Privilege in Paris

Hi all–I know it’s been a while since I’ve last updated.  I want to make you the same promise that I probably made last time and say that I’ll update more–but we all know that that likely isn’t true.

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about privilege.  Me thinking about this isn’t anything new, given that I’m always trying to be as critical as possible about society’s norms and standards, but a few things have happened recently that has made me want to come back to this topic.  For those of you who don’t know me, or are reading this for the first time, I want you all to know that I’m a white woman who’s currently working abroad near Paris for the year as a temporary immigrant from the United States.

Some really horrible things have happened in our world recently.  Brexit.  #45.  Putin. Marine Le Pen running for president.  Richard Spencer.  Betsy Devos.  Alternative facts. This stuff is scary.  But some really great things have happened too, in light of all of this. Protests.  Solidarity.  The rise of crowd funding.  Fact checking.  Resistance.

Since November, I’ve been trying to do as much as I can for my friends back home.  Unfortunately, living abroad puts a damper on that.  I can’t call my representatives without it costing an arm and a leg.  I can’t show up for vigils, or events like the Vagina Monologues.  I can’t volunteer, or take trainings.

But, one thing that I thought I couldn’t do but was able to is protest.

In an amazing show of solidarity, the entire world got together to help out my home country.  In fact, France got together a minimum of three times since November.  To be fair, a lot of who came out were expats or students living abroad for the year, but I think it’s important to remember that:

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Remember how France gave the US the Statue of Liberty?

France has been in solidarity with us since the beginning (Thank you, Lafayette), and France knows how to throw a good protest.  In fact, they’re the masters of it.  Some of my colleagues didn’t even have to go to work one day because the teachers were having yet another protest.  It’s their way of life here, I’ve noticed.  And it gets shit done.

Thanks to these protests, I felt that I was finally able to help my friends and family out in America.  I was able to protest DAPL; Betsy DeVos; the Immigration Ban (also affectionately known as the Muslim Ban–which, yes, we all know that’s not the legitimate name for it, but can we get real and admit to ourselves that we only care about white immigrants?); Trump’s blatant sexism, xenophobia, racism, and general bigotry; and the everyday unjust things that are currently happening in America, such as the rise of Nazism (read: the acknowledgement that anti-semitism has always existed in America), the failures of Congress, and our own tax money going to pay for #45’s vacations.

I felt good about these protests.  I made really great friends at these protests, I felt loved, and protected.  France feels more like my home now than #45’s United States ever could.  Of course, these protests aren’t without critique, but that’s for another time.

This is where privilege comes in.  I’ve already discussed the privileges I have in other posts, and how it got me to where I am today (France).  But, while what I think I’m doing is good and well-intentioned, it’s also the epitome of my privilege.  I can show up to these protests, shout and yell angrily for a couple hours, listen to speakers, then get up on the train and go to my nice country-side town.  I can protest what’s happening in America right now and go home feeling good because I’m not actually there to see the aftereffects. I know I’m not going to be the most affected by #45’s policies by a long shot, but at the moment, I literally have no worries (save for crossing my fingers that #45 doesn’t enforce a French ban).  I’m trying to keep up with what’s happening in America right now but sometimes, well, I’m not actually there right now, so it’s fine if I don’t every now and then, right?

I suppose what I’m trying to get at is the fact that I feel good about protesting something that will have no affect on me for the time being.  I don’t have to deal with seeing swastikas or white supremacy bumper-stickers on little Peugeots.  I don’t have to deal with pipelines blowing up and polluting La Marne.  I don’t have to deal with a new secretary of education that will make life even more difficult for the schools here in La Ferte.  It’s nice.  I’ll tell you that much.  I go to bed, and I’m not all that worried for myself at the moment.

So, ultimately, this is a call out post for me and others who are in the same position as me.  Understandably, time, ability, and money dictate what we can and cannot do as activists.  And while showing up in support and solidarity to protests is an incredible experience, and shows everybody abroad that they can trust you, it’s not the only thing that we should be doing.  If the time is possible, we should be calling or emailing our representatives.  If the money is possible, we should be donating to places like ACLU or Planned Parenthood.  If accessibility is possible, we should be educating ourselves and sharing information on what’s happening right now in defense of alternative facts and reporters being discredited.

All in all, protests are great.  But we need to do more than that, if we can.  If #45’s supporters say that they want Planned Parenthood to go down, we need to support Planned Parenthood.  If we see anti-semitism, we need to try to prevent it, remove it, and educate ourselves on it.  If we see somebody struggling, we need to help them.  We can’t leave these actions to everybody else, because if everybody else won’t do it, then who will?

Here, have some pictures of the protests I went to:

Spending the Holidays Abroad

Hello future TAPIF-ers!

Sometimes you’re going to be faced with a hard decision, and the result of that hard decision will be that you won’t be able to come home.  Let this be known right now: submit your OFII paperwork as soon as possible (immigration paperwork, for those who don’t speak TAPIF), because it will take them about a month to get back to you.  If it turns out that you don’t get your paperwork within the first three months that you’re there, or maybe the air fare is just too expensive, you may have to spend the holidays at home.  And you know what?  That’s okay!  I promise you.

Firstly, let me say that I am very lucky.  I have great roommates and I know a great family here in France.  They’re my support here in France.

Secondly, if you only know other assistants and your professors here, fret not!  Just gather people you know, and it’ll be all good.  Trust me, you’re not the only one who’ll be in France abroad for the holidays.

Let’s begin with Thanksgiving.  There’s not really any hope to go home for Thanksgiving.  Which, is of course, a bummer.  I mean, the food will definitely not be waiting for you when you return (it’ll spoil by then).  You’ll miss out on the green beans, mashed potatoes, and Tofurky (or, regular turkey, s’il te plait).  But more importantly, you’ll miss out on family.  Love ’em or hate ’em, and it’s none of my business either way, it’s very possible that you’ll be bummed out that you won’t be able to sit at that table and eat all the good food and chat with people who want to know what you’re doing for the rest of your life, and whether you have a significant other yet or not, and how’s school???

Lemme tell you how to get through this, fellow American TAPIF-ers.  Gather your roommates.  Gather your friends.  And tell them that you’re going to have a good ol’ fashioned Thanksgiving.  Potluck it.  Have a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.  Have a vegan Thanksgiving.  Just, have a Thanksgiving.  It’ll make you feel better.

This was how my Thanksgiving was.  After I got home from work, I immediately began preparing.  These were the dishes I had planned: a green bean/pea/carrots mix, baguettes, vegan parmesan cheese, a Tofurky roast, gravy, and an apple tart.  My roommates and neighbors brought soup, fish, and a cake.  It wasn’t my Uncle Brian’s standard of meal, but dammit, I did Thanksgiving on my own, my roommates and neighbors and I had a good time, and that’s what counts.  I even Skyped my family so we could see each other (and so that my uncle would see that I cooked a marvelous meal all on my own).

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This was our meal!

It really is that simple!  My meal fed about 5 people, and we still had leftovers.  We laughed, we drank, and we had an all around good time.  I think what I’m trying to say is don’t be by yourself if you know you’re missing an important family holiday!  While I do think of myself as someone who can get along by myself, I think it’s a good idea to spend time on days that mean a lot.

Also, TAPIF-ers–talking to your students about the real history of Thanksgiving makes for a great lesson plan and a good checking of privilege.  You won’t regret it!

Next, of course, is Christmas.  At least, for me–I don’t celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, so I can’t speak for those winter holidays.  If at all possible, try to meet up with other assistants on this day  As I said before, I’m lucky enough to know a family by Poitiers who were kind enough to invite me into their home so I wouldn’t have to be all alone.  If someone offers you this (and you know and trust them), I say do it!

I spent my Christmas with the family of a friend I made when we were both at university.  They were so welcoming, and were so kind, and fed me according to my dietary needs.  If you have the opportunity to spend Christmas with a family (even if it’s not yours!), I wholeheartedly say go for it.

If you’re with other assistants, I think the best bet is to simply plan on making a meal, watching a movie, and simply not being alone!

And, if it happens that you’re by yourself, hey!  Look at you!  You got through the winter holidays by yourself, in a foreign country, and at the very least, that builds character and it’s a new experience.  You’ll know how to be alone and that you can get through whatever holiday you have to face alone (yes, even Valentine’s Day).

In fact, take a walk, take a look around.  Your town is bound to have a multitude of decorations by now:

Other things to do could include baking, watching movies or other Christmas television specials, and eating Chinese food!

And remember, TAPIF-ers.  It’s okay to cry.  It’s okay to feel badly that you can’t go home for the holidays.  Sometimes it doesn’t work out.  (And sometimes, mercury is in retrograde *cough cough*).  And that’s okay.  You’re allowed to cry, and you’re allowed to feel badly.  Just try to make the best day out of it as you can, promise?

Now, for my family and friends who are reading this!  I spend the holidays with my friend Margaux and her family in a town near Poitiers.  Whenever I’m there, they always make me feel included, and I always do something fun with Margaux and Clothilde.  For those who don’t know, they were the French exchange students last year at my university.

While I was sad that I couldn’t spend Christmas with my family back home in Washington state, I really couldn’t complain.  I mean, who else could say that they’ve had an authentic French Christmas…in France?  While the circumstances were disappointing (having already bought my ticket home, and then having to cancel it after not receiving my paperwork), I do consider myself lucky.  I wasn’t by myself, and I got to spend another lovely weekend with my friends and their family.

We ended up going to a beautiful place called La Rochelle.  We walked around, I bought some comic books (as I do), and we saw some pretty great bateaux.  We got sat down to get a variety of drinks (tea and mulled wine), and we even took some pretty pictures!  There were some statues (some of which were of Clothilde’s great grandfather and great uncle…just kidding), and a really big clock.  It was great.  Here, have some photos:

While I was at Margaux’s house, I also played a lot of rummy, read the last two of L’Arabe du futur (I looked up with the 4th one would be released, and it turns out that the 3rd one came out two months ago……..this is gonna be a long wait), visited Niort and La Rochelle, ate McDonald’s fries(!!!), and watched Les Tuche, Le Pere Noel est un ordure, and Star Wars.

I think all in all, I had a good time.  A really good time.  I obtained and created experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I had gone home or stayed all by myself.  I made it through the winter holidays, and it paid off in memories.

My final words on this post will be these: if you’re ever faced with a situation like this in your life, make the most out of it as you possibly can.  It doesn’t have to be a sad time (or at least a super sad time).  In short, have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Happy is what happens when all your dreams come true…isn’t it?

I want to start this off by giving all you future mentally ill TAPIF-ers a piece of advice: your mental illness will not go away despite your dreams coming true.

Ever since I saw The Phantom of the Opera in 8th grade, I’ve always wanted to visit France and see a show at the Opera Garnier.  And you know what?  I’m living in a small town 40 minutes east of Paris, and I’ve seen the Opera more times than I can count on both hands.  Not only have I taken a self-guided tour, but I’ve actually seen a ballet there.

My life is incredible.  I’m so privileged.  My paycheck is able to sustain me, and I only work 12 hours a week (not including lesson planning).  I’ve been able to go to Poitiers, visit 3 different Christmas markets, go to Chateau de Versailles, see a good friend from back home, and so so much more.  Even on the days where I set three alarms starting at 6:30AM, I feel grateful to be in France.  I mean, who else can say that they’ve lived in the French countryside?  You know, besides actual French people.

I’ve made wonderful and countless friends with people both in and out of my district.  I’ve joined them on their adventures to Paris, and I’ve had people join me on mine.  I’ve been following their posts and their blogs and all their voyages because we’re all so glad to be having this experience.  And you know what else?  Others have been talking about getting the blues, and I thought that I was impervious.

I was wrong.

I don’t mind being alone.  Sometimes it’s scary, but I have two great roommates to come back home to.  I have friends that I visit in Paris, and I think my professors like me.  I also like to think that the person who sells me baguettes likes me.  My dreams have come true.  In fact, I was practically begging to leave the United States by the end of summer.  (Disclaimer: I got a really bad stomach ache from nervousness a few days before my flight and ended up sleeping next to my mom in her bed to calm me down).  This is everything I’ve ever wanted for my life.

And then I realized the hard truth: I was so busy that I didn’t realize how sad I was.  In addition to working and travelling, I was participating in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month).  My free time was occupied with writing and updating my instagram so that I could continue pretending that my life was absolutely perfect.

Here’s the thing, folks.  Depression and anxiety doesn’t care if your dreams came true.  You’re still going to wake up in the morning–you may be grateful–but sometimes you go back to sleep.  Sometimes you’ll sleep for hours and hours and still take a long nap.  Sometimes you’ll drink a little too much wine.  Sometimes you’ll wonder why you haven’t cried in such a long time and then realize that it’s just been building up inside of you.

Here’s the other thing.  It may not feel okay, but I promise you all that it is.  It’s a hard transition.  It doesn’t matter how much you might want to leave your country and everyone you know to go explore France for seven months.  Soon, it’ll all catch up to you.  The isolation.  Not being completely fluent in French.  Wondering if your professors like you or not.  Wondering if the other assistants like you or not.  Wondering if your students like you or not.  And of course, you’ll be Skype with your parents and your friends from back home, but it’ll just feel…different.  You’ll hang up and the air will feel empty around you.  It’s not fair.  It’s not fair at all.  But you’ll get through it.  We always do.

Now, to friends and family who’ve been wondering why I haven’t been posting anything on my blog: Don’t despair!  Everything is fine, and as normal as it gets for me.  I’ll be doing a lot of catching up this week (I hope–future Amy might get a little lazy).

What it’s Like to be a White Immigrant

I was honestly hoping that my next post here would be a follow up to the latter half of my Vacances de Toussaint.  I was hoping to post about really getting into the groove of teaching.  I was hoping that my next post would be about my long weekend, and how I’m going to see a good friend in Poitiers.

But I’m not going to talk about any of that.  Today (and technically, yesterday), I feel a little afraid.  Donald Trump was just elected president of the United States of America.  During this election, there were online fights and in-person protests like you wouldn’t believe.  I thank every person who were passionate about keeping me, my friends, and their friends safe.  I do.

This election brought the worst out in people.  I think it brought the worst out in me.  But I’m not going to stop fighting for what’s right.  And that’s why we’re going to talk about immigration today.  In the past few months, a lot of people on the news and my Facebook timeline openly discussed their feelings about immigration.

Before I begin, I want to say a few things.  I’m American.  I’m white.  I’m not living below the poverty line.  I’ve never had to do back-breaking work.  I’m privileged.  But, I am in the process of becoming an immigrant.  Due to work purposes, I’m constantly filling out paperwork so that I can receive the same benefits as French citizens, which means I must fill out the OFII paperwork.  The paperwork that opens my immigration file here in France.

I’ve seen a few people openly, well, detest immigrants.  And, I’ll be blunt here, those immigrants that they’re talking about are Mexican immigrants.  The ones that do back-breaking work to get you your vegetables.  The ones that do PTSD-inducing work so you can have meat.  The ones who work in sub-par conditions with under-the-table jobs.

This is why I’m making this post.  If you won’t listen to immigrants of color about how difficult it is, maybe you’ll listen to me, a white immigrant.  Let me explain my immigration situation.  I was accepted into the TAPIF program, which allows me to work 12 hours a week in a school to help teach French students the English language.  I have a temporary work visa.  But, after 3 months, I need to prove that I’m legally allowed to be here for such a long time in France, or at least have my immigration file opened.  Otherwise, leaving and re-entering the country will be difficult.  My immigration status comes from a position of privilege.  This job, this internship, is the last thing that stands between me and my Bachelor’s degree.  I chose to be a French major, to be a double major.  I was able to put the money into my education like that.  I chose to travel and live in France for 7 months instead of doing 240 hours worth of community service in a French-speaking setting.  I chose to be an immigrant.

And let me tell you, all you people who think immigrants aren’t worth shit, it’s fucking hard.  As a privileged, documented immigrant, it’s hard.

To all of you who want immigrants to just…learn English, what, like it’s hard?  I’ve been learning French for 4 years.  I’ve had at least 1 French class every term.  Do you know what I can do?  I can tell you all about the fantastic genre, I can explain to you just why I love The Phantom of the Opera, I can describe things, hold a basic conversation.  Do you know what I struggle to do?  Opening a bank account, filing paperwork, getting phone service, looking for an apartment, and so on.  Y’know, the important stuff.  The stuff I need to do to survive.

People who hate immigrants are upset partially because they just don’t know English.  Why is there a press #2 option for Spanish?? So stupid.  Why can’t you just learn English, like an American?

Do you know what I’ve noticed, here in France?  Most people speak a little English, some better than others.  But when I have to make a phone call, there’s a lot of confusion between me and the person on the other line.  There’s no Press #2 For English option.  I’m stuck trying to figure out what the “You’re on Hold” message is telling me.  I practice what I’m going to say in French before somebody gets on the line.  And, when somebody does get on the line, all hell breaks loose.

I’ll let you in on a secret.  I can’t speak for everybody, but I think that all immigrants would LOVE to just be able to speak a country’s official or vehicular language.  I’d LOVE to have no problems ordering coffee.  I’d LOVE to not feel hypervisible all the time.  I’d LOVE to be able to pronounce every word correctly.  I’d LOVE it if there was a bilingual person at businesses at all times.  I’d LOVE having no problems talking to a banker.  Or a grocery store clerk.  Or my coworkers.  Or with an information booth attendant.

Learning another language is hard.  Yes, I’m learning a lot more about the French language by being constantly immersed in it, but it’s hard on the ears.  It’s hard when you don’t understand someone because they’re talking too quickly.  It’s hard when you don’t even have the vocabulary to buy a train ticket.  It’s hard.

So, you heard it here first, folks.  I’ll repeat the moral of the story once more: being an immigrant is difficult.  The paperwork is hard, finding a job is hard, knowing the official or vehicular language is hard.  It’s hard enough without being hypervisible It’s hard enough without people applying stereotypes to you.  It’s hard enough.  Maybe, if we all work together, we can make it be easier.

Just think about it: if being a white immigrant by choice is hard, imagine how hard it is for being an immigrant of color who didn’t have a choice.

Les Vacances de Toussaint

Two weeks after I began working, Les Vacances de Toussaint (All Saint’s) started.  This left about two weeks for me to do whatever the heck I want.  So, for the first bit, I naturally curled up into my bed and watched television.  Many other assistants decided to go to Germany, Amsterdam, or other various places in Europe.  But me?  I practically just got here, and I wasn’t about to figure out other airports and means of transportation just quite yet.

Thus began my exploration of Paris.  In these two weeks, I visited the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, Les Cryptes, Les Halles, bars, L’Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower again, Le Pont Alexandre III, L’Eglise des Invalides, and Shakespeare and Company.  And, I still have a few days left!  I’m hoping to hit a few more places before the holidays are over, and even afterwards, I’ll probably visit Paris once or twice on my weekends.

I’ll give you the official Amy review of each one below:

 

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Le Tour Eiffel!!!

So, this was pretty cool.  The two times I’ve seen it, I’ve been on the garden side, which at the moment is being renovated.  It was, however, perfect for a fall-themed photoshoot.  The Eiffel Tower is beautiful up close, and this was the first time I could really see all of its details.

The second time I saw it, my friend and I decided to actually go up it.  You can choose to climb it (you can climb it 2 stories, but to get to the 3rd, you have to buy an elevator ticket), or choose to take the elevator.  Either way, you have to cough up a few euros.  The price is actually really good!

Prior to going up here, I’ve heard about a catch-22.  You’re on the Eiffel Tower, and you can see most, if not all, of Paris…except for the Eiffel Tower.  For me, this was no big deal.  It was certainly an experience climbing all the way up there, and it is pretty romantic, I’ll give it that.  This was a pretty fun tourist-y activity!

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Notre Dame!

I actually only just saw the outside of the Notre Dame, but I’ll likely go inside of it.  The churches here are beautiful beyond belief.  It’s also particularly beautiful at night as well, when it’s all lit up!

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Les Cryptes

Once I was done walking around the Notre Dame, I found a way into Les Cryptes, which is a museum of old Roman ruins.  It was very informative, and had a timeline from Roman times to current times.  It featured remains of busts, such as the ones shown above, as well as old coins and decorations.  All in all, it was pretty neat!

Shakespeare and Company

I was wandering, finding my way back to the metro after the Notre Dame with the help of googlemaps on my phone when suddenly, I saw it: Shakespeare and Company, just a block away.  For those of you who don’t know, one of my minors was Shakespeare, and my college town, Ashland OR, has one of the largest Shakespeare festivals on the west coast.

Coming here was like going back to my second home.  Facing Shakespeare and Company, the right side is the bookstore, and the left is the cutest, most Ashland-like cafe I’ve seen since coming here.  Shakespeare and Company sells English titles (as you can see, I bought one), and for the record, there’s a no-photos policy.  This bookstore, while it’s HUGE, has difficult walking space, thanks to the amounts of people there.  When looking online for bookstores that sells French titles, I saw that the locals dubbed Shakes and Co. the ‘tourist bookstore.’  Do I care?  Not one bit.

The cafe was just as incredible, if not more, in my opinion.  Vegans, you can eat here.  Yes, I said EAT.  At first, I figured that I’d just get a coffee, but then I saw their menu!!  It had been a long time since I’d had an avocado bagel (and look at that craftsmanship!), so I opted for that.  But, they also have chia pudding, soups of the day, and different bagel choices!  Besides that, they also have regular vegetarian options, which you may be able to modify.  Keep an eye out for a post about eating vegan in France, later!  Also, they sell used books at a much cheaper rate than the new books next door, for obvious reasons.  This is a must-see, in my book.

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Pont Neuf and me, the adult version of Sam Manson

So, they took down the locks on the Pont des Arts and the Pont de l’Archeveque, but the locks live on at Pont Neuf!  Contrary to popular belief, the deal with the locks started only in 2008, after locks started appearing in bridges in other countries.  But, my friend and I found the new lock bridge at Pont Neuf!  I’ll be honest, it was quite romantic here!  It’s scenic, and right along La Seine.

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L’Arc de Triomphe

I actually only spent around 20 minutes here, as a way to pass the time before I left to hang out with some friends.  I got a little closer than this, but it might actually be possible to go inside?  Maybe?  I don’t actually know.  The detail on this monument is spectacular, and I’m sure it would be even moreso if I had braved crossing the traffic circle.  But I didn’t, so alas.

Actually, I was lucky enough to snag a benchseat (and help people find a metro with my French!), and just sit down to read while the sun was setting.  Let me tell you–it was actually #goals.

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Pont Alexandre III

This beautiful bridge was another meeting place for me and my friends.  It is named after Tsar Alexander III, who concluded the Franco-Russian alliance in 1892.  This bridge has beautiful golden statues, and a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower.  It’s also considered to be a national monument.  But beware, future TAPIF-ers, and tourists!  Scammers live here.  I would know.  But let’s not talk about my shortcomings, and instead discuss how it’s okay to not be nice sometimes.  Okay, the end.

L’Eglise des Invalides

Here, we saw L’Eglise des Invalides, which is actually right next to the Army Museum and Napoleon’s tomb, neither of which we saw.

L’Eglise des Invalides was in all honesty, magnificent.  I’m not a religious person, or even a very spiritual one.  But I can tell you that I felt calmer and more at peace with myself once we left.  If you need a place to just sit and contemplate things, like life, this would be the place to do it.

Le Palais Garnier

Here, I splurged.  Unlike last time where I paid to take a self-guided tour, I actually paid a pretty penny to see a ballet.  Part of this was motivated by my wanting to see an actual show here, and it was also motivated by the fact that you don’t get to see the stage when you take a tour.  Let me tell you–it was incredible.  I was astonished both by the detail of this opera house as well as the fact that there were people sitting in Box Number 5.  In the 3rd picture, we can see what I believe is the 3rd ceiling decoration of this opera house, as well as the post-crashed-chandelier chandelier.  If you buy the tickets a night before, they’ll still be pricey, but significantly cheaper!

I’m pretty sure I’m going to try to see a ballet/opera once a month (though, for others interested, it looks like most operas are at the Opera Bastille, and most ballets are here at the Garnier).  The nights that I’ll see a ballet and opera are also nights I’m planning on treating myself because I deserve it.  $14 glass of rose champagne, here I come!

 

There are a few more days left on this vacation, and I plan to be doing something every minute of it, whether it’s time spent in Paris, or time spent at home reading or working on my story.  There’s a lot more to come, folks!

Till next time!

The Journey to Orientation and the Anxieties of Teaching

It’s been a few weeks since I last updated, but lots has happened since then!  There will be many more blog posts to come in the next few days, but first, I’d like to tell you all, especially future TAPIF-ers, just how scary going to orientation and actually teaching is.

Before you go to orientation, you must introduce yourself to your main teacher and the principal-figure at your school.  I have said this before about my roommates and my town, and I will say it about every other experience I’ve had here: it was a perfect fit.  The principal was very nice (and a woman–and for me, it’s always nice seeing someone like me in positions of authority because it makes me feel safer, and more confident).  My main teacher, Blanche, I already knew was a perfect fit before meeting her.

 

 

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This is Blanche Devereaux from The Golden Girls, not my teacher, just to be clear.

Knowing my teacher’s name was Blanche, I could just tell that she would be a pal and a confidante.  Meeting her was even better, and reaffirmed the fact that I am not straight LOL.  With a passion for English literature and a minor in gender studies, I could tell we were a good match.  For those TAPIF-ers who are worried about being waitlisted, DON’T WORRY!  It’ll work out in due time!!  The other teachers I’m with have been super kind to me, and are very reassuring, as well as the teachers I’m not working closely with.

But, the next day was daunting: we had to go to orientation.  Each person in every académie must go to their académie’s orientation.  I’m pretty sure that whoever is in charge of setting up orientation makes it their goal to have it be at a place so out of the way that you have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning just to get there on time.  Which is what I had to do.  Ours was in Noisy-le-Grand, which is a quaint city just southeast of Paris.  There’s a bus that goes directly there, or so I’ve heard, but I haven’t seen a confirmation of that on any direction/map website I’ve been on.  I’m pretty sure it’s a myth.  So, with the help of two friends from my district, we took a train into Paris, took a metro, and then took the RER in order to get where we needed to be.

If you’re a future TAPIF-er, here’s what to expect: it begins in the morning, so it’ll likely be chilly until noon, where you’re forced to either take off your layers or overheat.  The lunch is grand (if your orientation offers lunch), and it’s much nicer than anything I’ve seen in America–but, if you’re vegan, like me, your options will likely consist of bread and apples.  Such is life.  In terms of actual content, the first half of the day consisted of learning a little about France’s education system and how difficult the bureaucracy is here.  The next half of the day consisted of pedagogical training in which a lycée teacher gave us lots of really great pointers!  So, don’t fret about teaching quite yet, TAPIF-ers, they give you lots of good ideas!

In fact, we got lots of good ideas, because our académie  had two trainings.  Our second training was…interesting, to put it nicely.   I’ll expand on this, if anybody wants, but for right now, I’ll just talk about the content.  Our teacher gave us a lot of ideas, lots of good ideas, which was surprising considering the tension of the room.

Since he gave us lots of good ideas, I’ll list some of the few I really liked out for anyone teaching English:

  • Time’s Up! or, Catchphrase – This is really good for seconde classes!  (seconde=sophomore-level students)
  • Taboo – This one is great for premier or terminale, since it limits the amount of words they’re able to use to describe the main word (premier=junior-level students; terminale=senior-level students)
  • Murder Mystery – Good for premier students!  What you do is find a picture of a crime-scene (probably illustrated) and you can have the students do a few things: they can devise a story of what happened on their own (focuses on writing skills), or pair the students up and have one student be a police officer and the other student be a witness (the police officer must interview the witness and they must create a’report’ to present to the rest of the class)
  • Interview with a celebrity/ghost/tourist – Also good for premier/terminale students!  This makes the interviewer create questions, and the interviewee create fun and interesting answers!
  • Speed-dating – I like to do this with seconde!  Have each student create a character–name, age, job, where they’re from, hobbies, likes, dislikes, etc., and then make them “speed date” and tell the class what they learned about the other person.
  • Seasonal/holiday themed vocab lists – Good for everyone!!  I’ve made small talk so much since I’ve gotten here, and trust me, it would have been a lot easier if I remembered how to talk about the weather, discuss holidays, and favorite things about the seasons.
  • Create a Person – Good for seconde!  With your friends’ permission, show your class a photo of them.  What do they look like?  Is their hair dyed or natural?  Do they have piercings?  What are they wearing?  Once they’re done with the appearance…do you think they like cats or dogs more?  Why?  (ALWAYS ask why!) Do you think they’re more of a coffee or tea person?  Winter or summer? Regardless of whether it’s actually true for the person you’re showing them, it’s fun to create a story for someone they’ve never met.
  • Above all, my favorite thing to do is simply TALK with them 🙂 I LOVE learning things about my students, and let’s face it–you’re probably the only American/Canadian/Indian/British/Irish person they’ll be able to really get to know for the time being!  They love it, they don’t feel super pressured because you’re being friendly and not an authoritative figure (it’s weird–you’re not a student, but you’re not a teacher either, so there’s definitely a bizarre balance you have to figure out), and they ask a LOT of questions and practice both speaking and listening comprehension!

And, speaking of just talking with them, let me tell y’all the things that they’ve asked me and that they’ve talked about.  First things first, they asked me about the election.  Our second orientation teacher told us to remain neutral about really intense political topics, including the American election, which makes sense, except for that we all knew our feelings about a certain presidential candidate.  On this topic, these were the things they asked me: Who are you going to vote for?  How do you feel about Trump?  Why does America have so many guns??  One of the teachers also put me on the spot to describe the “”””American Dream””””, or as it’s better known in my circles, “The Bootstraps Myth.”

But, heavy topics aside, they had more personal questions: Why did you choose to come here?  What’s it like back home?  What did you study?  How many people are in your family?  Is this the first time you’ve been to France?  Have you been anywhere else?

My responses to these questions really riled them up: Who do you like to listen to?  Have you been to any concerts?  (I think three girls died after I told them that I’d seen Halsey twice).  Do you watch The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones?   Who’s your favorite superhero? (a totally UNFAIR question after Civil War).  Do you watch Pretty Little Liars or Stranger Things or Daredevil?

Literally, if you messed up and have nothing planned for the day, or you still have ten minutes left, just talk about television.  They’ll ask you what you like to watch, and what I do to turn it into a “teaching moment” for the English language is that I also describe what it’s about, and ask them to describe their favorite television show.  Sometimes, you’ll get the occasional student who says they don’t have a favorite television show, so I’ll ask them who their favorite artist, book, album, or whatever is, and why.  The important part is the “why.”

For us assistants, the main goal of our teaching work is to have the students speak.  If the lesson consists of me speaking a lot, and actually teaching them about something (like American history or culture) I’ll try to check in with them every now and then just to make sure they understand the gist of what I’ve been saying.  I’ll ask them if they have any questions about literally anything.  And, at the end of the period, I remind them of the one thing I want them to take away from my lesson, and then become the evil teacher and ask them to tell me one thing they learned.  At the very least, this tells me how well they’ve comprehended what I have been talking about, and makes them speak, even if it’s just one sentence.

I know that I’m more an assistant than a teacher.  But the students that I’ve met are so vast and different in their experiences, and I know I want to make sure that they know that I’m a person that they can trust–whether that means they need to tell me something serious, or that it’s okay to ask “stupid” questions (which, to be clear, there are no stupid questions).  I hope that when they visit me, that I can break up tdhe monotony of school, even if it’s just for one day.  I’ve seen many different school systems treat students like they’re machines, intentionally or no.  I want to remind them that it’s okay to mess up, that trying their best is valid, and with the English language, anything goes, and grammar is made up, just like everything else.

And, right when I was getting the hang of my schedule and being put in a teaching position, my school began Les Vacances de la Touissant, a two week vacation.  Such is life.

Happy holidays, y’all.

The Day My Dream Came True

Today was the day.  After a 10 year wait and an uncomfortable conversation with a man before I hopped onto the metro, I was going to see the Palais Garnier, or as some may know it, the Opera Populaire from The Phantom of the Opera.  I was first introduced to The Phantom of the Opera in 8th grade, thanks to my parents having watched it.  I was in love.  Being 13, I obsessed over the things I loved (and still do), which meant that I researched everything about this place.  As it would turn out, the chandelier did actually crash, and there really are caverns underneath the opera house.  I read countless supplementary stories, such as Phantom by Susan Kay, and watched way too many retellings of the story, including, of course, the 1920s film with Lon Chaney, the 2004 musical, the cartoon, and the 1980s horror film starring Robert Englund.  I saved up money (which I spent much later after realizing just how expensive it was to get to France).  It was a dream, potentially obtainable once I had a job and vacation hours, but it was my dream.

Enter college.  After one term of taking French, I decided that I was pretty okay at this, and that, well, I’d like to know more about the culture and speak it more fluently–especially if I was ever to go to France.  I became a French major.  And, TAPIF-ers, if you’re worried about your speaking skills, please don’t worry!  The first thing my French advisor and professor ever said to me was “Comment tu t’appelles?” (What is your name?), and I said “What?” in response.  A rocky start, but a start nonetheless.  Three years of taking French classes, crying, doing projects, and writing essays later, and I began my senior year at Southern Oregon University.  At the end of each person’s studies, they must do a Capstone–that is, a final project whose guidelines were dictated by the major.  For my French major, we had to write a 15-20 page paper with at least 20 annotated bibliography sources as our general research.  So, naturally, I wrote my paper on The Phantom of the Opera.  That year, I even got Phantom of the Opera tattoos.  I was in it to win it.  But that wasn’t all!  Each French major has to do a sort of internship abroad.  Each person at my school who had to do this went through TAPIF to complete their degree, so here I am.

Just a week after I arrived in France, I knew it was time.  I had previously purchased my tickets online a few weeks before (do it, it’s super cheap, actually!), and I was ready to make my dream come true.  After a 40 minute train ride and a short trip on the metro, I ran up the stairs, turned around, and saw this beauty staring right back at me:

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My breath was taken away.  You know how in the movies, when someone sees something so beautiful, the camera does a 360 around the person’s face as they begin to cry?  That was me.  This photo doesn’t even do it justice.  I’m still shocked.  I had tickets for a self-guided tour, so I entered and began to walk around.  Spoiler alert: you can’t actually go into the theatre itself unless you have a ticket to see a show, but I’m already planning on buying one!

The insides were magnificent.  I’ve never seen such beauty before.  Every twist and turn I took unlocked more emotions.  Not only is it an opera house, but it’s a museum and library too.  The rooms are gorgeous, elegant, magnificent.

Look at these statues!!!!! INCREDIBLE.

Look at these ceilings!!!!!  Ahhh!!!!

Literally……….the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  I began crying again when I entered this room.  It was real.  I was really there.  I’m still in shock.  I splurged at the gift shop.  Took more photos.  Ate at a fancy restaurant across the street.  I just……..it really happened.  My dream came true.  I’m in disbelief.  It was magical and stupendous and other adjectives that I can’t think of right now.  I was patient, I worked hard.  It was a bootstraps-y kind of dream, but I did it.  A little girl from a small town in Washington began to dream 10 years ago.

My dream came true.  Yours can, too.