I’ll preface this blog by saying that the year abroad is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. That said, it certainly throws you in at the deep end.
Leaving Durham at the end of second year, returning home with the knowledge that many of the people you started your university journey with will be graduating the following year without you, can be a lot to handle. Worse still is that, in my own case, I was flying to Paris at 8 am the next day. As you may imagine, that isn’t a lot of time to process this rather large transition.
Paris in July is warm. The buildings trap the summer heat, so most residents sensibly leave and return in August. The upside to this is that it is also the quietest time in the city. On my first day, I dumped my belongings in the tiny flat I was renting and immediately left to go on a walk. I didn’t exactly know my way around so, predictably, I walked towards a certain pointy, triangular landmark. I sat in the gardens at the base of the Eiffel Tower and watched the sunset. It was enchanting.
Over the next four months, I would study at ESRA, a film school where I was attending an introductory course to screenwriting and directing. Although I had analysed films during my modules at Durham in first and second year, this was my first time studying filmmaking itself. The time I spent in Paris was constantly exciting, participating in classes at the film school, collaborating with my classmates, shooting scenes guerilla-style across the city. I was sad to leave.
After battling with the Spanish consulate in London to acquire a VISA, my next placement was in Barcelona, where I would stay for nine months. During that time, I would again attend a film school, AFILM, where I would have daily classes but with a greater emphasis on shooting short films. I stayed in Sitges, a small seaside town just outside of Barcelona, renting a one room apartment in a building where many of my classmates were also living.
Filming in vineyards and casinos…
I wrote and directed three short films during this time, one in a vineyard, one in a casino, and the final one in my own apartment. I was constantly busy, writing screenplays or creating storyboards, so much so that, in hindsight, I wish I had spent more time exploring the area around me. I realised this when, in my final month when work was winding down, I was swimming at night with my classmates after playing volleyball for hours. It was June at this point, so the water was warm.
Notice the beauty around you
If you’ve ever been to Sitges, you’ll know that the seafront stays lit at night, with the cove bookmarked by the church at one end and a luxury hotel at the other. Looking behind me at the town, the white buildings were golden in the orange light. I had to laugh as it dawned on me that I had lived in paradise for nine months and hadn’t noticed.
Follow your passions…and find new ones!
Not to be overly cliché, but with the year abroad you get out what you put in. You have almost complete freedom with how you spend your time and can use your languages as much or as little as you like. My advice would be to do something you are passionate about, experiment, dip your toe in the water to get a better idea of what you could pursue after university. At the same time, don’t forget to experience the country surrounding you! Before you know it, you’ll be back in Durham listening to your peers complain about how they wish they were back on their year abroad.
Visit the British Film Institute (BFI) site Past Events – Durham University
See Tom’s film here BODY OF WINE on Vimeo
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