From French Girl to Latin Girl

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In high school, college, and my minimal number of years in “the real world,” I was always that girl who knows French. People who knew this fun fact, or heard that I had lived in France, would say something in French and ask me to translate, or ask me to say something French — as a test?

Now, I am Latin girl. People ask me to say something Latin, or they give me something in Latin to translate. Speaking French is no longer the most salient Fact About Me; what comes up first is Latin teacher.

I’m loving it. There’s a whole other side of me that’s been dusted off and put on, slipped over the French and the teacher and the studied-abroad. It’s the writerly, grammarly, linguistic-y side of me…back again. It’s mixed with odd echoes of my middle school self, enthusiastically chanting the declensions with my teacher and competing with my best friend over who could finish the most homework the fastest (we definitely failed the tests).

Here’s the thing that speaks-French me and reads-Latin me have in common: we love words, we love writing, and we love teaching. We love exploring different cultures through arts and literature, learning the histories, lesson planning, and spending time with kids. We get so nerdy-excited about language. Like, I bought a book on the history of sentence diagrams. I’m reading a scholarly article on classification of words into groups other than the traditional parts of speech. I’m back at school (again and again) and absolutely thrilled about it.

I’m also planning and organizing furiously, trying to get ready for the school year, but knowing that it’s a pipe dream, and instead I should adopt a carpe diem approach – seize each day, each lesson, each teachable moment as it comes. I’m confident that I will learn as much as my students this year, and that is exciting.

So really, French girl and Latin girl aren’t very different. Both feel like me.

From French Girl to Latin Girl

Going Places

I use my favorite travel photos as my desktop backgrounds. I’ve told my computer to rotate through a folder of photos, all my best ones, changing every time it wakes from sleep. I love this way of remembering where I’ve been. Every time I open my laptop, a new place pops up and I’m flooded with memories of standing right there, looking at that, capturing the moment.

I wish I could capture the feeling. Sometimes it washes over me in a wave of nostalgic tears, and I sense so acutely that part of me is missing.

What part, you ask? There’s a lot of writing out there talking about how traveling changes your life, that it’s life-changing, that it impacts everything you think and believe in, thereby changing your life through all the life-changing experiences. Sense a pattern?

I kind of believe that, but I think it changes lives not in the generic just take off and land somewhere and you’re insta-changed sense, but in the sense of it really makes you think about yourself, where you came from, and where you’re going. And it makes you think about the now.

Maybe it’s a photo. Maybe it’s a song, or a smell. Sometimes I get any kind of sensory stimulus and it’s suddenly specific and transporting me back. I’m back on the streets of Valenciennes, strutting over the cobblestones with my school bag bouncing on my hip, in my no-nonsense black boots, watching out for ubiquitous dog crap (no matter how lucky it is to step in it). Other times I’m sitting in the Jardin de Luxembourg, under the Paris sunshine with my best friends, market cheese, and a bottle of wine per person. I’m alone in the deserted streets of Somain, walking to school before the sunrise. I’m in the metro, bathed in eau de métro – a mix of beer and pee, maybe some mold or garbage, occasionally punctuated by the wafting warm smell of a fresh batch of croissants from the metro cafés. I’m on a train heading somewhere I’ve never been, journaling about last weekend’s parties, my experiences with French people, my struggles with the language and with homesickness.

I was solo, all over the world. I made new friends and saw lots of things, and it was the first time I’d ever felt the true weight of my decisions. Each direction I took determined the likelihood of finding my way through a foreign land. Each social occasion determined whether or not I’d have genuine companions in my expatriation. Mulling over, making, and accepting my decisions was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. I learned my own agency: I can do whatever I want, I make my own life, and I accept the consequences of what I make. At the end of the day, the only thing that mattered was feeling comfortable in my boots and confident enough to explore again tomorrow.

Being back home is like, suddenly there are more people to take into account, and way more past and future things to think about. Old friends, S.O.’s, family members, a serious 8-4 job, the next job, the life direction. There are a lot more expectations about where I’ll devote my attention, a lot more things distracting me from what I’m doing now.

Those brief moments of nostalgia are breaths of fresh air in the muggy swamp of my routine.

Then again, so is the view of Mt. Rainier at sunrise on clear days, as I drive over Lake Washington. So are margarita nights with Mom, Indian food with Dad, sushi dates with my boyfriend and house parties with friends. So is the occasional trip out of town to see more of the great Pacific Northwest, and so are the funny stories from my days spent with kindergarteners.

Being on my own in a foreign place, concentrating on the now, the great things, the adventures of every day – it taught me how to bring that mentality everywhere. When I get those waves of nostalgia, it reminds me of the gifts of the present, of where I am. And even though I’m not alone, I’m not struggling with language, or traveling, or whatever else…I’ve still got the gifts of those experiences: many tools for feeling comfortable in my boots, and confident enough to explore again tomorrow.

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Going Places

Playing Teacher

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There’s what “playing teacher” used to look like.

I guess now I’ve been a real “teacher” for two years: first of French high schoolers, then of some rambunctious bilingual kindergarteners. Although those experiences were entirely different, one thing remained the same: I feel like a teacher who still thinks she’s a student.

This week, my head teacher left for a teacher training in California, and I was the head teacher for three days. I was nervous about it, having never been responsible for the learning of a class of kindergarteners. I shouldn’t have been; everything was prepared for me, and the only real work of a teacher I had to do was being present, engaged, and organized enough to lead the class through the days and hope they learned something.

Turns out, being present, engaged, and organized takes a lot out of me. It’s hard to describe teacher fatigue. I’ve tried in other posts, but the only real way to empathize is to be there. The little expectant faces, the way they all scream “ANNE! ANNE! ANNE!” at me until I acknowledge them, even if I’m talking to someone else…the way they bring me cookies and watch me until I eat them, the way they glow when I praise their work, the joy I feel when I see them mastering something new, and the patience it takes to explain something five times and five different ways, all while being pulled and tugged and poked and otherwise distracted…it really is a job in its own category.

In high school it was obviously not the same — they stayed at their desks, they didn’t yell out in class…they didn’t talk much at all. Responding in English class was probably social suicide. But there were similar moments of inspiration and learning — when I decided to teach them about country music and they all started singing along, for example… when I taught them philosophy and I saw the scrunchy puzzled face turn into a comprehending smile.

Regardless of the context, I still feel like I’m playing teacher. I’m too young, I’m too inexperienced, I haven’t encountered enough situations to know how to handle them all, I don’t have enough education, I don’t have any natural authority: all of these are things I’ve thought to myself in the past two years, over and over again.

I realized, this week, that teaching isn’t really about any of those things. It helps to have experience, which comes with age and encountering situations, and it helps to have education and natural authority. But most of being a teacher is about being present, engaged, and organized enough to  lead a class through a day, or a period, and hope that they’ve learned something.

I just found this perfect quote:

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I want to become an educator, and the only way to learn how is by playing at it. Sometimes, I’ll get things right.

Playing Teacher

On Kindergarten

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How I feel at school is analogous to how I feel in life. I’m a barely-adult. Sometimes I feel like I’m underemployed; my immense skills and talents gained from world traveling and an education from a prestigious university are wasting away, unused [in a fit of eyeroll-worthy pretention].

Other times, I end up sobbing in Mommy’s backyard, locked out and overflowing with self-pity, and life is just so hard. Those are the moments I want to be a kindergartener, not teach them.

I’d die to have someone pick the seeds out of my orange slices. I want someone else to receive an e-mail saying I need to bring a potato and a leek to school tomorrow, to put those vegetables in my backpack without letting me know I had that responsibility. I’d love to ask an all-knowing all-powerful adult to validate my drama, and to make my friends apologize for hurting my feelings. I’d happily burst into tears and jump into some strong person’s arms when I’m tired, or frustrated, or I just can’t go on.

I want it to be okay that I’m young, and I’m learning, but I can’t do what the older kids can do yet. I want someone wise to remind me of that undeniable truth: that we are always learning and never perfect, and if you’re perfect what’s there to learn?   

But something happens when you’re in the repeat-childhood that is your 20s — you get to be “independent.” I became my own wise adult. Not only that, but I get to be the wise adult for my little almost-students, who are totally dependent. I have a wise adult voice, a wise adult air of confidence. My wise adult self makes sure they wash their hands with soap and teaches them it’s L M N O P and not ello-meno-pee so maybe they can read someday. 

But inside I know the truth: I am not a wise adult. Sometimes I can’t remember to bring my own potato and leek, and I can’t find the words to validate my own drama or make my friends apologize to me for hurting my feelings. All that feels like my fault and my shortcoming, because now it’s my responsibility.

Maybe the illusion that barely-adulthood is shattering is that wise adults “know what they’re doing.” Maybe they’re all just doing what they can, and that’s either enough…or not, sometimes. 

Or the true illusion is independence. Maybe I am only slogging through “becoming wise” because I know there are people behind me who would tie my shoes and help me zip my coat, if my fingers were numb or I didn’t know how.

Maybe we’re all still kindergarteners, inside, and we still need each other. 

On Kindergarten

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That title was mostly to show off my counting skills. Since I have been teaching so much counting, I have become a counting master. (OK, maybe I knew that well enough before…)

But the other meaning of it is…it’s almost my 23rd birthday! I’ll be finishing my 23rd journey around the sun, and starting my 24th.

My 23rd journey was a big one. It began in Valenciennes, France. In this year, I have not only journeyed around the sun, but I also journeyed to: Poland, Belgium, Greece, England, Spain, the Netherlands, and new places in both France and the U.S.A. I am so fortunate to have seen all of those places before my 23rd birthday. I’m kicking off my 24th sun journey with a trip to New York City, New Haven, and Boston, which should also be cool.

I always like a bit of reflection (but on birthdays especially). Here’s some.

Ironically, what I’ve learned in all this moving around is the importance of roots. A person is an accumulation of experiences, from when they see the first light of day (screaming and covered in mucus, which I’m glad I don’t remember) to the present (because we aren’t yet able to travel through time). Out of my total years lived (not that many — 22 and 358 days), 3.5 of them were spent at college and 1 of them was spent in France. The other 18.5 of them were spent at home. While I do think my travel and college years transformed me in major ways, there was a lot of me that had already been put into place before I pushed myself out of the nest.

While I was abroad, I was suddenly struck by the realization that my family members are important in ways that nobody else in my life is important. Ditto my closest friends. For both these groups, investing time and energy into them is a privilege, and I missed being able to when I was far away. Lesson #1 of my 23rd sun journey: just because they’re roots doesn’t mean they don’t need cultivation.

I love the people I come from, but I also love the place. Seattle is just the best. Every morning, I take 99 through downtown, and I get to see the sunrise over Mt. Rainier with all of the piers and ferries in the foreground. I always want to take a picture, but opt for safer driving…I missed the water and the mountains. And the coffee.

We watched this video about education during our pre-school year meetings, and the speaker (Jaime Casap, educational specialist at Google) advised trashing the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Instead, he advocated replacing that with: “What problem do you want to solve?”

This question made me think differently about “the future.” My generation is in the throes of figuring out a path in life, and it’s a stressful process. This question eliminated some of the stress for me. Even if I can’t pick one particular problem that I want to solve, I know it will be in the realm of education and language and language education. It will be something about breaking down cultural barriers that block mutual understanding when people of different backgrounds try to communicate.

And right now, I am developing super problem-solving techniques. Just earlier today, I was running around trying to solve the problem of having vomit in the middle of the school hallway as classes walked through to recess. It’s all training ;).

My lesson #2 of my 23rd year: life is a process, let it unfold. “Letting it unfold” captures the zen I feel about how I’m doing at finding my path. The way is revealing itself to me, step by step, and I’m in a good position to identify when something is or is not the way. I am less worried about how things will work out, and instead I am letting them work out however they may. I think I even reflect less than I used to. But that’s okay, because I know that I will when I need to again.

Roots and ground, that’s all I need to stand tall and weather whatever comes my way, in sun journey # 24 🙂

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In the Big City | In the Big World

I moved. I’m currently writing this from a basement room, now mine, in a house in Wallingford — one of Seattle’s coolest neighborhoods. In my biased opinion, that is. I’ve gotten to know most of the Seattle neighborhoods pretty well, both from summer adventures to visit friends and from recent explorations of my new home. I definitely can’t find my way between them without my trusty Google Maps app, but I’m getting there! Here’s my new nest, for the next year or so:

IMG_5058I have a new job, as a Kindergarten assistant in a dual-language school. I swear I’m more immersed in French there than I was in France. The school day is all in French except for an hour or two of English, and my whole team of teachers has French as their first language. I think I found my perfect next-step job. It’s keeping my language skills up (lots of new vocab…). It’s also really overwhelming me, in a good way, as I learn how to wrangle 5 year olds in a foreign language for 8 hours at a time — Not. Easy.

I come home sweaty and exhausted, with paint all over my fingers. It’s only been three days! But it is incredibly rewarding. The cute outweighs the mess. And part of my job is making a door look like a minion.

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The end of summer was really sudden, and it really feels over. For me, the end of summer has always been marked by the start of school, and this year it was no different! Une bonne rentrée, indeed.

My sister left for Italy. It’s her turn to travel the world, and I could not be more excited for her. I keep trying to convince her to start a photo blog, but I have to be content with her instagram photo updates, for now…Seeing her off filled me with nostalgia. I vividly remember my plane flight toward Paris, now almost three years ago, and how the subsequent semester changed my life. I hope it will do the same for her. Ciao, Clairenstein!

I get the question a lot: Do I miss France? Yes and no. I miss all the people I was close with, both the teachers and students of the lycée/collège in Somain and my fellow English teachers in Val. That international expat community, which insta-forms when you spend time in another country, is unlike any community I’ve encountered at home. There’s an unmatchable open spirit and joie de vivre. The world seems so big.

But losing the community, for now, doesn’t mean I have to lose the spirit of it.

Now, I’m coming full circle. I am training li’l tots to be in the Big World — to range leurs affaires (clean up after themselves) and to be sage (to be wise, in all the ways). To be cognitively and linguistically flexible, to be helpful, patient, kind, and empathetic, are, to me, the requirements of the diverse community we live in. It has returned me to my child roots. I cling to a consistent routine, I clean up after myself, and after two days of school all I needed was a hug from mama. While being in a new position has shaken my confidence, I think I do fit here. I love playing a minimal, but important, part in the development of little global citizens, and it’s exciting to help them learn and grow.

But for real, the children…they are adorable! (ah-door-ableuh)

In the Big City | In the Big World

De-countrified

This list, of French words that English doesn’t have, crossed my path today. Among them is dépaysement: “the sense of being a fish out of water.” If you break down the word, de- is a negative prefix, pays is the French word for country, and the suffix –ment is a little bit like “-fication.” AKA, the real best translation is:

decountrification

Last September, I decountrified myself, leaving the U.S., and re-countrified myself, settling down in France.

The first few weeks were a whirlwind of paperwork, house hunting, people meeting, and settling in. I had to re-learn how to exist in this new country– without attracting too much attention for being different, but also without “losing myself.”

Slowly, I adjusted to French life. I bised my friends. I ate meals slowly, in three courses. I shopped only at normal hours of the day (things close around 8 PM), and only for a few meals at a time. I walked everywhere, or used the train and bus systems. I didn’t smile at people I didn’t know. I dressed up, bought black heeled boots, and developed a city strut. I (kind of) learned how to deal with the bureaucracy, saving copies of my water bills to send in with everything I applied for. I learned to love strong cheeses and pair them with good wines.

I never became French, but I did blend in a little better, in the end. I achieved the balance: I was a version of myself that I liked, and that fit into the world around me. I could walk down the street without earning stares for being “the American.” I was able to learn from people’s new perspectives on me and my country, and to open my mind to the ways of other people, in other countries. It was a successful recountrification experiment.

And then I decountrified myself again, and came right back, Stateside. Dépaysement is the French synonym for “culture shock,” which I expected to encounter on my trip to France. But, coming back, there is another sort of dépaysement,  when you take a slightly different version of Anne and place her back in her old environment.

Suddenly, I drive again. I wear shorts. I greet everyone in English, make small talk with strangers, shop at all hours of the day or night, and I’m surrounded by family and old friends. There are mountains and lakes and people in sweatpants and coffee shops everywhere. All of this was totally normal… before my “normal” changed. And now I’m having to figure out another more complicated and emotionally charged recountrification process.

I do feel like a fish out of water. It’s hard to explain why, because it doesn’t make sense. The USA is where I grew up, its rules and norms should be obvious to me. And they are, but I sort of have to relearn them. I have to figure out where I fit in again, IF I fit in again, and who my new friends are going to be. It’s a little like starting over, which I also did when I first arrived in France, but it’s starting over in a place I didn’t expect to have to start over.

It’s because I’ve done it before that I feel like I can do it again. Despite all of this hard stuff I’m encountering, emotionally, psychologically, socially, and culturally…I feel like I’m encountering it as someone who is good at feeling uncomfortable.

When I first got back, I dealt by traveling all over the place to reconnect with people. The reason for that is obvious to me — traveling was my culture, my normal, so I sought it out again. Now I’m back in one place for a while, and the realities of my new normal hit me. I don’t start work until the end of August, so I’m left drifting around, re-familiarizing myself with where I grew up and how it’s changed. And how I’ve changed.

I never really figure out how I’ve changed until I’m back in a place I was in before, as a new version of me. I keep comparing the me of now to the me of last summer, last time I was here. I think I’m fundamentally the same, but I behave differently. I’m living more in accordance with my values. I missed having a place to work out, dance classes, hiking trails, and beautiful waterfronts when I was gone — so now, every day, I seek those out. I missed my family and friends, so now I focus more energy on them. I felt really financially unstable in France, so I’m taking this opportunity to examine my financial habits and try to live more independently. I missed peanut butter, so I eat it every morning…

Going away was one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done. So much of the fear and anxiety that used to rule me has become manageable. Whenever I’m afraid of all the changes — meeting new people, starting a new job, moving, etc. — I say to myself: Anne, you did all of this and more…in a different country, in a different language. That’s sometimes all I need to get me through a tricky spot.

My way of embracing being home and dealing with reverse culture shock and missing France at the same time is to remember and re-remember all of the gifts it gave me. All of the friends I made, all of the new experiences, all of the personal strength– all were made possible by going away, and all are still present at home, in the ways they shaped the “me” of the moment.

And of course, I also say to myself that I’ll keep going back. There, and back again. Probably forever!

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De-countrified