As of today (Saturday, October 27th), I have officially been in France for one month. It seems like forever since I wrote this post about my preparations one month before I left; since then, I left my job, moved back in with my parents, flew to Paris and spent a few days there, traveled to Nice and moved into my new apartment, started my job here, have taken several small trips, and met tons of cool people! That’s a lot for just a couple of months. In some ways, I can’t believe I’ve been here in Nice for four weeks, but it also does feel like home already. It helps to have an apartment I love, a fun roommate that I get along with, friends here to hang out with, a job I enjoy, nice coworkers, and love and support coming my way from back home!
I have settled in here amazingly well. I’ve always adjusted to new places easily, such as when I moved to Normal for college, and I’m happy that moving to another country is no exception! I would say that homesickness hasn’t really hit me yet; I miss people from back home, of course, but I haven’t had that certain sadness/longing to go home that always accompanies homesickness for me. When I spent five weeks in Quebec in the summer of 2009, by about week four I was definitely homesick; I was tired of being in Quebec, tired of speaking French all the time, and ready to go home. I fully expect homesickness to hit at some point, probably soon, but it hasn’t yet!
There were a few things I was apprehensive about before moving here. I had planned on writing a post about them/my emotions at the time before I left, but what with moving, packing, and spending time with my loves, I never got around to it! So I’ll include some of them here so that when I look back at this I’ll remember exactly what I was thinking and feeling at the time 🙂
I would say the biggest thing I was worried about was speaking French all the time. When you have to speak French at the grocery store, the post office, the bank, the transportation office, everywhere you go, it makes everything so much more difficult. Not only is there always the possibility of not making myself understood/not understanding other people, but it’s TIRING- in Quebec, I would want to stay home rather than have to go out and speak French! I haven’t really experienced that feeling yet here, I think because I speak French better and I am much more confident in my abilities. Whenever I start feeling like “ohh I don’t want to speak French” I remind myself that that is why I’m here and that I have perfectly capable of doing so! Opening my bank account by speaking only French was a HUGE accomplishment for me.
Something else I was concerned about can best be described using psychology terms: my lack of schemas for life in France. A schema, as described by Wikipedia, is “a mental structure of pre-conceived ideas, a framework representing some aspect of the world, or a system of organizing and perceiving new information.” (Haha I know Jennie will correct me if I don’t explain this right.) For example, when you go to a grocery store in the States, you know how it works: where the shopping carts are, how everything is organized, how to check out, etc. It’s pretty much the same everywhere you go. I had to relearn all of that! The huge Carrefour (just like Wal-Mart) by my house is very Americanized, but there are still differences: carts are OUTSIDE the store in the mall, there are certain lines for some sort of “pass” that I have no idea what it is, and there are certain lanes that are only for cash, or only for a card. Another thing I didn’t know was that here, you weigh your fruits and veggies yourself in the produce section and the scale prints out a bar code to put on the bag, so that your cashier can just scan it. My first time at the grocery store I had to put back the onions and garlic I grabbed because I didn’t know.
I have adjusted to this lack of schemas fairly well. The longer I’m here, the more I understand, such as how to get into my bank (there is a small tube with automatic doors… DON’T PUSH THE RED BUTTON there because it calls inside, haha!). I’ve also adjusted my way of thinking. If I make an idiot of myself, so what?? And trust me, that happens often. My friends and I reeeally had to go to the bathroom on our way to the grocery store so we followed a sign in the mall to bathrooms, which seemed to be in the McDonald’s. I asked the guy who was sweeping the floor where their bathroom was, and he pointed me toward the doors right behind him. I went to push open the women’s door and it was locked! You had to enter a code from your receipt in order to get in, which I obviously didn’t have since he had just seen me walk in from the mall entrance. I asked him where the bathroom was in the mall and he was like, uhh I don’t know! Thanks for all your help, buddy. Luckily there was a row of grandma-looking women sitting there who pointed us downstairs before our bladders exploded. After all that, I wasn’t even embarrassed, and I probably would have been previously. Just another experience in France!!
I was also really nervous and meeting everyone/learning my way around/getting acclimated to my school. However, all my worries were unfounded! My school is really easy and fast to get to and even though the building is large, the number system makes it easy to find my way around, as I explained in this post. Everyone there has been so nice to me, and the students have even been friendly and respectful! I also got a huge compliment via my friend Felix, whose mom Monique is an English teacher at Massena and the coordinator for my program. He told me that they had a really hard time setting up my schedule because all of the teachers wanted me in their class–Monique told me that they originally had 20 hours on my schedule and had to cut it down to 12! After he told me that I was like, yeah, but they just want me because I speak English, not because of anything I did in my first week or so of observation. He disagreed and said no, all the teachers want me because the students liked me! I guess they didn’t really like any of the assistants from the past few years, so that was a huge compliment 🙂 all the students must have been basing their opinions off of was how I acted when I introduced myself and answered their questions. I just smiled a lot and tried to be approachable and relate to them–I guess it worked!!
This might sound silly and it wasn’t so much something I was worried about as just something that I thought about- I wondered if I would be able to express my personality in France like I do in the US. Being very language-oriented, I depend a lot on the words I use to display my personality, and I considered once that when I was speaking French, I wouldn’t be able to be myself in the same way. Well, my worries were unfounded! Not only are many of my friends here English-speaking, but I feel like I have succeeded in expressing myself in French almost as well as in English. I told a French friend here about my concern and he said that I have a strong personality and have no trouble showing it 🙂 haha. Also, a lot of communication is nonverbal, which helps- I didn’t take that into account.
I feel like I have been making the most of my time here. The first couple of weeks in France I was in the mindset of “go-go-go” all the time- see and experience as much as I can!! That has slowed down quite a bit and I am perfectly happy with that. While I do enjoy going out and doing things, having people over, and spending time with people, at the core I am an introvert who recharges by being alone. I cherish my time spent at home alone, just watching shows, working on my blog, planning lessons, and keeping up with people back home! I am also really happy with how well I have kept in touch with everyone in the States. Technology is great- I love that I can video chat, call, and text for free or really cheap! On that note, I do have a page on here about how to contact me, but it’s password protected; if you want access to it and don’t have the password, comment and let me know! I just didn’t want my address and phone number out there for the whole world to see 🙂
Wow, my rambling went on for quite awhile! Kudos if you made it all the way through. Like I mentioned earlier, part of why I’m keeping this blog is so that I have a record of my time here in France, so that I can remember what I was thinking and feeling and everything I did! I’m considering printing my blog into a book just for my own enjoyment when I’m done here using this service or something similar.
To close this ridiculously wordy post, a photo of what I have deemed David’s and my “love wall.” Contributions welcome!