Monthly Archives: January 2013

La Chasse au trésor

Information in France is a precious commodity.  It’s worth its weight in gold.  It’s certainly not a dime a dozen.  [Insert clichéd phrase about how valuable and/or hard to get it is].

Academie_d-Amiens

Over the last five months that I’ve lived in France, and to a lesser extent, my 13 months previously spent in Europe, I’ve discovered that to do well you not only have to know what to ask but who to ask.  Like most labyrinthine bureaucracies and red-taped governments, France has a lot of administrative paperwork and backlogged offices that prevent you from knowing what you want when you want.  Luckily, my information-getting goals have been relatively straightforward since setting my sights on life in France.  In 2011-2012, it involved figuring out how to move to France, via the complicated and long process of applying to Masters programs on the CampusFrance website.  Since arriving in France, I have been trying to figure out the somewhat complicated procedures for becoming a teacher in France and finding a job in general.

With the second semester rentrée de classe underway, I began my job search in earnest, trying to pick up tidbits of information right and left.  My first week back into classes, I responded to online ads for cours particuliers, tutoring, conversation classes, or homework help.  By chance, I had a response to one such ad from a company that sets tutors up with potential students, in a kind of Kaplan learning center.  The woman who called me the next day happened to work for such a company in Amiens and was interested in my profile in general.  Despite the fact that I had applied online to work for them at least twice over the past few months, I finally had caught the attention of someone.  A few days later and a couple of job applications filled out and resumes sent in, I received a phone call from the same company, offering me a one hour a week job teaching English.

On Monday, I stopped by the Center, expecting an interview or some other formality, but as far as the woman was concerned, I was already hired.  She went over procedures and expectations, and I strolled out of the office feeling slightly better about myself.  An extra 12€ a week isn’t much more than what I was making before, but it’s certainly a start.  The only obstacle I was facing was a phone call to the potential student’s parents, in order to confirm our weekly lesson (and I have a horror of phone calls).

I next ventured over to the Rectorat of the Académie d’Amiens, a maze of a building that houses everything to do with education in the entire Picardie region.  I had initially planned on getting information concerning my eligibility to take the CAFEP-CAPES, the teaching exam that allows you to teach in private schools. However, someone had previously mentioned to me that I should ask for an application to become a substitute teacher, which had slipped my mind completely.  I arrived in the massive building and immediately asked for directions.  The woman at l’accueil handed me a slip of paper showing a map of the building and the bureau I needed to find in order to get my answers.  I dutifully took the map and went up in the elevator, crossing the entire length of the building before arriving.  I gave a ten second spiel (“I’m a foreigner looking for info about the CAFEP-CAPES”), and they immediately told me to go to another office.  This office indeed dealt with private schools, and they offered me a job application for substitute teaching, but they had nothing to do with the concours and sent me off to a third office.  By the time I reached this office, I was convinced that I was on some weird and convoluted scavenger hunt – the third office immediately sent me two doors down.  At last, I had the right people to ask about the exam.  They told me, five seconds into my spiel, that I didn’t have to do anything else to take the teaching exam besides prove that I had my undergraduate diploma and was registered in the first year Masters.  No need to request a casier judiciaire, a background check, or any other nonsense until I actually passed the exams.  Furthermore, the “permission” to work as a teacher in France – the initial object of my search – was to be obtained at the Préfecture, not at the Rectorat.  I had walked 200 meters in a circle for no good reason!

Except, I must remind myself, I have obtained some very, very valuable information.

When I met later that day with my unofficial “adviser”, the director of the English teaching Masters in Amiens who’s been helping me sort all this out, she just scoffed – “That’s France for you.”

Q: What is European heaven?
A: The Germans look after administration, the English are the policemen, the French do the cooking and the Italians are the lovers.
Q: And what is European hell?
A: The English do the cooking, the Germans are the lovers, the Italians are the policemen and… the French look after administration.

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Let the Job Search Begin!

I often get so wrapped up in my schooling that I forget the whole purpose of my pursuing a Masters in France – to find a job!    It’s so easy to relegate everything else to the background when you are balancing a myriad of classes, activities, homework assignments, and thesis-related research.  My first semester, I made a valiant effort to find a job.  That’s to say, I submitted four different applications to the University libraries (already staffed by the time they looked at my application), filled out some information on babysitting websites, dropped off a couple resumes at the few English-language schools in Amiens, and randomly responded to an online ad for cours particuliers in English.  Only the last one ended up happening, but I was too busy worrying about my grades, my group of friends, and my Sunday night cooking extravaganzas.  Which is all good and well, but only a few trees out of the forest.

Since returning from the United States, I’ve had to think differently about my strategy here in France.  One glance at my bank account is enough to convince me that I am no longer a study abroad student, an Erasmus, an American on exchange.  I am living full-time in France without student aid, access to loans, or social benefits, neither from the United States or France.  Now is the time to begin the job search in earnest.

This past week, I’ve been running to and fro between classes and trying to figure out how to find a job – a part-time job, a summer job, and full-time future job, a job for now, a job for next year…  It’s not the easiest thing to do, let alone in a foreign country.  And so I have begun anew, scanning the online advertisements, making phone calls (how I dread that), dropping off resumes, networking with friends, emailing contacts, showing up for an infinitude of classes in the hopes that now or soon or later something will come my way.  And in the meantime, trying to do my best at doing everything well – school, friends, thesis, CAPES preparations.  Certainly a rather tall order.

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For all my fellow expats/foreign traveler and workers, if you have any insights or ideas on working abroad, feel free to chip in your two cents!

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Back to the Grind

Well, I’ll have to say, having five months of my Masters under my belt made this “first day” back to class so much easier than the original first day (see La rentrée for more information).  I have gotten a handful of my grades back, all (with one exception) really good, which has boosted my confidence.  I’ve figured out how my Masters works, how the complementary Masters that I’m going to switch into next year works, the grading system for both Masters and how I’ll be evaluated.  I’ve gotten to know the professors, figured out what they expect of me in terms of translation, in both written French and English, and I’ve even figured out what I need to do to become a high school professor of English in France (see my last post, Round Two, if you’re curious to know more about teaching in private schools in France).

That being said, my schedule for the semester looks absolutely ridiculous.  Part of this is because, in addition to the normal workload of a Master de recherche (4 seminars, 2 translation classes, 1 linguistics class, and “out of class” time to work on my thesis), I am also taking as an “auditrice libre” all the Master d’enseignement classes, with the exception of oral comprehension and expression, which would be absolutely pointless for me to take anyways.  That brings my total to nine classes, and I’m contemplating spending all day at the l’IUFM, where they instruct you on basic pedagogy and set up teaching practicums, on Thursdays, along with the rest of the Master d’enseignement, even though I am in no way required to.  All this because of the CAPES écrits which is taking place in June, six months (more or less) ahead of schedule.  The written CAPES for English will be in the form of a written commentary on a literary or significant historical text accompanied by one to five “annexes” that serve as “guides” in your analysis, à la française, and two texts to translate, one into English and another into French, the latter serving as a starting point for a linguistic analysis on English grammatical terms.  And since I am so new to the whole literary translation thing, especially from English to French, I decided to “audit” a class or two of translation in order to improve.  Hey, you can only get better at translation by doing more translation!

Sample schedule:

  • Mondays: 10 am-12 pm, [audit] Methodology class for the CAPES literary commentary; LUNCH; 1 pm-3 pm, Seminar on traductology taught by my Thesis adviser; 3 pm-4 pm, [audit] Translation class emphasizing English grammar; 4 pm-5 pm, [audit] Translation class on literary translation from English to French
  • Tuesdays: 9 am-11 am, Linguistic analysis class; 11 am-12 pm, Translation class on literary translation from English to French; LUNCH; 2 pm-3 pm, Translation class on literary translation from French to English; 3 pm-5 pm, Seminar on linguistic theory (all the big names, de Saussure, Chomsky, etc.)
  • Wednesdays: 10:30 am-12:30 pm, Methodology class for the CAPES commentary of a historically significant text; LUNCH; 3 pm-5 pm, Seminar on Irish literature
  • Thursdays: 9:30 am-4:30 pm, Pedagogical training at l’IUFM
  • Fridays: 2 pm-4 pm, Seminar [undecided, but probably in French medieval literature on Marian poetry in France]

Nevertheless, I will do my best to succeed this semester, as well as in my preparations for the CAPES, knowing full well that the more practice in translation, literary analysis, linguistics that I do, the better off I’ll be.  The worst that can happen is A) I’ll get burnt out and start dropping my classes or B) have to take the make-up exams in June for a class or two and/or retake the CAPES next year if I don’t pass it.  Which means redo parts of my first-year Masters, but with a signficantly lighter workload.  And maybe a part-time job (fingers crossed).

Another reason why today went so well is that I finally know everyone in my Masters, and some even rather well.  It takes time to get to know people, and there’s nothing better than taking the same exams and suffering under the same obnoxious workload to break the ice.  And then, Facebook did the rest.  I am blessed to have had this semester: international friends, friends in my Masters, and friends within my locavore group, a diverse assemblage of wonderful and very different people.  Who would have believed that I had hardly a single French friend (with notable exceptions) the last time I lived in Amiens? There is nothing like setting up a permanent residence somewhere and pursuing a legitimate degree, instead of feeling like a “vacationer” or a “foreign observer” passing through.

So here I am in January 2013, confident, happy, and motivated for the rest of the year and for the grueling work ahead of me, albeit altogether broke!

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Three Things I Did To Improve My French

For all those language learners out there, here is an incredibly motivating post on learning a foreign language. Some of the comments below are equally valuable. Moral of the story: take advantage of every opportunity you have to improve your foreign language skills!

 

The Perpetual Passenger

Earlier this year I stumbled upon a video of a guy calling himself Benny the Irish Polyglot that got me realizing that I was making a lot of excuses about my progress with the French language, and wrote about it. Benny was cool enough to repost my blog on his site (which is a great resource for anyone trying to learn another language, so check it out, here), and I figured I owed it to anyone who stopped by to post something about my progress.

View original post 462 more words

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Round Two

It snowed a few days ago here in Amiens (although it melted the following day), and since yesterday it has been absolutely freezing.  I’m from the Midwest United States, so I am not exaggerating when I say that (my three years in Omaha bring to mind many not-so-fond memories of the snow and the cold).  Last night, it dropped to 16 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 C), and even in the middle of the day, it is now only 27 degrees (-3 C).  I have ventured out as little as possible in the past week since I’ve written my last post.

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Now I can finally say, after five months, twelve weeks of classes, and many an exam, exposé or written dossier (or all three!), I have finally finished my first semester!  It’s time to break out the sparkling grape juice and do a celebratory dance… until classes begin again next Monday.  I had my last two exams last Monday and filled eight sides of paper all in French about various theoretical and linguistic topics relating to H.P. Grice’s maximes of communication and the argumentative strategies of Albert Camus.  Hopefully I won’t have to retake those exams, but I won’t know those grades for a while.  I also finally finished my linguistics dossier on English words (anglicismes) used in French food and cooking vocabulary: think cookies, donuts, ketchup, and other such things (whereas they, conversely, have contributed about 60% of all our culinary words, such as bourguignon, à la minute, au gratin, etc.).  Now all I need to do is wait and see if I passed my first semester or whether or not I will need to prepare make-up exams in June for the classes for which I do not have the passing 10 average.

On a professional note, I at last know what is required of me in order to teach in a French middle school or high school!  This Wednesday I traveled to the neighboring town of Beauvais to attend an info session on l’enseignement catholique in France.  As a non-ressortisant(e) de l’Espace européenne, that’s to say, neither a French nor a European citizen, I am effectively barred from teaching in public schools because that requires the fonctionnaire status – as a government civil servant.  Which means, although I only want to teach my native tongue to 12-18 year olds, I would still be considered a “government employee”, and as a non-European, that is not a possibility.  I can always re-apply to be a public school teacher in four and a half years, upon receiving French citizenship, but in order to remain in France during this time, I need a job.  One of those lovely Catch-22’s that you so often encounter in France (See Jennifer Lee’s delightful essay on French Catch-22’s or on Teaching English in France).  Luckily, for those willing to jump through a bunch of hoops, there is a solution: private schools.

However, don’t expect to just show up in France and find a French high school willing to hire you – not if it’s “sous contrat de l’État”, that’s to say, funded and reglemented by the government, which the majority of the legitimate and mainstream schools in France, private or public, are.  No, in order to get hired by a private school, you must have completed both years of your Masters (I’m in the process), pass both the épreuves d’admissibilité du CAPES (the June written teaching exam, I just signed up for it) and the épreuves d’admission du CAPES (the oral exams scheduled for 2014), follow classes of specific pedagogy and work as a student teacher for a minumum of 12 weeks, and get the approval of the regional Diocese in order to both student teach and be hired full-time.  Not to mention the permission of the regional office for the region’s schools (le Rectorat) to teach in France even in private schools.  And eventually, pass through the requirements for applying for a work permit (titre de travail) at your local préfecture.  As 70% of all private schools in France “sous contrat” are Catholic schools, I am going to follow the procedures and begin my long journey between now and becoming a teacher within the regional school district of Catholic schools.  After all, the students learn exactly the same things in the classroom as they do in public schools.  If all goes according to plan, I’ll be a student teacher come September!

I’ve had a last few rounds of delicious meals with my German, Tunisian and French friends before my two close friends leave tomorrow for Germany, before embarking on other adventures.  Tonight is their fête de départ at the same African café-bar where I myself had my going-away party in 2011!

By the way, it’s been exactly two years since I first arrived in Amiens… How many things have happened since!

Mloukhiya, a traditional Tunisian dish that takes 7 hours to prepare

Mloukhiya, a traditional Tunisian dish that takes 7 hours to prepare

Fondue soirée

Fondue soirée

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Education, Food, France | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Manifest’on local

Today feels like a good day for a protest. There’s no sun to cast shadows across my computer screen, just a washed-out gray sky bringing to mind the world of The Giver. It’s not really cold, but there’s a damp chill which creeps into my room, causing mold to sprout on the walls and sealing my envelopes before I have time to send them. My morning is spent in that strange world of translating computer science technicalities into English, and I feel like yelling at someone at the CAF for failing to give me subsidized housing for three straight months. Wanting a brisk stroll, I take my five flights of stairs three steps at time and head to where, normally, the CAF is located. I make it there in record time, passing an unusual number of policemen directing traffic away from la préfecture. Policemen make me nervous, so I give them a wide berth.

The CAF has a sign plastered on the front door, telling me that they’ve moved again. I assume that they are back where they were originally located, a few months ago, and that the interminable travaux have finally been completed. But I’m not too good with street names, so I’m taking a gamble. I gambol along and notice that a lot of the streets have been blocked off and that, again, there’s a lot of policemen. I pass in front of l’armurerie, which is the first I’ve seen here in France. I think of the gun debate that’s taking place in the United States and I shiver in spite of myself. I hear mute pops that sound like gunshots.  There’s a group of people holding signs, marching down the main throughway, followed by a parade of large tractors, flanked by helicopters and motorcycle cops.  I spot les CRS, the riot control forces.  The banner reads, Les jeunes agriculteurs. Is this a protest? A show of pride? There’s currently a national taxi strike going on in the country. I snap a few photos and take a video, feeling slightly subversive.

I reach the CAF, right where I expected it to be located, only to find that on Thursday January 10, exclusively, it closes at 15h45. Five minutes before I arrive at its doors. Police officers are less suitable candidates for yelling at, so I film the manif’ as it progresses along the avenue.

I circle back to my apartment, feeling both rebellious and disappointed.  I’ve just finished reading Everything in this Country Must. I think I’m reading too much about Irish revolutionaries for my own good. I’m channeling Enjolras from Les Miserables. I open my lovely Mac, its face neon in the dim grayness of my room, and discover that yes, I have indeed witnessed a manifestation in the works.

“150 agriculteurs manifestent ce jeudi à Amiens contre une directive européenne qui élargit le périmètre des zones vulnérables. Ces zones pollués ou susceptibles de l’être aux nitrates. Le principal syndicat agricole, la FNSEA estime que cette directive impose trop de contraintes pour un secteur déjà en difficultés.” france bleu

When in France, do as the French do.  And that’s protest.  For Everyone in this Country Must.

Categories: Amiens, Bureacracy, Daily Life, France, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Back in Business

Source for photo The Talk of Toronto Blog

Source for photo The Talk of Toronto Blog

I promised I’d share both triumphs and failures, and I’m happy to say that I’ve had my fair share of Good News in the past few days. My last class for the first semester ended on December 20, which means I don’t have class until January 21. In the meantime, I had a string of exams the second week of December as well as a variety of assignments to turn in via e-mail. During my holidays, I promised myself that I would take full advantage of my time to spend with my friends and family instead of worrying about schoolwork, so it is only now that I am back in Amiens that I have been crossing things off my to-do list (I’m a big fan of to-do lists).

To-Do List

  • Write a one to two-page report in French on my journée mastériale talking about World War I
  • Write a seven-page literary analysis in English on The Awakening in which I analyze “the sea”
  • Write a five-page comparative analysis in English on two extracts of Children’s literature
  • Submit my application to the Teaching Assistant Program in France for 2013-2014
  • Write a ten-page sociolinguistic analysis in French of the anglicismes in food, gastronomy, and cooking
  • Study for my two exams in French on two theoretical approaches to research
  • Read the intensely boring Reflections on the Revolution in France and the delightful Everything in the Country Must before classes begin
  • Register for the June 2013 CAPES/CAFEP exam for English

So you see, I’m making progress! Nothing like being able to wake up at 11 am and sit around in your pajamas all day, writing blog posts and plodding through the rough waters of papers and exams. It certainly is a change. Speaking of change, AMETIS (the Amiens bus system) changed around their bus lines, much to my advantage (I now have an express line that takes me directly from my bus stop to the Campus in less than ten minutes), and the bus drivers didn’t even go on strike for it! (See my post La grève des bus to learn more about my history with bus strikes).

Since arriving back in Amiens, I’ve been hit with good news like a chain of explosive dynamite. It started on Monday, when I got an email from my professor who teaches that course on the linguistic analysis of translation (see my post A+ Tuesday for more on this professor). In a somewhat unsettling way of seeing my first grade back for one of my December exams – apparently in Amiens, they post all the grades collectively, so you can see what everyone else in the class got, regardless of how bad or good the grade might be – I opened up the attached file only to discover that I had gotten a 16/20! The second highest grade in the class on an exam entirely in French! I was astonished and delighted, considering that the only other grade I had received up to that point was a 4/20 on a translation exam (which will be averaged with four other translation grades, luckily for me). Even assuming I did as terribly on all my other translation grades (which is unlikely for my French to English translations at least), following the French system of compensation des notes, I could still take the 4 and the 16 and average them to make a 10, the passing note for the semester. To my surprise, yesterday, the same professor sent us the grades for our Wednesday class, the linguistic aspects of translation (not to be confused with aforementioned linguistic analysis of a specific translation, which makes up 1/3 of the CAPES written exams). Boom goes the dynamite, and I had 14/20! Not as good as a 16, but still, a very decent grade that will further help me achieve my required semester average. We are going to go over these exams in a few weeks, but I am fairly certain that most of my points were lost for not writing enough and incorrectly translating, “the knife was no longer coming at her. She was moving it up and down.” (Profound, I know). I’m still waiting on three more grades from November/December and five more grades in January, two of which I’ve already turned in the dossier for and now only have to wait for the result.

To boost my confidence on a whole different level, I’ve also had some reassurance that yes, I am making progress both socially and professionally here in Amiens, even if just a little bit. Firstly, I have been teaching something of a conversation class/ad lib basics of English to four French girls aged 7-10, albeit for one hour a week only. It’s a start (I keep needing to tell myself that it will get me somewhere). The best thing about teaching these girls, in addition to their enthusiasm, the flexibility I have to experiment (not typical of teaching English in French schools), and the gales of laughter that tend to accompany my Friday afternoons, is that I have a genuine contract which will last until July. So it’s very official, and the parents can’t just cancel on me without owing me 1/3 of the remaining pay. All this is relevant because for the first month of the contract, we began a “trial period” where, if they weren’t happy with me, they could let me go without reneging on the contract. Three weeks after my first lesson, the father who had initially interviewed and hired me calls me and informs me that he is rather surprised that I’m not speaking as much English as I am French with the girls. Granted, they have had a limited exposure to English and I’ve found that to get them to listen or understand me, I must often express myself in French. I heartily agreed with the father and began giving all my instructions in English before supplementing them with French, but I was slightly shaken up by his out of the blue call. Un peu de retour, he told me. As it is my first independent Teaching English as a Foreign Language job, I had some doubts about my abilities, although I was at least confident that the girls were having a very good time. Whether they are actually learning anything is another issue entirely.

Bref, now six weeks into teaching and comfortably past the one-month “trial period” I emailed the same father to ask for a bit more retour (feedback) with a long list of questions to help me evaluate my performance. Lo and behold, the other two sets of parents were very happy with my classes, and the parents of the two sisters as well, although they were concerned with the sisterly squabbling during the class. My youngest student was also apparently retaining the vocabulary I had taught her and, much to the amusement of her parents, was starting to use an American accent when repeating words in English. The father finished his e-mail with a highly flattering, I encourage you to keep teaching in the same manner. I felt like a million bucks at those words!

My final défi was last night, at our first locavore réunion since Christmas break. My partner-in-crime, N, called me a few hours before the meeting to tell me that she needed me to run, or animer, it. Honestly, I’ve never been in a student association, club, or society before where I’ve had to play a leading role (if you don’t count my years in the French club in high school), so this has been a huge learning experience for me, even being part of the group. The French is fast-paced, colloquial, accented strangely, and I’ve had to absorb a lot of strange vocabulary such as animer, échéance, ordre du jour, compte-rendu, scribe, commision, com’, partenariat, etc. often in the form of abbreviations of technicalities (even when you aren’t counting all the strange anglicismes such as flyers, brainstorming, and the like, all said in a heavy French accent). I’m not exactly shy, especially in English, but I sometimes lack confidence, and the last thing I was prepared to do was to direct a group of strong personalities aged 20-26, albeit close friends. But, as a close friend of mine told me yesterday, Qui ne tente rien n’a rien – (My favorite English equivalent is, Nothing ventured, nothing gained). And now, looking back on the meeting, I think it mostly went well!  Who knows, maybe I’ll be asking for a pay raise soon on my teaching English job?!  Now there’s a terrifying idea…!

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10 Ways to Get Noticed as a Blogger

As a new blogger myself, I thought this post was incredibly useful, and I thought I’d share it with all who might be interested. Here’s how to improve the quality of your blog.

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Trains and Planes

While I should really be working on my five-page paper that’s due at midnight on Wednesday, I thought I’d take advantage of a spare moment to talk about my trip back to France.  For the first time in about five years, nothing strange or unusual happened to me.  No late departures or arrivals, no strikes, no dogs sniffing the luggage or an overnight stay in a posh hotel.  Just one very long trip home on very very little sleep.  And, I had to deal with the intricacies of European train stations.

For those of you who have seen the film Hugo, train stations in Europe bring to mind adorable ten-year-olds, old-fashioned travelers, sleek super-fast trains, and the occasional flower seller.  Don’t get me wrong, you’ll find a lot of that, but you’ll also find peddlers, policemen, creepy single men who sit down next to you uninvited, and, when it gets closer to dusk, a somewhat “rougher” crowd mixed in with your average backpacker or travel-worn business person. I suppose Americans have such a glam image of European train stations precisely because our own are so terrible.  I remember taking the Amtrak at 5:00 am in Omaha once, a train station that is open a mere three hours a day, from around 5-6 am, for the one departing train, and 10-11 pm for the daily incoming train.  And it’s located next to a dark and scary abandoned parking lot, underneath a bridge.  No wonder we tend to envision ax murderers.

Train stations in Europe, I know several of them.  Geneva’s, Lausanne’s, Zürich’s, Bern’s, Paris’s, Amiens’s, Lille’s, and now Bruxelles Midi, to name a few.  And good thing I had a minimum of seven hours to figure out the Brussels train station, because I felt completely out of my element in it.

Layout of Bruxelles Midi train station

Layout of Bruxelles Midi train station

My journey to Brussels was pretty straightforward: one forty-five minute flight from St. Louis to Chicago O’Hare, a brief layover, one hour and a half flight on one of United’s awesome new Dreamliners to Washington Dulles, a longer layover, and one seven-hour flight to Brussels.  Plus a very loud baby behind me, little to no sleep, and a wonderful opportunity to watch The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen in German), which I highly recommend.  Everything went so smoothly I was amazed.  The man working at Border Control looked at my passport and stamped it 5 seconds later, which makes me still angry about the whole Belgian woman incident on my way out of the country (see Home for the Holidays for more on that story).

Once I got to the main part of the airport, that’s when things started getting confusing.  I had two suitcases to drag, and luckily I had read up on where to find the airport train station (do your research on the Brussels Airport Website).    It’s located on the lower level, which confused me, as you couldn’t take the main escalator to reach it (I eventually found an elevator that went downstairs).  They had a little ticket counter, which was luckily open on a Sunday, where you could buy the train ticket to Bruxelles Midi for 7,70€.  There are about four stops until you get to the Midi train station, so the whole trip took a little over 30 minutes, including wait time.  Once at the train station, I had one of those freak out moments where all the train departures are written in a foreign language – that is to say, in Flemish instead of French.  To make matters worse, I had originally bought myself a ticket that left at 16:55, whereas my flight arrived in the Brussels airport at 7:10.  I was not about to wait around on no sleep, so I tried not to panickly call Hedi (not too many times at least) and figure out when the next train to Lille would be and where to change my ticket.

Thanks to the power of the internet, Hedi told me that there was a TGV headed for Lille leaving at 10:18.  The only train I saw was listed as Perpignan, in the South of France.  Was it passing through Lille? No way to tell on the departure screen.  I eventually ventured over to the ticket counter for le service national, where the man rudely told me in French that I would have to go over to the service international in order to change my ticket.  It, unfortunately, did not open until 10:15 on Sundays.  Dragging my two bags behind me, I eventually found the Thalys information center, hoping to at least pass through Paris if I couldn’t get my tickets changed.  The woman and man working there listened to me, laughed, told me quite clearly that the counter for buying new tickets was not yet open, but changing tickets already sold was possible.  “You are not in France, we work here on Sundays,” he told me confidently.  Whatever, I just wanted to change my ticket.  I finally arrived at the fourth ticket counter/information desk, where, to my pleasant surprise, the woman told me that it would only cost me an additional euro to change my ticket to the 10:18 train for Perpignan, with the first stop at Lille Europe.  A mere thirty-minute train which I still had to wait another hour for.

Luckily I’ve taken a train to London before, and I’ve had to change train stations between Lille Flandres and Lille Europe when taking a Eurostar to London.  For those of you who are unaware, if you pass through Lille to another European city outside of France, your tickets will reflect two train stations but not tell you how to get from one to the next.  Rest assured, they are a mere 200m apart from one another, with certain helpful signs or helpful individuals ready to direct you when you ask, like an idiot, what you’re supposed to do.  No platform 9 and 3/4, however, but an eight-minute walk or 15-minute tram ride (depending on if there’s one already waiting for you) from one train station to another.  Kinda sucks when you have to drag two heavy suitcases behind you.

How to get to Platform 9 3/4, I mean, from Lille Flandres to Lille Europe

How to get to Platform 9 3/4, I mean, from Lille Flandres to Lille Europe

Apparently there was no problem changing my next ticket back to Amiens to an earlier train, although the earliest train was two hours later, at 13:00.  The woman working the ticket counter basically told me that there was no point in changing the ticket, as it was cheaper to leave four hours earlier than scheduled.  The worst part of this whole train-changing business? No one checked my ticket on either train!

Finally, I arrived home-sweet-home, to the Amiens train station.  An ugly piece of work, but a familiar one.

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Categories: Belgium, Travel, United States | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Year’s Resolutions

My trip to the States has come to an end, and I finally feel like I can look towards the New Year with some purpose and a bit of apprehension.  My thirteen days with family and friends were incredible—nothing beats being able to hug your mom, telling your dad that you love him and plotting with your best friends.  Nothing except being able to kiss the man you love as he waits patiently for you at the train station.

I’ve come up with three New Year’s resolutions that I wanted to share with you (and a few more that are restricted to my journal entries—no need to lay all my dirty laundry out to dry):

1) In 2013 I will be better about communicating: Granted, I’ve been pretty darn good in 2012 about staying in touch with those I love.  It was a lot easier, as I spent eight months of the year in the United States, four and a half of which I was in an American university where my closest friends were a five-minute walk away and the rest the five-minute span of a text message and response.  The long distance communication—to France and Switzerland—took no effort at all, as I worked night hours, enjoyed almost daily Skype conversations to Amiens, and had established an infrequent but consistent email/Skype relationship over the past four years with my Swiss family.

I told myself, when I moved indefinitely to France, that I would make a huge effort to keep up with those I love back home.  As all those who have lived abroad can attest, you discover very quickly who thinks you are worth making the effort to stay in touch and who prefers to hear about your adventures once a year or two over a cup of coffee, but couldn’t care less the rest of the time.  That’s partly why I started this blog—it’s easier to live vicariously through me without investing extra time and effort.  But I wanted to do more than share about my life; I need a personal communication with the individuals who have touched my life over the years.  I started with letters once a week.  I’ve gotten four responses so far, partly due to my own slacking off on the letter writing.  Nothing is more personal or more appreciated than a hand-written letter, but it certainly requires time and a little bit of money.  Equally personally, although slightly more complicated to arrange, is the Skype date.  I’ve had a handful of these with my close friends and weekly Skype calls with my immediate family.  There’s also the phone call from my international phone line, which for 20€ a month allows me unlimited conversation with the United States.  The connection is often less than incredible, and it’s hard to time the spontaneous phone calls with a 7-hour time difference and varying schedules.  Then there’s the personal email, which allows for a lot of narration and less dialogue.  This is definitely where I failed in communicating with friends.  Slightly less personal but incredibly useful is the mass email, similar to a blog entry but much less colorful.  And last, the incredibly impersonal but necessary social media, that’s to say, Facebook.  I’ve become an expert at jumping on all my close contacts who happen to connect to Facebook chat or gchat (you are now forewarned).

I don’t look at Blog writing as a means of communication with close family and friends.  Sure, I’m thrilled that many of my friends and relatives enjoy reading my posts and, somewhat uncannily, know all the details I’ve published of my last four months, but I see a blog as a way of reaching out to those who have shared a similar experience abroad or can relate to my desire to live, travel, work or study in an unfamiliar environment.  I’ve always loved to write, and I view Expatlove as a way of expressing myself, both my frustrations and my triumphs (though there have been less of that so far!).  It’s part of making this big global world a little bit more like home, through reaching out to other global citizens and travelers.

Short-term goal: I will consistently send emails to at least twenty individuals who are important to me, at least one email a month.  Four months is really not acceptable.

2) In 2013 I will start running again: A little known secret about me… I am actually quite athletic.  Part of my apathy this past year has resulted from the easiest of excuses: I’m not running because I can’t afford to go to the gym, because it’s too cold outside or wet, because I live on the fifth floor with no elevator, because I walk almost everywhere, because I don’t have enough time.  Basically, I’m just lazy.  From what I can tell, there will never be enough time in my life unless I make time to go run, or find some forsaken public tennis court (where are all the public tennis courts in France!?), or get a job and join a gym, or rent a bike.

Short-term goal: Run once a week (really pathetic, as I used to train for half-marathons, but you have to start somewhere).

3) In 2013 I will find a job: Well, this will happen at some point in 2013 because I won’t have a choice… somewhere down the line (and perhaps very soon), I will run out of money and resort to moving where I can work at least minimum wage.  Hopefully I’ll find a job in France, but I really have no idea how to go about doing this.  Working at a language school, a restaurant, teaching English in the black, anything.  The degree I’m currently working on won’t throw anything my way until September 2013, assuming I pass both the first year Master’s and the CAPES/CAFEP (for teaching in private schools).  Which would be awesome, but in the meantime, I’m not holding my breath… Let me know if you have any ideas!

Short-term goal: Make more than 12€ a week…

Categories: Daily Life, Expats, Seasons | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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