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

New Year, New Home!

I’m sorry the adventure stories (TFH 1-4) are over…but not as sorry as I am that the adventures are over. The first week back (la rentrée) has been a little bluesy. I’ve heard tell that January is the hardest month to be abroad if you’re away for a year, and I can sort of maybe see why already?

However, one great thing about coming back is that I moved!

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Here are some shots of my room, which is nice, plus I also have a kitchen, a living room, and two lovely housemates! IMG_0663

Essentially, the friend who had my room decided to move to Lille, and I seized the opportunity to get out of my tiny, moldy, noisy apartment-room and into this beautiful house with two of my favorite people!

I’m happy that I moved but also happy that I waited until the perfect situation arose. I think had I moved into a colocation (housemate situation) at the beginning, it would’ve been more risky because i wouldn’t have known my housemates first! In this case, it was a no-brainer considering how much time I spent at their place anyways. I am also convinced that my old place was bad for my health. There was actually black mold on the window, and the two nights I spent there when I got back gave me a cold…

My advice to future TAPIFers: if you want to move mid-year, do it! It’s not nearly as difficult as the first time, and 4 months is a long time. I’ve got more time left in France than I’ve already spent here!

Oh, and one more update — I’ve been accepted to a month-long intensive training program to become a certified TEFL teacher (teaching English as a foreign language), so I will be living in Toulouse for a month after my contract ends. I’m excited to experience life in yet another part of France, even if it’s only for a short time!

Bonne année à tous!

New Year, New Home!

On FOMO

My definition of FOMO:

n. (“Fear of Missing Out”) : the fear that there is a party going on somewhere that you haven’t been invited to; the nagging feeling that everyone is having more fun and crazier adventures than you are, and probably together

I think this perfectly natural form of anxiety has gotten much, much worse with the invention of social media (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). Suddenly, there’s a platform where you can show off how much fun you’re having to all of your friends and acquaintances with merely the post of a dolled-up selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower, or at a super cool looking bar with all your hot new friends (see other annoying* ways to use facebook). There are also far more ways to be subtly validated (getting 30+ likes on your profile picture) and therefore far more ways to be subtly invalidated (nobody commented on my link!?).

* I’m not claiming that I don’t do these things, most people do. It’s the nature of the beast. Most of us also occasionally post unannoying things ;). 

But, there are also versions of this phenomenon that have nothing to do with social media. FOMO is in the family of exclusion, loneliness, social anxiety, insecurity — these are all normal human things because we live in a society full of other humans and like to be accepted and belong. (I’ve been researching David Hume so I can teach my philosophy class this afternoon, so here are his thoughts on human nature and the need to be included, if you need some light reading).

This feeling has been on my mind a lot, because I’ve been thrown into a new group of people in a foreign country for a year. It’s easy to become obsessed with who’s forming relationships with who and what everyone is doing and with whom they’re doing it, because this community is tiny, and crazy adventure opportunities abound. I also find people and group dynamics pretty fascinating, and sometimes all I want to do is think about and analyze them.

If I really wanted to, I could also think about the things I’m missing out on in the States. A few of my best friends are all still at university being staff members together, others are spread out and finding jobs and hanging out with other former Whitties and going to Fall Release weekend in Walla Walla. There’s also my family, going to the Nutty Nutcracker in Seattle for Xmas and a family friend’s house for Thanksgiving.

The point of all this is: yes, all of us are always missing out on something that we’d like to do.

However, this FOMO lifestyle is unsustainable. All it does is make one think they’re never where the party is, which leads inevitably to the feeling of non-belonging, exclusion, and disparaging thoughts about oneself: the grass is always greener elsewhere.

So, here’s my new solution: be where the party is. Your own personal party, in which you find and do all of the things that interest you and invite others to come along if they’re also interested. This is a much more active/proactive response to FOMO, and that is sometimes the harder way to go when I wish things were easy. But I think the proactive method results in more moments of: I would rather be here right now than anywhere else in the world.

Ever since my semester abroad, this has been my gauge for whether or not I’m doing something worthwhile and fulfilling for myself. Especially in the past month, I have had a lot of moments of wishing I were able to be elsewhere — but it hasn’t made me globally doubt that I’m currently in the best place for my own personal growth. I don’t think you can ever always be certain 100% of the time that where you are is the only forever place for you, but the ratio of doubt to certainty can be low. I’m still striving for equilibrium, as are all the other people in the world (and especially in my age group).

But I mean, if we all were together doing the same crazy things all the time, we’d have nothing to talk about.

And the moments I’m not missing out on have been pretty fun. Let’s focus on those:

At a soccer game in Val!
At a soccer game in Val!
With fellow travelers at a hostel in Krakow
With fellow travelers at a hostel in Krakow
Eatin lunch in Camelot
Eatin lunch in Camelot
Frolicking at the lake!
Frolicking at the lake!
Touring Old Lille with a French teacher from my school
Touring Old Lille with a French teacher from my school

Here’s hoping that you, readers, feel like you’re where the party is. 🙂

 

On FOMO

En Train

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Valenciennes, my home, is three train stops (a ~20 minute ride) from Somain, where I work. When I first arrived, I told my temporary hosts how miraculous I think the SNCF (France’s train transportation network) is, and they laughed at me — “Wait ’til there’s a strike,” they said. It’s a terrifying prospect, because if there ever is a strike I’ll be basically done for, unless I can find a teacher to give me a ride; the train is my only way of getting to work.

There’s also the newly discovered inconvenience which is: there are no trains between 2:09 PM and 4:45 PM. This means that if I get off work at 2 or 3, I’ve got quite the wait until the next train home. Waiting is one of my very least favorite activities. I’m an incredibly patient person, except when I’ve had a long day and can’t wait to eat and crawl into bed and Netflix before sleeping. I need a commute book.

I’ve started to measure distance in trains, also. I am 42 minutes by train from Lille. I’m 1h45 by train from Paris. I’m a few hours away from London. I’m about an hour from Brussels. (My location is like, !!!!)

The title of this post is part of a French expression used to communicate being in the middle of doing something; Je suis en train de lire  = I am in the middle of reading, Je suis en train de voyager = I am in the middle of traveling, etc. It’s basically another version of present tense; it’s the idea of continuous movement, an activity that’s still going on. In French, the idea of this expression and the idea of being physically in a train would be distinguished from one another via prepositions — “in the train” is not en train but dans le train.

However, I like thinking about the intersection point between trains and this expression: the idea of continuous movement, and of being perfectly positioned to head off toward an adventure of my choice. My life goal right now is to put myself in a place that enables me to go where I want to. If I’m at the appropriate station, I can choose the train that’s hurtling toward somewhere I want to go.

So far, I think I’ve been pretty successful at that. I’ve picked things to do that engage me while I’m in the middle of doing them, taking me a station closer to finding my eventual route through life. I went to a fabulous school which my gut said would make me into someone I wanted to be (thanks, Whitman). And now in France I’m positioned to learn more about things I know I love — education, people, and French — and discover more things I didn’t know I’d love. New experiences are in close proximity.

There’s a lot of post-college nonsense about having a concrete plan for the rest of life, as if that is going to magically be handed to you with a degree in whatever happened to be your undergrad passion. But after surviving these first few post-grad months, and after talking to more seasoned post-grad friends, I think it’s much more about the present than the future. Yes, have goals. But have goals in order to inform your present, not predict the future. Have goals like “go here,” “learn more about _____ that I’ve always been interested in.” Be self-aware and reflect. Engage with new communities. I am a die-hard optimist (and a believer in people) who thinks that everyone finds their niche, but not without putting themselves in the ideal position to find it.

In whatever you are en train de faire (in the middle of doing), make sure you’ve boarded a train heading somewhere. And if you realize it’s not, hop off at the next stop and find a new one.

Sometimes, there will be a strike, and you might be stopped in your tracks. But the world (and especially Commuter Anne) needs you!!

En Train

Anne Turns 22!

I don’t know ’bout you…but I’m feelin’ 22!

If you don’t know where that’s from, clearly you have not yet turned 22 in America. If you ask me, we really need a new anthem. Too bad I’ll never turn 22 again to enjoy one if it happens…

I LOVE birthdays because I get to say to my friends: “hey, thanks for being BORN!” It’s the most unconditional celebration of a human that I can think of. People didn’t have to do anything to deserve a birthday — they didn’t work for it ; they didn’t have to be pretty, or smart, or exceptional ; they didn’t have to “fit in” or live up to anyone’s expectations — nobody even knew how they would turn out on their day of birth. And we get to throw a party to thank them simply for being in the world. I think we forget that everyone was a baby miracle to someone, at some point, when we get bogged down in the expectations (/insecurities) of Life After Birth.

In foreign countries, birthdays are bittersweet. The ingredients of my perfect birthday in America are as follows: Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake, lots of friends and family love, maybe a present or two, a lot of nice cards, and some celebratory dancing + tunes + friends to dance to them with. I’ve had a lot of fantastic birthdays, thanks to some amazing loved ones.

But when you’re far from home, all expectations must be thrown out the window. Nothing will be as expected. Three weeks ago, I had no idea if I’d even have any friends to celebrate with!

But I do. GREAT ones!!

First, I made some food for them. I love cooking for people, and I’ve discovered that people really like eating. [Left: Tartiflette, Right: Falafel night!]

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I also discovered the loveliest Queen of Cakes there ever was, my friend Natalie. She surprised me with a beautiful strawberry tart in the morning, and a chocolate tart + marzipan penguin at night.

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And candles too. And a traditional birthday song! (You may have heard of it)

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I also got a card + candy and my own DVD copy of Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis! I can FINALLY become hip to the Ch’ti cultural lingo that everyone has said I must learn about. (THANK YOU FRIENDS!)

Then we went bowling! Yes, there is a bowling alley in Val! Complete with American diner. I’m going back for milkshakes someday. The selfie queen made an appearance.

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And tonight, it’s party time!! I am fortunate enough to share a birth month with a lovely British gentleman named Josh (pictured above), and we have joined celebration forces! It’ll be great. The bête de fête from Paris has returned.

To all who sent me bday messages, mail, FB posts, texts, etc…they really, actually mean a lot to me! Thank you!

Love & bisous,

Anne

Anne Turns 22!

Sunday Fun Day

HAY!

Important announcement: I now have weefee, the elusive French equivalent of wifi, in my place of residence. This means that I’m writing this from my room, in my PJ’s, while drinking some coffee made with my new french press and listening to my favorite tunes and eating cheese. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Last Sunday, I woke up dreading the day a little bit. I’m sure I make it sound pretty fun, but being an assistant can sometimes be a hard spot — I know a few assistants who are struggling to find their place in their town/school, who miss home, who got placed in inconvenient situations from the start. Some people even go home! Or want to. It is definitely one of the most stressful transitions I’ve ever been through, and last weekend I was feeling understandably unsettled by all the big changes, and tired after my first half-week of school.

I ended up spending the day at the house that a few assistant friends live in, right outside the center of Val. Here are some of the activities we did that day:

— Joshua baked us a cake. It was originally cookies, but as we had no recipe, no conceptualization of French grams and centiliters, no measuring tools, and some linguistically ambiguous ingredients (maybe it was baking powder…but was it baking soda?)…the cookies became a cake. It was actually delicious, especially the uncooked goo in the center.

Caramel Surprise Cakie (cookie-cake)

— We danced around the kitchen. Josh and I are now collaborating on a spotify playlist. It will be a masterpiece.

— We made a “Sunday Fun Day” jar, which is full of ideas of things to do when we’re bored in Val. The plan is to pick a thing when we need something to do, and spend the day doing it. “Make a music video,” “international dinner party,” “decorate mugs for each other,” and “go to the Black Diamond” (the only discothèque in Val, purportedly sketchy) are some of our ideas…there are probably at least 20 in all.

— We played the Hat Game/Time’s Up, a game I first learned at Whitman. It’s basically a more difficult form of charades which is played in rounds and one of the rounds involves only making noises to represent things on the cards…needless to say it was 2 hours of nonstop laughter.

— We watched one of my new favorite programmes, the Great British Bake-Off. What it lacks in ruthless drama (à la American cooking competitions), it makes up for in proper English wit and charm. It also has a host named Mary Berry. Many thanks to my lovely friend Ellen for sharing this little gem of her culture with us. We are now hooked.

— We ordered pizza. At 9:30 PM. We had no way of knowing it would take an hour and a half and that the delivery man would accidentally go to another town instead of Val and thus our pizza would not actually arrive until 11 PM…the plus side? France makes 7-cheese pizza, which puts 4-cheese U.S. pizza to shame. We ended up ordering a 5-cheese and an “Al Capone.”

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Needless to say, I went home feeling thoroughly cheered up. This week I also went to some group dinners, had lots of coffee and chats, spent the day in Lille yesterday meeting other assistants who work in high schools, and planned dinner with a new French friend who I met while doing an English conversation night! I also anticipate making friends with some of the teachers at my school. I love teachers, and these teachers are no exception — everyone is so nice, and many people have volunteered to show me around, lend me household supplies, etc.

I think in times of transition, it helps to be able to laugh a lot. And that is what this new community is providing: endless laughs. But also, serious connection over interesting discussions. It’s been bringing out a lot of sides of me, and I am so thankful to have met so many multi-faceted people in my new home, completely by chance. It helps me remember that this year is about many things, but especially having FUN! As is life.

Here’re some fun photos from a night out in Val:

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Can’t wait for the next 6 months of adventures. 🙂

Next up: a little about my school aka work life!

Sunday Fun Day

Dorm Life, Remixed

EasyCoffee, Valenciennes: my new daily haunt. It has better coffee, better seating, and better service and thus has replaced MacDo as Free Wifi Land while Natalie and I wait for our internet box to be activated (4-14 days). They make a damn good latte. And they even do latte art!! It makes me feel right at home.

Anyway, this lovely Saturday morning I am here to write a post. I have so many things to write about that I can’t decide how to organize them…so maybe I won’t. I’ll just dive in!

My new home: 

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5 days ago, I moved into my new apartment. It took about a week to find something, but I was able to take my time because of the cozy temporary living situation at one of my teacher’s houses in Somain! I’m super grateful for that. I have this room, and rights to the shared kitchen space with fridge and bathroom/shower! I only share it with two other ladies and the assistant who lives below me, so it hasn’t been too crowded or hard to get into any of the spaces thus far.

I also have the pleasure (?) of living in close quarters with two French ladies. It’s like dorm life again! One of them has started numerous discussions with me already, about everything from food (I think she is concerned about my eating habits…cereal for every meal is temporary Madame, I promise!) to how noisy the building is, to the weather in the north…she’s quite friendly. Yesterday, she even made me applesauce, from fresh garden apples. The other lady wakes up at 3:45 every morning during the week for work. What she does, we do not know. For the first few nights this was absolutely the worst part, given that I am the lightest sleeper in the universe and she must have the radio on every time she is up and about. American dance music is not my favorite lullaby when I have just awoken from 2 hours of sleep. But, I have now acquired earplugs!! So hopefully from now on I will be able to sleep through the night.

My favorite story from the week involves my sink. Play-by-play:

I move in, and the sink is the grodiest thing I’ve ever seen. Mme C says I must clean it.

I get cleaning supplies and need to pour them into the sink. The drain will not be blocked, so I push on the lever a little harder. I hear a THUNK.

I turn the water on. It goes into the sink and out the pipe onto the floor behind the sink. I determine that I can neither use nor clean the sink in this condition, so I call Mme C.

Mme C doesn’t answer, so I text and leave a message. Monsieur C calls me the next day and says he will stop by the next day.

I hear nothing for two days, but I can tell someone has been in and out of my room. Sink is in same state.

I come back from work, and the sink is fixed and clean.

I think this is how things here work: no communication and no idea of when to expect them to be done, but they eventually get finished. And now I am probably more appreciative of sinks than I have been in my whole life. No longer will I have to venture into the cold, dark hallway in the middle of the night to get water. No longer will I brush my teeth clandestinely in the kitchen sink, hoping my French neighbors won’t stumble upon me and be grossed out by my humanness. No longer will I have to also stare down into someone else’s sink filth while I look in the mirror.

I am very pleased.

And starting to feel at home in my new home!

I think I will stop there. More to come about school and social life! In other exciting news, as I mentioned, I  will have wifi in my apartment in 4-14 days, so I’ll be able to post more! huzzah!

Love and bisous, family and friends. I miss you all,

Anne

Dorm Life, Remixed