The most wonderful time of the year: a tour of French Christmas markets with tales of adulting and continually battling up against the teacher question

It has been a couple of weeks since I posted last, and I must be honest. I have honestly forgotten about this blog here. As I have settled here in this quaint, small city of Laval, France, I have developed a routine, oft forgetting that I have a story to tell. Not only am I a rather forgetful person, but sometimes, my life is so extraordinarily normal that it does not come to mind to tell people about it, but alas, here I am, telling it, knowing that many of you back home are wondering what I’m up to and how this whole France adventure thing is working out for me.

So, here’s what I’ve been up to the last few weeks: teaching, mostly. I have discovered how difficult this profession is sometimes, and I am just an assistant. If it’s this difficult while I’m just assisting, I can only begin to imagine how difficult it must be for actual teachers. I find myself constantly head to head with the teacher question, that question that lurks around in the back of my mind every time I give a lesson or I assist a class, the question that makes my heart soar while simultaneously making me want to pull my hair out, that question being, ”am I making a difference?” Well, I guess it’s a series of questions because I also find myself asking: ”Am I doing this right? Is this lesson going to be too difficult for my students? Are they going to be able to follow? How do I make a lesson plan that will equally keep the attention of the students that are a little more advanced than the rest but also allow the other more average students the ability to follow along? Are my lessons interesting enough? Are they actually learning anything about my native language and my native culture from this lesson? Am I actually succeeding at this job? ”

Sometimes, the answers to these questions are an epic, absolute win, and sometimes, the answers to the questions are nothing but an epic fail. You would hope that the wins come more often than the fails, but to be truthful, it’s about 50/50, which can be discouraging at times. I suppose that’s the main reason that I’m here though, to push that 50/50 more towards a 100/0. It definitely is going to take some more practice though. Thank goodness I’m contracted to do this job for another 5 months.

When I’ve not been in class or lesson planning, my books, my journals, and Netflix have been my best friends, along with my first round of actual sickness. Now, something I’ve discovered about myself is that I miss my mother more than I initially realized. Now, my mother, whom I’m sure is reading this, is probably saying, ”oh you miss me, and you are just now realizing that? Well, geez thanks! *slight sarcastic tone*” Yes, mamma, I miss you, and sometimes, I still need you around. Living by myself is a fantastic experience. I’m finally learning what it’s like to be independent, truly independent, how to budget, how to discipline myself, and how to motivate myself. However, this past week, being sick, I have longed for my mother’s presence more than I care to admit. Living alone is great, until you get sick, and then, it’s really not so great.

It first started as slight light-headedness and body aches. I thought I needed to eat (as I hadn’t eaten yet that day), but upon eating, I realized that no, I’m actually getting sick. Then the body aches progressed to headaches, chills, more light-headedness, more body aches, a runny nose, and sneezes. All I could think was ”oooooh no.” I really didn’t want to have to deal with this by myself, but alas here I was dealing with it. Next came a fever that made me feel like I was on fire, a sore throat, coughing, congestion, sinus pressure, and a lot of discomfort. Being sick really makes you realize how independent you are, or whether or not you are independent at all. I had to force myself to get out of bed to make myself tea, to lesson plan, to go to work (because let’s face it, I wasn’t puking, and I only work 12 hours a week. How ridiculous would it be if I missed work only working that much?), and to run errands like an adult. Usually, doing that is fine, actually no, it’s great. It makes me feel like I got this whole adulting thing down, but then, doing all of that while sick sucked big time. I found myself aching for my mother’s care, so maybe, maybe I don’t have this adulting thing quite down fully yet. The struggle is still all too real.

Being sick also made me realize how difficult it continues to be to live as an expat. Many people asked me if I had gone to the doctor or had gotten any medicine. My answer has been no, firstly because I just have a cold. Yes, it’s kind of an intense cold that’s lasted a whole week now (and I’m still fighting it.), but it’s still just a cold nonetheless. I don’t really like to take medicine to begin with, let alone for just a cold.

However, I must be also honest about the main reason I hadn’t done either of those things. Going to the pharmacy is such a struggle. I don’t yet have the proper medical vocabulary to describe my symptoms and to find what I’m looking for. So, I would not only have to force myself to go to the pharmacy, but I would have to look up the proper vocabulary beforehand and then hope that I found the right words to describe how I’m feeling. Next, I would actually have to use said vocabulary to describe how I’m feeling to the pharmacist while feeling sick and hoping that they understand me. You would think that I could just go and find the medicine that I would need if I were in the US, but my friends, it’s not that easy. Firstly, France doesn’t have all the same medicines, and then, some of the medicines that are over the counter in the US require a prescription here in France.

As for the doctor, I don’t have one yet because I haven’t needed one yet, and my health insurance hasn’t actually come through yet (yes, I’ve been here for almost three months, but welcome to French bureaucracy. Legal stuff takes forever). Well, I would have to go through the hassle of trying to find one and then hoping that they would take me in. See, especially for a small city like Laval, doctors are, many times, already full of patients, so I would most likely be turned away anyways, making it takes days or even weeks to find a doctor that would accept me. It’s a nightmare. So, do you blame me for not wanting to go through the hassle just for a cold, even an annoyingly intense cold such as this one when my body will probably get over it soon anyways? Again, the struggles of living as an expat.

Well, now that you have learned more about France and the differences in the French culture, I have done some fun things in between working and being sick. I took the liberty of going to a few different Christmas markets here in France. Christmas markets are a huge thing here in Europe, and even though they are just now starting to become a big thing in France (because they are normally more of a German thing), it was quite nice to see a few. It definitely got me in the Christmas spirit.

I first went with a few other assistants to Angers to visit the Christmas market there as well as the city. To be honest, the Christmas market itself was a little disappointing, but as it was my first of the season, I was okay with it. Besides, the lights were pretty, and the castle there is amazing.

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Pretty amazing, eh? Medieval architecture is pretty fantastic.

 

Where the Angers Christmas market failed me, the Strasbourg Christmas market more than made up for it almost 20 times as much. The Christmas market in Strasbourg is world renowned, and Strasbourg is known as the Christmas capital. I went just for a day with my friend Sara, another English assistant, and even though it took us about 12 hours plus to get there and back, it was totally worth it. We spent an entire Saturday there, and it was one of the best days. We had so much fun together, and there were 11 different markets all over Strasbourg, so we definitely were not disappointed. In addition to that, there were Christmas decorations and lights literally every where. It was amazing!!!! It legitimately took my breath away, and Strasbourg is already in my top 5 favorite cities in France list. The market and the lights mixed with the sound of the bells of the cathedral was magical, absolutely magical. There is no other word to describe it. I fell in love with Strasbourg all over again.

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These pictures do not fully capture the beauty, but you can at least get a glimpse.

Not only was spending time in one of my favorite French cities with one of my close expat friends so much fun, but seeing all of this was beautiful. It got me in the Christmas spirit and made me reflect quite a bit on the Christmas season. Despite the struggles and despite the fact that I am not, unfortunately, coming home to spend time with my family for Christmas, I am living a blessed life. For that I am extremely thankful. God has truly blessed me, and I am beyond grateful that I get to have this awesome experience despite the struggles, the homesickness, and the frustrations. It’s all pretty amazing. Sometimes, it just takes a bit of laughter and some pretty Christmas lights to remember that.

The last Christmas market I happened to swing by was the one here in sweet, little Laval. Being sick, I only went out when I was feeling slightly up for it one evening this past weekend. It was quite the surprise though. It blew my mind compared to the Christmas market in Angers, and with the lights, it made it super magical. My favorite part was the fact that there were booths to represent different countries and cultures, including the USA. Of course I went up to it! They were selling doughnuts and license plates with states on them (So random I know). Unfortunately, they only had California (which I get) and Virginia (this one stumped me), and I know because I asked the woman there. She asked me what I was looking for. Telling her that I was looking for Indiana and that I was an American, all she said was “Oh yes, I can tell!” In French, of course, and really? Is my accent that noticeable? Again, expat struggles. I can pass for being French, I’ve been told, until I open my mouth. Then, that’s where my façade is completely removed. Oh, tant pis as the French say. I guess I can never truly be French anyways, so might as well face up to the facts. Also, at least she didn’t switch to English! That, in and of itself, is a victory! Despite me being sick and slightly uncomfortable, it was a nice last Christmas market to go to. I love Christmas. It’s my favorite!

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Well, now that I’ve fully talked your ear off (well, if you were to imagine me actually talking to you), I must be off. Hopefully I won’t wait so long the next time to update you all on my French adventures.

Thankfully, I am not spending Christmas alone (in case any of you were wondering), but I will spending this wonderful day celebrating our Savior’s birth with my French family from when I studied abroad. I am thankfully still in touch with them, and I absolutely love them. I also get to spend some time in the city I consider my first French home, Nantes.

Well, I hope you enjoyed hearing about all of this despite the ridiculously long update, and until next time….

A plus mes amis….

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