Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Next Step

Since coming back to France in September for my second round as an assistant I've had the question of what to do next year floating around in the back of my head. I sort of idly thought about possibilities for staying in France and what I would do if I went back to the US and left all of my thoughts very undefined, sort of murky and unclear.

I don't have a five year plan for my life, but I do have a big picture idea, if you will, which is eventually becoming a doctor (likely in a pediatric specialty). I'm an untraditional medical student; I decided halfway through university that I wanted to be a doctor, so I finished my politics major and planned to enroll in science classes after graduation to fulfill med school prereqs and be ready for the MCAT. Well, then I decided to go to France and put it off for a year... then I decided to come back to France and put it off for another year...

Logically the best thing to do now is go home and start taking my science classes. There is nothing keeping me in France: no boyfriend, no work contract to fulfill. Yet I still don't feel ready to end my French experiment, or perhaps French experience is a more apt title for the time I've spent here.

I know I don't want to stay in France forever. The thought of putting my children through their educational system makes me shudder in horror. But my time here isn't unlimited either. I absolutely cannot loose my health insurance in the US (thank you pre-existing condition BS). My parents will be forced to take me off the family plan this summer when I turn 25, and then I can get COBRA for 18 months. So I have a little less than two years left to spend in France.

The problem here is that I can't just stay in France because I want to, I have to find a job that will sponsor a visa or enroll as a full time student. Enrolling as a full time student doesn't really make sense with my future educational plans, so scratch that option. But I like the idea of getting started on my medical school prereqs next year because I won't feel like I'm just wasting time in France. I could take physics for non-science people at American University of Paris (non-scientist physics is necessary because I am terrible at math. It just doesn't make sense to me). Unfortunately AUP is pretty expensive. I did see though that Paris 6 offers chemistry as an option for part time students and would be one-third the cost of AUP. I can't decide if taking chemistry in French is a semi-brilliant idea that would shoot me to the top of admissions lists or if it's a really stupid idea. I feel pretty confident about my French these days, but chemistry would involve a whole new set of vocabulary. I liked and was very good at chemistry when I took it in high school (eight years ago!!!!), but I worry that it would be impossibly hard in French.

Then there's the problem of getting work here. I would love to work as an assistant in my schools for another year but I can't renew again. I haven't gotten my CDS yet and I have a small hope that it will end up being a year-long CDS, giving me the chance to be a recruté locale and just renew my card without having to get a new visa. This scenario is not very likely.

The next possibility is being a lectrice at a university, and from everything I've read about it I really don't think I would enjoy the job very much. It is a job that would get me a work visa though. I would have to get my butt in gear to start fixing up my CV and writing letters of intent though. The two cities that would be most logical for me to work in are Paris and Reims, and I feel like it would be very unlikely to get a post in Paris without a masters. I did, however, see three lecteur positions open at one of the Paris universities....

Then there is always the elusive FACC visa program, where I would have to find a French company who wants to hire and sponsor a visa for a native English speaker. I have absolutely no idea how to being going about this one. Do I just wander into an office building off the street and offer my linguistic services? Or should I search job postings, looking for jobs that need someone bilingual and then at the job interview say "hey, there's this super cool visa program that I would need you to do for me...."

No clues. After spending all day on the internet looking at lectrice options my eyeballs feel like they are about to fall out from looking at a computer screen for too long. I'll think about it tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Answer this honestly....

... would it be totally insane to go to London for the weekend just to buy some bras? Or maybe even a day? A grand profondeur girl is going nuts in itty bitty titty society world that is France. The Eurostar is cheap, and there are supposedly lots of sales, and the pound is almost par with the euro, and I could certainly find ways to amuse myself...

Wow

Warning: this post is probably not interesting to anyone who didn't go to Brandeis University. Don't read if not interested in hearing a rant about where I went to school.

I had another post planned until a Gmail away message caught my eye:

Brandeis to sell school's art collection

Brandeis is my alma mater and all Brandeisians (is that what we're called?) know that the Rose Art Museum is an internationally acknowledged modern art museum. However, modern art is not really my thing and I was only there once with kids from Waltham (the town where Brandeis is located, right outside of Boston) who came to Brandeis for after school tutoring (I was a tutor, so I got to go too). But having the Rose around always seemed kind of "cool," this abstract idea that we had this neat museum on campus that people wanted to visit.

Or did they? I don't know that the Rose actually gets all that many off campus visitors, and in the article President Reinharz calls it "a hidden jewel." Guess modern art in Waltham isn't much of a draw (although Boston in general tends to have a dearth of modern art, I suppose enthousiasts content themselves with the MoMA and the Tate).

Brandeis is in a huuuuuge financial pinch right now. Already they made the decision to not fix our pool and cut the swimming and diving team, and they are looking at cutting faculty by 10%, making changes to the structure of majors and minors, the curriculum, study abroad options, number of students on campus, amount of toilet paper in the bathrooms... basically, we are desperate for money. And why so desperate you may ask? Clearly the current economic crisis has a lot to do with the pinch. And then there's a certain Bernie Madoff who wiped out the fortunes of many of our big donors, including Carl and Ruth Shapiro, who have donated the money for literally half of the buildings on campus, including the new student and science centers.

Personally, I would rather the university get rid of some art than our professors. You can't have an internationally renowned university without a teaching staff. Our current student to faculty ratio is 1:8, which I think is fantastic and I know I certainly took advantage of and benefitted from that while I was there. Academics must remain the core of the university. Essentially Brandeis has to choose between cutting back and finding ways to raise capital. It's a tragic decision to have to make, and unfortunately because of the economic crisis the paintings won't fetch as much money as they otherwise would.

I'm pretty shocked that this is going to happen. This isn't like hearing your old school is building a new dorm or that they tore down the mildewing old lecture hall. This is an icon of Brandeis that will no longer be there, the complete liquidation of a 6,000 piece art collection. Totally gone.

BUT I am severely unhappy about the lack of transparency in the current discussions about cuts at Brandeis and especially the fact that students have not been included at all in these decisions, decisions that affect current, former, and future students who pay a pretty penny to go to school there. The administrators were already on this path while I was still at Brandeis; at one point they discussed shutting down the Classics Major in favor of more popular business-type programs and in general reducing the influence and prominence of the liberal arts at Brandeis. I really doubt sometimes that they understand the importance of a broad based education, a broad based university that exhibits excellence in all subjects, not just majors that happen to be trendy this decade. Long before there was any talk of American predominance, long before the other half of the world knew America existed, there were the empires of Rome, Greece, and Persia who lit up the world with art and philosophy and literature, the things that stay forever, the things that continue to influence our society after thousands of years. I think certain administrators need to stop taking a page out of the Bush Administrative Ethics Book and take a look at Obama for some inspiration. Secrets are out, openness is in. If there's anything we should have learned from the Madoff scandal it's that it is not all about the money. There are higher considerations.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Of yogurt, accents, and umbrellas

As a follow up to the stealing of my yogurts, the Awkward Prof who did it was waiting at the bus stop with me Friday morning. He did talk to me, but he didn't say anything about my yogurts. I kind of wanted to say "thanks for the mousse, but I don't actually eat it, so feel free to eat it yourself" or something with the purpose of saying "I know you stole my yogurt!" But I didn't, because I don't see what purpose that would serve besides making him uncomfortable and being mean. So he will go the rest of his days thinking that I never knew it was him who stole the yogurt.

I had to go to Paris to see my horrible specialist doctor who I strongly dislike yesterday, and surprise surprise, he was less of a jerk than usual! Normally we speak mostly in English and he asks me a couple of questions in French, but yesterday he started off in French and after a short conversation about my vacation he said "you've really improved your French, you have hardly any accent left." Ummm, WHAT? I kind of didn't believe him because I thought he might be buttering me up just so that I would follow whatever cockamaimy medical plan he has for me this time (normally I ignore what he says because he's wrong). So when I got back to my town and showed up to teach my class I asked D and another teacher at the school how my accent is. They said "no, you still have an accent, but you speak French really well," which was nice of them but that doesn't give me any information about how good or bad my accent is. Now I don't know what to think. I'll have to seek other opinions.

Yesterday French Umbrella #3 finally bit the dust due to the force of the winds from the tempete (tempest). Yes, in the 15 months I've been here I've gone through 3 umbrellas. The first two broke from overuse. It rains a lot here and I use them often. Rule # 1 of life in Picardie: never leave home without your umbrella! I think this is also true of Nord Pas de Calais, both Normandies, and Bretagne. Granted my first umbrellas were little cheapie 10 euro umbrellas, so when I bought # 3 I splurged on the 15 euro one. This one lasted a long time, about 9 months, and I can't blame it for breaking in the incredibly strong winds we had yesterday. Rule #2 of life in Picardie: spend at least 15 euros on your umbrella. For Umbrella #4 I decided to really splurge and spent 18 euros, which got me a super cute automatic umbrella. But when I got home and looked at the tag I was puzzled to see that the tag said it is a parapluie homme. The umbrella is black with a white band covered in black polka dots. Ummmm, I don't know about the rest of you, but to me polka dots aren't so manly. Then again, French men carry man bags, so why not a polka dot umbrella?

I know everyone is pretty bummed about the rainy, windy, nasty weather we've been having for like two weeks now, but I don't mind so much. It does suck to be caught outside in a rain storm, but when you're inside and you can hear the torrential rains hitting the roof, all warm and cozy curled up with a tea and a book it's delightful. And I'm really looking forward to using my new umbrella!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

La Galette

For Epiphany (or the Twelfth Day of Christmas, apparently when the Magi visited the baby Jesus) the French make this lovely pastry called a galette des rois, or pastry dough filled with almond paste. It's rich, sweet, buttery, fatty - basically all the good things that make up French pastries! The galette is baked with a little porcelain figure inside of it (back in the day it used to be a bean and hence the fact that they call it a fève). Whoever gets the piece with the fève becomes the king or queen and gets to wear a crown. The galette is a huge deal in France, and everyone attends multiple galette parties in January sponsored by either family, friends, employers, or the city hall.

Unless you're the poor lonely American in town and you're lucky if you get invited to one! I was so excited this year when the teachers from V School invited me to the galette party hosted by the mayor of V Town (population 827) for all the municipal employees of V Town (basically anyone on city council, the teachers and various support staff, and the general do-stuff guys from the town).

It was very interesting to be at this small gathering of the smallest of towns. Everyone knew everyone else and had something to say (well, except me, obviously I didn't know anyone). Directrice V used the party as an opportunity to ask the mayor about things we need for the school, the teachers gossiped, I imagine the city councilors gossiped together too. I drank too much champagne but was able to hide my tipsiness (by not talking). They kept filling up my glass with really good champagne, what was I supposed to do, spill it on the floor?

Of course they were all shocked that I had never eaten a galette before. Not so strange when you consider the fact that I'm an American and didn't have any French friends last year, but of course it's pretty surprising to people who have eaten gazillions of galettes during their lifetime. They really tried to make me feel included, which was nice. The mayor gave me the champagne cap (apparently people collect these things). And guess who got to be the queen? Me! By pure chance I happened to be given the piece of the galette with the fève in it, isn't that lucky? ;) Yeah, I'm sure they didn't do that on purpose.

As it turns out, one of the conseillers municipals (city councilor) is exactly my age. Directrice V seemed to think that he liked me, although I don't know how I'm supposed to know that since he didn't talk to me once. But I did see him at the bar on the weekend, and in my never-ending search for friends I went up and said hello. I have no idea when I became so brave in social situations, I must have reached the desperation point that caused me to ignore any possibility of embarassment in order to find other human beings with whom I can pass my time. We chatted for a little bit, but then I got dragged away to spend the rest of my evening with French rednecks. He seems very nice and smart, which is a change from the usual crowd around here (the smart part, I mean). A smart guy who's interested in politics. Does that have me written all over it or what? Unfortunately he's too short for me to date (he's maybe as tall as I am) but it would be nice to have another friend! He seems pretty shy so I'm not holding my breath, but I'm hoping I've made a good contact.

So far January has been a really good month, I'm hoping this is a good omen for the rest of the year!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Funny Hallmates Version 2009

Last Wednesday I went into the kitchen, like I do every morning, to pour milk and orange juice and grab a yogurt (actually not a yogurt, a fjord, fromage frais in little packages, which I just started eating and loooove). I was supposed to be starting a new eight-pack of yogurt....

....except that there were only six in there! I immediately thought "who ate my yogurt?!?!?!?!" Then I thought "well, I might be misremembering, I should check my reciepts." Then "Who the &%$@ ate my yogurt?!?!?!?!?!?!?"

I did end up checking my reciept from Monoprix, just to be sure that I had bought eight yogurts the day before, and yeah, I had. Then began the detective work of finding out who ate my yogurt. The most likely culprit is of course somone else who lives on the hall and uses the kitchen. I live in a professor's hallway in a lycee with a shared bathroom and kitchen and private bedrooms. But no one has ever eaten my food before, nor have I heard anyone else complain about missing food. I decided that maybe someone hd been so hungry they thought they were going to pass out, but didn't have any food at the lycee and it was late at night so they couldn't buy anything and so decided to eat my yogurt. I could accept that, although some kind of note or repayment would be nice. And although that's the most likely scenario, the door to the hallway is always open and doesn't lock, so it could have been anyone: a student, surveillant, even the proviseur! (who just dyed his grey hair black, btw. Looks very strange)

Fast forward to the next day when I repeat the same routine of going to the kitchen to get my breakfast items. There's a package of mousse sitting on my shelf, and it's not mine. So I move it to another shelf above mine, grab my yogurt and start putting milk in my cereal. And then it hits me - the mousse is a replacement for my yogurt! I burst out laughing because now I know exactly who it was!

A prof from another lycee lives on the hallway, and he's a kind of awkward person. When he's in his room he always leaves the door open a crack, even when he's sleeping. I'm not sure if he's looking for someone to come visit or what. Whenever we're in the computer room together he always brings my printouts to me, as if he thinks he's being very gallant or something. And his comportment is a little awkward. I know it's him because he's the only one who eats in the cafeteria for dinner, and the mousse is given as dessert in the cafeteria. So he must have felt bad about eating my yogurt, but not bad enough to go out and buy me another one! He did give up dessert for me though, so maybe that's his version of calling it even?

The kicker is that I don't like mousse, so it's still sitting in the fridge.

It's the thought that counts, right?

I'll put a PS on the blog to say that the Obama inauguration was fabulous, and his speech was amazing. I feel uplifted and hopeful and sooooo ready for him to start working tomorrow! President Obama, how well that sounds!

PPS - if you can place the quote in that last sentance you win the prize

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Notes from an Evening in French

I'll leave the story of the galette du roi in V Town for another time to explore the wackiness of last night. D and I were already going out together, and then in the afternoon she told me that we would be joined by another teacher from L School, F, who we already know is no friend to me and probably invited herself to keep D and I from hanging out together. The couple of other times that all three of us have gone out together she has involved D in a one-on-one conversation and I sit there like an idiot.

Except that tonight F brought along three guys, one of whom she was trying to sleep with and the other two I guess were there to keep D and I occupied? Not sure. In any case, what a pack of annoying losers. Highlights of the evening included:

- the guy F was trying to sleep with asking D why she doesn't have any children at the ripe old age of 35. Rude much? Me saying that having children isn't the only goal women have these days. Two of the guys laughing at me for thinking that maybe having a career is important to women.

- the guy F was trying to sleep with flirting with all three ladies present very openly. The old guy trying to get with D (who has a boyfriend).

- Me trying to explain to the guy F was trying to sleep with why talking about the growing power of China with the phrase "if you mix yellow with white you end up with yellow" is inappropriate and racist. The two guys then criticizing Americans for being all talk and no action on our own racism. Elect anyone named Barack Obama recently Frenchies?

- me telling them why I don't like the French education system, basically because all it teaches kids is to shut up and copy what the teacher says, have no self esteem and no mind of their own. Why it's better in America where we nurture children's self esteem and creativity and have interactive lessons. F telling me that clearly the American system doesn't work because the kids always get overexcited during English class. Me deciding to stop talking because it was clearly a bad idea to embark upon this conversation with F, who is your classic French teacher (reference end of linked post above).

- F trying to make me explain our directeur physically to the guy she's trying to sleep with to proove her point that he's not attractive. Talk about a loose-loose situation! Me trying to extricate myself by talking about the love of my life, George Clooney, and married men being off limits.

- me being forced to hang out with these people and not amusing myself when I could have been hanging out with the cool conseiller municipal from V Town (where V School and my new best friend Directrice V are located). Me thinking that V Town is everything that L School isn't.

Overall it was not a terribly enjoyable evening for me, but I did come to France to interact with real French people in French culture. The problem is that I'm doing this out in the boondocks with people who have very different views of the world than I do. If I were in a town of 30,000 in the US I'm sure I'd encounter similar people with similar points of view. These are the kind of ideas that you know exist out there but never think to encounter. I mean, the things they said were so ridiculous that you can only laugh about them. I kept telling myself that this is material for an entire chapter when I write my own Petite Anglaise style memoirs and will eventually make me lots of money.

(Not really. I have no plans to write a memoir of my time in France. There is no money in my future. I'm storing up memories for the therapy I'll need when I get back to the US)

I shouldn't be surprised by F's behavior towards me, but I am. Was she gunning for me or what? I hope I didn't give her too much that she can turn against me, although I think that she could turn everything I say against me. At least I managed to sidestep that whole directeur question. I just have to learn to be constantly on my guard and very careful about what I say when I'm around her. That means no more discussions of the French educational system!

The best part about the evening that makes all the rest of it not so bad? I realized that I speak French really, really well now. That's a pretty cool feeling. Everything was said in French, I actively participated in the conversations in French, was able to argue in French, and I understood 97% of what was said. That is a pretty big accomplishment. I hope this means I've reached a new level in my overall French and that it isn't just an anomaly!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Success!

I did end up having a café with my directrice on Sunday, and it was great! We talked a lot about school and differences between France and the US, some personal info, etc. No awkward pauses either! The conversation just kept rolling. I hope she feels more comfortable with me now and will maybe eventually invite me to meet her friends? Or at least hang out with her more often? Fingers crossed!

So this time being proactive and not a coward produced good results. Maybe now I should start working on the remplaçant at Directeur Napoleon Complex School (L School). She doesn't talk much and seems kind of shy. She's probably like me (or like I was), a little unsure of her place in the school since she's only there once a week, and the people who work at the school are kind of cliquey and catty so I'm sure she doesn't have much desire to talk much either (I know I don't). I think we can bond over the fact that we're normal people at a school full of crazies. As long as she is normal, because I can't really vouch for that fact yet. I'll have to make more of an effort to speak to her at recess to see if there's a possibility.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Starting to work on those New Year's things

What are they called again, resolutions? I don't really make formal resolutions, just kind of list of things I want to work on in the new year. This year one of my things to work on is making some friends. I've spent lots and lots and lots of time alone over the past four years due to circumstances beyond my control and that whole moving to France and not hanging out with the assistants in my town thing. I am tired of being alone all the time. I mean, I get along great with myself, I think I'm very funny and fun to hang out with, but every once in a while it would be nice to be speaking out loud to someone other than myself :)

I think I've already written that I decided a while ago to become BFF with the directrice at V School because she's just a couple of years older than me, and I finally took a step forward with that tonight. She'd been really hinting around that she wants to be friends with me, but it's always in the "give me a call if you have any issues" or "let me know if you're bored during vacation!" So I decided to stop being such a coward and sent her a text tonight saying that if she had any free time this weekend it would be nice to grab a coffee. Fingers crossed she says yes!

Oooh, I feel like that time I was in seventh grade and some friends asked out a boy for me. He said no. Hopefully I get a better response this time!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Welcome back! And snow craziness

I got back to France on Sunday, bright an early at 8:30 AM. Once I was on the plane I finally resigned myself to the fact that I was coming back, but I could definitely have used another week relaxing in the States. Two weeks really isn't long enough for a transatlantic visit, three would have been perfect. I felt like I spent the first week adjusting to the time change and sleeping off my exhaustion from the end of the first part of the school year, started enjoying myself the second week, and then had to scramble on Friday and Saturday to be ready to leave. It was good to be back, I saw a bunch of friends and family, really enjoyed having a dishwasher and a fully stocked and functioning kitchen (since mine is pitifully unstocked and I have a microwave and an electric burner that doesn't quite boil water). I even got in a trip to Arby's for jalopeno poppers and mozzarella sticks. Gotta love the fried goodness. Has anyone ever seen jalapeno poppers in France? I would be all over that, but I doubt it exists since jalapenos are totally MIA over here.

And apparently I brought the snow back with me! But I now totally regret ever having wished snow on this Georgia-esque corner of France, because they are totally unprepared for it, so instead of the snow being fantastic I find it to be kind of a pain. We function just fine in Michigan with a foot of snow, and here with only one inch everything is haywire. When I woke up yesterday morning it had already begun snowing, but the problem is that all day long the temperatures were in between freezing and melting, so half of the snow stuck and half melted, which meant it was icy. Add to this the fact that no one here has any idea how to drive under these conditions and the fact that they aren't salting the roads, and you get craziness. Everyone is freaking out about the snow. All the buses were late yesterday morning because they were going super slow, but in the afternoon the drivers were going wayyyy too fast on tiny country roads, what the heck is up with that? Then this morning the transport to V School was cancelled. Snow day for me! Unfortunately I didn't know until I was already on my way to the bus stop. Luckily I went back to sleep for another three hours.

I understand logically that because they are so unprepared for snow here everything breaks down when it actually does snow once every three years, but come on!!!! Shouldn't they have emergency planning for situations like this, you know, like they do for heat waves? They should at least have salt on hand! It doesn't go bad, is easily stored, and I would imagine that it's pretty cheap. The inefficiency is mind boggling. It's also pretty funny. I can't believe that one measly inch of snow is this insurmountable problem. All those years that I laughed at the southern states that completely shut down when there's a dusting of snow, and now I get to live through it. Lucky me?

It is nice to have a snow day, especially since I definitely needed the extra sleep to help deal with my jet lag. I even played in the snow with my students yesterday! I definitely came out the loser in our snowball fight, but it was me versus 50 six and seven year olds!