Colette

Ever since the trailer came out, I’ve been dying to see the historical and biographical film Colette. She’s one of the most well-known French women writers, and a queer feminist to boot. How could I not want to see the movie? Unfortunately, it was showing nowhere near Ithaca at the time of its release. Small town woes.

My landlady once again saved my life. Knowing that I’m a Francophile, she invited me to see the very last showing in Ithaca. This afternoon, I left class while the professor was still talking—something I’ve never done before, but technically class had already ended, and I had to catch the bus—and tried my best to walk into the showing unnoticed. There were only seven other people, anyways, so hopefully they weren’t offended by me running past the screen to sit next to my landlady.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but the movie was incredible. Keira Knightley does an impeccable job of portraying a witty, brilliant young Colette who eventually realizes that her husband is holding her back and proceeds to ditch him and embark on a relationship with a masculine-presenting woman. (Please look up Mathilde de Morny, or Missy. She’s fascinating.) In short, the movie is a feminist roller coaster—you find yourself sympathizing for Colette; wanting to yank out her husband Willy’s beard because he was a egotistical, controlling misogynist; cursing the patriarchal society that devalues women; and then mourning the fact that the movie wasn’t longer and you didn’t get to see more of Colette growing into her right as an independent woman.

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Also, every single one of Keira Knightley’s outfits in the movie. Can I have them, especially the suit? I want to be well-dressed while I use this movie as added motivation to fuel my feminist anger and continue fighting the patriarchy.

(Pardon the terrible photo, unfortunately there was a light right above the poster and I couldn’t make the reflection go away.)

 

A Story of Unexpected Connections

Once upon a time, in a thrift store in Silver Spring, MD, I stumbled across this 5-cent card and decided to purchase it because it was whimsical and it had French on it.

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Fast-forward to a year and two months later. Yesterday, my landlady invited me to a presentation at Congregation Tikkun v’Or by a French man who survived WWII as a hidden child. On this crisp, gorgeous autumn afternoon, I hopped into her car and we drove past Cayuga Lake to the temple, where the room was packed with people.

The Holocaust survivor, Simon Jeruchim, was 12 when his parents sought help after the Vélodrome d’Hiver (Parisian version of Kristallnacht, where 12,000 Jews were arrested, held in the arena, and then send to Auschwitz). Members of La Résistance sent Simon to a small, isolated, rural French town with a population of 1,000 in Normandie, Savigny-le-Vieux, where he hid from 1942-1945. He and his two siblings survived, but they never saw their parents again, and it took Simon fifty years to talk about his past. Simon’s 88 today, speaks perfect English, and fooled me into thinking he was in his 60s.

As for that little watercolor I found in Silver Spring? Before the presentation, I was walking around the room, looking at Simon’s paintings, when lo and behold, a larger version of the watercolor stared right back at me. He’d painted eight different watercolors during his time in Savigny-le-Vieux, and a reproduction found its way into my hands. Crazily enough, the great-grandson of a man who lived in the village also discovered Simon through one of the watercolor paintings: he recognized the church spire and his great-grandfather’s house. While visiting Savigny-le-Vieux, he saw a plaque commemorating the village for hiding 30 Jewish children, set off to uncover their stories, and eventually discovered that Simon lived in New York.

Forgive the cliché, but we live in such a small world. My original plan was to send the card to a fellow Francophile friend, but it’s a good thing I procrastinated and never followed through. (If you’re reading this, Madeline, sorry, I’ll send you something else.)

 

My Guide to TAPIF

Before I started TAPIF, I wanted a quick yet detailed rundown of what I should know and expect. I found this information scattered in various blogs across the Internet, so after I finished the program, I decided to write my own condensed guide. My hope is that future applicants will find the combination of information, advice, and my personal experiences helpful as they decide whether to apply to TAPIF, or as they prepare to embark on their journey.

I wrote the article (and was paid for it!) back in April, but it’s finally been published online for everyone’s perusal:

https://www.transitionsabroad.com/teach-english-abroad/teach-english-france-assistant-paid-program.shtml

Update about the grad school life

I’ve been mulling over what to write about on this blog for weeks now. It originally started as a promise to a professor and an easy way to keep my friends informed about my life abroad in France, and then as a creative outlet for me to chronicle and dissect my experiences in France and in City Year.

But now my life is no longer a visual scrapbook of European city/sea/landscapes, or a written documentation of the adorable, hilarious, and savage things said and done by elementary schoolers. Instead, my life is full of all the intellectual stimulation and academic writing that I so desperately missed in Laon and DC. So yes, not a particularly exciting life for you unless you love academia.

Most of the people who I know read this blog have already done the whole college thing, so I assume you all probably don’t want to read about my adventures (or lack thereof) in class. But I will say it’s a strange, strange world: seminars only happen once a week for two hours, and here they tend to be combined with undergraduate sections. Three out of the five classes I’m taking are actually dominated by undergrads: Montaigne and Skepticism; Revolution, Sexuality, and Empire in Modern French Fictions; and Other Feminisms.

And as for being the entire French cohort? I won’t lie, it is a bit sad–but not new, because I’ve grown used to being the only French nerd among my friends, in my family, at R-MC, and in City Year. Besides, alienation’s nothing new for a queer, first-gen WOC. Kidding. Mostly. At least here at Cornell, I can interact with passionate French students in the cohorts above me, and all the other Romance Studies students are incredibly kind. My cohort and I also get a nifty shared office space, which looks kind of bland but is a quiet refuge for reading, studying, and escaping human interaction.

Okay, that’s it. I won’t bore you anymore. Have some more pictures of Ithaca instead.

 

 

Hello, Ithaca

Welcome to Chapter IV of my blog! It’s been a long road back and forth across the Atlantic, from Nice to R-MC, Laon, DC, and finally, Ithaca. Confused, clueless little me running off to study abroad would have never guessed that I’d do TAPIF, become an overworked City Year, or pursue a PhD.

Am I excited? Hell yeah. Being able to study whatever I want instead of being forced to take required, 100-level classes that I skated through with minimal effort is everything my nerd self in college could have ever wanted. Just look at the classes I want to take in the fall: The Future of Whiteness! Revolution, Sexuality, and Empire in Modern French Fictions! Montaigne and Skepticism! Sociology of Sex and Gender!

Am I nervous? Obviously. It’s been two years since I’ve been in school, and how I’ve survived all that time without writing an academic essay (my favorite part of school) is a mystery. My French is rather rusty after a year in DC with no opportunity to use it, but hopefully it’ll all come flooding back.

And here I am, sitting in my cozy studio in Ithaca, in one piece after Saturday’s 7 hour drive. I kicked out—er, dropped off—my parents at the airport yesterday after days of buying necessities and sightseeing, and survived the steeply uphill walk to campus this morning. (I’ll have legs of steel by the end of the year. I suppose Laon, aka la montagne couronnée, was trying to prepare me for the mountain life.) Nonetheless, the walk was ridiculously scenic, winding above Ithaca Falls and Fall Creek Gorge and through a campus that I still can’t believe is real.

 

The Romance Studies assistant informed me that there’s an enormous entering cohort of five students, all Spanish except for me. The hazards of going into French, I suppose, although my new status as a grad student didn’t hit me until I was standing in the middle of The Cornell Store, of all places. Nothing says you’re a student like overpriced university logos shoved in front of your face. (At least there, surrounded by terrifying price tags, I can always blame almost crying on capitalism.)

P.S. My landlady and her husband are so nice. Last night they invited me over for a delicious dinner, and then today she gave me locally grown lettuce and he gave me a mini history lesson wherein white feminists like Susan B. Anthony were inspired by Seneca women. Thanks, white male history, for erasing the contributions of WOC.

 

TAPIF vs. City Year

Now that I’ve moved out from my apartment in my gifted Cornell shirt, finding it only fitting that I wear my symbol of my future life as I left behind my City Year one, I’ve had time to reflect on the major differences between TAPIF and City Year.

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  • By the end of the year, aside from the students in my biweekly conversation classes at Claudel, I barely knew any names. But at Ketcham, since I saw the students every day, I knew all 48 of my 2nd graders and an assortment of kindergartners to 5th graders.
  • Because I saw the students at Méchain or Claudel so infrequently, I didn’t really get to know them. On the other hand, I’ve watched so many of my 2nd graders grow—emotionally and academically—and it’s amazing to see how much they can change in a year. My favorite example is a kid who went from being unable to read at the beginning of the year to a wise old soul who dished out life advice: “It comes to a moment when everybody have to start a new life and that started with you.”
  • Children do not hold back the affection or their unadulterated love—they all but throw themselves onto me, though I love it when they randomly give me hugs. (Except then they pick me up. That’s horrifying. No child should ever have that much power over me.)
  • Working with high schoolers was great because I could discuss topics such as feminism and immigration without mincing any words—especially for the fluent terminales, who were basically adults. With elementary schoolers, you have to think about how to adapt such subjects so that they’re clear and comprehensible for children. There really isn’t any difference in students’ spelling abilities, though, regardless of whether they’re secondes (15-16 year olds) or 2nd graders.
  • The fights. Why were there so many in my grade? At least I remained bruise-free in France.
  • A 12-hour work week sounds like a dream come true, but I actually hated it. There was too much free time on my hands, and I felt so unproductive. Sure, 50 hours per week is a lot, but the days went by so quickly in CY because we were doing so much. In fact, weirdly enough, I think I was actually doing more work for TAPIF outside of the classroom than for City Year.
  • Being the only older-than-high-schoolers, younger-than-teachers person around was sometimes lonely. Regardless of how welcoming teachers like Nico were, nobody aside from other assistants understood the TAPIF struggles. At Ketcham, I loved being on a team and having a 2nd grade buddy—everyone understood what you were going through, especially in afterschool. Hardship truly does bring people closer.
  • Sometimes teachers in France gave me specific topics to talk about—or, on some fortuitous occasions, a few guidelines. But otherwise, I crafted my own lesson plans and PowerPoints. In the classroom at Ketcham, my partner teacher let me know what to teach in rotations and showed me the worksheets, but gave me the freedom to choose how I wanted to go about doing so. For afterschool, although each week was assigned a theme, we created the lesson plans from scratch.
  • My partner teacher was wonderful, and I’m so grateful that I got placed in her classroom. It’s so much smoother, working with one teacher versus fourteen. Also, the work environment was almost entirely POC and WOC, which was beyond refreshing.
  • Laon made me so pale. I do not miss the endless fog. In Maryland and DC, there was so much sun. I have acquired the most ridiculous watch and ring tans.
  • Boulangeries do not live on every street corner in America. I will never find a simple, delicious 2.80€ sandwich poulet. I have resigned myself to this dolorous fate. The sandwiches in America are expensive lies.
  • I miss those 8 weeks of paid vacation and being able to take spontaneous trips to Paris or book $40 flights to Copenhagen. Sure, Silver Spring actually has a downtown, but America will never live up to the standards of convenient transportation.
  • I still curse the DC metro even though I’ll never have to use it again. It’s trash compared to France’s and the rest of Europe’s. Is a functional, affordable, reliable metro really too much to ask for?
  • Other than the view, I don’t miss the living-on-a-mountain life. It was so nice to be able to walk to Giant for groceries and not have to pay for the bus. I do, however, miss the 5-minute walk to Claudel and the 20-minute bus ride to Méchain…if only I’d lived that close to Ketcham. And the view in Laon, I can’t forget that part, even if I could see the Capitol and the Washington Monument from my second-floor classroom.
  • TAPIF ended without a bang. No one showed up to my last class; I said bye to the other three assistants in Laon; and though the Claudel teachers threw me a party, I didn’t really get emotional. On the other hand, with City Year, several kids were on the verge of tears; I graduated and partied with my team; and I cried in an Uber. When I went back to visit Ketcham for the final time, so many kids screamed. I’ve never been mobbed by so many children, despite not having the arm to hug them all.

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Here’s my team, my manager, my partner teacher, and the 1st grade ELA teacher! (No, I don’t know why we all look so orange.)

Things Kids Say, Pt. VIII

Somehow, ten months have passed, and I have two days left with a bunch of ridiculous, brilliant, hilarious, and adorable second graders.

  • While hugging me, L serenaded me with “Won’t you stay with me / Because you’re all I need.”
  • S: “I would live in Mexico because they have a lot of tacos.”
  • Drama king, curled up at the top of the slide on the hottest day of afterschool: “I’m dying, I’m dying from the heat. Shame on you, I see you laughing at me.”
    • He’s also developed the habit of calling me a nerd because I wear glasses. (Oh no! He’s seen my true colors.)
    • During one whole recess, he did nothing but say, “I’m going to take a leak.”
  • T, a child who’s literally in love with me: “I’m dumb, I’m bad at math.”
    • Me: “No you’re not! I’m bad at math, am I dumb?”
    • T: “You’re bad at math? We’re twins!” *hugs me* “Don’t ever leave me!”
  • Many of our kids misspelled “thought” as “thot” on their practice spelling tests, and Ms. K and I were deeply amused.
  • A: “I married you because you’re full of hope sosososo much hope.”
  • N: “I want to be an old lady.”
    • Me: “Why?”
    • N: “Because they get to do whatever that want.”
  • I was working on similes during small group tutoring, and when I put down the simile “as busy as…” on the table, C said, “As busy as every president but Donald Trump.” She’s so savage. I love her. (Yes, even though she calls me Wiggy. The girl will never be convinced that my hair is real.)
  • T: “How do you say ‘marry me’ in French?”
    • Me: “Mariez-moi.”
    • Him: “Mariez-moi! Mariez-moi!” Why are my kids obsessed with marrying me? They’re in 2nd grade. I worry.
  • A, at recess: looks at me, and then (lightly) punches me in the stomach, saying, “I’m going to kill your baby.” She’s so weird.
  • N: “Can you buy me a dead body?”
    • Me: “No! You can’t sell dead bodies.”
    • Her: “But I want to make a mummy. Don’t make me go to a cemetery and dig up a grave.”
    • Me and Ms K: “N, that’s illegal. You can go to jail for exhuming a body.”
  • I died laughing at O, the space cadet, because he was excitedly showing me a comic. Turns out that, in his excitement, he forgot to zip his backpack, and it was hanging upside down on his arm, all his belongings falling out in a trail that led from the cafeteria to the stairwell.
  • Me, looking at N’s paper: “You need a topic sentence.”
    • N, looking up at me: “You’re horrible!”

Petit écoliers, grad school, and lavender

While literally crying over the first petit écolier I’ve eaten since leaving France, I realized that I never posted my grad school decision here. So after five acceptances, three campus visits, multiple conversations with brilliant students and professors, countless discussions of French and feminism, and endless days of agonizing between my top two choices, I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be attending Cornell’s PhD program in French literature this fall! Their French department is small and diverse, and actually part of the Romance Studies one, which offers me plenty of interdisciplinary options. I can’t wait to see what Ithaca holds in store for me for the next five to seven years!

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I also adopted this lavender child from the farmers market! She reminds me of my time in Nice, and I have named her Maëlie.

Things Kids Say, Pt. VII

I can’t believe I only have a month left with my munchkins. It’s not enough, and I will miss them dearly.

  • One of our most dramatic children, after pretending to cut his throat, collapsed forward onto the cafeteria table and then announced, “Bye, I’m going to heaven.”
    • I carried the breakfast bags to the table, and little drama king tried to take the bag with ~40 pears and cartons of milk from me. I asked, “Are you sure you can carry it? It’s really heavy.” He replied, “No it’s not heavy. I’m strong.” He tried to pick it up, failed, and then fell to the ground in defeat.
    • Collage materials in hand, I started to introduce the afterschool lesson to him by saying, “It’s Women’s History Month—”
      • He made a loud noise of distress, shoved his construction paper across the table, stood up while shouting, “I hate women!” and then stomped to a corner to sulk. (Fear not, I got him to change his prepubescent misogynistic inclinations.)
    • He spent a morning proclaiming, “I wasn’t a chubby baby!” because his older sister said that he was a baby who had the chubbiest cheeks and cried over everything, and my partner teacher gave him this look and said, “You’re still a chubby baby.”
  • T came up to me and asked, “Can I do my work? I want to go to third grade.” My little egg, you won’t be held back, but of course you can do your work.
  • H tried to pull my ring off my index finger, proclaiming, “I want to break your engagement.” Boy, it’s a dinosaur fidget spinner ring, and it’s not even on the right finger.
    • A day or so later, he insisted that I needed a boyfriend, and when I asked him why, he said, “To protect you.” I told him that I could protect myself and then asked him again what I would ever need a boyfriend for, and he had no response. Feminism lesson completed.
  • My little space cadet fell asleep in two assemblies. I don’t get how. It was so loud, but apparently he equates assemblies to nap time.
    • I witnessed him do the most wholesome thing: after he saw a 1st grader sitting on the stairs, sadly rubbing her foot, he took her boot and tried to put it back on.
  • When one of my kids told me that she wanted to see the president, I looked at her in horror. “But he’s a terrible person!” I exclaimed, to which she replied, “I want to see him so I can kick him in the butt.” Okay, I’ll accept that.
    • A day later: “I’m going to meet the president and then smash his face and put it up my nose and then snort him out.” Well, she’s certainly ambitious, and I won’t be stopping her.
  • The same child who’s been trying to marry me since the beginning of the year: “Ms. Sarena, I’m going to marry you.”
    • Me: “Okay, but it’s not official until you give me a ring.”
    • Her: -walks to her backpack, rummages until she unearths a ring, comes back to me-
    • Me, not expecting her to have a ring: *…well guess I can’t put it off any longer* (The saddest part about her ring is that, even though it was clearly made for a child and is bent, which makes it smaller, it’s still too big for my ring finger. Welcome to my life of child-sized hands.)
  • One of my faves was mad that I told all the afterschool kids to go inside, and his 4th grade brother noticed his angry face. He came over to ask why T was mad, and when I explained why, he went, “He’ll get over it” and walked away.
  • Second grader insults: “You’re saying everyone’s ugly but look at that top bun!”
    “Well you’ve got worms on your head!”
  • J accidentally called me Mommy, clapped his hand over his mouth, and tried to cover by saying, “No, I said ‘blobby!’”
  • One of my third graders in afterschool purposely fell on the floor and then, while laying on his back, started singing, “Hello darkness my old friend.”

Also, check out various expressions of love from my children, ranging from wholesome cards to a zombie story where I poop myself:

 

UMich Visit

After returning to work for a grand total of one day, I ran away from DC again to explore Ann Arbor. The campus visit was packed into two days, though at least I arrived Sunday afternoon (the 11th) and got some time to myself.

Upon landing in Detroit, I watched in horror as the taxi meter climbed to unfathomable numbers unsupported by an AmeriCorps stipend. As we approached the inn on campus, I stared, eyes wide, at how big and imposing all the buildings were. Some worker took pity on me inside the campus building, because the pure confusion I was feeling must’ve been written across my face—I assumed the inn would consist of, you know, one building, but instead it was located on the fourth floor.

Once I settled in, a current French student met me outside and took me on a tour of the campus and the town before leaving me to my own devices. I managed not to get lost as I wandered the busy streets and then made my way back to the inn to meet up with another prospective French student, A, and his partner. The three of us headed over to an Irish pub/restaurant for dinner, where, while we had a lovely dinner conversation, I yearned for the week I’d spent in Ireland. (Galway and Dublin were just too pretty.)


On Monday, I reluctantly forced myself out of the king-sized bed and proceeded to get lost in the Modern Languages building, but made it to breakfast early. The other 9 prospective students (3 French, 7 Spanish) slowly trickled in, and the graduate chair and graduate assistant held an informal Q&A session. Next on the schedule was a graduate teaching session, followed by a library tour (can I live there?), and then lunch with faculty and students.

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I met so many people that I promptly forgot most of their names, oops. One of them took A and me to a local café for some delicious tea, and after I met with a professor, a bunch of prospective and current students sat and talked in a restaurant before heading over to the graduate chair’s house for dinner and a “party,” or endless social interaction that lasted until way past my bedtime…even though I left early before I fell asleep in my chair.


Tuesday was rather uneventful because I had to leave early in order to make it back to DC at an unreasonable time. A good chunk of us were probably half-asleep at breakfast, though at least some of us got an hour-long break to fight the urge to fall asleep. Current students came into the commons room to talk to us about housing and student life, and then we were supposed to go to lunch in small groups, but that plan fell apart and I went on a grocery store venture so that I could use my food stamps. #CityYearlife. A final meeting with a professor wrapped up my time at Michigan, because then I had to run out of his office to catch my taxi and get to the airport.

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Everyone at my three campus visits has been so incredibly kind, I’m already dreading having to tell schools no. I’ve loved talking to all the professors, students, and graduate assistants that I’ve met, and having to decline their acceptances will crush a small part of me.