Expats

When in New York…

I have a few hours to kill here in New York before making the next leg of my trip to Saint Louis, and while curing the aftereffects of a nuit blanche in a nicely ventilated New York apartment, I thought I would update you on my travels.

I slept on the plane, which resulted in a stiff neck that will take a few days to become fully functional again. And then I didn’t sleep until the equivalent of 7 a.m. Paris time, at which point I fell comatose onto a couch without bothering to remove or change a single article of clothing.  This persisted until around 9 a.m. New York time, 4 p.m. Paris time, because my close childhood friend who is kindly letting me squatter her apartment had to go to work at her big girl job in New York. Which reminds me… that’s why I’m here in the first place. I’m a grown-up now.

Transitions are hard, and I don’t necessarily recommend this one.  Gotta love an American apartment full of twenty-something-year-olds, including your best friend, but I went from a week spent with my belle mère – where everything was made from scratch, even the pasta, or came directly from Tunisia: mloukhiya, a deep green stew that takes four hours of preparation, coffee bubbling in a pot on the stove, cayenne pepper paste consumed a spoonful a day, spicy tomato-based sauces soaked up by crusty baguettes or round whole-grain bread or, even better, homemade flatbread and little cakes and Hedi’s semolina crêpes – to investigating a cupboard full of instant packaged food, “food in a box,” as I like to call it, in the hopes of finding something palatable.  I stumbled upon the remnants of Frosted Flakes at the bottom of a cereal box and a container of Folger’s Best.  Nothing like the intensely sweet “this can’t actually be food” flavor of the one cereal that I wasn’t allowed to eat as a child because it was so sugary, tempered with the industrially standardized flavor of Folgers Best.  Sugar and Caffeine, all you need to make it in the City.

Times Square 2011

Times Square 2011

For all my friends back in Europe who have never been to New York, you’re probably imagining episodes straight out of Gossip Girls, Sex and the City, How I Met Your Mother or Friends, but my experience last night was more along the lines of Seinfeld.  As I bought a last-minute ticket from an unknown French airline (XL airways, I wouldn’t highly recommend them), I had to suffer through a variety of experiences on par with my flight on Lot Airlines in 2012.  My very heavy second bag cost me €100, and I still had to stuff some of the books from my “carry on” book bag into a suitcase in order to avoid the over 5 kilo surcharge.  The flight attendants’ uniforms were very interesting, but their inability to read written English less so.  I mostly talked to them in French when having to accept my standard “hot meal” (they charge you for drinks! like $2 for an orange juice! and no peanuts :/).  Most of the trip, besides sleeping and reading a book a friend gave me for my birthday on the French language, was spent talking to the Russian man on my left and the French/Tunisian (albeit no longer identifying as Tunisian) woman on my right.  Both were U.S. residents, and the French woman was a U.S. citizen whose English was perfect.  Our conversation was interesting, to say the least, and most of it prompted by questions of who I was, what I was doing with myself, and why. (That’s as existential as I want to get on my blog without having gotten a full night’s sleep).

We waited a good thirty minutes in the plane before being allowed to get off, at around 10:30 p.m. New York time. Then, we waited to pass through Customs (no worries there on my part) and I had to declare that I hadn’t taken any plants or animal products (meat, etc.) with me into the country (just psisa, coffee, and crema, so that shouldn’t count).  Plus another 35 minutes waiting for my two bags, a good 25 minutes trying to figure out if my debit card still works, and another 30 minutes waiting in line for a yellow cab – altogether 2 and a half hours after landing before being able to sit comfortably in a taxi (don’t do the math, it probably doesn’t add up right).  Once I was in the taxi, it was smooth sailing, but the taxi line was ridiculous.  I spent most of it talking with a Frenchman about what he was doing in the States, where I learned to speak French, and how both Fresno, California, and Amiens are “des trous perdus” (don’t ask).  If nothing else, the experience convinced me of three things: 1) I love New York, despite how crazy it is; 2) I always want to live somewhere where I can interact with people of other cultures; and 3) I might want to move closer to New York in a year from now, if all goes well at my company in Connecticut.

Rule of thumb:

When in New York, try to find at least someone you know who lives there. It’ll make your life a lot easier.

Categories: Daily Life, Expats, United States | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Hello, Goodbye

What a whirlwind of a week! In less than three hours I will be leaving Amiens, and in a little over that I will be leaving France.  If it all hadn’t happened so quickly, I’d have thought I was still dreaming!  Done with the French Masters, done with the English language school, the private tutoring, les Tombés de la Charrette (although I’ll still be an “honorary” member), the speaking French to buy groceries, the headaches and bureaucratic nightmares, the laid back rhythm of life.  For a good bit of time, I’ll go without seeing good friends and loved ones, and in many ways, my life as an Expat will be temporarily on hold.

I’ll soon be going through the shock of repatriation, and moving halfway across the country in the span of a few weeks, beginning full-time employment in a city I have never seen… in some ways you could say I am expatriating to New England and to suburban Connecticut, a land I had only known from its obnoxious spelling.  I have to find a used car and face a good number of months alone in a furniture-less apartment.  But believe me, I’m ecstatic about the prospect of a new adventure!

Leaving Hedi behind for a few months, on the other hand, is not at all appealing.  Back to the reality of long distance phone calls, Skype dates, and marathon emails.  This time, we know (more or less) what the future will have in store for us, and the total duration should be much less than the last time.  For those of you who have ever had to go through the process of filing for a visa (K-1 Fiancé visa in our case), I sympathize with your ordeal!

It hasn’t all been good-byes this week, even with the four-something going away parties I had attended scattered throughout the week.  I also got to know my future belle mère (such a lovely French term), to pick up a few more Arabic words and sample some delectable cooking.  Every week is a learning experience, every day is a hello to something new.  When you are used to packing up and moving somewhere else, the important thing to keep in mind is not to be sad you are leaving… you are probably going somewhere new!

To all my wonderful friends and family in Europe and North Africa, I will do my best to stay in touch (I am very good at it after years of experience) and I will come back to see you, sooner or later! Now that I’ll be making a decent salary, I’ll finally be able to travel a bit more frequently.  Gros bisous, vous allez me manquer tous et merci pour tout. 

The heart has reasons that reason cannot know

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

IMG_0852

 

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Expats, United States | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Big Changes

Leaving is not hard for me. I’ve done it six times already.  You’re a vagabond, you live in your suitcase, you pack up and go.  And you’ll always have too many books, more books than you can take with you, books you leave behind but try your hardest to get back.

Leaving people is terrible, however.  You want to take them with you but you can’t separate them from the place.  As you move and you leave them, they almost stay frozen in time, in that one reality where you met them.  2008 in Madame with the hyphenated last name’s French class.  I remember a girl called Georgia with a guitar.  I remember people from high school and mix them up with the people I knew from college.  I come back and they’re gone.  I grow up and move on.

But not always.  I draw together the threads of my life and make a multicolored quilt of my different experiences.  Each person holds a strand and is woven throughout my existence.  Like Hedi.  Meeting him and everything changed.  I can’t separate my idea of him from his identity in Amiens, but we are certainly going to try.

The big news, if you haven’t already guessed, is manifold.  More things have happened in the space of a few weeks than in the past year.

Hedi and I got engaged.  That’s to say, we are now finally announcing it to the world for all of you to share in our joy.  There are so many implications to that simple declaration, that simple promise, that of course my whole world is changing.  My work offered me these beautiful flowers to marquer le coup.

Lovely, aren't they

Lovely, aren’t they?

For many reasons, we also decided that it would be best if we begin our careers, make a real start, in the United States. Neither of us are French citizens.  Europe is having many economic problems, and France’s individual unemployment rate has risen for 24 straight months, whereas the United States’s has been steadily (but slowly) declining.  I’m a U.S. citizen, and Hedi could benefit from learning to speak English fluently.  It might not be for a long time, but it will certainly mean that my experience as an expat will be (temporarily) suspended.  That’s ok.  I’ll write another blog.  I’ll learn more languages.  We’ll have more adventures.  Returning to my home country will be an adventure in itself, because for the first time, I won’t be (primarily) a student.  I still want to take part-time MBA classes as I’m interested in economics and the corporate world.  But I’ll mostly be working, saving, living, and making a life for myself.

In Connecticut. That’s right.  In the space of two weeks, I discovered a wonderful company (see an earlier post about how small the world is), got offered a freelance job, applied for a full-time position, interviewed, and got offered the job.  It’ll use my language skills, my multicultural sensitivity, my experience abroad, and my experience teaching English as a second language.  And it begins on July 15, so I will be flying back to the United States in a short two and a half weeks.  Hardly enough time to say good-bye before leaving.

What will I bring with me? Two suitcases full of clothes that are my only possessions and a carful of books (once I arrive at my mother’s house, where I’ve been hoarding them).  Leaving behind a fiancé for seven months, as he plods through English grammar and patiently awaits the K-1 fiancé visa.  As I begin a new life in a new town in a new state with a new job, a new (used) car, in a new apartment.  To tell you the truth, I’m more terrified than when I hopped on a plane to move to France ten months ago.

Do I regret leaving France? Yes and no.  I’m one to seize an opportunity, to say “Let’s go,” and to begin anew.  I know this isn’t the end of my French/European/foreign adventure.  I’ll be helping others expatriate as a living! It can’t get any better than that!  And in the meantime, I’ll keep you updated.  I plan to travel to New York, to Boston, to Quebec and Montreal, to Washington D.C., and I’ll finally have the pay check that will allow me to realistically travel on a more frequent basis.  I’ll be within an hour’s distance of one of my best friends.  And within a few months, I’ll be getting married.  There’s a chance that you might even be invited to one of our three possible weddings.  So I expect you to stay in touch in the meantime.

Categories: Daily Life, Expats | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

It’s a small world (after all)

my-evolution-love-world

It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears…

You all remember that obnoxious Disney song? (And perhaps the 50’s-esque theme park ride in Disney World, for those of you having been blessed with such a childhood experience). Well, lately, I’ve been starting to feel like it’s more or less true. The more you travel, the more people you know around the world, the smaller the world seems to feel. I remember a Swiss friend telling me once about a common habit the Swiss (who love Australia almost as much as they love Canada) have: when meeting an Australian, they have a tendency to ask him or her, “Do you know my cousin? He’s been there for about a year or two now,” as if there were only a handful of Swiss to know in the whole country. Surprisingly enough, this sometimes works in real life, as in the case of my mother eating out in a restaurant in Chicago only to find that the waitress was a high school classmate of mine, who happened to be following my blog.

You see where I’m going with this? I imagined the blogosphere to be some sort of benevolent void into which I sent blog post after blog post, testing my writing chops and working out the kinks in my long dormant reflects (and penchant for writing).  I knew that my relatives, whose presence on Facebook very much eclipses my own, would probably follow what I was up to, as well as some of my two hundred or something Facebook friends, an assortment of school acquaintances and close friends.  But I never expected to connect with someone, in a non-virtual way.  But apparently, not only are there too few English-speaking or American expats in Amiens, there are even fewer who have a blog (with the exception of your wonderful blog, Fliss).  Which makes me rather Google friendly.

To date, I have connected with one American couple, both virtually and in person, and I recently received a call from an international company who had found my blog, only to connect with me via Linkedin.  And what they asked me to do (it’s a company secret!) has required me to utilize my very limited but surprising networking skills: contacting friends formerly living in Amiens, friends currently living in Amiens, and current and former employers both residing in and outside of Amiens.  All in order to connect with three other countries for (hopefully) a virtual job well done.

I’m still not sure whether or not I feel like globalization makes the world more distant – you can just as easily “meet” someone in a virtual setting and never actually spend time with them in real life – or more connected.  Smaller or more technologically in tune?  I’ll have another opportunity to test the waters on this whole “global” thing by beginning an online MBA class with a university down the street from where my mother resides and next door to where I went to high school – a small, private university that happens to have campuses on three continents.  I’m even thinking, if this online learning works out, of taking the plunge with Coursera, in order to pick up a few valuable skills (Java?) and round out my repertoire.  Heck, if Duolingo can work for me, why not some other virtual classroom?  At least the teachers and classmates (all a million of them) are (theoretically) real people…

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

The Visit

Welcoming the pilgrims

Welcoming the pilgrims

Remember that wedding I attended in August in the gorgeous Sand Hills of Nebraska? The (not so) newlyweds are finally on their honeymoon, backpacking across the Camino de Santiago de Compostela over a month-and-a-half period (crazy, I know).  But I was also lucky enough to have had the privilege of hosting my two friends over the past weekend.  They arrived last Friday, bringing with them beautiful spring sunshine and blooming flowers.  The entire day was absolutely gorgeous, and we made sure to take advantage of the Parc Saint Pierre in its full spring splendor.

When you have lived in several different places, be it a few cities or a few countries, one of the great rewards of life is to have a visitor from one of your “worlds” come and visit you at another.  I’ve had my Swiss sisters come to Omaha and see me in Amiens, and I’ve had multiple members of my family visit me in France and Switzerland.  This is the first time, however, that I’ve had close friends from the United States treat me to a visit, spending extra money and going out of their way to see me and my quaint little French town.  I felt like an eager kid showing off his preschool to his parents, everything from his playground friends to his favorite teacher, and I know that Hedi, long accustomed to living in Amiens, was able to view the city with the eyes of a tourist.  Wow, that Cathedral is gorgeous and look at all those old buildings!  Hedi was suddenly thrust into a world of English, and I kept speaking the wrong language to the wrong person.  Rarely have I had such an opportunity to constantly be speaking more than one language side by side, although I’ve already noticed a new stage in my bilingualism since working at a school where English is constantly spoken and returning home to speak and read in and listen constantly to French.

I had a bit of all my different worlds join forces together at My Goodness on Friday night: the old and the new, friends from College, from my Masters program, from my first study abroad experience, from my new job.  It was quite pleasant, especially to share stories about British English vs. American English, to talk about meeting one’s other half (and all the risks of the unknown), and to combine a bit of everything I have ever known.  We were American, English, Tunisian, and French, using a variety of languages and comparing the foreignness of our different experiences.

Time was spent in the Cathedral, walking around the city, visiting the beautiful floating gardens, playing Settlers of Catan, and cooking various delicious meals.  We went to the large souk-like market on Sunday and came back bearing halal roast chickens, more types of olives than my friends had ever seen in their entire lives, loaves of bread, and a variety of honey-saturated North African pastries.  We even got to Skype with a mutual friend to end a weekend of startling juxtaposition.  And off the pilgrims go, on their way through the Northwestern coast of Spain.  À la prochaine!

 

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

Riding the Bus

I wrote an earlier post on walking around Amiens (I have walked a thousand miles), but it doesn’t do justice to a full description of my three odd hours spent in the bus every week.  So I’d like to invite you to accompany me on a typical Saturday morning, when I take full advantage of the region’s public transportation system…

It’s eight o’clock on a Saturday morning…

and instead of sleeping in, faisant la grasse matinée (one of my favorite French expressions, which literally translates as “doing the fatty morning”), I’ve a steaming mug of coffee within inches of my face, as I think over my morning’s lesson plans.  Unlike with your average English teacher, my English classes are all a “plus,” meant to complement school, help prepare for an exam, or offer additional “speaking practice” with a native speaker.  I review grammar, correct pronunciation, and help with homework.  As a result, my teaching is rather idiosyncratic, reflecting a variety of individual needs, and often involves a lot of impromptu explanation or off the cuff teaching.  Nevertheless, I have to come prepared to each individual lesson, with the exception of a conversation class with a rather advanced student (where we’re literally just talking), and since I have around ten different students a week, I often find myself early in the morning reproducing my eighth grade English teacher’s verb conjugation chart or looking up obscure terms related to global warming.

This morning, I eat the last of a delicious homemade cake aux pommes (which ironically translates as “apple bread” in American English, although I’d call it a cross between fruitcake and banana bread, altogether delicious) offered to me by my Belgian classmate for helping her study for our upcoming Linguistics exam.  I take a quick shower, try to find a semi-presentable outfit (I really need to go to the laundromat!), and blowdry my hair.  It’s still in the forties here in the North of France, and I am happy to learn that today lacks the Siberian-like wind that nearly blew me across the street yesterday.  I walk the ten minutes to my student’s home, where I spend the next hour and a half teaching English.  To my delight, I discover that I will finally be “paid” today (both companies I work for operate on a coupon-based system, so now that my students have finally paid for and received their coupons, I can register them on the company website… I won’t get paid until the beginning of May for classes I have taught up till now, starting in the middle of March), as I receive coupons from both of my students, worth nine cumulative hours of class.  Once I finish, I idle over to my favorite sandwicherie on the main pedestrian-only shopping street that runs through the heart of downtown Amiens.  I have a good thirty minutes to kill before I need to catch my train.  I order my customary bagnat au thon (I don’t eat most French meat, so thank goodness tuna is ubiquitous) and splurge on a croissant aux amandes, my mother’s favorite French pastry, with its gooey croissant goodness and its flaky, powdered almonds.

I carry my bundle over to the train station, which is about an eight minute walk away from the sandwicherie/ pâtisserie. [French food vendors are typically designated by what they sell, which is why the same place can be called a boucherie/charcuterie (butcher and seller of cooked meats and pork products) or a pâtisserie/boulangerie (pastry shop and bakery), and France is known for its various specialty shops, from an épicerie (grocer’s), poissonnerie (fish shop), brasserie (brewery, but also often bar) to a chocolaterie (chocolat shop) and confiserie (sweet shop/candy store)].

I know the train station by heart, so I walk over to the automatic ticket distributor and begin my coded ritual: Départ immédiatAutresBov-Adultes 1, Cartes 12-25, Oui, [insert rewards card], [insert credit card], [enter pin], Non, [prints out ticket]. I then look up at the overhead screen where my 12:30 p.m. train is mentioned, to see whether or not my voie (platform) is indicated.  I am on the early side today, so I have to wait until I know at which platform my train will be arriving.  I then validate (composter) my ticket, which proves that I took my train at the indicated time.  If you forget this little “validation” step while in France, it can cost you a fine up to €25, even if you bought the right ticket!  (If you do forget, you can always look for the ticket inspector on the train as soon as you board, as he can “validate” it for you, without you having to pay a fee).  While waiting for my platform to be announced, I eat my round bagnat, made of a soft white bread with sesame seeds, unlike the distinctive crusty French baguette.  I save my croissant aux amandes for the train.  Once I know the platform, I can finally make my way to my train, a regional TER which stops at the nearby towns on its way to a bigger metropolis such as Lille, Reims, or Paris.

La SNCF et toute l’équipe TER vous souhaitent la bienvenue à bord ce TER à destination de Paris gare du Nord.  Notre TER desservira Longueuil, Boves, …

There’s always a group of students in the train from the neighboring towns, which heightens the feeling I get that Amiens empties in the evenings and on the weekend.  You can sit wherever you want on a regional train, unlike the TGV (train de grande vitesse, high-speed rail), and I rarely have my ticket inspected between Amiens and Paris, let alone a town ten minutes outside of Amiens.  It is the most direct and effective way for me to get to my next lesson, but unlike the bus, it’s not “free” (that is, I paid for an entire year’s bus access back in September).  There are few trains to and from Boves, a small commune in the department of the Somme with a population of about 2,600 inhabitants.  I settle down in my seat, munch on my croissant aux amandes, and arrive at my destination in the blink of an eye.  Not even enough time to read a full article of The Economist.

I have a ten-minute walk to the student’s home from the train station, which allows me to get a feel for small-town France.  There is one main street through the center of town, which I walk along, passing a cemetery, the town hall, a hairdresser’s and a few other shops.  I can see from one end of the street to the other, about a ten-minute’s walk in length.  In a way, it reminds me of small-town Nebraska, one of my only other experiences of small towns except that of Missouri, which is a whole different story, except here it is utterly devoid of the rugged and Western feeling of the Nebraskan Sand Hills.  I’m afraid of getting lost, so I tend not to explore more than this direct route to and from the train station.

Once the lesson is finished, I sprint towards the bus stop, one of two on this main street.  It is 14:12, and I know that the bus is scheduled to appear in two minutes.  I run on the opposite side of the street, into the incoming traffic, if there were any incoming traffic, so that when the bus turns the corner, the bus driver is sure to see me.  He sits at the stop for a full two minutes as I approach huffing and puffing. The doors swing open and I mumble a “Merci” for waiting and a perfunctory “Bonjour.”  I swipe my green and yellow bus pass at the scanner below the ticket feeder, and I make my way towards the middle of the bus, and am jolted forward as the bus takes off down the road, not stopping until I finally push the button “Arrêt demandé.”  I have to wait for a mere four stops (but too far to walk) before getting off the bus, as this is the only bus that takes me away from Boves.  I must next take another bus in order to get back to the center of Amiens.  Today, lost in thought, I almost miss getting off at my stop, but I get off at the following stop, which is on the other side of the roundabout from where I need to be.  It’s the terminus of this other bus line, so I always have to wait for a good ten minutes before the bus begins its next round. As usual, I am the only person on the bus, so I take out my Samsung phone and read through this week’s The Economist.  It’ll be another thirty minutes before I arrive back at the train station, compared to the ten minutes it took me to get out here.

Finally the bus starts up and we are circling around the periphery of Amiens, with its shopping malls and HLM(high-rise apartment complexes) and with its distinctly rural population and pronounced Picard accent.  I’m not used to taking the bus, back in the United States, although I have taken the Greyhound and Megabus several times over the past few years.  I’m familiar with the mixing of socioeconomic backgrounds that occurs on U.S. public transportation – that is to say, I am familiar with putting myself in a situation where most of the other bus users belong to an entirely different socioeconomic class – but I am not entirely sure what to make of the situation here in the North of France, in the department of la Somme, with much of its population rural, its unique infrastructure issues, and its less densely populated communes.  It serves in some regards as a commuter region, a cheaper almost-suburb to the sprawling, high cost of living that is Paris.  And yet it’s character is altogether different from the cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic melting pot of Paris.  Picards tend to stay in Picardie, and they are highly attached to their region, which is all the more surprising given its less than stellar reputation throughout France.

I once met a local who studied for a semester in Toulouse – you’d think that with its sunshine, colored rooftops and Southern France/north of Spain vibe, it would appeal to a French girl accustomed to partly cloudy skies and a chance of rain ten months out of the year… but she told me that no, Southerners were much more superficial, much less open and friendly than people back at home.  Part of this must have been due to a feeling of dépaysement, of being out of one’s comfort zone and away from one’s network of family and friends, but I have to confirm her description of the Picards people that I have met up until now.  Very friendly, somewhat loud, big drinkers, very community-oriented.

I get off the bus at the train station and walk the fifteen minutes back to my apartment, where I relax for the first time in what feels like a week.  Parts of speech are flitting through my brain as I try to forget about English grammar, about moving here and there and everywhere, and anchor myself to my bed, not moving anywhere.

Categories: Daily Life, Expats, Working in France | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

My one-year blogging anniversary!

It’s officially been a year since I first started this blog.  Thinking back on my last year, my fifty or so blog posts, my comments by and interactions with people in the blogosphere… I’ve finally found a way to make a project last a year!  I’ve learned that, while I’ve always loved to write, blogging is a way for me to engage in a subject and to make it my own.  I know that, regardless of whether or not I continue to live abroad longterm, my blogging will continue to develop, and – I hope – improve in quality.  Thank you to all of you who have been reading and following Expatlove.  Nothing is more delightful than to hear one of my friends or relatives (or even perfect strangers) telling me, “I love your blog!”

5045502202_1d867c8a41_z

It’s appropriate that my blog’s birthday falls so near my own birthday – I’ll be turning 23 on Friday!  I’m planning to have a small, intimate gathering of friends over to my apartment tonight, to eat crispy and delicious doigts de Fatma (I’ll be preparing them myself) and a moelleux au chocolat cake purchased from the boulangerie.  We’ll be playing my favorite game of all time – Settlers of Catan (Les Colons de Catane), albeit in a slightly more modern version (the roads are in 3D!) and with everything in French.

It’s amazing how quickly time slinks by!  As I reflect upon the past few years of my life, last year in particular, I have come to realize that what you do with your time – and I haven’t been able to afford doing much – isn’t nearly as important as who you spend time with.  This time last year I was with my fabulous, fabulous group of college friends, in Nebraska, having a wonderful joint birthday party with another close friend (HAPPY BIRTHDAY tomorrow, by the way!).  Today I am in the North of France with other amazing individuals who have brightened my past few months (no matter how dreary), enlivened my past few weeks (no matter how dull), and truly made me feel at home here.  And for a foreigner, let me tell you, that is no easy task.  Home is where the heart is, as we all well know, but when your heart is spread out over three continents and a handful of countries, “homesickness” loses its meaning.  And who knows where exactly I’ll be a year from now… but I hope that it will be surrounded by loved ones, with a nice fat chocolate cake.

All my best,

Colleen

Categories: Daily Life, Expats, Seasons | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Teaching English

avalanche-awareness-course-morzine1

An avalanche can be triggered by the slightest of movements, a small rock rolling down the side of a mountain.  As it falls, it gains momentum and slowly a whole face of the mountain follows in its wake, cascading down in a deafening, blinding explosion of snow.  A powerful, lethal domino effect…

To put it plainly, that’s my metaphor for how I went from teaching one hour of English a week to, in the space of two weeks, seven to ten hours a week with eleven different students.

It started small.  An online advertisement sent by a friend.  Another online advertisement that led to a phone call, which led to an interview, which led to another interview.  And now I have more requests for English classes than I can fit into my weekly schedule.  This is why I tell all those would-be-haters, Ye of little faith, back home that while having a liberal arts degree certainly doesn’t stack the odds in your favor, people can and do find work with a B.A. in French.  That and a combination of people you know, being in the right place at the right time, and various other jobs/internship/qualifications.  The most important thing is to have that first job, that first experience, and you are a thousand times more likely to be hired.

All that being said, it’s hard to try to teach ESL classes in Europe, especially in France.  You go to the language centers, and they want CELTA/TEFL certifications.  You go to the after-school tutoring companies, and they want experience.  You go to the middle schools and high schools, and they want you to first pass a national exam and pointless Masters.  You try to freelance it, and you know nobody, and there are a thousand other advertisements online.  Plus the British can always trump you when it comes to visa requirements and hiring priorities.  You go to Paris, and your rent costs too much.  You go to a smaller city, and there’s not the same amount of work as in Paris.  You realize that you might speak your own language but you have no idea why you say what you say.  You realize that everyone outside of an English-speaking country learned jargon that you have never ever heard of (“phrasal verbs” or “modal constructions” ringing any bells?).  And that no matter how hard you try, some people can just not successfully pronounce the letter “H.”

But why should you try? Because, for one, you appreciate that while not everyone speaks English, they make a valiant effort to speak a language other than their own native tongue.  And that you are not more privileged than a non-native speaker English teacher, just because you happen to speak one of the variants of English without thinking.  Do you know how to explain to someone when to use can rather than could or shall rather than should?  Teaching English abroad forces you to question yourself, your language, your perception of the world.  It makes you appreciate being able to communicate in someone else’s native language, to even be able to teach someone in French, let alone a subject as complex and erratic as the English language.  Because, let’s face it, teaching English does not necessarily imply teaching in English, even for purists who insist on full-scale immersion and improving oral comprehension.  If someone is going to pay you fifteen bucks an hour once a week, you can bet that they don’t want to pass those sixty minutes understanding twenty percent of what you are saying.  All they need to do for that is to turn on an American TV show.

But oh what fun and what headaches and difficulties and epiphanies and joy and frustration it is to teach English!  Teaching in itself is tiring and time-consuming, but teaching a foreign language – when only half of your students are actually interested and the rest are either forced to learn it by their parents or required to to pass an exam – is the real gauntlet of the teaching world.  And teaching English in a country where you are barely there legally, and there are one hundred other people who would like to be in your shoes, and the hours are bad, and the pay is subpar… Teaching English in France is for the brave of heart.

I’ve done the Hokey Pokey, I’ve “I spied”, I’ve gotten locked up in London Bridge, I’ve taught the basics of Bingo, I’ve reiterated the rules for pronouncing “-ed” verb endings, I’ve sung “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” I’ve translated ad lib a dozen complex business texts, I’ve “How do you do-ed” and “Nice to meet you-ed” and I’ve traveled all over the city, running to and fro from bus stations and language centers, cafés and campuses.  I’ve worked with four-year-olds, ten-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, seventeen-year-olds, twenty-year-olds, twenty-five-year-olds.  And somehow, I have still retained my sanity.

It’s language-learning in reverse.  It’s unlearning, relearning, faking it, ad libbing.  It’s scratching your head at all the various pecularities between British English and American English.  It’s knowing the superlative, the subjunctive, the passive voice, the present perfect, subject-verb inversion, relative pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, and so much more.  It’s a whole lot of n’importe quoi.

And sometimes I say to myself, maybe I should move to Thailand or Korea.  I’ve heard there’s better pay.

Categories: Education, Expats, Working in France | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

My Life as an Auxiliar in Spain

So sometimes I love to step out of my own reality here in France and get a taste for what life as an Expat is like for other Americans. I love this blog and thought this was the perfect post to share with all my followers… Enjoy!

420210_10151744976339972_169317032_n

Lady in Spain

I get a lot of emails that inquire about my life in Spain. Most people ask if I’m friends with other auxiliares, what I do in my free time, and what I do at my colegio.

So here’s a little glimpse into my auxiliar life here.

I work at an awesome school located in Alcorcón. Mondays are my busiest day because I teach 6 classes. Mondays and Wednesdays I finish at 3:30, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:30, and Fridays at 1:35. The earliest I have to be at my school is 9:25 and that’s on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. You may think that since I go in at that time it means I don’t have to get up so early…well, you’re wrong. I live in the outskirts of Madrid, so the commute to my school takes 1.5 hours. So on the days I have to go in at 9:25, I…

View original post 750 more words

Categories: Expats | Leave a comment

Hiatus

8050434766_b7d46aaec9_zHello there, my fellow Expats and bloggers, friends and strangers alike, I haven’t written in two weeks because, well, like any writer knows, sometimes you just need a break.  For me, this welcome respite came in the form of les vacances de février, one of the many numerous French school holidays scattered throughout the year.

Hiatus n. the pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process.

That’s exactly what I did.  From February 22 to March 1 I spent my days lounging around my apartment, occasionally venturing outside to buy bread and cheese and to participate in a lovely atelier pommes, that’s to say a cooking workshop revolving around apples with my locavore group “Les Tombés de la Charette” (our website is now operational, www.alimentonlocal.fr, if you want to see what we’re up to).  I watched more tv than I probably had previously during my entire lifetime (NCIS, “The Voice,” etc.) and I worked not one iota on my school work.  Not to say that I wasn’t studious.  I get antsy if I don’t have some “project” to work on, one I usually abandon within a few weeks, but I have been faithfully studying Italian on Duolingo and Memrise almost every day for the past two weeks.  Io mangio la fragola.  Grazie.

The weeklong holiday (those high school age and younger had two weeks off school, most of whom jetted off to the Alps for a colonies de vacances holiday camp to go skiing) was dark and overcast, the doldrums of the winter months in full swing here in Northern France.  And to make matters worse, very few students were around, most having gone home to their families, traveled to warmer milieu or worked as camp counselors.  I gave five hours of English lessons myself, but I mostly wallowed in my pajamas and woke up around noon every day.  I have tried several more adventurous recipes recently: tortilla española, bricks à la tunisienne, spicy chili, tarte aux poireaux avec une pâte brisée faite maison, crumble aux pommes, velouté à la courge muscadée

My most productive part of the break was the massive amounts of emails that I sent off to friends and the numerous “Skype dates” I initiated during this time.  I even talked with an American in Oregon, at 10 pm her time and 7 am my own! (I promptly went back to sleep afterwards).  It’s been such a pleasure to read all the responses to my emails (friends, you know who you are, and I am so lucky to have you in my life!)  And thank goodness for Skype and for the weekly “conference calls” my family does, which has allowed me to feel very close while being very far away.  I think I can say that I am successfully keeping up with my New Year’s pledge to email once a month and to maintain a good steady communication with my loved ones.

Since Monday, I’ve been back at school, with renewed vigor and focus (*cough cough*).  I’ve slowly stopped going to all those “extra classes” (you see my problem with resolutions and “projects”? I can never successfully audit anything for a full term) and concentrated on my job search and the classes I’m actually getting graded on.  I finally received my bulletin scolaire, that’s to say, my report card for the first semester.  To my delight, I ended up with a 15/20 moyenne (average).  Despite what you might think, approximately half of my classes were taught and evaluated in French, and I am proud to say that I did very well in them.  For my classes uniquely in French, I received 14, 15, 16, 16 and 17! My English to French translation class was my only shortcoming, but averaged with my much stronger French to English grade, I barely scraped past the passing grade of a 10!  What this all translates into is that I won’t have to “retake” any of my first semester exams in the summer, I’ve “validated” everything (grades in France are very different from what you can expect in the US, if you want more details, I invite you to browse through my previous posts commenting on the first semester).

And another “New Year’s resolution” to cross off my list: I got hired at a(nother) local tutoring company as an English teacher, the #1 centre de soutien scolaire in France if I do say so myself.  Between my various “employers” I should be able to generate much more income than what I was previously, enough to help me literally scrape by in these upcoming months.  With a part-time job for now, an exciting job opportunity in Italy for the summer, and a potential job for next year, all that awaits me is to discover what direction my career(s) will take me in.  Sometime in April I’ll find out whether or not I’ll be a language assistant next school year, and the results to the June CAPES (allowing me to be a stagiaire, or student teacher) will be posted in July.

All that’s left of my 2013 goals is to get back into running! I’ve run once this week and look forward to a slightly longer run tomorrow.  The sun is starting to shine more reliably, although it’s expected to plunge back into the 30’s and 40’s over the next few days.  Vivement le printemps…

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Education, Expats, France, Working in France | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.