I’ve Become That Person…

I hate to admit it, but I’ve become that person who starts a blog with great motivation and then falls off the face of the planet with no warning.

My deepest apologies.

Here’s a glimpse of what’s been going on in my world these last few months.

 I’m still living with a French family as an au pair. I’m an English assistant in a (mildly dysfunctional) middle school.

I take French classes to be able to legally stay in the country.

I babysit/ teach English for cash on the side.

I also try to exercise, travel, have a boyfriend, and keep up with friends and family back home.

Bref, je cours après le temps. Basically, I’m constantly running in every direction.

It’s fairly exhausting to maintain multiple jobs that demand that I cross all of Lyon multiple times a day. My contract as an assistant finishes in a couple weeks and this year, I’ve decided not to ask for an extension to stay an extra month. I just need one thing to wind down so that I can breathe.

Hmm what else is new?

In three weeks, we’ll be on vacation and I’ll go on a spiritual retreat for a week with G and his youth group to Taizé. And in just over a month, I’m getting PACSed! I’ll write more about that one day. Probably.

I’m applying to grad school in France and have my application just about finished. I should find out in a month or so if I get in.

G and I are traveling to Iceland and America this summer so we have all of our plans in the works.

So many fun things are on the horizon, but in the daily grind it feels like I’m constantly trying to beat the clock.

Despite all of that, I would like to get back into the habit of writing every so often. It helps me prendre du recul (step back and reflect) and I’m thankful for a lot of the memories I’ve recorded here.

I’m not going to make any promises for a next update soon, but I’ll do my best.

A Brief November Check-in

I feel like I blinked and here we are at the end of November. The fall has flown by! Life is full of fun new experiences and adventures and the yet the day-to-day feels surprisingly routine—like I’ve lived here forever. That’s why it’s so hard to motivate myself to update this blog. Life feels so… ordinary. But I’ll try to think of a few interesting things to give a little update.

Life as an au pair is fun and challenging. It’s a 24-hour commitment. I love the kids I live with and yet they totally wear me out. They have adorably sweet moments and complete monster moments. Basically… they’re children. For example, I recently told the 4 year old I had a surprise for her. I had brought her favorite cookies to the park for a snack. Her first three guesses, however were, “A drawing? A hug? You’re going to play with me?” How sweet is that??

I had been taking French classes but found it to be rather boring and not very challenging so I embarked on a new adventure…

I’m an assistant again! I still get to be in middle school and I still completely love the experience. It’s challenging and fun and always a different experience. Of course, I’ve been in my school for three weeks and I still can’t log in to the computers and I still don’t have a set schedule (I typically send a text on Sunday night to the English teachers saying “sooo when am I working this week?”). So basically, the organization is incredibly French (read: non-existent) but at least I’m getting used to working in this world of chaos.

What else has been going on?

I recently taught my first hour long Bible class in French and no one fell asleep. It was a huge effort to prepare but seemed to go over well.

I managed my first major water leak in the apartment this weekend. The family was gone and we ended up having water pouring down 7 floors. I had to call the plumber and talk to the neighbors and call the family (who were at a funeral!). I learned a lot of new vocabulary very quickly to solve that crisis.

I visited G’s family in Alsace for two weeks. It was a much needed vacation and I celebrated my 24th birthday in Germany at EuropaPark. I’ll have to do a whole post on our wonderful vacation.

Thursday marked one year since G and I started dating. His English level is improving and I don’t think he’s laughed at something I’ve said in French in quite a while. Small steps.

So that’s what’s new. I’ll head to the USA in a few weeks for a wedding and to spend Christmas with my family.

I can’t promise updating as faithfully as last year because blogging about being an au pair feels a little invasive for the family I work for. I have some great stories, but I guess I’ll have to save them for my memoir one day.

Revealing your roots is a mixed bag

Today marks one year since I first made the journey to start life in France. When I think about settling into life in France last fall (I admittedly already look back on it with rose-colored glasses), I remember figuring out how to do things one step at a time, like a child discovering unfamiliar surroundings. Fitting in wasn’t my ultimate goal — surviving was.

I often reflect on my identity as an American in France. A friend who’s very fluent in French race relations recently taught me the phrase, les personnes racisées. It’s a brand new phrase that doesn’t translate well in English. Essentially, it means people that could be identified as a race other than the majority by their appearance. For example, I was a personne racisée in Zambia and Togo, but I’m not in France. People might guess that I’m not French by my mannerisms or clothes but you’d have to hear me talk to know for sure.

Here are a few experiences as of late that have caused me to ponder this idea even more.

  • I was at the doctor last week to get a medical certificate (an official approval you need to do just about anything in France) and the doctor was less concerned about my health and more concerned about America. He has a son in San Francisco and he wanted to hear all about being from MA and moving to France.
  • G and I have spent our free time lately visiting apartments. He’s planning to move in the next few months. In one apartment, the real estate guy showing us around asked after chatting for a few minutes, “You have a small accent … where are you from?” I replied, “I’m American,” with a smile. The current apartment owner proceeded to tell me that there’s an American woman who works at his company (makes sense when he told me her works for General Mills). It was almost like he wanted to see if I knew her.
  • Just two days later, we were visiting another. After talking to the current owner for a few minutes, I was asked the familiar question “D’où vient votre petit accent?” (Where does your small accent come from?) and I smiled again and told her I’m American. She turned her back to me to pick something up and said “Hmm.” When I she turned back around, I saw her pursed lips. I glanced at G to see if he saw her reaction. He was trying to hold back a smirk. We quickly moved on to something else and didn’t go back.

It’s impossible to know what that lady was thinking. I can’t know what the real estate agent or the doctor really think of America either, and that’s totally fine. My experience as a foreigner in France is made so much easier because I don’t have the word “non-French” stamped across my forehead, I’m not a personne racisée. The experience of so, so many people in France is much less sunshine and roses than mine has been. I don’t know that I get to feel any certain common experience (except that of long lines at the Immigration Office) but as I move through life and continue to find my identity in a new language and culture, I don’t want to forget the tension between my experience and so many others’.

The perfect summer weekend

Back in February, G and I made plans to visit Marseille since OUIGO train tickets are so cheap (like 10 euros cheap). We picked a random weekend and ended up having downpours. The storms made it so that he couldn’t take me to the Côte Bleu (the beautiful coast of the Mediterranean) and so we made a mental note that we’d have to make a return trip.

We decided on the first weekend that I’d be back in France after a few weeks in the USA and that was that. This time, we checked the weather and instead of downpours we saw that we’d be going in the midst of a heatwave. “At least we’ll get to swim”, we thought.

So we packed our sunglasses, sunscreen, and an insane amount of water and headed off.

As I put on my Chacos to head out, G skeptically said, “You know this hike is pretty intense right?” He clearly didn’t know the kinds of adventures my Chacos have endured. I couldn’t help but wonder how intense we were talking.

Seven hours of hiking later, I understood. We stopped to swim three times and picnicked with this perfect view. img_4105

We had downloaded the trail to our phones ahead of time, but it wasn’t always easy to pick out. Sometimes it was fairly clear…

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And other times it looked like this. img_4124

Swimming was the perfect way to break up the seven hours (also probably why it took us 7 instead of 4 like the GPS said). On our third stop, G did get stung by a jellyfish which quickly turned me off from the idea. He was fine but I was so glad it was at the end of the day! I might have chickened out from swimming way earlier otherwise.

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Our Marseille trip was the perfect way to celebrate the end of summer! img_4116

And this pizza was our reward for the 17 km we conquered!

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Looking Back on a Year

In the first week of living in France, I made a list in my journal of personal and professional goals. The list naïvely included mastering French and deciding whether teaching would be my career choice. Looking back on this year, I can confidently say that mastering a language as rich and complex as French will take a lifetime. I love that French words and expressions come to mind often before English ones and friends report that when I talk in my sleep, it’s most often in French. I look back fondly on my year in the classroom and feel utterly uncertain whether this is the profession for which I was made. While I can’t tie my list of goals up neatly in a bow, I still feel like it’s been a year of incredible growth and discovery.

And in a lot of ways, I got a lot more than my list of goals bargained for. Perhaps most notably would be falling in love. It would be accurate to say that I fell equally in love with a boy and a country. I also hadn’t anticipated enthusiastically searching for opportunities to stay in France beyond my one-year commitment.

I have been almost completely immersed in French. I learned to navigate bureaucratic formalities and awkward roommate conversations about doing the dishes.

I made a commitment to be consistently friendly in a country know for curtness. That decision led to countless encounters with warm, gracious people.

I felt deeply for a country that faced intense loss and fear and continues to grapple with dilemmas of identity and race.

It’s been a year of growth, discovery, encouragement, loss, and so much grace and I am enthusiastically ready to embark on year number two.

A change of… just about everything.

It’s officially been 3 weeks since I’ve packed up my home in Bourg-en-Bresse and moved to Lyon. And plenty of things have changed. Living in Lyon has a much different feel than small-town life. There are endless options for eating out, shopping, and just about everything else. The countless options, however, means most of my daily encounters are far less personal than in Bourg.

It’s just not the same going to the pharmacy. My old pharmacist was so kind and gracious and happily took my American pill bottles and gave me the French equivalences. My banker was patient and said my accent was “charming.” I love Lyon and I’m really happy to be here, but my day-to-day definitely feels less warm than it used to.

As far as my new home and job, being an au pair is fun and exhausting. I definitely don’t recommend jumping into a new job with a family you don’t know three weeks before summer vacation. Everyone is in “summer mode” and there’s no daily routine. I have been told at the last second about soccer banquets, drum concerts, end of year celebrations, dance performances, etc. Bed times get pushed later as the sun goes down around 10pm and homework is hardly in the picture. Adjusting to daily life is a challenge when every day is so different.

Overall, I’m happy with what I’m doing. It was the right choice for this in-between time and I think it’s the right choice for next year. I am also looking forward to some vacation and then a month in America this summer! I can’t wait to eat American food and see so many people that I love.

I’m not sure what the future will look like for this blog. Life in France just feels so normal now that I feel odd keeping a blog about everyday life. I’ll think about it this summer and we’ll see.

You Will Miss Us, Kaitlin!

As I wrapped up my classes with the kiddos over the last few weeks, I realized just how precious they’ve become to me.

They’ve made so much progress over the year and can mostly all tell me how many stars are on the American flag.

We’ve listened to Beyoncé and played a lot of rounds of Friday pictionary.

As I played American trivia using an old Brainquest I found in a box titled “English”, they proudly shouted “Barack Obama” as the answer to every question and I rolled my eyes and handed out bookmarks that say “Reading is cool!” to the ones who managed a correct answer.

Maybe the best thing over the past two weeks have been middle schooler presents. Oh my word. Last Monday, I was walking down the hall when I heard “Kaitliiiiiiin !” A sweet sixième shoved a mug wrapped in foil in my hands and said “J’ai fait un gâteau pour vous !” She painted the handle purple and made a delicious mug cake! How cool is that? (and it didn’t kill me which is another huge plus!)

Another little one handed me a homemade American flag that she made from a paper towel roll and a t-shirt while another made me a charm bracelet. I really love them.

One of my favorite gifts was from a little girl who proudly handed me a homemade card. After eight months of talking about America, she had carefully put 4 British flags on it. They kill me.

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Consistently throughout my last week, they’d say to meet, “You are going to miss us, Kaitlin!” Each time, I would grin and gently remind them that the construction of “to miss” is different than French. In French, to say “I miss you” you say “tu me manques” (or literally you are missing to me). So to tell me that they’d miss me, I in term was informed that I would miss them. Which was equally true.

The English teachers organized a dinner party to say goodbye to me and all 8 of the teachers that I worked with (in both schools) were able to make it. We talked about school and made jokes that only people who speak both French and English would understand. They spoiled me rotten with gifts including a book about the region, a favorite French film, and chocolates made in Bourg. But my favorite gifts were the things that the students made for me! One teacher had every student make a card for me and she turned them all into a scrapbook. Another had her students write stories during a fairytale unit where I was the main character. How thoughtful is that?! The teachers also noticed that my computer case was falling apart and gave me a brand new one! I was so moved by their kindness.

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This year has been one of growth and a whole lot of trial-and-error. I am so grateful to have had such a positive experience with my coworkers and students. I know many assistants who felt under-utilized and sometimes unwanted and I am thankful to have felt so appreciated and utilized. The English teachers I worked with were passionate and humble. They’d often send me assignments or texts to proof-read before assigning them to students or have me record passages for oral exams.

While I’m still completely divided on whether I’ll pursue a future in education or not, I am so thankful for this year of learning. And over the next few weeks, I’m traveling a bunch and celebrating the end of the school year before I start life as an au pair!