The First Two Weeks in France
As I’m finishing my first two weeks living abroad in France, for a seven month English teaching job for the country’s education ministry, I am feeling a bit all over the place.
There have been many satisfying experiences: buying a bike and riding it around town, getting into the swing of grocery shopping at the weekly market and the grocery stores, hearing “September” by Earth Wind and Fire at an American-themed bar in town by a cover band that played all English songs, catching a beautiful sunset at the beach, seeing a view from atop the Dune du Pilat—the biggest dune in Europe—of the forest on one side and the ocean on the other, the excited reactions of the kids in my classes when I showed them photos of Chicago and New York City, getting to know the other assistants, the calm of living in a smaller town, riding my bike out to the beach under clear blue skies.
There have also been some harder experiences. The trip here was exhausting owing to a plane delay, the length of the journey, and the heft of my suitcases. The town I’m in does not have a train station, so we have to take a bus that does not run very frequently to the nearest one, about 25 minutes away. This will make traveling more of a challenge, and it does feel at times isolating. Moving from a city to a small town has been more of a culture shock than I expected, even though I was very ready for a change from the size and pace of New York.
And of course everything is more difficult because it’s in French, from opening a bank account, to keeping track of all of the paperwork and what is being asked of me when I fill things out, to teaching kids who know very little English. My roommates are from Mexico and Spain which means it doesn’t really make sense for me to default to English with them, though they know it. It is great that I’m forced to speak and think in so much French, and at the same time I miss talking to English-speaking people—and I often too easily switch to English when I’m around other American, Canadian, or British assistants. There have been things I would say to my friends in situations I have been in that I either don’t know how to say in French, or that I know other people wouldn’t get. I miss the level of depth I can have in conversations in my native language. Plus I’m currently sick with a sore throat and in bed.
And I also feel a little adrift at times. I know the choice I made to come here was the right one, and that I shouldn’t over-think about the future, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about where I’ll be in seven months, what the heck I’m doing in a program that’s mostly full of recent college grads, how to stay in touch with friends and family, and whether this will bring me closer to figuring some things out.
I feel in a different place than most of the people I’m spending time with, who are just starting out their adult lives, but I also feel in a different place from a lot of my peers: I have made the decision to change my career path while most people I know have settled in one, and I’m not yet married or have children. I decided over the last year or so that if I needed to do something that felt more true to myself than what I had been doing and in order to feel a stronger sense for my interests and better align my life with my values. It was a big admission to make to myself leading to a series of big choices, and helped significantly by people back in New York and Chicago who are now far away. It puts high expectations on this experience that is made the more challenging when I think how much I miss everyone back home a whole lot. I remind myself that things will calm down at some point. I’ve pretty much been in moving mode since early August, first moving out of my apartment in New York City and closing everything down there and then packing and coming here. Sometimes it has seemed like a never-ending stream of decision-making, navigating processes, monitoring accounts to see if they’ve closed or opened, and so on.
And yet I have a lot to be grateful for. The other assistants in the same town as me so far have been incredibly kind, and everyone is trying to help each other navigate things. Last Friday, the one assistant with a car (which really helps around these parts) drove the rest of us to the beach where we saw that beautiful sunset.
I know with this experience I’ll put much of what I worked on in my last couple years in New York on dealing with stress and challenges to practice, and one of the things that keeps me most grounded and able to move forward is staying in the day and in the moment. It helps that the environment here feels less hurried, and people are less plugged in all of the time, so I don’t in turn feel a pressure to also be plugged in. I’ll see if this continues, but I can’t help but think, as I often do, how the pace of life in America is unnecessary and quite capable of driving people crazy. Here there are definitely a lot of challenges and things to navigate, but there isn’t quite the level of pressure I feel back home.
In subsequent posts I’m looking forward to providing more of a day-to-day of the overall experience and what life is like here in Biscarrosse, France.