A Portrait of Being a French Major

In case you ever wanted to know what being the only French major among your friends is like, read on for a slice of life featuring Me, being bullied because I’m Satan small; Iszi, the wry wife; Madeline, my only loyal Francophile friend; and Pat, the bully teddy bear.

Act I, Scene I: Facebook

Me: Ticket prices dropped so now I’m officially going to Paris!

Iszi: Yay! France HONHONHON

Me: No incorrect that’s not even a word

Iszi: Baguette Eiffel Tower



Me: No incorrect tu as tort

Iszi: Ass tart

Me: What?

Iszi: Ass tart

Me: Non

It’s pronounced “ah tor”



Iszi: NO ASS TART???

Me: No never

Iszi: ;c


Act I, Scene II

Me: Madeline help Iszi’s butchering French

Madeline: Oh my god

Iszi: Ass. Tart.

Madeline: Ur an ass tart


Act II, Scene I: Twitter

Madeline is wisely off-stage, refraining from direct engagement except for liking everything we tweet.

Me: Don’t ever let Iszi take French ft. Madeline

Pat: Le ass tart

Me: I trusted you and this is how u repay me? Get out. (also there’s no such thing as le followed by a)

Pat: Les ass tart

Me: Look here if u wanna try butchering French u gotta commit. Plural definite article, plural noun

Pat: Le ass tart

Me: No vowel vowel bad

Pat: Ls ass tart

Me: Stop this u bully

Iszi: Don’t be an ass tart

Pat: That’s Monsieur Bully to u

Iszi: Honhomhon

Me: Pourquoi vous me torturez comme ça?

Pat: Ja maple


Epilogue: Life Choices

Me, to the audience: Sometimes I question the friend choices I make


Little Study Abroad Things, Part V

I thought I’d be able to make one list for the entire summer, but it turns out I’m too much of a nerd, so:

  • I nearly told a friend she’d spelled a word wrong, but then realized I’d been thinking of the French spelling. My confession resulted in her saying, “omg Sarena. OMG YOU FRENCH NERD.”
  • I used my French notes on fairy tales to help me write angry feminist poetry and a gay fairy tale. I regret nothing.
  • While finally watching The Force Awakens, I heard a language that wasn’t English, and so my brain promptly assumed it was French. It was definitely not French.
  • I laughed so hard I cried when I saw a Tumblr post saying that someone named Gemma Pell must run into so much trouble trying to introduce herself in France.
  • One of the worst things I’ve seen is altered song titles like “Total Eclipse of Descartes,” “Don’t You (Foucault About Me),” “Bataille Will Always Love You,” “Rousseau Vain (You Probably Think This Song is About You),” and “Love Voltaire Us Apart.”
  • Out of sheer boredom, I took one of those weird Facebook quizzes, and it yielded disturbingly accurate results when it said, “Sarena loves French” and “Sarena can’t live without class.”
  • A friend and I went to Barnes & Noble, and I got a little distracted by the French maps and books in the International Travel section.
  • Listening to French music while trying to write poetry in English is a terrible idea. Trust me, don’t do it.
  • For some reason, as I was talking to two friends via Facebook chat, I switched to French and had to consciously return to English. Don’t ask me why. I’m still confused.
  • I got dragged to some Chinese dinner gathering, where some lady told me that her daughter spent 5 weeks in Rennes as part of a high school immersion program. Seconds later, she said to someone else, “French is useless but nice to listen to.” Look, if you’re going to claim that French is useless, at least have the audacity to say it to the French major’s face.
    • Later that night, I dreamed that I was at a fancy dinner and someone asked me, “Why aren’t you learning Spanish or Chinese?” In response, I angrily listed off all the reasons French is useful—in a single breath—and one of my friends, sitting at a neighboring table, laughed his butt off.
  • Things get really confusing when you’re listening to songs in English, but then your brain starts singing along in French.
  • When I got to Canada, I exclaimed to my brother, “There’s French on all the signs!” And then I proceeded to delightedly read all the ubiquitous bilingual signs and brochures. Honestly, if I could see bilingualism every day, I’d be happy as a bee—I basically had a nerd’s field day in Saint John.
  • I saw a license plate that had the letters DST on it, which was slightly traumatic. We don’t talk about those devoirs sur table I suffered through (but passed!) in Nice.
  • Offended that someone had taken the name Sarena on Pokémon Go, I cast about for a different name, and the first thing that popped into my head was ÉmilieduChatelet. But that was too long, and for whatever reason, someone had already taken Chatelet, so now I’m EmduChatelet. I’m pretty sure using a French-inspired username on a Pokémon game has just doubled my nerd.
  • Normal people during the summer: “I went out with friends!” Me: “Today I translated one of my short stories into French.”
  • “Hey look, they could be French nerds, too!” I exclaimed to my friend when she parked behind a car with a license plate that read BISOUS.
  • I stumbled across a bakery in a dream, and I was so excited because there were French desserts and the people who owned it were French, and now I’m sad because I want French bakery food.


This is going to be a super short post, because even though I’m notorious among my friends for going over page limits on essays, I don’t know what to say right now. The attack there just feels…so close to home. I lived in the city for a year and fell in love with it enough to want to go back to France. Heck, I have eight friends who still live there (and who are luckily all okay). There’s even a picture of Nice taped to my desk, and now I’m trying to type this while I cry, so I’ll take that as my cue to stop.

Anyways, I’ve been meaning to post this poem for a while, but never really got around to it, and I figured now’s as good a time as any. For context, it’s about my experience abroad in Nice, and it was published in my school’s creative writing magazine, The Stylus.

What the Heart Leaves Behind

Society says that girls

should fall in love with boys—

but I fell in love with a city.


Its taste lingers in my mouth—

sandwiches and gelato,

laughter and français,

its sunshine fingers and

wisps of wind

still trailing across my skin.


I lost and found myself

in narrow streets

and crooked alleyways,

in poésie written within

the bright ochre walls

of Belle Époque buildings.


I watched the sun scatter fire

in the clouds every night

from a room with a floor

barely bigger than a suitcase—

but with walls painted the color

of the sea and the sky.


Today, the rhythm of my heart

echoes the wishbone dreams

strung up in the stars above

les Alpes et la Baie des Anges

they whisper in a language

I’m still learning to speak.


Sometimes, falling in love means

leaving a piece of yourself behind.

Questions and Answers

My Méchain contact gave me another invaluable resource: the email address of the American assistant who’d just finished her TAPIF assignment in Laon. I immediately reached out to her, and she graciously answered my fifty million questions.

M (I’m not using her name for privacy reasons, though I assure you there’s no connection to Moriarty on Elementary) told me that I’m supposed to foster discussion among groups of students, getting them to speak English as much as possible in 25 minutes. (Excuse me while I panic. Okay, panicking done.) She assured me that my colleagues will be super helpful, and I assume they’ve all acquired the magical grad school power of crafting lesson plans that fit the allotted class time perfectly. I mean, sure, I might be the kind of person who accidentally goes over page limits on essays, but that verbosity doesn’t quite translate orally. M made games, did role plays, and taught them about American holidays, which all seems doable. (As long as I don’t have to teach about Thanksgiving. That would just turn into a rant about the Native American genocide perpetuated by Christopher Columbus.)

After answering everything, M then gave me advice and tips about daily life things—cellphones, banks, buses, laundromats, cheeses, and restaurants and bars. (I giggled a little at the latter; could you imagine me at a bar? I’m basically the Sober Sally who laughs at my drunk friends. And no, Madeline, I will not get turnt.) Also, there’s an automated cable car that goes from Ville Haute, where Claudel is, to Ville Basse, where Méchain is! Apparently I can easily walk from the upper to lower city, but if you don’t think that I’m getting on that funicular at least once—or twice, or thrice—and gluing my face to the window, you’re kidding yourself.

Finally, she said two things that really stuck with me, so I’m directly quoting them because I found them so compelling:

  • “I found myself being scared to speak in French and acting a little shy so my number 1 advice to you : EVEN IF YOU ARE SCARED SHITLESS – SPEAK FRENCH :)!!”
  • “TAPIF helped me realize I don’t want to leave Europe and I don’t want to be a teacher for the rest of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love this job! I renewed my contract for Nice this year so I definitely adore teaching. But the best thing about TAPIF is you have a lot of free time to soul search and really dig deep to figure out what you wanna do. It’s a wonderful program.”

It was just incredibly reassuring, realizing that there’s a network of people who are undergoing the same “What do I want to do with my life?” struggle, and who are more than willing to help those who come after them.


I’m currently in the middle of revamping my entire blog, so if you get a bunch of emails, I apologize in advance. For whatever reason, WordPress thinks that updating posts means that I’ve republished them.


TAPIF Update #3

Wow, I really need to come up with new names for these posts. Anyways, my Pierre Méchain contact told me that I’ll be working with 15-16 year olds, so maybe there’s still hope for me. (Maybe not. When a lady asked whether my brother or I was older, her husband said, “Him, obviously! She looks like a baby.” Thanks.) Moving on—the students who’ll be taking their bac in June can choose to talk about one of four topics: Power: Types and Sites, The Idea of Progress, Space and Reciprocity, and Myths and Heroes (not quite sure what the first three mean, but I’m definitely interested in the last one). Apparently, I also have the option of picking up a side job of teaching primary school children for four hours a week? Don’t know if I’ll take it, but at least I know I’ll look older than them.

He also offered me free housing, but I’d already accepted the studio at Claudel, which doesn’t have wi-fi but does have a private kitchen. Méchain’s the opposite, but I think if have to live with a communal kitchen again, I’ll probably lose whatever sanity I have left. I can always buy wi-fi, and at least with my own kitchen, no one will be able to witness my blunders. (Last night, I started sobbing over onions on the cutting board—believe me, I tried not to. And the night before, after mixing Chinese chives into eggs, I accidentally stuck chopsticks coated with raw egg into my mouth. In my defense, I was cooking dinner for the family and I ran out of hands.)

As for my Paul Claudel contact, she suggested that I could start thinking about Virginian things that I can show to students, like postcards, tourist brochures, small objects, recipes, and photos of sports as well as photos of my house, college, family, friends, and hobbies. This elicited a series of slightly panicked thoughts:

  1. Where am I going to find postcards or tourist brochures in the middle of Short Pump suburbia?
  2. I’ve never cooked an American dish in my life. To be honest, I frequently forget that July 4th is a thing, so if you were ever wondering what kind of American I am, there you go.
  3. Sports? What are those?
  4. Most pictures of my friends and me consist of ridiculous selfies, especially of the “you left your phone unprotected so now we’re leaving stupid faces on it” variety, which are then posted on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram as revenge.
  5. Do I have hobbies besides reading and writing? Being a nerd doesn’t exactly make for interesting photography.

Basically, summer is going to be quite the adventure as I attempt to collect brochures, flyers, recipes, photos, etc., for high school students in France.