Mid-Grad School Crisis

Okay, I’m nowhere near the middle of grad school, but “early grad school crisis” doesn’t sound nearly as interesting. “Mid-first year grad school crisis,” perhaps? Semantics aside, I came into grad school thinking that I was going to study the French eighteenth century and focus specifically on women writers and protofeminism during that period in an attempt to avoid the white male literary canon. I mean, I’d already written an entire Wikipedia page on protofeminism, so continuing to study it shouldn’t be too difficult, right?

After TAPIF and City Year, fast forward to a fellow French student’s presentation on the role of silence in the eighteenth century and how the absence of voice or sound can speak volumes. I loved his presentation, but when he told me that he was looking for more women writers to include in his dissertation, I found myself in a moral crisis. He had, albeit very unintentionally, pointed out a problem I’d been struggling with for weeks and had been trying to avoid confronting: there just aren’t that many women writers in the 1700s. Plus, they’re all white and privileged. I’m not noting their race or social status as something negative, but as something that I can’t relate to.

If I was going to chuck eighteenth century studies out the window, then, well, clearly that was the end of my grad school career. I’d been telling everyone that I was going to study women writers in the eighteenth century, and now I’d lied to all of them. Good thing I had an office to hide in while I contemplated, what am I going to study now?

I thought about the number of women writers I’ve studied in French. It’s about as sad as you can expect:

1) Colette, 2) Maryse Condé, 3) Nathalie Sarraute, 4) George Sand, 5) Marie de France, 6) Madame d’Aulnoy, 7) Olympe de Gouges, 8) Émilie du Châtelet, 9) Claire de Duras, 10) Simone de Beauvoir, 11) Madame de Staël, 12) Assia Djebar.

And then the number of women of color: 1) Maryse Condé, 2) Assia Djebar.

This is the total amount of women writers I’ve studied over the course of eleven years of taking French in school. Eleven years. And how many men have I studied? Probably five times the number of women, aka too damn many. You know what’s even sadder? That, in my first list, I studied the last eight women, from Marie de France to Assia Djebar, during my senior year of college and my first semester of grad school. Literature survey courses, or any other French class that doesn’t focus on putting women on the syllabus, clearly don’t give a hoot about women, much less WOC.

Toning my saltiness down. A few weeks after my moral crisis, I read Assia Djebar’s L’amour, la fantasia. The novel consists of autobiographical and historical chapters, and Djebar intertwines the story of her own linguistic colonization alongside European and Algerian accounts of France’s occupation. Despite the fact that learning French gives her liberty from the harem and the veil, she also slowly loses touch with her maternal languages of Arabic and Berber. As the book progresses, Djebar realizes that she can reclaim her female and Algerian identity by using French as an act of resistance. By writing in the colonizer’s language, she subverts its power by telling the stories of Algerian women that would have otherwise remained buried but are now immortalized for France to read and learn about the suffering they wrought upon colonized peoples.

For me, Djebar’s struggle with French is reminiscent of Derrida’s thought “Je n’ai qu’une langue, ce n’est pas la mienne” (I only have one language, it is not my own) in his book Le monolinguisme de l’autre (The monolinguism of the other), and it led to the realization that I could focus on postcolonial studies because they resonate more personally with me.

This article, while focused on Britain, about sums up my moral crisis about being a POC in French academia: “Unfortunately, what we see is largely white men interpreting the dusty work of other white men.” France, and whoever teaches/studies its history, is equally culpable with erasing its colonialism. I’m not here for that, so regardless of whatever area of postcolonial studies I end up focusing on, I’ll to find a way to work in intersectional feminism. I mean, who doesn’t want to destroy heteropatriarchy? Books by feminists of color, such as How We Get Free by Keeanga-Yahmatta Taylor and Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed, embody exactly what I eventually want to do: use my personal experiences as a woman of color to simultaneously empower other women of color and take down racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic white men. Men have had far too much power for far too long, and it’s time to put an end to that.

But that can wait until I finish hibernating from this snowstorm of 12-19 inches, 35 mph winds, and -1 degree lows.

Winter Break

This is essentially a sad attempt to bring some travel writing back to my blog, so bear with me as we journey to the far-off, exotic cities of Columbia, MD; Richmond, VA; and Easton, MD, all equally bereft of marchés de Noël.

Columbia: After surviving a 9am final on a Sunday and 51 pages of final papers, I drove six hours to visit my fabled college roommate, wife, and friend Iszi because she was gracious enough to let me stay at her house for two nights before I drove another two hours to Richmond. Obviously, we partied very hard with her family, especially the one-and-a-half year old tyrant who rules her entire household even though she can’t even speak proper English yet. The biggest danger during this trip was when Iszi brought me along to her work place, a rock/gem/mineral/crystal warehouse, and I promptly wanted to buy every shiny thing in there. But hey, I got to crack open a geode and keep its mysterious snowball crystals that technically shouldn’t even exist.

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The geode-cracking machine

Richmond: I arrived home a day earlier than I told my mother, surprising her and earning her forgiveness for hanging up on her because she’d called me while I was driving. She then proceeded to laugh at me when I ran straight for the pains au chocolat in Lidl. Look here, mother, I haven’t eaten them for six months. It’s so hard to trust French pastries in America. Too many have betrayed me with the disgusting taste of pure sugar.

Easton: My neighborhood childhood friends and I regularly had winter get-togethers while growing up, but now that we’re all adults with money, we decided to kick things up a notch and experience a real vacation together––we’ve only known each other for nearly 20 years. After a two-hour pit stop at the magical land of IKEA, four of my friends and I carried on to the waterside house that ten of us were renting for the weekend. At the Harris Teeter in Easton, I discovered that spaghetti tacos are apparently a meal during a poorly planned grocery trip before we found ourselves in the beginning of a horror movie, traveling down a narrow, isolated, poorly lit road to our Airbnb.

Luckily (spoiler alert), we all survived, and the house looked much less creepy in the bright daylight of a balmy Saturday morning. Three of us early risers explored an Amish farmers market and Harris Teeter again, and then prepared breakfast for all the late risers. Later, we all froze by the windy water of the Tred Avon River, made use of the tennis courts, and ingested delicious local cuisine at Crab N Que for dinner. We also played a multitude of entertaining board and video games, and although there was a hot tub, I have been too cold for too long in Ithaca to bother freezing my little self outside at night. I was perfectly content to go to sleep or play Jackbox instead.

 

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.