Week 3: Learning Through Travel

Here is Week 3 BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge:

Have you ever studied or taken classes on a trip? What did you study, and perhaps more importantly, what did you learn while on that trip?  What would you like to learn on your travels this year?

I have been living abroad for a little over a year and a half now. I frequently like to reflect and look at all this year has given me. It actually is a bit overwhelming to think back to the day I stood in the security line, equipped with a backpack and suitcase in hand, staring back at the anxious and tear-filled faces of my parents. At that moment I had no idea what the next year for me would bring or if I was making the right choice. A part of me wanted to jump out of line and back into their arms of safety, cradled with in love and support. But also those arms represented everything I already knew and I was ready for something different. At that, I took a deep breath and continued in line to security.

Now, how does this relate to this week’s prompt? Well, because with that one step I started the learning process. I learned that I have more courage than I ever thought. But this wasn’t all I learned. My time in France has been some of the best education I have received. In a formal sense, I cannot speak too highly on the French classes I have participated in; however, learning a new language has been part of my education here. Outside the classroom is where I believe I have gained the most. Not only have I opened my eyes to the world around me: new cultures, new foods, new languages, new customs, the list goes on; but also I have learned about myself. There are things I have done that I never thought I could be capable of. I have simultaneously had the best and worst year of my life. Because of the hardships, I have been able to appreciate what I have more greatly.

My very first trip to Europe was with a group and was an organized tour. I only got 10 days and 3 different cities. When I look back on that trip, I remember the way I felt and all the things I saw. Yes, I did learn about new thing however I my level of learning was very shallow. I only got to skim the surface of what really made up all of these magnificent cities. I took away history and fun facts, but did I really know what made these cities tick? No. And that wasn’t any fault of mine. It merely was my limited time and my lack of exposure in travelling to these places. As I said, I was with a group. There were my friends, teachers, mentors. It was familiar. I blindly followed the tour guide, rarely having to think about where I was going or how I was getting there. I never had to communicate with someone who spoke a different language than me. My interactions with locals were extremely limited. To me, it is all these factors that add to the education you get while travelling.

When taken out of your comfort zone, you are required to adapt and to learn. You are forced to be flexible to surroundings and in that you are developing more knowledge of that around you. You are more aware because you have to be—it’s new, undiscovered territory. Because of that, the wine tastes better, the bread smells better, the people are prettier. But when you are really able to delve further you also are faced with fear and uncertainty. In order to accumulate you have to fight this and in this process you are learning not only about your surroundings but about your capabilities to adapt.

This year I would like to continue the journey I am on by taking advantage of everything I have in front of me. I want to kick it up a notch 🙂 I hope to not only improve my French, but also learn other languages (like improve my elementary Spanish!) New cultures and different countries will continue to provide me with fresh perspectives and increase my thirst for more. To be honest, I would also really like to learn what it is I actually want. I mean, I know the basics of what I want but I have yet to figure out what will make me truly happy. Well, I lied. What would make me happy would to be a travel writer and photography and continue to travel the world. I guess what I mean is I want to know where I should plop myself down next. I am searching for something, I just don’t know what. I would like to learn what that is.

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

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Fluctuat nec mergitur

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Speaking French, Saying Goodbye, and My Future

Life has been crazy busy lately. And I love it. I have always been someone who thrives off of being busy. It is incredible the limited amount of time you have when you work 40 hours a week. I alluded to it in a past post but I honestly do not have time to do laundry/clean my flat/go grocery shopping… you know the basic necessities of life. And now that I am friends with au pairs again it seems I have fallen into the routine of being responsible during the week and acting like a 20-something during the weekend. Two lives are quite tough to fit into one week. On top of this, I am now going to French class 3 times a week. Although my schedule is tiring, I am excited to get back into class.  My French skills are splotchy… I thought I wrote better than I spoke but my enrolment test told me otherwise. Probably because my specialty is business emails. I just need to have confidence in my speaking. It will come. But class will also help with the rules I don’t get when speaking at work or with my French friends so I am looking forward to it. I do have to say I am quite impressed how far I have come. From knowing nothing to being able to understand and hold a conversation without taking very many classes is pretty good I think. I do wish that my last year was more like the how it is now because then I would be much more progressed. I would say 90 percent of my French ability has been achieved in the last 6 months. So it is a bit of a shame that the other year I was here lacked in very much progress.

It is really weird to think about life any other way now. I think that is why I have so much anxiety about going home. I really, truly love it here. It just feels right. And I love all the people I meet and all the things I am learning.

The more I hang out with and interact with the French, the more I like them. The American culture and the French culture are so very different—which at first can be quite difficult to get over or understand. Even people that come here for a short time get their opinions based on the limited interactions and make their generalizations (which in French people’s defense, it is unfair to base all your opinions on Parisiens—they are not the vrai français. I have to say it did take a long time. I have always loved France but the differences in culture made warming up to the French a difficult task.

A few of my friends are leaving this week. Goodbyes are something you have to accept as an expat. And as much as I wish they got easier, they don’t. Because I am one of the rare few that has decided to stay longer than a year, I have had to go through various waves of goodbyes. Each one just as difficult. Two of my friends that are leaving was not by choice but rather by the iron fist that France has around issuing visas right now. Although I have been through a rocky road and worked my ass off to get where I am now, I still feel lucky that it managed to work out. It is awful to get something you want to get taken from you with no control over it. I guess this is the reality of trying to live in another country. It still is really sad how incredibly difficult it is to move here or find a job.

My good friend was asking me what I think I will do after this. I have a work visa for a year and I have the option of extending it. But, as sad as it is, I am not sure I have the energy to go through another visa process here in France. I think the last time just about destroyed me. I am not sure. I have no idea where I will be in a year. As of now, I love my life here. I am enjoying it so much and I would never change it. But, I know this isn’t a forever thing. I think next year I want to move somewhere else. I haven’t fully decided what continent I want that somewhere else to be but I think I will be ready to move on. Not because I don’t like France, but because this experience was so rewarding and I want another opportunity to do it again.

I have been looking in to a bunch of things—nothing too serious yet. Masters programs, immersion programs, jobs, etc. I actually even looked into jobs in the states. If I move back, I want to do something that involves travel. I was researching international event planning and it seems I need to know Spanish for the most part. Now, I do know a bit—as in I can get by or tell my friend Christy that the Spanish bartender is actually hitting on her and not just being friendly—but clearly not enough to land me a job. So, I think that’s my next endeavour… anyone in for a Spanish immersion program?? But really… how cool would it be to put French AND Spanish on my CV… German next…

The point is. I am not done experiencing things before settling down. And I don’t just mean the whole husband, house, kids sh**. I mean I am not ready to go back to what I know. I want to be challenged more, learn more, grow more.

So where am I going to be next year? No clue. But I am sure it will be awesome 🙂

Having Two Places You Call Home

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Independent or Selfish?

I have recently realized that moving alone to a foreign country has realigned my priorities and interests. I mean, I believe I have always been somewhat independent but lately I have noticed how much this whole independence thing has been kicked up a few notches. I have only had to look out for myself for a while now. I don’t have a boyfriend. I don’t have family here. I don’t have room mates. So really there are two things I care about: my friends (that I usually only get to see on weekends and occasional meal dates) and myself. I didn’t quite realize how much I have enjoyed this lack of responsibility for others until recently. I have developed a routine. I enjoy my freedom and get stuff done during the week. I do my laundry, buy groceries, clean my flat, take French lessons, work a bunch, go shopping, and make plans with friends when they are free. On the weekend, I literally spend 2 ½ days straight with my best friends here. They mostly live in the suburbs or with their au pair families so my flat turns into their weekend home—and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love having my weekend room mates and hate the empty feeling the little 15 m² flat I call my own gets on Sunday nights. My friends are my family here and I have been lucky enough to be blessed with an incredible family  We all live for the weekends and cannot wait until the week finally reaches Friday so we can have another few days of adventures. Now I believe I have arrived upon this realization of complete happiness of my independence because I am finding it hard to balance when another thing is thrown into the mix. I haven’t really dated out here too much—partly due to my extreme want to do this by myself and partly because I have yet to find someone worth hanging out with for more than a few hours. Not to come off as a bitch but guys are not so much a priority. I think after I reached the year mark, I was more open to the idea but still really hesitant. Why complicate my pretty awesome life? I mean it’s not like I don’t enjoy getting driven to work on the back of a Frenchman’s motorbike but the whole thinking of someone else and finding time to squeeze in time for yet another part of my life is creating a challenge for me. A challenge I am somewhat resisting. I realize this sounds selfish and probably stupid but whatever. I’ll take it. I know I am being selfish but I have done this whole thing for me and it scares me to let someone else in and change what I have created. I just don’t think I am ready or willing to change, but if that can be accepted then I guess I am ok with it. I have no idea why someone would decide to sign on to someone who refuses to give up even a fraction of the weekend to anyone besides her friends but hey, if that works for them, then I am willing to give it a shot.

La Rentrée

Life has seriously been in fast forward lately. When the hell did it get to be September? The good thing is although life is flying by quickly, it’s also flying by amazingly.

Paris has gone through la rentrée and everyone, for the most part, has returned from holiday. This is awesome and horrible at the same time. Lets get the bad news out-of-the-way first. Now if all of my readers lived in Paris, I could explain the problem in 2 words: RER A. However, for clarification purposes I guess I will delve into this a bit more. Basically all the suits that work in La Defense take the RER. Now this experience was really not bad in August when the suits had taken there ninos and left the city. But now they have returned. And although there is an RER about every 2 minutes, it still does not seem to be enough. There are actually human beings employed to push people on to the RER and attempt to close the doors. So there I am, among all the sleepy-eyed yet rushed business people with BlackBerry (or iPhone) in hand praying that I will manage to squeeze myself on to the next RER. Although completely used to this fact, it will never be enjoyable.

Now, for the good stuff. As I said, life has been seriously great lately. With la rentrée, comes the return of my friends who actually got a proper holiday during the proper holiday time, unlike me. It also brings in the new swarm of au pairs. So to say the least my social calendar has made a sudden leap from low-key alone time to too busy to do my laundry/grocery shop. I am loving it though. I have to say it is quite strange to be a “veteran” compared to all the newbies rolling into town. It seems like last week I was in their shoes but when I look back I realize how much I have grown. It is incredible. Although I really loved the experience, I am so happy where I am now. I love that I can look back and finally laugh on the series of unfortunate events that occurred or reminisce about the fun times I had with my fellow au pairs. I love that now I am not afraid to break out of my little au pair bubble and that I actually have French friends and go on dates where the language spoken isn’t always my own.

I am happy that I am spiralling toward a new chapter in my life. Everything seems to be working out lately (shocking I know!!) and I hope this continues. It has taken so much to get to this point of being content. A lot of people will comment on how lucky I am with my current situation, and while yes I did have my fair share of luck, I always worked my ass off. There has been many days of tears; stress, and uncertainty, to get me to this place. I have loved the journey and cant wait to see what is ahead.

On a side note, I am finally taking a holiday. Place of choice: CALIFORNIA. I haven’t been home in 10 months. Almost a year. I can’t believe it and I am so ecstatic to be back… but also terrified. It freaks me out I don’t know what to expect when I am returning to a place that is my home. In the whole scheme of thing I know that 10 months isn’t all that long but it is long enough to forget what used to be normal and mix it up with what is normal now. I am only saying this because there are seriously moments in my life that people back home question why I do something or say something and I have to think why. I know I have changed but I feel like some program has been rewired or something. I can’t find the words to explain. Instead, Ill let you know how it goes.

I’m going going back back to Cali Cali 🙂

Fail: Journey to the Doctor’s

I needed to go to the doctor. Because the French has something terribly against working, the hours of operations of things are never convenient. I mean why would a doctor’s office be open on the weekend? No one would ever imagine to get sick on the weekend… Anyways, I decided to wake up early and try to squeeze a visit in before work. I knew this was overly optimistic but I thought since I had no other choice I would give it a try. I went exactly where I needed to go and stared at this large building with a sign in front for the Cabinet Medical. It was there. There was a sign. After careful examination of the outside of the building, I finally figured out how to get it. Once in the building, I was led into a huge open courtyard. No doors unlocked. No signs. Not a human being in sight. How very French. I finally found stairs and walked up to the 1er etage. Now I was in a place that resembled an apartment building. Reluctantly I gave up. There truly was no other ideas I could pull from my hat. After having searched for doctors online, I remembered seeing another place a few streets away. I proceeded to go to that one. I managed to get in, but same issue–all locked doors, no humans, no signs. So I went back to the front of the building (can i just add in that it is pouring rain at this point?) and called the number listed for the doctor. I called and did my utmost to speak in the best French I could master at that point. The dialogue went something like this:

 

Me: Bonjour, le cabinet est ouverte? Hello, is the office open?

Awful witch on the other line: Oui, vous avons un rendez-vous? Yes, do you have an appointment?

Me: No, je n’ai pas un rendez-vous, mais je suis ici maintenant. Je ne peux voir un docteur maintenant? No, I do not have an appointment but I am here now. Can I not see a doctor now?

AW: Vous devez un rendez-vous. You need an appointment.

Me: D’accord. Quelle heure? Ok. What time?

AW: (She then continues in rapid speed French to word vomit out a ton of times)

Me: (I managed to hear a few and chose the one closest to the time it was.) Excusez moi, je suis tres desolee parce que je parle un peu francais. 9h20? Excuse me, I am very sorry because I speak a little French. 9h20?

AW: (Screaming at the top of her lungs now in a voice similar to what I think Satan would sound like) MADAME. 9h20. VOUS DEVEZ UN RENDEZ-VOUS. 9H20. (then inaudible angry french.) MADAME. 9h20. YOU NEED AN APPOINTMENT. 9h20.

Me: Desolee. Je ne comprend pas. 9h20 est correcte? C’est bon pour moi. I’m sorry. I do not understand. Is 9h20 correct? It is good for me.

AW: (yelling. screaming. anger.)

Me: (hung up.)

 

At this point, there was truly nothing I could do. She was clearly upset and I could not understand why or what else I could do to express I wanted the appointment at 9h20. As I am pulling the tears back from the frustrating conversation that was unsuccessful, I get a call from an unknown number.

 

Me: Hello?

AW: pourquoi voulez-vous raccrocher? qui est si impoli. pourquoi voulez-vous raccrocher maintenant? (yelling.screaming.anger.hang up.) Why did you hang up? That is not polite. Why did you hang up??

 

The tears poured in. A Frenchwoman had the nerve to call me back just to yell at me. Really? Confused, upset, and defeated I got on the metro and went to work.

France 74682532546 Coco 0

When I got into work, I told my French colleague (and good friend) the story. Not only was she sympathetic, but she also managed to get me an appointment on Monday at an office close to our work within about 2 seconds. She printed a map for me, highlighting the directions and wrote down all the information needed. Why is there not more Estelles in this country??

 

Lesson of the story/ongoing theme of my life: I hate the french. I love the french.

French Summer= Rain for Days.

I am having quite a hard time believe that this is July. The July I am used to is full of BBQs and bikinis, not rain and jackets. Apparently, because we had such a good spring… we are paying for it now. That doesn’t make sense in my head but hey Ill let the French justify their crappy season.

On a high note (well I dont know if this counts as a high note but ill take it), today I noticed myself wearing the same outfit as about 70 percent of the women on the metro today. Beige raincoat, scarf, dark skinny jeans, heels. Have I been here too long? Am I slowly disappearing into the 20-something crowd of commuters on the metro?

I mean, I guess it is about time. I am living here. I have been for quite some time. I know what metro to take when the usual one is too crowded and what lines to avoid. I know where the best falafel in town is and where the best spot is to sit on a sunny afternoon. I now have no fear to ask the sales guy in the tech store if these speakers work with my Mac… in French.

Now, these all may seem like little thing… and they are. But they are little triumphs and that is what matters. In France, I have learned you have to take what you get and enjoy ever second of it. This year has been a test–and one I have struggled to get good grades with I might add–but slowly I am starting to get a few questions right.  And it feels good.

I was talking to an old friend of mine the other day and we were talking about growing up. I have known him since 5th grade… so it was easy to be nostalgic. We were wondering when this whole grown up thing happened. Here I am. Hardly a grown up, yet technically living that life. I have a real 9 to 6 (ish) job. I pay my own bills. I do my own thing. But I still feel like I waiting for it to get real. But it is real now. Am I making sense at all?

Sorry for rambling on but it is still crazy to think where I am and what I am doing. Honestly, I would be happy where ever life took me next. After this, I feel ready for anything. Preferably on a year-long travel adventure… but hey whatever works 🙂