mercredi 6 novembre 2013

The city that was never meant to be

This is the tale of the city that was never meant to be…

I absolutely love this place. Really, I could totally see myself living there.

So the city I almost moved to (twice) was…

Panoramic view. Photo by Den Nation.


I’m not surprised that nobody recognised it from the pictures. Hardly anybody has ever heard of Besançon. I certainly had never heard about it.

Back in the spring of 2007 when I was in my 2nd year of university all the language students were deciding where to go on their year abroad. A language degree at a British university usually lasts 4 years; the 3rd year is spent in the country or countries where your language(s) are spoken. You could spend your year at a European (Erasmus) or non-European university, on a work placement, or as a language assistant teaching English. The year abroad is obligatory for most students, but if you have a good reason not to do it, you could be exempted from doing it and go directly into 4th year. Most mature students, which was what I was, that ask to be exempted receive the exemption.

I asked to be exempted from the year abroad, but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me not to it. I knew that I probably would never have a chance like that again, and that if I didn’t do it I would regret it forever. So I told the head of my programme that I changed my mind. That decision changed the rest of my life forever.

Comté and Morbier come from the region surrounding Besançon.
Photo by Den Nation.

As I had changed my mind quite late in the process, there were no spots left at the universities (Erasmus) that were reserved for my programme (translation).  So I had to pick from the universities that were reserved for regular language students. Brest, Arras and Besançon were the cities that still had spots. I couldn’t see myself going somewhere as remote as Brest and while I was tempted by Arras, I chose Besançon. It fit all my criteria: surrounded by small mountains, small city known for its friendliness, bucolic region, beautiful architecture, great local cuisine, campus in the city centre, low cost of living, safe, easy access to other countries (Switzerland, Italy and Germany), etc. I read everything I could get my hands on about Besançon and stared at countless pictures. I really had my heart set out on going there.

Then, one day, my euphoria ended. I was leaving the language building at uni when a professor stopped me, “Did you hear, Den Nation, a spot opened up in Bordeaux and you’re no longer going to Besançon! Isn’t that great?!”

My heart just fell to my stomach. “No, I hadn’t heard, that’s good, thanks for telling me,” I replied, trying to feign some enthusiasm.

I didn’t want to go to Bordeaux. I was absolutely against it. However, because of the programme I was enrolled in, I didn’t have a choice if one of the reserved schools had a spot. I was going to Bordeaux whether I liked it or not.

I had the summer to try and get used to the idea, but I couldn’t. I tried to tell myself that it would be great; that the weather would be better, that the city was beautiful, that the food was good, anything to convince myself. But I couldn’t fall in love with it: I didn’t like wine at the time and Bordeaux is pretty isolated from other countries; except for Spain that is, and I was going to Spain during the second semester of my year abroad.

Along the Doubs River and facing the Citadelle. Photo by Den Nation.

I decided that I would just stay and travel in the region and concentrate on learning the language. Now, years later, I’m glad that I took that attitude. I was there to learn about France and the language after all.

It was during my semester as an Erasmus student in Bordeaux that I met my husband (I think I’ll save that story for another post) so now when I think back on when that professor told me about the change and how I felt… I am so grateful that a spot became available at the last minute!

The summer after my Erasmus year was over I finally made it out to Besançon. It was everything I thought it would be and more. It was such a moving visit: it confirmed what I knew all along, that it was the place for me in France. In my 4th year at university back in the UK I befriended a girl from Besançon (she was as Erasmus student) and we are still friends to this day. All the signs kept pointing me in that direction…

Fast forward to June 2009. I was finishing my 4th year at university in the UK with my bisontine friend. My husband had applied to be a fonctionnaire and had taken and passed the competitive exams to be accepted at a fonctionnaire. The nature of his job (academia) meant that he had to audition for a particular position in front of a jury – he couldn’t just be muté (sent by the French government to work in a certain place). So he went around the country auditioning in several cities, including Besançon.

We had left Bordeaux together after the summer of 2008, me to complete my 4th year of university and him to Paris for a CDD. We really didn’t think that we would ever go back to Bordeaux and Besançon had already slipped from my fingers. There was no guarantee that he would get an academic job. We were almost certain that he would be working another CDD job another year as he was inexperienced and applying again the next year.

Besançon is famous for its grey and pink façades. Photo by Den Nation.

He got the job in Besançon!

I just couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking excitedly, “It’s baaaaaaack!” I was so ecstatic; it was like I was walking on air. I couldn’t believe I was being given another chance.

But guess what? A few days after Besançon offered him a position, good old Bordeaux called and offered him one too. I was incredulous; how could it come down to the same two places again?

You already know which one we picked. Well, my husband picked Bordeaux, not me. I actually think that professionally Besançon would have been easier for me (close to Switzerland), but the position in Bordeaux was more prestigious for him. Thanks to Bordeaux’s prestige in my husband’s field, it will be easier for him to obtain a more higher ranking fonctionnaire position one day. That’s why I said yes.

That was the tale of the city that was just never meant to be.

Bordeaux, the city that was always just meant to be. Photo by Den Nation.