Life in Parallel

A year ago today, I was in Carbonne, France, in the Toulousain countryside, being hospitably welcomed by a friend’s friend. It was one of my favorite and most bittersweet weekends. I had just finished my TEFL course, a 4-week intensive on how to teach English which had reinvigorated my teachery enthusiasm. I soaked in the sunny Southwest — the hills, the little houses, the farms, the village landmarks — and prepared myself for the inevitable end of it all.

I didn’t really anticipate how vividly I would relive the experiences of the past year. In Fall 2015, I was busy adjusting to the new teaching job and new schedule — too busy to really think about what I’d been doing during my first few months in France the year before. But, as of December, the past was a constant presence. I will partly thank Facebook for this one, with a special mention for its handy “a year ago today” tool which automatically reminded me of where I’d been. But, even offline, I would pause and think “last year at this time, I was…”

The common misconception is that living in the past meant I wasn’t loving the present. That isn’t true — I’ve loved a lot about this year, and I feel like I’ve been living in the moment as much as I did in foreign lands.

It felt more like I was loving two moments at once, and one life was running parallel to the other. The two experiences don’t even approach each other. There is almost nothing similar between the two years. But, by remembering so vividly what past Anne had been up to, I was able to enjoy the both of them. It was a positive nostalgia, life-enriching and comforting.

It kept my friends close to me as well — friends from last year, if you’re reading this, I feel like even a year later, and even if I haven’t talked to you, we could have a Val McDo picnic and things would be just as lively and convivial and full of friendly bonding (and eating and drinking, obvi). I still feel close to you, and maybe it’s because that past was always in my mind instead of far away. I can feel the presence of new people I love, wherever they are — just like I felt the presence of old people I love while I was abroad.

This parallel life also serves as a constant reminder of all life’s possibilities. Yes, I can go away again, pursuing something new and different from what I’ve done before. Yes, there are friends to be made and communities to be found, stories to be written and reflections to be pondered, places to visit and good things to eat. There are so many different ways of eating, drinking, living, thinking, and being. Through my parallel past life, the largeness of the world was in the forefront of my brain.

I think it will always be there, just as my past will always be there. It’s both a memory and a tantalizing future possibility. I had to be introduced to it to want more of it. Right now, I will content myself with the knowledge that my life was an adventure, is an adventure, and “adventure is [still] out there!”

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Life in Parallel

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

Saving the Best for Last

Although experiences abroad are emotional roller coasters the whole way through, each of my experiences has had this overall trajectory:

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It’s always super exciting when you first arrive (also the peak point of stress), then there’s an adjustment period followed by a period of down-ness and stagnation, and after you’ve hit rock bottom there’s nothing but an uphill slope!

It happened in Paris and it happened again here, though over a longer period of time: September – December were crazy but great, January and February were rough and bluesy. My rock bottom hit after my trip to Paris, when I was struggling with what to do next year and then got sick for two weeks.

Last week, I think, was the commencement of the uphill climb. I spent the weekend with friends in Lille and hosted a Monday night party for another friend’s birthday. This weekend, I went to Paris again for a concert with two of my best friends here. Next weekend, it’s an “Americans on Tour” road trip with three friends (all American, duh) to see Mont St. Michel and Normandy, and the weekend after that I’ll be in Aix-en-Provence celebrating Easter with two of my friends from home (who are also assistants) and their assistant crew. And in the in-between times, I’ve gotten more accustomed to getting up and going to work, and more settled in to the daily dinner parties, teatimes with friends, walks, chats, etc.

When you’re in a foreign country and have certainly jumped through the hoops and hurdles of the first half/two thirds of it, it brings on a natural high. All I want to do is adventure and experience things and do all the “one last times” and spend time with people that I soon won’t see for who knows how long. The entire month of May was like this in Paris: all we did was picnic. At some point this weekend, I thought the sad thought: “I’m saving the best for last.” But as I write about it, I think that there were “bests” all over the place, all throughout the experience. I think it will take finishing the experience to realize which memories stuck. But I think what changes most is the mentality, which becomes very suddenly: “oh, I have hardly any time left here, better not waste it!” and I’m grateful for that kick in the pants.

And as the end approaches, It’s hitting me how sad I’ll be to leave. My house, my friends, my school community here — all of these will never be in my life in the same way again, and it will be sad to move on. But really, I’m lucky to be sad, because it means that my time here with all the people I’ve met was meaningful, worthwhile, and incredibly fun.

In the meantime, it’s not the end yet!! Here’s to more than a month of adventures to come 🙂

Saving the Best for Last

Un Retour à Paris

Paris. I have experienced it over and over again since my first visit. A study abroad friend personified Paris as a bad boyfriend: it takes you from honeymoon period to love-hate relationship (Paris in the slush? Yuck) and back again. Now, Paris and I have settled into the companionate love of old friends. I know it’s always there; it feels familiar and safe. But every time I come back we have new experiences together, just to keep things spicy.

I’ve been there three times since September. The first time, Caro and I brunched the day away at a Breton buffet and made new friends in the street by night. The second time, I picnicked, then ended up in a hole-in-the-wall bar watching rugby, drinking beers, and reminiscing about college days with a friend from Whitman. This time, I reunited with my mom and aunt for museums, classical music, and shopping. There really is something for everyone 😉

My mom’s visit was long overdue. She and Paris had their own relationship — she studied there for a year during college. Part of my motivation for studying there was her stories about spending days in the Louvre, mornings in Parc Monceau, living in a mansion-flat owned by the sister of François Mitterand whom she exclusively called “Madame.” She was a hitch-hiking adventuress, covering much of Europe by car-hopping, ending up in random bars and houses, and in one case, a barn. Though she advised me not to follow that particular example (it’s okay mom, we have the internet to arrange carpools now), as I chased the ghost of past-mom around Paris for my study abroad semester I wished that she were with me.

And this time, she was!

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To make things more fun, her sister came with her — here we are with my lovely aunt!

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In the spirit of making their dreams come true, I found us a Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons concert in the Eglise de la Madeleine to end our first day. The violin soloist blew my mind. I can’t say I’m a connoisseur of classical music (mostly because I don’t even know where to start), but I deeply admire those who can make it. [This is especially thanks to my elementary school best friend Nellie, whose life is classical music — and she’s brought it into mine. She’s even on Youtube, playing her own arrangement of a very popular song…]

We got to revisit my favorite impressionist sites (Musée MarmottanMusée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie) and visually feast on Sainte Chapelle’s stained glass. I was in the throes of a what-will-my-future-be crisis and bowed out of some of these adventures, but we always reconvened in the apartment at night for some family fun! There was much sitting, laughing, cooking, and bothering Claire with “hilarious” videos (of my mom and I, of course).

I somehow convinced them to take me to Breakfast in America, my favorite American restaurant! What can I say, I desperately needed some pancakes. (Look, they liked it too!)

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I also got to see Cara for a lunch at Les Pates Vivantes, an Asian noodle place formerly frequented by the Paris Crew. It is always a joy to see my former French major inspiration!

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Another highlight was a dinner with my old host family: Marlène, Jeff and Lulu, the cat! Caro (my byootiful study abroad partner in crime) even got to join us for this one; we used to brunch and dine together all the time, so Marlène knew her and I finagled her an invitation. We ate foie gras, drank champagne, and our main course was fondue, homemade by a true savoyarde (the name for the fondue region, where all the best cheeses come from). And my mom and aunt got to pull out their dormant French skillz! In true Reflective Anne fashion, being back in my former Paris home made me think about how many things had changed since the last time I’d been there: I’ve graduated college, for one, and I succeeded in coming back to France. Plus, my French has come a LONG way.

On our last day, we did a trip out to Chartres, a nearby cathedral and town famous for having 12th century stained glass, saved from fires and wars by diligent townspeople for hundreds of years. They also invented a color there: the famous “chartres blue.” The cathedral was amazing, and the town was a charming escape from Paris!

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I was very sad to say goodbye! Seeing family both refreshed and comforted me: I remembered what it was like to be with people who have known me forever, and I remembered that I’m going back home someday…which inspired me to live France life to the fullest, while I still can!

Un Retour à Paris

Study Abroad vs. TAPIF: A Comparison

Many things in these first few months have made me think about this question:

What’s the difference between studying abroad and doing TAPIF?

I think this question is relevant to a lot of people, so I’ll use my experience to answer it for myself, and maybe it will resonate with someone!

First, some important background:

Then: Paris, lived in a homestay, went through a program organized by an American university with 45 other students, stayed for one semester. Studied (12 hours of class + homework). First time abroad.

Now: Valenciennes, live in a tiny room-apartment, went through the TAPIF program (organized by the French Ministry of Education), staying for almost a whole academic year (7 months). Working 12 hours/week.

I’ll make this comparison in list format, because it’s an internet trend but also because it’s organized and pretty

Pre-departure Differences

  1. The application process: This part is actually fairly similar. Both study abroad and TAPIF require everyone to fill out an application with some of the same material listed. One of the major differences is that the TAPIF application requires you to essentially translate your CV into French, by listing all your activities and extracurriculars in French instead of English. TAPIF is also much more competitive these days.
  2. The visa process: This is EASIER for TAPIF than it is for study abroad. They didn’t require nearly as much paperwork, and the French government paid for the visa fee. Unfortunately the trip to San Francisco is still required for people from my neck of the woods.
  3. The packing/panicking process: There’s no “things to bring” lists or advice or people to talk to if you’re in a panic when you do TAPIF. There’s Carolyn Collins, who sends out some e-mails throughout the summer, and the Guide de l’Assistant de Langue en France. I read all the things, and none of them particularly prepared me or helped in moments of panic. In my study abroad program there were lots of helping hands in case we got stuck or panicky, between the study abroad liaison at Whitman and the directors of the Paris program.
  4. Leaping into the unknown: Nobody knows where they’re going or what it will be like before they leave. This was a HUGE difference, because with study abroad programs there are usually past participant testimonies, a general structure to the program that we know ahead of time, and we plan out things to do and everything before arrival. Including housing.

Lifestyle Differences

  1. Speaking French: In my study abroad program, we were required to speak French on school grounds, and also generally had to use French to talk to our host families and the professors and administration at our French schools. All of that goes away with TAPIF, depending on your situation. In my case, I live alone, hang out with English speakers, and most of the people I know at my high school are English teachers, so it takes a lot more effort to speak French. Sometimes it’s possible to find a host family, so if that’s a concern for you, explore your options.
  2. Helping Hands: With TAPIF, you are at the mercy of kind souls in your school who may or may not want to help you get set up, find a bank, find a house, get a phone, etc. There isn’t a conveniently located center for the program with advice and deals and all the answers. If there are no kind souls, you do it yourself! I was fortunate and my teacher contact helped me out a lot with the bank, but for most things I was on my own.
  3. Work vs. School: You are no longer a student when doing TAPIF. You have a job, and having a job means being professional, interacting with colleagues, and setting a good example for the students you teach. Living a student life in Paris, nobody was expecting me to be anywhere or do anything or interact with them professionally in a work capacity. Here, I definitely feel watched at school, and there are many expectations. On the flip side, I’m not actually in school very much, and I live in a different town so I don’t worry about running into students outside of class. And I like having a work life and a home life!
  4. Location: In study abroad, I was in Paris! And now I’m in Val. It’s like going from magical fairy wonderland to the woods. Magical fairy wonderland was a new adventure full of shiny things to see and learn every single day, and the woods are basically the same all the time. But the woods are more natural and teach me survival skills, so I’m happy with it. But: don’t expect the woods to be magical fairy wonderland! Appreciate them for what they are.
  5. The ex-pat community: There is a different community of people awaiting with TAPIF. In my case, my friends are not all American study abroad students…they are European, American, South American, Canadian lecteurs (English teachers at university level), assistants, and students. And even some French students, teachers, and families. It’s great for French sometimes, not so great other times…but in my case, I feel like I’ve found some people that share my passion for cultural exchange, just as I did during study abroad!
  6. Living conditions: In Paris, my friends and I were generally housed in home stays or student foyers. Now, it’s everyone for themselves, and the conditions range from single-room shared-facilities to 3-story house.
  7. Making a salary (!?): Now, I make money! In Paris, I didn’t. That being said, the salary is barely enough to live on, even in a less expensive area!

The most important difference to me personally is that before, I was going back somewhere — Whitman, my home away from home — to do something determined. So, the whole semester had a magical feel to it, my first experiences not at home and in a country that I’d dreamed of visiting for so long. I left feeling like I had unfinished business.

Now, I am officially launched into the world, so this is like my debutante ball. I am living MY life! And I’m trying to decide where it’s going next. Who knows where my business will be finished?

Anne in Paris, 2013!
Anne in Paris, 2013!
Study Abroad vs. TAPIF: A Comparison