I have of my stay in France was the kindness of just about everyone I met. Knowing that I was making an effort to learn their language and culture the French went out of their way to show me just how hospitable they really are. Many of them invited me to their homes and to local events and family occasions.
I went on to work for a multinational in several countries including France. Learning one language and culture gave me an appetite for more so I managed to learn Spanish through living in Spain for five years, and some basic Dutch on later international assignments. To be honest I’m a confirmed European now as I have a French wife, 2 children born in Flanders and one born in Barcelona. I now live in France and regularly travel to several European countries on business. Now I’m lucky enough to be able to switch between French and English without even thinking about it!
The best advice I think I could give to someone on a bursary scheme would be to make sure you are completely immersed in the culture and surrounded by local language speakers and grit your teeth through the initial period where it’s difficult to understand and be understood as it will only get easier with time and perseverance.