Today marks a month (4 weeks) since I’ve been living in Paris. It feels both like a long time and yet not enough time since I left the United States.
Last night I was watching the movie Midnight in Paris (ever seen that?), and all I could think was “Wow, if only Paris was actually this romantic,” because let’s be honest, my first month here in Paris hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing as well as the fact that outside of the center of the city, Paris has many parts that are the furthest thing from romantic. In fact, they are just downright normal. That’s right. Normal. Nothing too exciting about a good majority of it. Some parts can even be slightly annoying/repulsive, like the piss-smelling metro at rush hour. For some reason, some locals refuse to move out of your way, even though you keep politely repeating “Pardon, Excusez-moi,” because you needing to get off at this stop is your problem and why should they have to move?
That’s what my life has been about this past month: adapting to my life in Paris and creating a sense of normalcy here, something that has turned out to be the not so easy thing to do. Paris is massive, and I feel quite the small, tiny, microscopic fish in a very large pond.
I’m still finding my footing, bumbling around hoping that here very soon I will find that sense of normalcy, but it’s extremely not easy.
Firstly, due to my late arrival, I had to jump right into classes, and though I feel as though I do quite enjoy my classes, I’m constantly behind in my readings. So, I only just begun, and I already feel like I’m miles behind, not to mention that my first paper is due in about two weeks (I just got here. How am I supposed to write a well-written paper in French according to the French way already?! I’m not ready for this!). Also, not to mention that I’ve already made a fool of myself twice in class, having misunderstood what my professors were asking of me (that foreign exchange student life). It’s a good thing I’m okay with feeling awkward.
I also still have yet to get all of my administrative paperwork in, still trying to get settled into my apartment (though thankfully, I’m mostly there).
As for teaching, it’s both easy and difficult. I can prepare 4 lessons plans that will last me two weeks, a whole hell of a lot easier than planning 5 different lessons plans each week. However, I’m still adjusting to the French grading scale, still completely unsure how to grade my students, especially because in France, they don’t believe in perfection. In fact, it’s not only normal but actually EXPECTED by French professors that at least half of their students will fail! It’s absolument incroyable! So, I’ve come to feel guilty about the idea of giving my students more than an 8/10 for performing well in class. Yes, I only grade my students according to a 10 point system, and the standard French system is out of 20 points. There’s really no such thing as percentages or letter grades here! It was definitely confusing at first, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.
There’s also my students themselves. Being a lecturer of conversation classes, the upside is that I have quite the liberty in choosing what sort of topics I’d like to teach and have my students talk about. My main goal is to get them to speak and to improve their conversational English. Though I have some absolutely fantastic students, I also have students that make me want to pull my hair out, because they don’t take me or my classes seriously. It takes everything in me not to kick them out of my classroom, but c’est la vie, I suppose!
Overall though, I’m having quite the blast teaching, helping my students improve their language skills while at the same time teaching them about my home culture. I’m reminded why I love teaching in the first place.
Then there’s the idea of friendships. How do I even go about forming them? Yes, I automatically have a group of acquaintances/friends with my group of fellow lecturers, which is lovely, especially since we are all so different and there to support each other. However, outside of our group, I struggle with how to make friends. Who knew that making friends as an adult would be so incredibly difficult? I again feel like the awkward 3rd grader that was super tall for her age because she had hit puberty super early and was also simultaneously the new kid in a very small, close-knit town. I feel like I stand out like a sore-thumb. Yes, I’m taking classes here at one of the universities, but I’m at least a few years older than my fellow classmates, as I’m taking senior level undergraduate courses, not to mention my accent when I open my mouth. Plus, my classes are very heavily lecture-based. When have I had the chance to openly converse with my classmates? The answer is, I haven’t really.
Then there’s the actual fact that I’m taking undergraduate courses. This is probably confusing to you. Why on earth as a second year graduate student would I be taking undergraduate classes? Well, my friends, here’s how the French system works: French students start on their “track”/their career path studies starting their first year of high school. So, from the age of 15/16, they’ve basically started studies that we, as Americans, only start studying our Freshman or even Sophomore years of university. So, if I were to take Master level courses here in France, I would be exponentially behind, especially when it comes to me studying linguistics since I didn’t study that at all in undergrad. Yes, it’s a very complex system. My linguistics professor here even had a difficult time wrapping his head around how I was able to be a lecturer at another university here in Paris but was taking undergraduate courses.
So, needless to say, I kind of feel like an awkward fish bumbling about in this very large pond. I’m sure I’ll find my way eventually though….right? Well, I still have at least another ten months to go. So, I’m sure I will. I don’t really have a choice though actually if I’m going to make the most of this year.
On the very plus side, however, I have had a few handfuls of adventure and the campus where I’m taking classes is beautiful.
First, I took a small day trip with two other lecturers, including my fellow UWM TA, other Lindsey, to Fontainbleau, a beautiful castle in the countryside of the French village of Fontainbleau. Given that the day was beautiful and that we got in for free, it was one of the most perfect days.
I also had the pleasure of hosting two friends of my friend Pablo that I met last time I was living in France while they were traveling through Paris. It was kind of fun to play the tourist with them in between teaching and my own classes. It reminded me about the beauty of travel and being an expatriate: I get the amazing opportunity to meet people from all over, people that can become like family in some ways.
I also had the opportunity to explore a bit of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, one of the largest and most epic libraries in all of France that has a mini-forest in the middle of the square formed building. Given that this library is so close to campus where I take classes, I’ll probably be spending a lot of my time there studying.
So, a sense of normalcy is starting to form here in Paris, especially as I become more familiar with the non-tourist parts of the city. However, I still have quite the ways to go. Looking forward to finding my footing and praying that this pond will start to grow smaller.
Until next time…
A plus mes amis!