Monday, August 27, 2007

Pre-France hesitations

The more I think about my stay in France, the more people ask me about it, and the closer I get to the date of my visa appointment, the more hesitant I get about this whole thing.
The hesitations have been recent, so don't think that I've been all nervous about this for a while.
I keep thinking about things that, during my last stay in France (studying abroad for five months in a city about three hours away from where I'll be), really bothered me. Let's make a list. I shall call it the "...fucking French..." list. Pardon my language, but France can be ridiculous.
-Ubiquitous dog crap on the sidewalks.
-More smokers and fewer non-smoking areas, like restaurants.
-Mopeds. I rank these on the safety scale just below donor-cycles. Ask my dad about the etymology of that one.
-Phone conversations. As I mentioned in my last post, phone conversations in French are my weakest interaction. I don't necessarily get nervous about them, like I did when I was little and had to call people (even my friends!), but I can't anticipate the direction of the conversation all that well and therefore the vocabulary I'll need.
-Food. A sub-list, if you will:
--American food I will miss but can replicate almost as well in France:
---grilled cheese sandwiches
---boneless skinless (meatless fatless tasteless) chicken breast, the easiest and most bland piece of meat to cook
--American food I will miss and cannot replicate at all:
---real pizza (not this silly French business with one olive in the middle and if you want, a fried egg on top for 1E more)
---Anchor buffalo wing sauce
---Smucker's peanut butter
---potato chips with normal flavors
---donuts that aren't filled with apricot (?) or prunes (don't even get me started)
---Chicken wings. Specifically, Mom's.
Send me any or all of these things and I will break international postal law to send you a bottle of cognac.
Back to the issue of things that make France silly...
-My inability to read people. Try it: walk into WalMart or wherever and pick out a person. What is that person's socioeconomic status? Are they married? Do they have kids? What do they spend their money on? What are they in that store for? Why? There's a lot about a person you can guess through social contexts and stereotypes. I cannot do that in France. I am not familiar enough with the social contexts of France, and may never be. This makes for a very lonely expatriate.
-Disenfranchised youth whose malaise I cannot decipher for the aforementioned reason. I'm hoping that my students will be too young and too rural for this.
-35 hour work week which basically translates into any given store being open for exactly 35 hours a week.
-Grocery stores that close at 7pm. (What.)
-Banks that are closed on Mondays. (Whattt.)
-French bureaucracy. I will be staying in France under different and more permanent terms, which will require more visits to administrative offices. This should prove frustrating, tearful, amusing, and generally unnecessarily aggravating.
-A single woman in France gets a lot of looks and catcalls, not necessarily from French men, but also from the north African population. Yay. I have stories from my last stay.
-I will not have an immediate social network from which to find friends. In La Rochelle, I was in a university setting, in classes with French and international students, so I had a really neat group of people to be with and made some really good friends (and enemies...those Spanish girls HATED me!). I will not have that. I will be with teachers, while I am the temporary foreign assistant.
-There are more.

Don't think that I'm getting down on this experience - I cannot believe that a program that is randomly selective (there are no criteria or qualifications for this job; everybody and nobody is hired) and this cool hired ME! I get to spend ~12 hours a week giving English lessons to elementary school kids. How sweet of a deal is that. And I get all the baguettes I want. (You have no idea how much I am looking forward to baguettes. Omg.) I am so excited, really. I do believe that this excitement is also creating some of my hesitations and rememberances (omg who remembers Hamlet with Dr. Bedy??) of my past experience.

Also, is there anymore France for me to discover? Everything tells me yes. I need Lonely Planet France and I'll let you know.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Oh btw

I realized that I forgot to post about my phone conversation with the Foyer des Jeunes Travailleurs. Since I couldn't figure out the fax and this place doesn't have an email address, I called them. At 5:30am. YOU try speaking French on the phone after rolling out of bed. It ain't easy. Phone conversations have perpetually been my weakest interaction, mostly because there are no context clues like facial expressions, nonverbal communication, or visual aids. Also because native French speakers still do kind of throw me for a loop, even after a graduate class this summer with a native French professor. But I digress. After spending thirty minutes on the phone with the world's most patient and understanding receptionist, I have tentatively reserved a room - basically a bed - from about the end of September. I am under the impression that I will also have the opportunity to upgrade the room to a full-on studio: bed, full bath, kitchen. And these accomodations are also eligible for the CAF/French government housing subsidy, which after using the CAF calculator online, may save me up to half of the rent.

The problems with this arrangement include not really knowing what I've reserved, the lack of a set arrival date, and that it's 2.5km from the train station and my school. It is near the hospital, so maybe that's a plus. Also, FJTs as they are called is government housing for young people 16-25 (or sometimes older), and sometimes this low-cost and ubiquitous housing option doesn't attract the best crowd: the poor, disenfranchised young North African population which faces enormously hurtful racism in France, kids who got kicked out of their homes, homeless kids in between stints on the street, oh and also people like me who don't have the best way of getting other housing. It's entirely possible that I could go through a real estate agency to get a different apartment somewhere, but I'd like the majority of my money while I'm in France to be spent exploring and not paying for an apartment.

So that's what's happening there.

Friday, August 24, 2007

No news.

So tomorrow I will be handing my most direct supervisor at work a letter and giving her my two weeks' notice. I will be ending work on September 16. I like the job well enough to not mess up stuff on purpose like I did when I was volunteering at AIDS Community Resources (I would staple reports backwards just to make the accounting lady, who was ridiculous, was fun), but if I had to be a receptionist for the rest of my life, I think I'd go crazy. I don't want to put down anyone who is or has been a receptionist, but it's just not a fun job at all. I also learned that the auditing lady at work is also leaving because the job is "too boring." Interesting.
Also the cranky lady at work today was especially cranky when I followed her directions exactly and then she's confused as to the results, making her more cranky but directed at me. I HATE when the cranky lady is cranky at me.
Mom, Dad, and Bro Nick return from Cape Cod today where it was sunny and warm and beachy.
On Saturday, Mom says that my uncle will be playing at the State Fair. I can't find him ANYWHERE on the schedule that was printed in the paper today, but I have three advance sale tickets for me, Maggie, and Andy and doggone it we're going. For llamas, the chicken barn, Rainbow Milk Bar, and sausage sandwiches. Llllllamas.
My contact in France is supposed to be back from vacation on Saturday. I will be writing her an email tomorrow detailing my progress: visa appointment, tentative room reservation at the FJT in Ussel, annnnd not much else.
Hopefully this blog will become more interesting once...things start happening.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Technology woes

So a big reason I bought this laptop was because it has a built-in webcam and microphone. Somehow, in my experimenting, I have either disabled it and/or made it so "another program has locked this device." Attempts at video chat via AIM or this other program Mom has been using on Henry (the parents' computer) called SightSpeed have been unsuccessful.
I may bring this whole thing to Geek Squad and ask them to make the webcam work and show me how to work it. I feel very silly.

In other news, the visa appointment arrangements have been moving into place, which is exciting. I just really need that visa before I get my ticket. AHHH.

A housing option for me may be, aside from a room at the high school dorm which I won't hear anything about until August 25th at the earliest, may be what's called a Foyer de Jeunes Travailleurs (housing arrangements for young workers). There is one in the town I'll be in but they don't have a website or email. They do have fax. I may fax them a letter to see if they have any availabilities for a female. This is rather late so the possibilities of an opening are slim but who knows. I can't fax that from work though. The international fax would probably throw up some red light somewhere.

I just REALLY want to go to France soon.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Les vacances! / Vacations!

I know many people are interested to know when my vacations will be while in France. The school calendar is set, like everything else in education, by the National Education Ministry in Paris. Each académie/BOCES is assigned a zone, and each of the three zones is scheduled vacations so that all of France's schoolchildren aren't on vacation at once. Can you imagine the chaos. The vacations do coincide a little. I am in Zone B, which includes a number of other académies. But enough explanation.

Start of school for teachers: Monday, September 3
Start of school for students: Tuesday, September 4
Toussaint holiday: Saturday, October 27 to Thursday, November 8
Christmas: Saturday, December 22 to Monday, January 7
Winter: Saturday, February 9 to Monday, February 25
Spring: Saturday, April 5 to Monday, April 21

The first day of my contract is October 1 and the last day is June 30. However, I will not be in the classroom for the first day as there is a workshop, and then there is observation, and from reports from former assistants, I probably will not be doing anything for real in front of the students until the end of October.

I have got to figure out how to turn off this mousepad thingy on the laptop. It is really messing me up.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

There had to be at least one stumbling block...

So I had it all planned out where I would go to the French Consulate in New York (Central Park East) and hand in the paperwork needed for my visa and walk out, sticker in my passport, and spend a weekend with my Aunt Karla. Then through some lazy poking around the forums, I discovered that I needed an appointment to apply for a visa!!! Oh no. I registered for the online appointment system and discovered that not only were there no appointments available for the date I was planning to go to New York, but there were no appointments for all of August.
I made two different appointments: one on the very first opening available, and another for a similar date to the date I had thought of in August.
I don't really know at this point if I am going to New York this weekend, as my dad has offered to drive me to my first appointment, and I'd like to save the money for the bus ticket, but then again, I did totally block out my aunt's schedule and I haven't seen her in months. When I go in September, Dad may be able to drive or I could ask to stay with my dad's cousins who live in near Washington Square Park.
Oh the dilemmas.
In other news, the contact at the French Embassy in DC (her name is Meg Merwin) finally emailed everyone. We got academie/school district specific emails this time, so I know the emails of everyone else who is going to be in my academie/school district. I sent them all a hello email as well because I can be very forward and overly energetic. I am very excited. Can you tell?
I have also made one of the more important purchases for this trip: a laptop. It is a Toshiba with a built-in webcam and microphone, so who's up for some AIM Video Chat? I am accepting submissions for names.
Also I need to draft a letter of resignation from my job as a receptionist at the temp agency. The job was only supposed to be for six months but I'm leaving them a good three or more months earlier than expected. I'm debating if I should tell them the truth about why I'm leaving which would explain all of my "appointments in New York", or just lie to them some more because I may not even put this job on a resume anywhere. I kind of like the job, but if I had to do this for a living, like Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 5:00, I think I'd go crazy. For $9.00 an hour.
Today was also the final exam for my French graduate course at SUNY Cortland. It was taught by a French professor of history I had had when I was a student at L'Universite de La Rochelle. The course was on the history of the French in the Americas, and it was really neat. He was very well-versed on the subject, on all historical subjects for that matter it seemed, and I really learned a lot. I'm not sure it's evident on my final exam but whatever. I paid for the class so I earned graduate credit for it but who knows where it'll be applied, if at all.
So that's what's happening right now. I don't expect to hear anything from France until August 25 when my contact in France comes back from vacation, and I'm not buying a plane ticket until I get my visa, so...I guess I'm shopping for these really cool shoes I want and the biggest rolley suitcase allowed.