It’s okay to be normal.

I made an observation this week, about my time here in France and my time gaining experience as a teacher. I’ve mentioned before that living in France, living abroad is just like living back home in the United States. It’s true that some things are different. It’s true that adjusting to another culture is difficult. It’s true that despite those things, I’m still living an everyday, normal life. I buy groceries. I go to work. I go out with my friends on the weekends. I go to church on Sundays. I do normal things.

However, there are ways in which my situation is unique.There are moments when I don’t feel that my life is normal. Though I have made friends and though I have established a sort of ”routine,” there is something that does not feel normal. It’s something that I realized while talking to one of my assistant friends about our situation here, how different things are from what we expected them to be.

This unique thing is this: I have a constant need to feel like I’m taking advantage of every moment that I have here. The nights that I don’t go out, that I choose to stay in and just relax by watching Netflix, I feel like I’m robbing myself of experiences. Living abroad, in a new country, in a new culture, doing something that most people consider to be exciting (which it is exciting, to an extent), I have this constant feeling that I need to make sure that I’m making memories and always doing amazing, note-worthy things. This pressure is increased by the fact that I only have a short amount of time here. I constantly feel like I’m going to run out of time and that once I return back to the United States that I’ll regret not doing more.

I have found that this has become a source for some of the misery that I have experienced while I’ve been living here.

I did some reflecting, and I thought to myself: ”If I were home, in the United States, I wouldn’t feel the constant need to go out and do things, to make memories. I wouldn’t think to myself that I would regret staying in most nights to relax after working and just live. So, why do I feel that I must constantly ‘make memories?”’

Yes, I do want to make the absolute most of my time here. Yes, I do want to return home to the United States feeling accomplished and like I took advantage of the opportunities put in front of me. I do want to feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself, the world, and other people. I do want to feel like I’ve become a better teacher.

However, I don’t want to forget to actually live, realizing that sometimes living is just relaxing and watching Netflix after working. Living is just waking up, lesson planning, going to work, and then coming home to cook dinner and be by myself. Living is not always a grand adventure. Living isn’t always traipsing through Europe, meeting new people, seeing new places, learning new languages. Living isn’t always super exciting. Though I have loved those moments in my life and though I look forward to having more, I don’t want to forget to be satisfied with the moments when my life isn’t all that exciting. I don’t want to continue with the expectation that I’m going to have this crazy, adventurous, amazing life here in Laval, at least not in the typical sense. 

Truly, my life is crazy. I don’t have a lot of crazy parties or go to a lot of crazy parties. I don’t have crazy European experiences, because here people are normal just like they are back home. My life is crazy because sometimes, it’s difficult being a teacher. My students have a tendency to drive me crazy because they are typical pre-teens and teenagers, not always wanting to pay attention and actually learn something. My life is crazy because legal paperwork in another language is difficult (though thankfully I’m pretty much done with all of that, two months til the end of my contract, just in time too.) My life is crazy because I know people from a few different countries. This is what I have in front of me. It’s not crazy in the fact that I’m always traveling, always going on adventures, meeting new people constantly, or always learning a new language (though I am technically constantly learning French). My life is crazy in a normal way, and that’s something that I’m trying to accept and be happy with.

Truly, my life is adventurous. Every day that I walk into that classroom my life is an adventure. Though there are still students’ names that I don’t know, I know most of them, and even though I don’t know my students all that well, I have gotten to know them a little bit. I’ve gotten to know which students struggle and which students excel. I have gotten to know which ones are the class clowns and which ones are the goodie two shoes. I know which ones really don’t care and which ones pretend not to care to seem like a cool kid. I know their levels of English, and I get to see their progress in English and their progress in what they’ve been learning so far this year. It’s an adventure to see them grow. It’s an adventure to challenge them, and it’s adventure for them to challenge me back by asking me questions that I wasn’t expecting them to ask or by not understanding me when I speak. It’s an adventure going to the grocery store and not understanding the question the cashier is asking me. It’s an adventure trying to see myself as a working, professional adult and not just the recently graduated university student still trying to figure out what being an adult is that I feel that I am. There is adventure in little, everyday things, and that’s something that I’m trying to accept and be happy with.

Truly, my life is amazing. Just the other day, I was just having a simple conversation with a co-worker, and in the middle of the conversation I realized that I didn’t have any trouble understanding her nor did I have to ask her to repeat herself. Improvement in my French, though it seems small in the day-to-day activity, has occurred. I am better at speaking and understanding French, and that amazes me. I get to share my faith with people in a different country at church every Sunday. That amazes me. I’m friends with people that come from different cultures, and they are a lot like me. There’s nothing overly exotic about them because they live just like I do, but that amazes me. I can actually see how much I’ve changed in the classroom. I feel like I’m more confident when I teach. I feel like the changes in my teaching methods, due to things that I’ve learned from failures that have occurred, have produced better results in the classroom. That amazes me. The norm amazes me. The norm is amazing, and that’s something that I’m trying to accept and be happy with.

I came to Laval with very high expectations for my life. I thought that I’d make giant leaps in my French, that I’d become super close friends, having deep, intimate relationships, with locals and other expats alike, that I would feel like a teacher once I’d finished, that I’d go on all of these crazy adventures every weekend and on my weeks of vacation. Truly, I still need to improve in my French. Truly, it’s extremely difficult to have relationships beyond just good friendships with people because 7 months is not enough time to properly get to know each other, especially when there are language barriers. Truly, I still don’t see myself as a teacher because I still have much to learn and I still make so many mistakes. Truly traveling is still expensive and paying to live still costs money. But truly, my life is crazy. Truly, my life is adventurous. Truly, my life is amazing. Truly, my life is normal, and I’m okay with that.

It only took me 5 months, but I’m finally starting to realize that living here is like living at home, with a few alterations because of living in a different culture. And that’s okay. Having crazy European adventures on the occasion is fantastic, but it has been in these normal moments, here in Laval that I’ve experienced most of my growth.

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