Archive for October, 2011

I guess I should explain my life, in case anyone reads this (Part I)

So, let’s start at the beginning. Which, like this film:  was not at the take off of the plane. There was less paperwork involved than studying abroad- which, for me, was exactly like this clip. (Sorry, I couldn’t find one that included the very beginning or one with English subtitles. But you should watch the film if you haven’t. It’s called L’Auberge Espagnole, and it’s fantastic.)

Anyway. The beginning. I knew Teaching Assistantship Program in France (TAPIF) existed since Spring Sophomore year. In “What the Hell Do You Do With an English Major” class (officially called “Introduction to the Profession of English”), we had a guest speaker talk about the JET program, which is the [assistant] teaching English program in Japan, in case you don’t know. The professor (Michele Ruby) sent out an email with links to similar programs.

About a year ago, Dr. Lopez (head of the Global Languages and Cultures department) sent the updated link to all the French majors, maybe even all the Foreign/Global Language majors. I was the only one to apply, I believe, although there were several people who applied to the Spanish version of the same program. I realized I’d waited far too late to apply to grad schools. I had (have) no idea what I would study and hadn’t taken the GRE. I wanted to do a Creative Writing program in Ireland, but scholarship applications were closed. Plus, I felt like I was supposed to apply to the TAPIF. I actually had a wonderful discussion with one of my best friends while he was working at the library, and it helped convince me that applying was the right thing to do.

I’m giving all this background information because I’ve found that the little trying adventures in getting to France is often foreshadowing of the little trying adventures during the adjustment period. That semester was horrible. I was taking 18 hours of (really hard) classes, working as a tutor, working as a sales associate on the weekends back home for as long as I could take it, and dealing with a suicidal, violently crazy person. During the month of November, I had over 40 pages worth of research papers to write. I had spurts of free time. In one of the gaps between classes I sat on the B level (second basement) of the library because the rest of it was full, opened the application for TAPIF and started filling it out.

Since I have a feeling I’m being boring now, let’s just recount the difficulties in applying quickly. The application requires a doctor to look at you and fill out a form saying you’re healthy. There were threats of a snow/ice storm the night before my appointment. I got a phone call saying they may have to cancel the appointment, and they probably didn’t have any openings until after January 1. The application was due January 1. This was the middle of December… Luckily, it was still open. Since the application was online, all documents had to be scanned in. Our scanner mysteriously broke. I went to my friend Megan’s house and she and her dad (who happened to be my boss at the sales associate job) figured out how to use their scanner. Dr. Gatton, one of my recommenders, didn’t get the email to fill out the form. I even got his home phone number and left a message. When he finally did submit it, it didn’t work. I emailed Caroline Collins (after January 1), the lady who appeared to be in charge of organizing this. She said he hit the “save” instead of the “send” button and there was a grace period for technical difficulties. Yay!

Oh yeah, and like a few days after I started the application, the friend who worked at the library  (Seth) and I realized we liked each other. And pretty much had for about 3 years. But that’s another story… Just relating how life likes to throw these things at you.

Fast forward to April.  I got my acceptance email. I’d been placed in the Academie de Limoges. I was really excited. Then, there was paperwork due by the end of April/beginning of May. I had to steal a glue stick from William down the hall and have my roommate Becky run me to the post office to get it postmarked in time.

We got an email saying we’d receive our arrete de nomination by August with more specific information. Like the exact city, if I’d be there for 7 or 9 months, and what age students I had. Limoges is the capital of the region Limousin: the Academie de Limoges comprises the entire region of Limousin. I got an email in July saying they’d postmarked my arrete. They told me I’d be teaching elementary school in the departement of Corrèze. Yay! So I had a tad bit more information.

Anyone who wants to go to France for a long period of time has to make an appearance, in person, at the nearest French Consulate. For Kentucky, that’s Chicago. It’s far away. Not having a car makes life difficult. I booked an appointment at the end of August. I was going to go with Seth and was inviting other people for a road trip… Oh, and you absolutely need your arrete before going to the consulate. Weeks and weeks passed, but I didn’t have my arrete.

I got it a month after I got the email saying they postmarked it. They said I would be teaching in the city of Tulle at Ecole Elementaire Turgot.  Yes, Tulle like the wedding veil fabric.  Housing was uncertain, they told me to email Marie-Christine Renson without explaining who she was. I sent her an email a few days later and waited for a response.

Two weeks before the visa appointment, I realized no one I’d invited could go to Chicago. I flipped out because that meant I would have to pay $300 for a plane ticket, and that meant there was $300 less to spend here or use for a car someday… Luckily my dad had frequent flier miles so it actually cost $25.  Awesome!

So, I spent a few hours in Chicago by myself. I tried to leave the glass rotating door in a glass wall a section early and hit my head on the side of the building. Fun.

Marie-Christine didn’t reply to the email for at least three weeks. She said I would have a place to stay when I got there, but I wasn’t provided housing. She could check with the high/middle schools to see if they had an open dormitory or she could send me ads for apartments. I asked if there was any possible way she could do both.

My dad also bought my flight with his miles/credit card points. It was cheap and I feel lucky (and a little spoiled).  Departure: September 21, 2011. Return: May 12, 2012.

It still was a week or two before Marie-Christine responded. She said there were no open places at the high school, and proposed to have me stay at her house or the house of a teacher until I found a place of my own, if that sounded okay with me. I said it sounded perfect. She also said to tell her when I was arriving so she could get me at the train station, and book a train to a city called Brive, because it was more direct. I looked up Brive on the SNCF (train company) website and found Brive-la-Gaillarde. I asked Marie-Christine, to make sure, if this was the Brive she was talking about.

I notified the bank that I would be out of the country so they shouldn’t lock my card. Sadly, when I got a response from Marie-Christine (quicker, because she knew I was about to arrive in the country) telling me that was the right city, my card locked up. I thought maybe the notification hadn’t gotten through yet, and was on the phone with the bank with at least 3 different people for most of the day. This was the day before I left. The lady hadn’t figured it out by closing time, and she told me she’d fix it first thing in the morning.

Departure date. I got a call from the bank early in the morning. My card was fixed, so I bought a train ticket from Paris to Brive. I got at least three inches chopped off my hair, but my mum didn’t notice a difference. My throat had been hurting on and off for a few weeks, so I looked at it in the mirror with a flashlight. I assumed it was just allergies, what with living in on of the worst cities for allergies in the US and all. However, there was a white blister in the back of my throat. I went to the Take Care clinic at Walgreens. Strep negative. She said that sometimes drainage can cause blisters, which I never knew, and gave me prescription allergy meds.

Seth took off work early. He handed me a CD that he made, which I shoved in my backpack. We drove to the Cincinnati airport (in Northern KY…) 1.5 hours away. Ryann and Rachel (my sisters)came with us, which was surprising. Robert (my brother) had left a message the night before (he’s studying at UK in Lexington) that made me cry. He wished me Happy Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and St. Paddy’s Day… He may have even said, “Happy Birthday,” because I’m sure he doesn’t remember that my birthday is in Summer or that I’m coming home in Spring.

Anyway. 1.5 hour car ride. I printed my tickets off at the machine and gave the suitcase to the lady behind the counter. It weighed exactly 50 pounds… I barely avoided overweight baggage charges! My parents, sisters, Seth and I ate dinner at a way overpriced restaurant in the airport. Ryann brought her/my dad’s nice camera because she thought there would be cool things to take photos of for her photography class. Poor girl doesn’t know much about airports, and the Louisville airport is much busier that the Cinci one. Anyway, I got to hear another 40ish minutes of typical bickering from my sisters and my dad being sarcastic… Rachel, I’m pretty sure, was taking pictures of Seth and me on her ipod.

Leaving was hard. My mom cried, of course. Seth had been on the phone with his mum for a long bit when I was checking my suitcase. I heard “Casablanca” but that didn’t prepare me at all.

“Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. […] And that’s why you’re getting on that plane.” Something like this is what he told me as I buried my face in his shoulder and tried desperately to swallow the lump in my throat. Yes, it’s not perfectly accurate, as I’m not married to another man, but still.

But I’ll spare you more boring, sappy details of my love life. I felt like I was stripping to go through security. Take off shoes, belt, watch, jacket. Maybe also bracelet or ponytail holder from my wrist. Take phone out of pocket. Take laptop out of  backpack, out of case. I took up three of those grey boxes…

They also had this thing that xray scanned me, which I’d never done before. Then the lady said she was going to have to feel my legs down at my inner thigh… She didn’t find anything and asked me if I was sure I didn’t have anything in my pockets. I said no and checked, confused. She let me go after not finding  any bombs a second time. After I had redressed and was headed through the creepy, dead airport I found a bobby pin in the tiny rectangle pocket that some jeans have. Oops.

I had a 45 minute flight to Detroit, then 40 minutes to get to my flight to Paris. When I arrived in the Detroit airport, the lady on the intercom said, “last call for the flight to Paris!” So I ran a bit. My backpack was heavy. I made it. I sat down, texted Seth one last time then turned my phone off for good. Then I was headed to Paris!

Since I have a feeling this is long and boring, I’ll put the rest of the explanation in another post, if not several more. It should be more interesting. I suck at being focused when trying to explain my life… sorry.

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Paperwork…

The OFII- the office of immigration and integration- sent me a letter saying yes, they did receive the document with my address. Apparently, they have yet to receive copies of all my passport pages dealing with my identity and entrance into the country. Funny, as a copy of my ID pages, my visa, and the stamp customs gave me on my way in were all in the same envelope.

The Foyer du jeunes travailleurs, where I live, told me I would only have to pay 190euros until CAF (government aid) came in. Well, I got my bill for October, and guess how much they say I owe them? The full amount, which, by the way, is over half the salary advance. So going to go talk to them in a bit. (These are the same people that told me I could pay my deposit by bank card, so I waited until my card was in, which just so happened to be the day the money was due, ran to the bank, ran back to them only to find out- they don’t take cards! Joy. Oh, and I had a nightmare that started with the guy in charge trying to sexually harass me. That was fun.)

And apparently I missed that the MGEN (social security) people wanted my birth certificate. I vaguely remember something like that being said… (and I still owe them the 107.68 euros for mutuelle (full coverage health insurance) because my mom says I should. At least I have a social security number now!

I got all this in a flurry of five letters today… Funny how I was excited to get mail.

I know none of this is a big deal and can be fixed with phone calls and talking to people (I hope). If not, well there’s always talking to Marie-Christine Renson (my contact person who is in charge of all language teaching in the departement (like a county) of Corrèze. It’s just frustrating.

Also, I may have to get a second job, especially if I have to pay the full amount for October.

Kids :)

“Don’t kill the earthworm! They help plants grow, and if you kill the earthworms then there won’t be any more plants! And if there aren’t any plants there won’t be any more oxygen! And if there isn’t any more oxygen, we’ll all DIE!”~ A girl (Elodie?) on a rugby field trip/day when a boy was about to do who knows what to a worm

“Cruella De Vil is really mean, Rebecca.”
“Oui.”
“When people say ‘bonjour’ to her, she *never* says ‘bonjour’ back!” ~ Anouk, my adopted French sister

“Have you met Barak Obama?”~ multiple students

“There are two Dora the Explorers. One in French and one like you talk!” ~ Anouk again

I’m sure there are more that I just can’t think of right now.

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