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.

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