Studying Abroad: Part Two with Yvan Besnard

Have you ever considered studying or working abroad? It is a huge commitment, leaving behind friends, family and the familiarity of home. However, in most cases, the rewards are worth it. For our blog series about studying abroad, we spoke to three alumni about the challenges and benefits of studying in a foreign country…

In our second instalment, we hear from Yvan, an honorary graduate of the University. He received a Master of Arts in 2014 for his outstanding contribution to the City of Chester and County of Cheshire, through his work as Honorary Consul for France. From 1980 until 2005, he founded and was President of the Cestrian French Society, and in June 1986, he was appointed French Honorary Consul for Chester and North Wales, a position from which he has now retired. In this week’s blog, Yvan tells us more about his studies abroad and offers some advice…

“At university in France I studied foreign languages (English, Spanish, Italian and Swedish) in order to become a teacher of English in a French School. So, as part of my studies, I had to spend a year as a language assistant in an English-speaking country. My first country choice was Canada, my second choice was Australia and my third choice was the UK. I knew the UK a little bit as I had been to the Isle of Wight on many occasions in the summer to visit my French cousin who was married to an Englishman, and for summer work. Of course, I didn’t get my first choice of Canada. The French Education Authorities decided to send me to Birkenhead in the UK! Then the inevitable happened. After a few months in Birkenhead, I met someone very special, I married her and have lived here ever since. Obviously the hardest thing moving here was leaving my family behind, but I was quite used to the British ‘way of life’ and I managed quite well.

Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight.

“As I had been coming to the UK for a few summers prior to settling in, there was no real culture shock for me. That culture shock did happen a few years prior to that however, when I first came to the UK in the summer of 1960. It was not drastic, on the contrary, I found it quite a weird and wonderful experience. I have been working in the UK since 1970 and practically all of my work has been in education (I took early retirement from teaching in 1997). I taught in state and private schools, in colleges of further education, and also did a fair amount of adult teaching. After 1997, I worked for a short while for a Scottish firm, and from 2000 to 2009, I worked as a civil servant at the Jobcentre in Chester. I fully retired from paid employment in 2009.

French Circle guest book
French Circle guestbook

“The best advice I think I can give to those who want to work or study abroad is to immerse yourself as much as possible in the customs of your host country. It is all too tempting to find people from your own background when you are abroad. It feels so reassuring. However, in doing so, you will miss the opportunity to learn new things and new customs. In fact, I was always trying to avoid meeting French people as I knew that it would hinder my progress in learning the foreign language. Another piece of advice I’d like to give is to try and do volunteering work alongside your paid work. Throughout my adult life, I have always done some kind of volunteering work. I founded and managed a French Society in Chester for 25 years. I was also an Honorary Consul for France for 28 years.

special year of the French Circle
French Circle guestbook, signed by the University’s Chancellor, Gyles Brandreth, in 1995.

I am now working as a volunteer at Chester Zoo. Volunteering is extremely rewarding and fulfilling. You meet lots of people you would not meet otherwise, you can make new friends and best of all you help the community you live in. If I had a motto, it would be something like this: ‘do not think about what your community can do for you, but what YOU can do for your community.’

Opening of Consular office at the University
Yvan (left) pictured with the University’s Vice Chancellor (middle) at the opening of the Honorary Consulate of France in 2011.

“In fact, it is because of the varied volunteer work I carried out in the Cheshire community that the University of Chester bestowed me an Honorary Degree. And now, as a proud honorary graduate, I am part of the University of Chester alumni community, and to repay the kindness the university showed me, I have volunteered to join the alumni committee.”

As our alumni demonstrate, studying abroad can be the perfect way to learn new skills and return home to apply them, or make a life for yourself in a new country. Do you have a story to share about your studies abroad? We would love to hear them, so get in touch with us at alumni@chester.ac.uk or on our social media.

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