How to Approach Exam Preparation With Mindfulness & Mental Fitness | Jacqui Edmiston

In this episode of “The Empowered Learners” we talk with Jacqui Edmiston. Originally from Australia, she has been living in Pully, in French-speaking Switzerland for 5 years now and she holds a C permit. She will take her fide test on July 14, 2023 in order to obtain her C permit.

After suffering a burnout shortly after arriving in Switzerland, Jacqui Edmiston founded Elevate, a dynamic and innovative company dedicated to helping individuals and organizations reach their highest potential. With a focus on personal and professional development, they offer a range of services aimed at enhancing performance, fostering growth, and achieving success.

In this interview we talk about her experience as an expat in the Suisse Romande, as well as her French-learning journey and the best techniques for reaching the best state of mind before an exam.

Click on these links to check out some of her latest articles:


Isabelle: Bonjour tout le monde, et bienvenue à ce troisième épisode des notre series, Les Empowered Learners. Aujourd’hui mon invitée est Jacqui Edmiston, c'est un grand plaisir de l'avoir avec nous ce midi. Jacqui est originaire de l’Australie, elle vit à Pully, en Suisse romande depuis 5 ans maintenant, et elle est titulaire d’un Permis B. Elle va passer son examen fide le 14 juillet prochain, afin d’obtenir son permis C. 

Alors, je vais vous parler un petit peu de Jacqui. Après avoir fait un burnout quelques temps après son arrivée en Suisse, Jacqui fonde Elevate, c’est une entreprise se concentrant sur la gestion du stress et la prévention du burnout. Quelque chose dont on a tous besoin en ce moment, surtout après la période du Covid.

Ses programmes permettent aux personnes qui sont très occupées comme vous et moi au quotidien de gérer leur stress, d'accentuer leur bien-être et de créer les réserves nécessaires pour ne pas seulement survivre, mais aussi grandir à travers les moments plus difficiles.

We're going to switch to English and I will start with one first question for you, Jacqui. Can you please share your experience as an expat in Switzerland, so in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and can you tell us how important it is for you to feel confident in French in order to feel more comfortable and integrated in your daily life here?

Jacqui: Yeah. Thanks, Isabelle. Yes. So I live in Pully, which is near Lausanne in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, as Isabelle said. And I think for us, we've kind of dabbled in French since we've been here and COVID kind of stopped that for a while, and we put it on hold.

What I've noticed is that it's very easy not to speak French in this area just because of the large volume of international organizations who tend to default to English, as their working language. So you kind of do need to make more of an effort.

But since my husband and I have been revisiting French in the last six months or so, we've noticed that it's definitely increased our ability to integrate with the local community, and even just something as simple as going for dinner a couple of weeks ago, and we were able to speak in French to the service the entire evening, which was a first for us. It just kind of opened our world. So it felt far more enjoyable in experience and it kind of, I think, showed us the window of opportunity in the sense of, wow, if we really continue with this and learn more, think of what could be possible.

In terms of our interactions daily and even meeting new people and new friends in the area. Because a lot of our friends currently are expats, so they do speak English or other languages outside of French. But yeah, it was so enjoyable and we look forward to learning more so that it can open even more doors than that.

Isabelle: It's easy to stay in this little expat bubble, this English-speaking bubble. Even though we've been living here for a while or if we live in France or in Belgium, we'll always find other people who speak English. And another thing is that most Swiss here speak English at a quite good level. So they're the ones who are very patient and will make the gesture towards us if they can if they speak English. So we find ourselves in a position where we work in English. If we do, we work in English. We have friends who are English, the Swiss will adapt to us and speak English with us, so sometimes we have people contacting us. They've been here for 20 years and they have not really learned the language. They know how to get by. But the years pass and there's no need really to speak French.

You feel that now that you've focused on it a little bit more, you're starting to feel more comfortable, can you tell me, knowing that you have learned French, this is something that you've learned in the past with us as well, what do you think are the benefits of learning a new language?

Jacqui: There's several. So, definitely, the cognitive abilities that it brings on, the fact that you have to remember so much more vocabulary and different structures. You know, French is quite different to the English language. So, all of that naturally enhances memory as well.

And I think just the ability to open doors, so expanding your social interactions, meeting new people. And I think to some degree, earning the respect of the local people as well. It shows that you're making an effort and that you're willing to integrate. And I think people really appreciate that. And there's a definite difference in rapport that I've observed once you can speak a little bit of the language. So social interactions. Opportunities in general. There are certain things that we didn't use to do because it was an evening presented in French, for instance, or an exhibition in French, and so we wouldn't attend. Whereas now that door is open to us, so we can go along and see that.

And so I think we'll probably have a more local experience as well, instead of staying in what's been a comfortable expat bubble, we can start to expand beyond that, which is great, and one of the benefits. I think too, knowing how difficult it's been for us to grasp the language as well, is getting an appreciation of others who don't speak English as a native language. So I think there's greater respect there when you encounter people who speak English as a second language and you understand the difficulty that's there and the struggles that has led to that point.

So yeah, there's kind of a mutual respect in understanding that challenge and kind of working through it as well. So there's a kind of cultural empathy if you like, that builds from that too. Yeah, so lots of benefits. Amazing.

Isabelle: Oui. I love the fact that you mentioned the cultural empathy. It just feels normal that everybody speaks English. But actually, this is an effort that everybody makes when we are not English speakers. And I am not as well. I'm a French speaker. But once we learn one first foreign language, then it feels like, okay, this is mind-opening.

This is an expansion of our understanding of the world because we realize, Oh, actually this sentence structure is very different to mine and what I'm used to. Some people think very differently. They structure their thoughts very differently, and it opens your mind to a whole new way of thinking, which is very exciting. Once you start learning one foreign language, the other one feels more exciting and feels probably less daunting as well because you've done it once before. 

Jacqui: Yeah, I definitely find that, too. Even going to Italy and Spain, you know, in the areas is starting to see similarities in sentence structure and so forth. And just yeah, it gives you a different insight into speaking those languages too, as you say. So it's helpful.

Isabelle: Absolutely. You can see the common ground in Spanish, French and Italian as soon as you speak one of these languages. Let's say you ski and you've done rollerblading before, there's a very similar technique. So you can get into this new sport faster and more easily, let's say, if we want to do it.

It's a nice analogy.

Isabelle: I know you, Jackie, from a few years ago. You contacted us when we were at the beginning with Prêt à Parler and it was a great pleasure to have you as one of our first clients. Can you share a little bit of your experience of learning French with us when you started learning French?

Jacqui: Yeah. Well, what I liked most about Prêt à Parler, I think, is the is the one-on-one interaction, actually. So for me, I think my weakness has always been in the speaking of French, and so it's always been necessary to seek out opportunities where I can speak as much as possible. And so the format was very conducive to that, and there was no way to hide because it was one on one. It necessitated me speaking all the time, pretty much in the class, which was a little daunting initially, but it built so much confidence for me over time.

Also, the group dynamic is something I've often struggled with in the past, particularly because I think, everyone travels at a different pace. And I think what you offer with your program is the ability to meet us where we're at. So there was always a sense of, okay, this might be in the curriculum today, but if you're stuck on any particular thing, you could just take as long as you like to get through that. And then if there's other things that you're progressing through quickly, then you too would progress kind of quickly and move on to the next thing. So, I very much felt held in terms of, definitely responsive to where I was at in my stage of learning, which was great.

And in the annuals, you catered to different learners. So there was the speaking in the course, but you also had the online components as well for people to revisit or review at different periods. And then the homework as well, which kind of reinforced the lesson and gave us a chance outside of the lesson itself to revise as well, which was good. So yeah, it was just this constant reinforcement through all the different modes of interaction. Yeah. And of course, my professor was great. Yohann.

Isabelle: You were with Yohann, that's true.

Jacqui: Yeah. Shout out to Yohann.

Isabelle: Absolutely. One of my teachers, and I'm an opera singer, that's my first curriculum. One of my teachers had told me something, which I always remembered. He said, "I want you to learn as much as possible out of me and then fly. I want you to go up and experiment something else." That's exactly my approach with my business. Try to learn as much as you can from Prêt à Parler, and then we encourage you to go out and fly in the world and test other techniques as well.

So you are not learning with us anymore. Thank you so much for being a loyal customer from the past. What are you doing now to improve your French at the moment? Because I know you're going to do your fide exam very soon. You've reconnected to French in the past six months. So, what is your approach to reconnecting and focusing on French again before an exam?

Jacqui: Yeah. So, trying to review existing material. Some of the material I got with you and also just different textbooks, different exam preparation books. So there's a lot out there for the DELF and not so much for fide that I've seen, but for DELF definitely. And trying to do it more self-paced, I guess. And you know, the strengths and weaknesses to that.

I mean, I definitely think the speaking again for me is something I need to look at. And so, I'm actively seeking ways to speak more French. Speaking with various parents at the school of my daughter, for instance. I've met a couple of people who want to improve their English, for instance, and may want to improve their French. So it's kind of that reciprocal exchange to try and learn the language a bit better. But I will probably come back. because I think, you know, my husband and I have found through this experience is it's one thing to learn enough to pass the exam, and that's the immediate incentive, I guess.

But now that we've kind of broken through that facade, I guess that the apprehension to study French and to learn. Now that we've seen how it can benefit us and the enjoyment that it gives us when we use it, we are definitely quite keen to continue to probably B1 or B2 level. And with the Paris Olympics and Paralympics around the corner, which is my old line of work and my husband's current line of work, there's also that added incentive to perhaps, get ready for that as well and be able to maybe work in French someday, which would be huge. Yeah. 

Isabelle: That's an amazing world to have. And especially living in a French-speaking country, being surrounded by French speakers, reading everything around you, all the publicities in French, this is the best way to keep improving your French.

And I know that the hardest part is to go beyond this A2 level. When you get A2 level and you start feeling more comfortable, then breaking through this level, getting to B1 and B2. These are the hardest parts where people get a little bit discouraged. They say, okay, I've done so much effort, do I really want to continue doing this? So I can only encourage you to keep doing what you're doing. Speaking with other people and language exchange. This is when you learn the everyday French, as well. You can learn with the teacher a lot of the theoretical stuff, but the speaking stuff is what you hear, what you exchange with other people.

And then in the future, I encourage you as well, if you want to refine all the things that you've learned now that you dare to speak French and you're not so worried or conscious of the little mistakes, everybody makes mistakes. Native speakers make mistakes all the time. It's quite a complex language. There are so many different accents as well, and it is the same for English as well. But I can only encourage you to continue to another level. It's really fun to be able to improve and just fine-tune the language as well.

Jacqui: Yeah. It's an exciting challenge.

Isabelle: Absolutely. And God knows we need challenges and we already have lots. But then when it's a fun challenge, this is how we grow, and we elevate ourselves, just like your business.

So, now that you're accompanying busy professionals, parents just like our subscribers and our clients, they don't have much time but they need extra help because they feel overwhelmed. They are close to a burnout, they feel stressed out. Many of them who are watching us right now, they want to know more about the fide exam. How to manage their stress. How to prepare to feel calm and serene before the exam. So knowing that you're going to do your fide exam soon, we're going to go through the same process as the rest. Let's talk about your tips to feel calm and ready before a stressful event like an exam. 

So what do you do Jacqui to relax, to increase your self-confidence, to be in the best state of mind before a French exam, for example? 

Jacqui: Yeah. Mine's coming up, for sure. I think time management is one of the first things. I think our temptation, and actually this kind of couples in with self-talk, so we should check in and just see how are we talking to ourselves about the exam. Are we apprehensive, are we nervous? And that will start to probably lead towards perhaps avoidance behaviors, which means we'll procrastinate and then we'll go for kind of that cramming in the last couple of days before the exam.

So, time management is key and understanding that if you can start to build in a timetable three, four weeks out for your exam, then you can start to do a little bit each day and practice as much as possible. So, just immerse as much as possible.

So I'll be, for instance, in the next month, I'll be trying to watch French-speaking TV, listen to the French radio in the car, listen to French songs, try and even converse to my daughter in French or my husband because we're all learning at the moment.

And also, just to actively seek out opportunities. Whether it be the grocery store or restaurants, I've always been partial to kind of taking the easy way out. And so acknowledging that, okay, this is my chance to practice. And so, you know, using that opportunity rather than trying to avoid that opportunity. So practicing as much as possible, but also integrating that practice so it doesn't feel like something extra. You're already going to the grocery store, why not just practice while you're there? So it's not an added burden.

The other thing is to relax. So, find ways to decompress because the study can be quite intense. So whether it be breathwork, meditation, whether it be walking, spending some time in nature, or whatever is an energizer or a relaxant for you is try to do a little bit of that as well. So maybe do a two-hour study broad, but then you go and do something for yourself as a way to recharge. And in that sense, I always use the analogy of athletes and how they train and they don't train 24/7. They have active rest and recovery.

And so that's how I would recommend approaching it as well as building rest. Because often when we're resting, our brain gets a chance to digest and then we start to put some of the connections together as well that we might not make as easily when we're actually just studying. So that's another thing.

And then also, just focusing on the basics. So, exercising, sleeping well, eating well, and just making sure that we're setting ourselves up for success really is just laying that foundation. Because if we have that in place, then our mental fitness game is on as well. So, we tend to have a more positive outlook when we are rested and when we're well-fed and watered, so to speak. So yeah, I'm just getting the basics in place and the rest will come.

Isabelle: I love these tips. You've reviewed, you've learned, the thing is to avoid cramming down or learning too many things by the last minute because this is when the stress can build up as well. And then after the exam, once everything is out of your brain, literally, you forget about it. So it's good to let it sink.

Jacqui: Yeah.

Isabelle: Having these rests in between the learning periods. Absolutely. All these tips will be available, you created two great articles recently on your blog. We're going to share that in the description of our series so everybody can read and just be more familiar with the tips that you have shared today with us. Thank you so much.

Jacqui: Thank you.

Isabelle: I would love to know a little bit more about your various programs. Can you tell us more about the programs that you're running in order to help your clients feel calmer and more serene in their daily life?

Jacqui: Yes. So there's generally two areas that I work within. One is mindfulness and one is mental fitness. And so, often they're about an eight week structured program, which of course might seem counterintuitive to people who are experiencing stress. But that's sadly the reflection of what stress can do to us. So basically, we do require a bit of time to get through stress and to be able to prevent stress effectively. We can obviously, do some band-aid solutions in the meantime. Breathwork, meditation, are all good ways to relax, but to really build it as a habit is something that we do recommend over an eight week course. So I run a mindfulness-based stress reduction course or an MBSR program and this is kind of the global standard, if you like, for mindfulness around the world.

I also work with the positive intelligence framework of Shirzad Chamine coming out of the States, and that too is a six to eight week program, and that's an app-based program as well. And so that's quite a good way for people to do it on the go, actually, if anyone is looking for something that's more accessible.

And then I also do coaching. So I tend to work with people in transition, transitioning from a burnout back into the workplace, for instance, or mums getting back into the workplace after mat leave and so forth. So big transitions that require a lot of change. And also, foxing the road where you might have troubles with your identity, and feeling comfortable again with a new identity perhaps as you move through. So yeah, I'm coaching as well .

And I do things outdoors as well. So I take people outside and we do nature mindfulness as well, which is a lovely complement to it all for people who can do that.

Isabelle: Especially living here in Switzerland with all this beautiful nature available and so close to the cities. Living in Pully you've got all the vineyards accessible at your doorstep. So, this is a beautiful opportunity to be able to work in the outdoors. I've personally worked with Jacqui, before, when I was going through some difficult periods in my life and I can highly recommend working with her. She really brings a lot of peace and serenity and great tips, so I can just recommend your programs and your services.

Thank you so much. Merci beaucoup pour votre temps.

I want to finish this episode with some tips for people who are going to prepare for the fide exam. So, it's good that we talked about the meditation, the positive affirmation, because we have an e-course for people who want to prepare independently for the fide. It's called Prêt à FIDE. And in this course, it's a step by step guide where you get all the information you need for your permis C, for your naturalization as well. But also all the most common scenarios to prepare for the A1 A2 B1 exams for the fide.

And there's also a bonus section where you can have a little meditation you can listen to before your exam with positive affirmation, I will succeed. I am ready. I can do this. All in French, of course.

Jacqui, is there one last tip you would like to tell our subscribers about their exam? One thing you would like to tell them before we finish this episode? 

Jacqui: I would just say, bonne chance. Yeah. And I think, when you're actually in the exam, we didn't talk about that, I guess, but just working again with breath can be really helpful. So when we go into a stress reaction, we're in the sympathetic nervous system and so breathing moves us into parasympathetic nervous system and that can calm us down almost immediately after a short while.

So that's something that if you do find that you get a question that looks a little bit daunting or intimidating, you just access the breath as much as you can and kind of ground yourself in the present moment, and that would be helpful.

Isabelle: Is there a breathing exercise you would recommend to quickly calm down if you're in the middle of the exam and the examiner is waiting for the answer and you're little bit...?

Jacqui: Yeah. There's a number of different techniques, but the book's breathing technique is quite effective. And it's kind of imagining a book, if you like, and kind of breathing in for four, holding for four, breathing out for four and then holding for four. And just repeating that for a couple of minutes, it will start to really relax you straight away. And following that, just a couple of deep breaths and then return to kind of normal.

Isabelle: The calmness. And on that note, I want to say with Prêt à Parler, we're going to become a fide exam center very soon. And I've been in touch with a lot of examiners, with the fide institution as well. And the goal is for all the applicants to feel calm, to feel confident. We try to put you at ease as much as possible. So if ever, I know that for me when I'm stressed and someone asks me a question, even though I understand the language, sometimes it's just blocked out and I need to hear the question again. So please never feel bad or stupid. You can always ask for the examiner to repeat the question more slowly, to use other words as well. This is absolutely possible and absolutely fine to do.

So, you have time to breathe. You can ask for an extra minute just to focus, gather yourself, put yourself together and breathe, and then you continue again. This is something which you can absolutely do.

Merci beaucoup Jacqui

Jacqui: Merci beaucoup, Isabelle.

Disclaimer: Prêt à Parler CH does not carry out fide tests and is not yet accredited for any of the fide procedures. However, our team of Super Profs has been helping our clients to successfully pass their fide test in Suisse romande since January 2019. Our online preparation program for the fide test, blog articles, social media posts and videos are meant to help fide applicants better understand and prepare for their exam.

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