Why I choose to teach.

Teaching is not an easy job. Teaching can actually be quite an extremely difficult job. My fellow teachers out there know what I’m talking about. Maybe some of those of you whom think teaching isn’t that difficult, I dare you to try it for a day.

Sometimes, you can find me complaining about how much my students, all of whom I only see an hour during the week (you wouldn’t think that would be long enough to drive me crazy…but alas, they find a way), make me want to pull my hair out sometimes. Sometimes, I give lessons that are a total failure, and I just get dead, blank stares back at me while I stand there thinking of the best way possible in the fastest way possible to recover the lesson. Sometimes, I really really fail at it. Sometimes, I come home from work asking myself if I even accomplished anything at all. Sometimes, I wake up some mornings dreading going to work, and I only work 12 hours a week. (Can you imagine what it’s like for those teachers that teach 40+ hours a week? Kudos to all of you!) Sometimes, I know that some of the students that I’m teaching really couldn’t care less.

So, why do I do it? Why do I teach? I have asked myself this question before, and I have gotten asked this question before. After mulling over it many times and thinking about other career possibilities that I might be interested in, I came to the conclusion that this is where I want to be despite the stress, despite the days of failure, despite the fatigue. So, I thought it was time to really dig deep within myself to find the answers to that why. Here’s what conclusions I came to. I choose to teach…

Because I believe in education. In my opinion, education is one of the most, if not the most, important aspects of any given society. You may ask what about medicine/health, science, the arts, social services, etc.? I have been asked this question before. I am not denying that those things are extremely important in addition to education, but we first have to be educated in order to have those things, n’est-ce pas. How do people become nurses, doctors, scientists, social workers, composers, writers, teachers, translators, etc.? They didn’t get there without first being educated. It starts there, and that’s why I choose to teach, because if we allow ourselves to start off with bad or even terrible education, we are affecting the future of our society as a whole. I want to be a part of making education, both academic and social, the absolute best that it can be. It just so happens that the aspect of education that I have a particular strength in is language education.

Because I believe everyone needs to learn how to be the best version of themselves that they can be. As a teacher, yes, our job is to educate our students on our given subjects. Yes, that’s technically our main job, but in addition to teaching them our subjects, we teach them how to function in society. We teach them how to work together, how to think critically, how to appreciate all aspects of society and education, and how to be the best person that they can be, both in school and, just as importantly, as a person, living as a contributing member of society. I enjoy being able to help my students along that path, even if I don’t always make a huge difference, which let’s face it, isn’t most of the time, and even when it appears that I’m not making any difference at all.

I want to tell you a little story. When I came back to work from Christmas vacation there was an upcoming holiday in the States that I decided that I wanted to teach my students about: Martin Luther King Jr. day. I wanted to teach my students about this holiday because it’s an extremely important one in my country, and he was a very important man whose actions and teachings changed my country for the better. Talking to some people about it, they thought that it might be a little too strong of a lesson for my students, because after all, if I wanted to talk about MLK Jr., I would have to talk about the Civil Rights Movement, segregation, and, indefinitely, racism. *gasp* I should never really bring up racism. It’s too strong of a subject, right? (To be honest, talking about MLK Jr. was a little tough for my students but not because of the subject matter but rather because of the level of language, in that my lesson was flawed, not in what I chose to teach about.) Perhaps, but I think it’s important to talk about especially with all of the shootings going in the States that are creating uprisings about how racism is still alive and well. What about the flood of refugees from the Middle East and Africa both into Europe and into the United States? Maybe it is a strong subject, but I believe you can talk about this subject in a very objective manner. I taught my students about MLK Jr. because subjects such as racism and prejudice are important for them to learn about because, in my opinion, they are alive and well in society. And societal issues such as those affect societies and cultures and people etc etc, all subjects that teaching language eventually give way to.

I want to know that what I’m teaching about helps form a better society. My job isn’t just to teach language but to teach language that is applicable to their every day lives, language that can help them on their paths to adulthood and to becoming more open-minded people, and if I’m going to teach them language, then I have to teach them about culture. If I’m going to teach them about culture, then I have to teach them about society, and that includes the not so pretty sides of society. Well, I suppose I could ignore all of that and just teach them academic language, but well, in my opinion, academics are only good for so long without eventually applying them to real life. Also, does it really make sense to not apply language learning to where we actually use language, you know, in society? So, I can’t honestly bring myself to ignore all of that.

Because it connects people together. As a teacher, I get to know my students, learn about who they are and where they come from. Then, I get to teach them about myself, who I am and where I come from. While I teach them about language and culture, I get to learn about their language and culture. Through this, I am connecting with them. I am creating cross-cultural bridges. I am connecting with them as fellow human beings, and I am teaching them how to connect with each other and hopefully giving them tools to connect with people in the future.

I am not a very patriotic person because I believe this earth is ultimately not ours to claim, so country borders don’t really mean much. I believe that we are all equal and that we are all meant to connect with one another and live in harmony with one another. I can admit that as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more proud of where I come from and how that makes me different from other people, but not in a patriotic sense. What I’m proud of is who I am individually, which partly comes from where I come from, but I also want to respect and enjoy the differences in others as well. This is what I want to be a part of, creating those bridges, connecting people, creating a world where it’s not just okay to be different but a world where our differences are seen as important and beautiful and as methods of connecting with one another. If we were all the same, we wouldn’t learn and grow from each other. We can be equal in our differences and beautifully so. This is another reason why I choose to teach.

Because it’s honestly what I’m good at and it brings me joy. Most people don’t know this, but when I first started university at my young 18 years, I originally enrolled as a French education major. I thought that I wanted to teach French to high school students. However, the idea of teaching American high school students really dissatisfied me, so I dropped the education part of it. I went through the rest of university solely focusing on learning more about the French language and culture and in improving in it, not really focusing too much on what I wanted to do with it. So, I studied abroad, I tutored on the side, continued to study hard, and then I graduated. It wasn’t until the summer after graduating while I was teaching English to adult refugees that I realized that I was right all along about my calling. Maybe teaching French to American high school students wasn’t exactly my calling, but teaching language to make a difference in how people connect with one another in this world is. I must be honest. I never imagined myself teaching English to high school students. In fact, I eventually want to teach adults or university students, maybe through a nonprofit of some sorts, like for missionary work or maybe in helping again with refugees’ transitions. I’m still trying to figure out the details. I’m just trying to get as much as experience as I can right now. Though teaching high schoolers is not my ultimate goal, I do know that my spirit absolutely lights up when I’m in that classroom and I can see those connections being made, those differences being made in my students lives. Even if those moments can be few and far between, they are the moments that make all of the other crappy stuff worth the struggle. It is these moments I teach for. It is these moments that get me through those really rough days.

Yes, teaching can really suck sometimes and even make me question my entire life (okay maybe that’s a little dramatic but it’s kind of the truth). Teaching is tiring and stressful and not for the weak spirited. However, teaching is what I choose to do, and I choose to teach because it keeps me learning, growing, focusing on other people, and becoming a better version of myself each and every day that I do it. I choose to teach because it’s how I can personally make a difference in this world. Maybe it’s small, but it’s something. And I think that’s what ultimately matters in the end.

“I was backpacking across western Europe. I was just outside of Barcelona, hiking in the foothills of Mount Tibidabo…” #theresnolake: my Barcelona experience and some tips on how to travel there for cheap

I’m sure many of you are aching to hear the details of my recent Spanish and Portuguese adventure after (probably) seeing some of my Instagram photos.

So, alas here it is….at least, the beginning of it.

Two of my fellow English assistants and I started our adventure in Barcelona (did you get that Friends reference in the title?!) , after having slept in the Charles de Gaulle airport overnight (our flight left at 7am, and there was no other way to get the airport in time for our flight from Laval). I’m sure those whom have traveled have done that a time or two.

Anyways, because of our time spent in the airport, after landing in Barcelona and getting to our Airbnb, nap time was number one on our list. Afterwards, we set out to explore, for we only had two days in Barcelona.

Now, because of how little money I earn and because I tend to consider myself a thrift snob (I have a hard time paying for things if I know that I can get them for cheaper or even free), I, along with my fellow assistants, made it our way to spend our time just exploring the streets and doing all of the free things that we could think of in Barcelona. This mostly consisted of walking around, exploring the streets and the different monuments, and just soaking in the culture and the scenery around us.

For my fellow travelers out there who are also living on a tight budget or just don’t want to spend that much money while traveling, here are the FREE things we did in Barcelona while still having a fantastic time!

FREE ACTIVITY NUMBER ONE: Just spend some time exploring the streets. Barcelona is a beautiful city with some rough edges as well. You have the beach on one side and the mountains on the other, with some rich, diverse culture in the center. Thankfully our Airbnb was in the Gothic quarter of the city, so we were able to spend time just exploring this beautiful part of the city. We happened by some, of course quite Gothic, architecture, which is always beautiful to see (I’ve lived here for almost 5 months, and I’m still astounded by the beauty of all of these hundreds of years old buildings). There’s a cathedral (which is, of course beautiful on the inside and FREE!), the most adorable tiny cobblestone streets ever, and even some of the buildings are gorgeous just by themselves. Plus, something that really surprised me was how colorful everything is, with orange, yellow, blue, and even some reds. It was so different than anything I’d ever seen in France! Plus, just walking around gives you the perfect opportunity to people watch, which outside of all of the tourists, is a great way to start learning about the locals and their way of life! Don’t forget to check out some of the street art as well!

FREE ACTIVITY NUMBER TWO: Spend some time exploring La Boqueria, the local food market. This food market is packed with people, which let’s be honest, is probably mostly tourists, but there are definitely some locals there as well. Now, technically this is not free if you want to buy food. However, it is free to look around and just see what it’s all about. I really loved going here because it was the first time that I saw what kind of cuisine one can find in Spain. Plus, food markets have the best vibes. Of course, meats, chili peppers, seafood, etc. were all things that I expected to see and did. What I did not expect was the variation of seafood that I saw! Sea urchins (sea urchins!!!), swordfish, squid, cuttlefish (which I had no idea that that even existed/even knew what that was until I ate it in some Paella), the list goes on and on. It only makes sense that there was such a wide variation because of the proximity of sea life, but honestly coming into my vacation with no idea or expectations of what Spain would be like made this discovery a nice surprise for me! I had never seen sea urchins in person before, nor would I have ever imagined that people actually eat them (I’m still trying to figure out how). It was at this point that I started to see different aspects of Spanish culture, and I have to admit that I’m very thankful that I was surprised!

FREE ACTIVITY NUMBER THREE: The beach! Of course. Now, February is not necessarily the best month to go to Spain or the beaches there, because it’s not actually that warm, and you never know about the weather. However, the sun shined a smile for us, so we were able to check out the beach in Barcelona. I really enjoyed the vibe there. Palm trees everywhere, people surfing (or at least attempting to anyways), people playing frisbee or just sitting and enjoying the atmosphere. Feeling the warm sun on our faces for about an hour while digging our toes in the sand was what I would consider time well spent.It did my soul well. Also, it was my first time ever actually seeing the Mediterranean! The beach is a great place to people watch as well. I don’t think I could ever get bored of people watching. I fully support the idea that people are intriguing creatures. Plus, if it is actually warm enough, swimming is always an option.

FREE ACTIVITY NUMBER FOUR: Explore the different monuments and famous buildings. Now, not all of the buildings, such as La Sagrada Familia and the bullring are free to go inside, HOWEVER, they are FREE to look at! I’m sure there are more monuments and buildings than this. These are just the ones that we happened to stumble upon.

  1. La Sagrada Familia, aka the more famous cathedral in Barcelona, is a womping 15€ to go inside, but I can say from personal experience that it is absolutely worth going to at least check out the outside of it if you can’t afford/don’t want to pay the 15€. La Sagrada Familia is extremely different from all of the other cathedrals that I’ve seen across Europe. It almost has an earthy feel to it, with much of the structure having birds and plants carved into the different parts of it. There was even a tree carved into the structure. I’m sure that going into is worth the 15€, however, living on a tight budget means you have to make sacrifices. Unfortunately not going inside means that we did not get to learn much about the actual cathedral and its history, but you can find that information online before you go to see it and enjoy the view from a small park right across from it, which is FREE to walk through. Plus, as I’m such a huge fan of it (can’t you tell? I’ve already mentioned it twice), it’s a great place to people watch! This time, you get to watch all of the tourists! Tourists are actually quite intriguing in their own way. The tourist vs. traveler struggle is always there (I definitely struggle with it), but you can always tell when someone is definitely more of a tourist rather than a traveler. I must admit that I’m quite entertained by observing such people. 12687910_10207425665973792_1770635375569969293_n
  2. Secondly, the bullring in Barcelona is a beautiful structure to go and see. I believe the museum is about 10€ to go inside the ring, however, the outside is structured with beautiful tiles. Now, bullfighting is a major part of Spanish culture, so I’m sure that you would be interested in going into the museum and learning all about it. However, I saved my money to go see the bullring in Sevilla (which actually ended up being cheaper. I’ll talk more about that in my Sevilla post). So, if you want to save some money, I say save it for a different bullring in a different city, where it might end up being cheaper anyways.
  3. Thirdly, Barcelona has its very own Arc de Triomf, which is actually quite different from the one in Paris and which I would say is quite worth seeing. Plus, it’s, of course, FREE. Also, the Arc de Triomf is a hot spot for street performers, which if you’re into that sort of thing, is a great activity to do as well and technically free if you don’t feel like contributing. 12669629_10207425666853814_2899935938539435609_n
  4. There’s also the cathedral in the Gothic quarter that I mentioned earlier in the post that is, I will repeat, FREE to go inside, unlike La Sagrada Familia.
  5. Check out the monuments and statues in Plaça Catalunya and Plaça del Portal de la Pau, both squares have beautiful statues to gaze at and enjoy if you enjoy architecture and sculptures. Plus, both places are great places to (you can probably guess), people watch!

FREE ACTIVITY NUMBER FIVE: Do you enjoy nature? You can definitely take advantage of it here! 

  1. Make sure to go check out Parc de la Ciutadella. This park is massive and gorgeous. We just simply walked through it, actually having stumbled upon it, and I would’ve spent more time there if we weren’t already on our way to somewhere else. Also, it’s right across from the Arc de Triomf, so I would recommend it while on your way there. Park’s are my favorite. They are great places to relax, get some exercise, and just enjoy nature. Plus, it is, of course, FREE!
  2. Secondly, if you really love nature and if you are really looking for a good workout, take a hike up Mount Tibidabo. Now, I must say that this was my absolute favorite part of our trip to Barcelona. The weather hiking up the mount was rainy and cloudy, but it wasn’t too bad. So, we powered through.

We took the metro just to the base of the part of the city that starts to incline, and then we hiked from there to the top. There’s a trolley that you can take up to a certain point in the middle of the mount, but keeping on the free/cheap trend, walking is a better option (and a fantastic workout!). Once you get to a certain point in the mount, there is a path with gravel that you can actually take to the top, however, where’s the adventure in that? So, there are little paths, made by people walking through them of course that will take you to the top. They are much more scenic, as you are actually hiking up steep inclines with trees and cacti (yes, cacti!) that you can view. Plus, the further and further you get up the mount, the more breathtaking the view of the entire city and miles and miles of the coastline and other small towns you can see. This is why it was my favorite part of my trip to Barcelona. I felt so astounded by this experience. The last few weeks before my trip I was feeling down in the dumps and really depressed, but seeing this view made me realize, yet again, (God is always showing me that throughout my travels) of just how blessed of a life that I have, that I am living right now. I was especially shown this on our way down the mount, when the sun decided to shine on us again. The sunshine does crazy things to my soul. It has the power to lift my spirits 100%.

At the top of the Mount, there is also a gorgeous basilica that I believe is FREE to go inside. Just stop at the top of this Mount to soak in the beautiful architecture and the astounding view of Barcelona.Not only is all of it breathtaking, but seeing such beauty when you’ve finally made it to the top gives you a sense of deep satisfaction, at least it did for the three of us.

It was also hiking up this mount that I got to see some of the Spanish culture and learn more about Spain. I started to see that being physically active is an important part of Spanish culture. People were hiking, running, biking, etc. It was really quite inspiring to see. I don’t even think the French are that active, and I know for a fact that Americans aren’t that active. My hike, seeing how worth it was and feeling how great I felt after exercising, inspired me to want to actually seriously continue making hiking apart of my life. Exercise and enjoying nature are two things that I definitely need more of in my life. Plus, hiking up Mount Tibidabo is FREE, and I actually got to check out a landmark that is used in one of my favorite tv shows, Friends. It made me really excited to actually see what the heck Joey  Tribianni was talking about. Now, I know! That made for a good laugh!

 

Anyways, now that I’ve talked your ear off, I just want to end this with. I am extremely thankful that our trip started out in Barcelona. I feel like I got a really good first taste of Spanish culture that left me wanting more and aching to learn more. I hope you fellow travelers will consider putting it on your list, and if you are a budget traveler like me, considering these alternative options to spending money but still enjoying the experience!

Until the next post….

A plus mes amis…

 

 

Patience is a virtue, especially when you live in France

As of the 23rd of January, I had been in France for four months. However, my visa had not yet been completely validated until yesterday, February 1st.

About a week or so ago I wrote a post about the struggle that I have been having and continue to have with the way that the French communicate and operate, especially when it comes to legal/educational things. It absolutely astounds me how slow and unorganized French bureaucracy can be at times. I’ve heard about many assistants struggling with having their documents lost in the mail, sent to the wrong address, not received, etc. I’ve heard of many assistants not receiving their medical appointments until at least four to five months after turning in their documents. I’ve heard of assistants having issues when it came to the medical appointment itself. These were the stories (and the fact that I personally hadn’t received anything for four months) that I was allowing to affect my expectation of my legal status in France. I allowed them to stress me out and to cause me some anxiety.

I was very stressed because I had yet to receive a date for my required medical appointment with OFII (l’office française de l’immigration et de l’intégration = French office of Immigration and Integration). I needed this appointment in order to legally stay in France, and I needed this appointment to keep receiving the housing subsidies that keep my rent low enough to allow me to manage a decent living on my low salary. Without this appointment, not only would I risk getting deported, but I also risked having to pay back at least 1,000€ to the French government that I would’ve had to pay if I wasn’t receiving those housing subsidies. So, needless to say, I was freaking out a bit.

 

But alas, I finally had my required medical appointment yesterday, and thankfully, everything went smoothly and as planned. That also means that I am now completely legally allow to stay in France until my visa expires, AND I don’t have to pay back all of that money to the French government. So, cheers to that! For this I am extremely thankful.

Now, let me break this thing down for you a bit. All immigrants, unless they are European Union citizens, and despite how long they will be in the country (exception: student visas and tourist visas) are required to go to a medical appointment to validate their visa. Pretty much, it’s the equivalent of a regular doctor check-up in the States, but it is absolutely required in order to legally stay in France.

I had heard stories about assistants having many issues with their medical appointments, and I had also heard the other extreme, that it was not a big deal at all. So, honestly, I didn’t know what to think, and I prepared myself for the worst.

My appointment was in a suburb of Nantes. Thankfully all of the assistants in my area that were required to go had their appointments all on the same day. So, we all met up and went to our appointments together. Pretty much, sometimes, people are dramatic, very dramatic, especially when they are in a foreign country where they have no idea what is going on. The appointment was a piece of cake. Assistants need not fear. Just don’t forget your paperwork, and you’ll be golden.

Step 1: Show up, give reception your name and your paperwork.

Step 2: Go sit in the waiting room until you get called up by the doctor and have a simple chest x-ray .

Step 3: Go sit in the waiting room again until you get called up again by another doctor, get your weight and height taken, have a super simple and quick eye exam, and get asked some questions about your vaccinations, general health, etc. etc.

Step 4: Go sit in the waiting room again until you get called up again by another doctor, have your blood pressure taken, get asked questions about any serious health issues you may have had, get asked if you smoke etc. etc.

Step 5: Go back to reception, get the stamp in your passport that says that you have completed the medical exam and that you are legally allowed to stay in France.

Step 6: Leave and take a deep breath. You’re all finished!

Stress level out of 10: I would give it a 2. Maybe that’s because I had high expectations of it being one of the most stressful moments of my life, and also, going to the doctor is the least new thing to me ever. There were some moments when I didn’t understand the medical terminology of some things, but the doctors understand that I’m not French. So, they would say it again or say it in English. No big deal.

So, basically, the moral of the story: when living in another country, try not to stress too much about the process. If you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, then there is nothing else you can do about it. Also, take into account cultural difference, and try your best to be as patient as possible. Don’t expect things to go the way they would in your home country. You will almost always be extremely frustrated and disappointed. These are things of which I have to remind myself every day. The struggle continues, and I think life as an expat means that it will always be there, in some way or another.

So, needless to say, I’m very relieved, and about time too. I only have three months here. Super hard to believe.

Looking forward to those three months though…

A plus mes amis….