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.

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