TAPIF Update #2

All of the time that I spent crafting emails in French paid off: I heard back from an English teacher at Paul Claudel, and there are a total of ten English teachers at the school. Luckily, all I have to do is work with groups of students or with one of the teachers—they’re not just going to stick me at the front of a classroom and go, “Have fun!” I already sound official, too, because I get a mailbox in the teachers’ room. She even took the time to reassure me that Laon is a calm city, with nice students and no delinquency or terrorism. Plus, she made fun of Fox News, which is always promising. (In case you were wondering how terrible I am with receiving compliments, we’ve been corresponding in French the entire time. Then she told me, “Your French is impeccable!” and my first thought was, “I can’t take this job anymore au revoir.”)

An English teacher at Pierre Méchain got back to me, too—in English, although he said he was impressed by my French—and casually gave me his address, phone numbers, and Skype name. He also sent me the vacation dates to help me plan my travels—apparently, I get 8 weeks of paid vacation!—and even attached a picture of his family. According to him, my schools will try to work out a schedule that gives me a three-day weekend, which will be helpful for traveling. I got a text and Skype request from him, so no worries there about my contacts not being helpful.

More good news: someone will pick me up from the train station in Laon! It’s good to know that I won’t have to wander tiredly through the city, half-blind from jetlag, to find the school. Plus, they’ll even help me set up a bank account. There’s going to be a Spanish assistant at Paul Claudel as well, although unfortunately, there won’t be a German one this year. (Iszi, now you definitely have to come visit me so you can take me to Germany.) Keeping my fingers crossed that this Spanish assistant will be a chill person.

Anyways, I saved the best part for last: it turns out that my housing wishes weren’t so fanciful after all. I get free housing! It’s a studio complete with bedroom, bathroom, and an entryway with a kitchen, so it’s already better than my senior apartment at R-MC. The only thing I’ll really have to buy is groceries, which leaves me with a lot of extra travel money.

(Random aside: I just realized that, in a small-ish very French town, I’m going to be very obviously not-white… I won’t be able to blend in with the international students program like I did in Nice. Let’s just hope that I don’t panic and give a fake name, or get annoyed and give a sarcastic answer. I’m not sure which would be worse.)

TAPIF Update #1: My City and Schools

Aside from the six books I’ve read and the three nonfiction essays and two poems I’ve written, summer has not been particularly eventful, so I wasn’t expecting anything exiting when I went outside to get the mail. But when I saw the French envelope in the mailbox, I immediately ran back up my driveway and into the house, promptly abandoning my half-written stanzas of angry feminist poetry and partially-read The Feminine Mystique for pages of French jargon.

I’ve been placed in Laon, the capital city of the département of Aisne. It’s not a very large city; TripAdvisor has a grand total of 7 things to do there, and considering that I only have to work 12 hours a week, I’m worried I’m going to get bored very quickly. Still, with a population of 25,000 versus Nice’s 342,000, the rainy little city with an actual winter will be a huge change from the sunny, colorful seaside city where I studied abroad. Laon has a very medieval aesthetic, and in the words of a friend, “It looks pretty badass, though. All mountainous and castle-y.”

In terms of schools, I’ve been assigned to two lycées, which are sort of the French equivalent of high schools in America. Lycée Paul Claudel and Lycée Pierre Méchain are populated by 15-18 year olds, so excuse me while I mourn the fact that the students will all look older than me. (About two weeks ago, some lady asked what grade I was in. I told her, “I graduated college,” which resulted in her saying, “Oh, you look like you’re still in high school!” I know. Thanks. On my way to and from France, I’ve had TSA officers think that I was 12.)

I managed to scrounge up pictures of Lycée Paul Claudel, and I’m a bit jealous because my high school looked like a prison. (Seriously, about three classrooms actually had windows.) But Paul Claudel probably looks much nicer because it’s a boarding school, with 1,227 students. The poor kids, though, are stuck in triple rooms to create a “relaxing and studious” atmosphere, which sounds a bit dubious, but okay. Lycée Pierre Méchain’s website isn’t as up-to-date, but it had 1,036 students in 2012-2013, so it’s a bit smaller.

My greatest concern is housing—I’m hoping, perhaps chimerically, that someone at one of the schools will tell me, “By the way, we have free housing! You can room with another assistant.” I don’t even know if there are other assistants at my schools, much less in the same city, although I’m keeping my fingers crossed. There’s also something oddly nerve-racking about writing emails in French because 1) Windows doesn’t like accents and 2) my phone autocorrected “Sarena,” to “Date à.” Look, I know my name is spelled strangely, but I assure you that I know how to spell it.

Apparently I Need to Fight Dead White Men

I’m a huge proponent of libraries—seriously, I’d live in one if I could—but since the English department gave me a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card, I figured I might as well put it to use. Naturally, what did I decide to do with these fifty dollars? Buy French books, obviously, for light summer reading. (In my defense, the public libraries near my house don’t offer books in French. I can borrow English books whenever I want, but where will I find French ones in America?)

Figuring out that I wanted to buy French books was the easy part. Then I went and decided that I wanted to read books by female authors, and let me tell you, finding texts by women was a struggle. Hello, can I just get some works by underrepresented ladies? It should not have been that difficult. Curse you, white male literary canon. (I didn’t realize that I’d stayed up past midnight trying to find French books by women authors. If that doesn’t tell you about the kind of person I am, then I don’t know what will.)

After a lot of Googling, Wikipedia-ing, and copying and pasting names into the B&N search bar, I had to find books that were decently priced—contrary to what the website seems to think, no, I am not paying $25-$40 for a paperback, much less $1,500 for a hardback. I’m not that desperate. It took a bit of tweaking, but I finally managed to make my order $25.68 and eligible for free shipping. (Yes, I may have graduated, but I’m still in the mindset of a college student.)

My final book choices were Fleurs d’orient by Judith Gautier and Contes de fées by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. The first is apparently a collection of stories, reminiscent of A Thousand and One Nights, and the second a collection of fairy tales, and I’m super excited to read both. (I got really excited when I saw that Mireille Best’s novels often feature lesbian characters and immediately typed her name into the search bar. Imagine my disappointment when B&N yielded no results. Where did the minority representation go? Look, if I can’t have women of color characters, can I at least get disabled or queer ones? Is that too much to ask for? [Apparently, yes. What do you mean, the world isn’t made up of white, Christian, cisgender, straight, able-bodied men?])

Anyways, I never said I wasn’t a nerd. I don’t have a book problem—my tiny bookshelf isn’t already overflowing onto the carpet. No, absolutely not, that would be ridiculous. Clearly, you’ve got the wrong person.