Inter”

While liv­ing here in Paris, I find myself often dis­cussing – with both other for­eign­ers and French peo­ple – the com­plex­ity and frus­tra­tions with the highly struc­tured sys­tems that exist in France. More specif­i­cally, with the edu­ca­tion and work sys­tems, and most impor­tantly, their crossover. Although I tend to look at The United States with a crit­i­cal eye, I’ve always appre­ci­ated the flex­i­bil­ity and value placed on cre­ativ­ity and indi­vid­ual choice. I think that these cul­tural val­ues man­i­fest them­selves within our edu­ca­tion sys­tem. For exam­ple, even at the high school level stu­dents have a choice of elec­tives, sports, clubs, etc. Then fur­ther, at the uni­ver­sity level, with the plethora of degree pro­grams – even within them­selves hav­ing course choice options. Then after stud­ies, the idea that your degree doesn’t have to cor­re­spond pre­cisely to your work field(s), because it’s impor­tant to have a diver­sity of indi­vid­u­als within a team who can each offer a unique perspective/input.

I think that this con­cep­tion of flex­i­bil­ity and ‘inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­ity’ in degree and field of work shows how our cul­ture empha­sizes the impor­tance of look­ing at the entire his­tory of an indi­vid­ual in a broad, yet crit­i­cal sense. While prepar­ing my mas­ters appli­ca­tions for French uni­ver­si­ties, and speak­ing with peo­ple already work­ing here, I get the impres­sion that this same flex­i­bil­ity isn’t as preva­lent. For exam­ple, hav­ing changed courses of study, or hav­ing stud­ied mul­ti­ple sub­jects, is often con­sid­ered as a lack of focus, or mak­ing a wrong deci­sion. Fur­ther, it can be hard to inte­grate into a new field of study, since even at the high school level, the final diploma has a spe­cial­ized men­tion. Even more dif­fi­cult is to change career fields. This also puts a lot of pres­sure on stu­dents at a young age to com­mit to a spe­cific sec­tor, when later they may come to real­ize that they are bet­ter suited for another domain, yet can­not nec­es­sar­ily go back to get the appro­pri­ate training.

While there are cer­tainly French uni­ver­si­ties and French com­pa­nies that break beyond these severely struc­tured sys­tems that seek for­mu­lated, spe­cific, and sim­i­lar indi­vid­u­als for program/career place­ments, it doesn’t appear to be the norm. There are sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties that appear to actively seek inter­na­tional stu­dents, and in these cases, I think they rep­re­sent a more mod­ern, cre­ative, and flex­i­ble sys­tem than the ‘old French edu­ca­tion sys­tem.’ This idea also makes me won­der how glob­al­iza­tion – both within edu­ca­tion and work – will impact the French sys­tems. My pre­dic­tion is that it will slowly alter France to become more open and mal­leable, to the ben­e­fit of both native French and for­eign­ers. After all, how can we know what we want to do or who we want to be with­out hav­ing a vari­ety of expe­ri­ences – edu­ca­tion­ally, pro­fes­sion­ally, and per­son­ally? Maybe it is because I’ve gone down paths in all sorts of direc­tions, but with­out hav­ing done that, I think I would be lost.

Chapters Reopened

On August 29th, 2012 I wrote my last blog post about liv­ing in France for a year as a study abroad stu­dent. In that post, I wrote, “I think I’ll be back to France one of these days, maybe short-term, maybe long-term. But for now, I am going to enjoy the U.S. more so than ever, because I have learned more about myself, and about my coun­try, thanks to being abroad.” Just about one year later, in the begin­ning of August 2013, I moved back to Paris. It’s been about six months and the expe­ri­ence has been dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent then when I was an exchange student.

My project upon return­ing was to improve my French enough in order to apply for a mas­ters at a uni­ver­sity in Paris. But, my project was not as con­structed as when I was an exchange stu­dent. I enrolled in lan­guage classes, took a job as a nanny, and moved in with my boyfriend (at the time). But, for the most part, I was on my own, with­out a net­work, with­out a solid step-by-step plan. I wasn’t scared, but maybe I should have been.

After six months, my one net­work was ended when my rela­tion­ship ended. His fam­ily was my fam­ily here, his friends were my friends here. I was left feel­ing com­pletely iso­lated and ques­tion­ing why I was here in Paris.

It’s been one month and I’ve remem­bered why I’m here: liv­ing in a for­eign coun­try is a chal­lenge in inde­pen­dence and strength. You have to work harder and more in order to suc­ceed; sys­tems aren’t designed for you, the for­eigner — they’re designed for the national. Every­day can be a lit­tle com­pli­cated with the lan­guage, with the peo­ple — things are dif­fer­ent. But that is why I am here, it’s why I returned. What bet­ter way to explore who you are, what you want, than to be con­stantly sur­rounded by dif­fer­ences and adversity?

Don’t get me wrong, liv­ing abroad is just as much of a priv­i­lege as it is a chal­lenge. But, it’s a priv­i­lege and an oppor­tu­nity that tests us to con­stantly seek who we are and who we can become.

 

Closing Chapters

After 362 days spent in France, it became more than just a “study abroad.” I met life­long friends, formed long-lasting rela­tion­ships, got a job, cre­ated daily rou­tines — I started grow­ing roots in France.

While still far from flu­ent, stum­bling my way along with finally con­ver­sa­tional yet bro­ken French, I wasn’t a tourist or a study abroad stu­dent any­more. In the morn­ings I would go to the cor­ner bak­ery, dur­ing the day I would go to var­i­ous Eng­lish tutor­ing and nan­ny­ing jobs, and in the evening I would pick out din­ner from var­i­ous shops along the street.

How­ever, as the months went along after school ended, peo­ple, one-by-one, started to leave. First, the other exchange stu­dents in May, then the fam­ily for whom I was au-pairing left for a three-month long sum­mer vaca­tion start­ing in June, then the last remand­ing exchange stu­dents who decided to stay for the sum­mer started to dwin­dle away in July.

August rolled around and there I was going about my daily activ­i­ties which had become so rou­tine, so nor­mal at that point, and I real­ized I had only a cou­ple of weeks left. Get­ting to the air­port was some­what sur­real, going through secu­rity was a break­down. As I walked through the metal detec­tor, cry­ing, I made it buzz. As I tried to keep my watery eyes hid­den, the nice French secu­rity guard asked me (as she pat­ted me down), “Vous êtes triste?” (Are you sad?). Embar­rassed, yet touched by the very per­sonal, not so Amer­i­can style air­port secu­rity pat-down, I replied, “Oui.” I had become so accli­mated to the life, cul­ture, and peo­ple in France that on my way back to the U.S., I had almost the same anx­i­eties as I had had when leav­ing the U.S. to come to France for a year: but this time, I felt like I was return­ing to a for­eign country.

I have now been back in the U.S. for a cou­ple of weeks, and I couldn’t be more thank­ful for the year that I was able to spend abroad. I miss France, espe­cially some of the peo­ple, and of course the crois­sants and pas­tries, but com­ing back to the U.S. after a year away has also made me real­ize how great the U.S. is, too! And, at the end of the day, it feels like home.

One of the things I loved about France is that it was so much eas­ier to start a con­ver­sa­tion with a stranger, or a clerk, or a wait­ress, because being for­eign is an instant con­ver­sa­tion starter. The clerk at the local gro­cery store always remem­bered me, and we always had lit­tle con­ver­sa­tions, because there was some­thing dif­fer­ent about me — I was the young Amer­i­can girl who mum­bled and bum­bled her way through the French lan­guage. Being noticed and being remem­ber was nice, and made trips to the gro­cery store much more enjoy­able. Yet, being in the U.S., see­ing faces of life-long friends, the famil­iar­ity, the com­fort of ‘home’ is incred­i­bly peaceful.

Study­ing abroad in France is some­thing that I knew I always wanted to do, but, get­ting there wasn’t a cake walk. It took plan­ning, finan­cial strug­gles, and a lot of stress. Yet, despite the costs, I wouldn’t trade the expe­ri­ence for any­thing. Study­ing abroad is not just trav­el­ing, it’s not just being a tourist, it’s not just being a stu­dent, it’s not just liv­ing in a for­eign coun­try — to study abroad is to throw your­self into a new world and just fig­ure it out (and prob­a­bly end up lov­ing what you find and who you become). It’s like being a baby, but in a big per­son body, with extremely accel­er­ated development.

I think I’ll be back to France one of these days, maybe short-term, maybe long-term. But for now, I am going to enjoy the U.S. more so than ever, because I have learned more about myself, and about my coun­try, thanks to being abroad.

To my friends and those with whom I remain deeply con­nected in France and Europe, thank you for every­thing you have done for me.

À bien­tôt, Chelsea.

P.S. Thank you to the pas­try chefs of France, for mak­ing my expe­ri­ence out-of-this-world deli­cious. :-)

How to Spend 7 Days in Paris?

View down the Champs-Elysées from the top of the Arc de Triumph

This blog is a bit over­due — My Dad came to visit in June for 7 days. With 7 days, the task ahead of us was what to see in a city that has every­thing from the world’s most well-known muse­ums, to the world’s best foods, and numer­ous sights. As my Dad walked through the air­port, jet lagged yet smil­ing, we both knew that being in Paris was no time to sleep. A few espres­sos later, we were trekking around the bumpy, cob­ble­stone streets.

First stop: L’Arc de Triumph

One of the best views in Paris, a cheap ticket and some stairs later, you can see all sides of the city:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacré Coeur / Montmartre 

La Défense (The Busi­ness District)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eif­fel Tower

 Next stop, walk down the Champs-Elysées, visit some stores, buy some post­cards, swim through the sea of tourists.

After that, it was time for some more cof­fee, and a beer. I took my dad to visit my school, and we stopped at a café on Boule­vard Saint-Germain along the way…

After reen­er­giz­ing, we strolled through the Tui­leries Gar­dens and passed by (but not inside) the Lou­vre. Not long after, it was time for din­ner, and then on to the next day…

We vis­ited the Palace of Ver­sailles. A must see for any trav­eler com­ing to France. The cas­tle is beau­ti­ful, the gar­dens incred­i­ble, and my favorite — Marie Antoinette’s cot­tage — there are even animals!

The next few days of the trip were spent eat­ing — cheese, crepes, baguettes, and most impor­tantly, pastries.

We also vis­ited the Pom­pi­dou museum, a treat for any mod­ern art lover.

One of the very best moments of the trip came on the last day. We decided to go for a walk along the Seine, it was sunny and we had seen most  every­thing on our tourist check list. Walk­ing along, we came upon a “Grand Mar­ket of the South of France” : one euro for entry and a plas­tic wine cup. After an evening of wine tast­ing, cheese sam­ples, sauces, and some deli­cious mus­sels later, I would say that my Dad’s visit to Paris fin­ished with a sur­prise bang.

It never seems to be the Eif­fel Tow­ers of the world that bring the most joy, but rather those sur­prises that hap­pen when the mind is set at ease, not focused on check­ing off sights, but just left to wander…

Bastille Day, The French (1)4th of July

The 14th of July, is known as Bastille Day, kind of the equiv­a­lent of the 4th of July in the U.S. The 14th com­mem­o­rates the begin­ning of the French Rev­o­lu­tion on July 14th of 1789 when the rev­o­lu­tion­ary party, react­ing against the power of the Monar­chy,  stormed the Bastille, a French prison. The begin­ning of “Lib­erty, Equal­ity, Fra­ter­nity.” While I spent the 4th of July in France eat­ing hot dogs and choco­late chip cook­ies, the 14th was spent watch­ing an incred­i­ble fire­works dis­play at the Eif­fel Tower. While my phone could only cap­ture the pho­tos so well, and my height was a bit of a lim­i­ta­tion, here is a peak at the spec­tac­u­lar show: (P.S. This year’s fire­works dis­play was a disco theme so the show was accom­pa­nied by some of the great­est disco hits– and note, the giant disco ball hang­ing from the cen­ter of the Eif­fel Tower!)

 

The Intouchables

A few months ago I went with a friend to see Les Intouch­ables. Another bonus in France, it’s rel­a­tively inex­pen­sive to go to the movies! It was 5,50 euros for each of us, with the stu­dent dis­count. And the the­ater was right on the Champs-Elysées! In brief, I have never laughed so hard at a movie that I only under­stood 65% of the dia­logue :) French, no sub­ti­tles. More­over, not only was it a hilar­i­ous movie, but also a fan­tas­tic social com­men­tary on Paris and the sur­round­ing suburbs.

The pop­u­la­tion of Paris (the “arrondisse­ments” or dis­tricts) is quite seg­re­gated by socio-economic fac­tors; the left bank tends to be extremely wealthy (and white), the right bank a tad less so, and the North­ern arrondisse­ments (the 19th and 20th) are the poor­est, and mostly com­prised of for­eign­ers and immi­grants — typ­i­cally of African or Arab descent. The same goes for the sub­urbs or the “ban­lieue” of Paris, which in gen­eral is sig­nif­i­cantly more impov­er­ished and has a high immi­grant population.

While I say that I live in Paris, it isn’t totally accu­rate; I live in the North­ern sub­urbs, the ban­lieue of Paris. How­ever, the school at which I am study­ing is located in the cen­ter of Paris, in the most expen­sive, most chic area — Saint Ger­main des Prés (the 7th arrondisse­ment). As I go to school, from the sub­urbs to the 7th, from the train to the metro, the peo­ple change, the clothes change, the races change. While often France doesn’t like to admit it (they refrain from pub­lish­ing a lot of sta­tis­tics that have to do with race), I have found there to be quite a few racist ele­ments in Paris, that often go undis­cussed. A lot of this has to do with the his­tory, the crime, the immi­gra­tion poli­cies, the social ser­vices, etc. but, when going between the sub­urbs and through Paris, it is impos­si­ble not to notice the divide between peo­ple and areas.

While Intouch­ables is a com­edy (and I guar­an­tee you’ll be laugh­ing!), it also touches on a lot of inter­est­ing and impor­tant fac­tors that char­ac­ter­ize ele­ments of Paris, those which often aren’t spo­ken of. In addi­tion, it’s based on a true-story, mak­ing it all the more real and intriguing.

I loved a Woody Allen’s Mid­night in Paris, but Intouch­ables shows another impor­tant side of Paris, too.

View­ing information:

Intouch­ables is play­ing at the Sun­dance Cin­ema in Seat­tle (4500 9th Avenue North East)

Finding a Job (in a Foreign Country) !

Now that school here has ended, find­ing a job for the sum­mer has con­sumed most of my time. The job quest has been fun and inter­est­ing — but also chal­leng­ing. The task: find a job for two months, July and August. Where to look? Eng­lish teach­ing, babysit­ting, tourism related jobs, restau­rants, bars, and the like. These places have proved the most likely to hire an Eng­lish speak­ing for­eign stu­dent, on a part-time basis for the summer.

What to know? Know the web­sites! In France, there are sev­eral sites ded­i­cated to Anglo­phones in Paris/France; most are for fam­i­lies seek­ing Eng­lish tutors or babysit­ters for their chil­dren. Ask around, every­one you know — natives, expats, other stu­dents, etc — for web­sites. By ask­ing around I’ve found two of the most help­ful sites yet: fusac.fr (a site with job and hous­ing announce­ments for Anglo­phones liv­ing in Paris) and cherche-cours.com (a site where you can post free ads for Eng­lish tutor­ing, etc.). By respond­ing to announce­ments, and post­ings announce­ments, I’ve had four inter­views for sum­mer jobs! While going to inter­view after inter­view, isn’t the most excit­ing — it has been great prac­tice for my French! Bars and restau­rants: go in, ask if they are look­ing for any new staff, have your CV ready — some of my study abroad friends were hired on the spot!

Part two: Dur­ing my job hunt, I’ve found one thing, as a native Eng­lish speaker, there will always be a nanny job in Europe, par­tic­u­larly in France. Why is this impor­tant? Well, if you want to travel, see new places, expe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent cul­tures there is one (inex­pen­sive!) sure way to do that: be an Au Pair. Tons of fam­i­lies in France have almost all of July and August off for sum­mer vaca­tion and many are seek­ing sum­mer Au Pairs to accom­pany them on vaca­tion– how does the South of France — the beaches of Nice and Cannes — or, Spain sound? I’ve found over thirty posit­ings on au pair web­sites (i.e, abc-familes.com, aupair-world.net) and other sites, such as Fusac.fr, with fam­i­lies seek­ing Eng­lish speak­ing au pairs to come from any­where between two weeks and two months on vaca­tion to look after the chil­dren. What is typ­i­cally included? Free hous­ing, food, and a stipend around 70–150 euros a week.

Part three: Woof­ing! (wwooff.org) World Wide Oppor­tu­ni­ties on Organic Farms. Sounds a bit North-westy Birken­stock, veg­gie doesn’t it :) ? While I have never “woofed,” I have heard won­der­ful things about it. Essen­tially, you select a region to go (I’ve known peo­ple who have gone to Italy and France), and you work five hours a day on a farm. I think the stays can be as short as one week, but check the web­site to con­firm! In exchange for work­ing on the farm, you receive hous­ing and food. But what’s more, you have the oppor­tu­nity to immerse your­self into a for­eign fam­ily to see how they live their daily lives. And if you go to Italy or France, I’m bet­ting that the food and wine won’t be too bad, either. I think I might have to try this ‘woof­ing’ out…

Moral of the story: always know that there is work avail­able in for­eign coun­tries, but find­ing where to look is the tricky part! 748 Google searches later and you’ll be ready to fund (or pre­vent from div­ing into too big of debt) your study/travels abroad.

À la prochaine!

Un petit week-end en Normandie

Noto­ri­ously French, and ever so accu­rate: hol­i­days and vaca­tions in excess (although, I can’t say I’m com­plain­ing). Par­tic­u­larly in May, but start­ing in April, there are a total of 7 national hol­i­days, days on which schools and offices are closed. Over these week­ends, it is com­mon for the French to take an extended week­end, or some­times even an extended week off. For the Parisians, a com­mon week­end des­ti­na­tion is to the Nor­mandy region–just a cou­ple hours by train or car from Paris. Nor­mandy, famous for the camem­bert cheese, is part of the beau­ti­ful French coun­try­side, and also has a lovely coast­line bor­der­ing the Eng­lish Channel.

 

 

 

One of the many won­ders of France is the huge diver­sity in land/areas/cities/countryside/seaside/mountains, con­cen­trated in a rel­a­tively small area. After just 2 hours in a train, I had left the busy sub­ways of Paris to arrive in a small vil­lage in North­ern Normandy.


 

First, we stopped at the mar­ket to pick out some fresh seafood.

Here are some of the scal­lops we choose from– and then took home to crack open!

The meal was accom­pa­nied by fresh oys­ters, her­ring, warm bread, fresh melted but­ter, tart and salty lemon sauce, and of course– a sweet, crisp, sug­ary white wine. Mhmm.

Tak­ing in the fresh air, eat­ing the deli­cious food, and, work­ing on the farm. We played with the goats, built a fence for the horses, and, took in the countryside.

It was a won­der­ful week­end– an escape from the stresses and real­i­ties of every­day life, to step back, reflect, and slow down.

Inside the cot­tage– Nor­mandy, France

 

 

 

Oh, the Smells that You’ll Smell!

A lit­tle about one of my favorite things in France: the food.

Before com­ing, I knew that I would love the cheese, bread, meat, sauces, etc…What I wasn’t as pre­pared for: the incred­i­ble desserts. While it is a bit tor­tur­ous walk­ing by all the amaz­ing “Patis­series,” look­ing in and see­ing the col­or­ful cre­ations, the smell is equally irresistible.

With­out exag­ger­at­ing, win­dows like these fol­low you around Paris:

From top to bot­tom: A bak­ery near where I live in the sub­urbs of Paris, the cen­ter two are from bak­eries in “Le Marais,” a nice dis­trict in Paris, and the last (mhmm Nutella…) from a crêpes stand on Boule­vard Saint Ger­main, near my school.

I travel Paris like a dog, by scent.

Who needs a map? :)