TAPIF Housing | The perks of living in a small town
As you might be able to tell, I have this weird, fierce loyalty to Bethune, but when I was first going to France, I had a tough time deciding whether to live in a town or city. I was seriously considering living in Lille, the closest big city to where I was assigned. I’d always lived in the suburbs or in small towns in the past and didn’t want to keep relying on friends in the city for a couch to crash on. I fully expected that if I was living in a smaller town, I’d be bored and would want to keep commuting into the city.
I was so wrong. Here are the reasons why:
Really getting to know a place: Seven months can seem like an eternity to stay in a place, but it’s really not. Living in a town for that long meant that I felt like I really got a chance to know it, but I was still coming across new places even by the end of my time there.
One of the things that I’d kind of been looking forward to when moving abroad was some semblance of anonymity, but within a few weeks, I was already bumping into people I knew, and I ended up loving it. It made me feel like I was home. Again, this is totally a matter of personal preference, but I found that even if I didn’t get what I wanted, it worked out well. I also saw it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to live in a smaller town; it’s much more likely that I’d visit or live in a larger city if I’d moved to France on my own instead of having been placed in villages by TAPIF.
Cost of living: One of the moments where I realized just how different the cost of living could be was when I ordered a beer in Lille. I think it was something like a euro more than in Bethune, and it’s even cheaper in smaller villages outside of Bethune. I’m guessing the same goes for rent and tons of other things. Again, whether this matters totally depends on your priorities; I started out being willing to spend a little more to live where I wanted, but by the end, I was glad that I was able to save on my living costs and have more to spend on travel.
Housing: While it might be easier to find a place to stay when you first land if you’re in a city, I got the feeling that finding housing was more competitive in larger cities and that the housing that was available was sometimes further out from the center.
Commuting: I was used to long commutes for work and school, and I figured that if it’s only for a couple of days a week, it’s totally doable. I also had read on a wise TAPIFer’s blog to live close to where the action is and commute to work, especially since it’s only 12 hours per week.
However, I remember having a moment on the metro in Lille, shortly after getting to France, where I thought with a huge sense of relief about how great it was that I didn’t have to take the metro all the time. It surprised me, especially since I took the subway and drove a lot in New York, but it was such a luxury to be able to walk to everything that I needed in Bethune.
My schools themselves were about 40 minutes by bus from Bethune, which turned out to be the perfect happy medium between living in a big city or a small village. The buses were also new and quite luxurious for public transportation. My monthly pass was 5 euros, leaving me more money to spend on travel.
Whether or not a commute will matter is definitely a matter of personal preference, especially if you’ll only be working a couple of days per week. The assistants I did know of who commuted a couple of hours to get to work did so for about half of the seven months. Luckily, Bethune had a community of assistants so I didn’t feel like I was alone despite living in a town.
Speaking French: I always had to use French in Bethune, while I might have been able to get away with speaking more English if I had been in a larger city. Improving my French was definitely a priority for me, so it was good that I wasn’t able to rely on English-speakers to be able to do what I needed. There were also fewer tourists, so I’d hear French spoken all the time.
Fomo: I have a terrible fear of missing out, and living in a small town meant that the number of things going on were limited and I could therefore go to all of them. I personally loved this.
Drawbacks: For me, Bethune was actually bigger than where I was used to living, but if you’re used to living in a city already, it can be tough to have the streets empty out at 8pm or to have one main museum to visit in town. Another drawback was that whenever we wanted to travel, we’d have to pass through Lille; because the trains end so early, we usually ended up needing to stay in Lille overnight, either at a hostel, through Couchsurfing, with a friend, or with Airbnb. I generally felt like there were things to do in Bethune, but compared to a larger city, you might have to be more proactive about making your own fun. While there was a sizable community of assistants there, depending on the town, it can be take more work to find friends.
Again, a lot of this is a matter of personal preference, but I definitely thought I knew where I wanted to live when I went to France and ended up loving my experience even though I got the opposite! Let me know if you have other thoughts on the pros and cons of living in a village, town, or city!
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