“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? 🙂