A Weekend in DC

Since City Year gives us $200 for the metro every month, I figured I might as well blow through as much money as possible before August. What better way to do that besides meeting up with friends in a conveniently flat and walkable city?

Yesterday’s adventures:

  • Met up with an R-MC friend on a whim
  • Explored Chinatown and bought groceries (Okay, well, he did; I bought some haw flakes for 60 cents because I need my occasional dose of Asian snacks)
  • Looked confusedly through the National Portrait Gallery because we don’t understand art
  • Felt like snobs commenting on how ugly all the concrete buildings in DC are (he studied abroad in Japan, and we all know how much I love the architecture in France)
  • Discovered that a map lied to us and made the walk to the National Mall look much farther than it really was
  • Got distracted by food trucks (and got so much food from one purchase that we’re both still eating it)
  • Lost our sanity because an ice cream truck would not stop playing the same tune over and over again

Today’s adventures:

  • Went to a Paul boulangerie to meet up with A, my fellow Nice and TAPIF alumna–and TAPIF travel buddy–and some Francophile ladies in their 20s to practice our French skills
    • Almost cried at the sight of sandwiches and macarons and tartes and croissants and pains au chocolat
    • Was absurdly happy to eat a sandwich that consisted of real French bread
    • Horrified that a pain au chocolat cost $3.95–like, I could get one of those in Laon for 50 centimes
  • Learned that one of the girls quit TAPIF halfway through because she was the only Anglophone and the only Asian in her tiny town. Oh, the joys of racism.
  • A and I happily caught each other up with our lives since leaving France, and we walked around DC speaking French because we missed using it so much. We probably confused so many people, but I regret nothing.
  • Bizarrely enough, this is the first time we’ve met up in the US–before, we’d only met up in France
  • Explored the Smithsonian and the National Gallery, where I picked up everything related to France in the enormous gift shop and remarked, “Oh, this is cute!” and then promptly set it back down because “This price tag is not cute”
  • Passed a family in the Smithsonian speaking French, and then later in the metro, my head automatically swiveled towards another French family and a random guy telling his friend how he was going to take French in school
  • Nearly died on the metro because the lights kept flickering and then we stalled in total darkness for three minutes in an undetermined tunnel

City Year Training

After two days of training, I can finally explain what City Year actually is—an education-focused nonprofit that places diverse teams of AmeriCorps members in high-need urban schools in order to provide a continuum of academic and socio-emotional support, foster a positive school environment, and improve graduation rates and college + career readiness. We have 2 ½ more weeks of training, but I’m just going to highlight yesterday and today to sort of give you an idea of what we’re doing. The exciting news, school placement and grade level, doesn’t happen until Friday.

I’m too lazy/tired to write paragraphs, so bullet points, here we come:

July 24:

  • The worst. 9 straight hours of training that consisted of being cooped up in a room and enduring PowerPoints. It was like taking two finals and then attending classes.
  • That lovely moment when someone tells all the first-generation college students to stand, and basically everyone who does is a POC
  • Someone described DC as a “transit-rich” city. Ha. American public transportation sucks.
  • My notes devolved from important info to complaining in French so that no one could understand my writing
  • Provided free entertainment for one of my founding team members—at one point, I thought we could finally leave the room, but it turned out we had one more task, so I stalked back in muttering, “This is torture”
  • I’m pretty sure I left a piece of my mind on my chair. I will never recover that piece of my sanity.

July 25:

  • Much more exciting. More interactive activities and some actual service (we probably had the easiest task; one of my roommates had to clean a park)
  • Mildly offended that we had to go to a corner that represented our favorite subject in school, and French wasn’t an option
  • Traveled with a team leader and five other of my founding team members to the Ronald McDonald House
  • Bullied by my new “friends” because I was terrified of the Ronald McDonalds, dolls, and giant stuffed animals scattered outside and inside the house
  • Cooked spaghetti and meatballs, as well as made a salad, to feed 20 people (check out our salad, ft. me chopping lettuce [I’ve graciously blocked out the other team members’ faces because I’m not sure what the policy is regarding social media posts])


  • Got to see families get excited about our fresh food
  • After a grand total of two days, I’ve already garnered fame as the salty/sarcastic/cynical one: right before they got off the metro, two of my teammates told me, “Sarena, I’ll look forward to seeing your smiling face tomorrow” and “I’ll look forward to all your complaints”

Welcome to City Year

(I forgot to post this on the 17th. My bad.) After an exhausting day that gave me horrible flashbacks to the trademark inefficiency of French bureaucracy, I’m officially registered with City Year! This is going to be a huge change from TAPIF, where I nearly lost my mind from the sheer boredom of 12-hour work weeks. Instead, we’re working 50 hours a week, earning a $629 biweekly living stipend, and enjoying the not-so-beautiful American world of 12 personal days.

Also, I’m sure I’m going to sound like a total snob saying this, but the public transportation here is effing terrible compared to France and Europe. I’m still in shock over the fact that we had to pay $3.85 for a 20 minute ride. (Why can’t I just pay 1.70€ for a ticket that lasts 90 minutes and includes unlimited transfers? Take me back to Paris.) Also, who charges more money for peak times? Curse you, American capitalism. And the fare machines here don’t even have touch screens or maps. What year were they built in, the 60s? There’s a problem if I can navigate the vast Parisian metro more easily. In a foreign language. And roll easily through the public transportation systems of countries I’ve never actually lived in before, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland.

Ahem. I’m going to stop being a Debbie Downer and say that, on the bright side, I’m so excited to live in a liberal area after Marine Le Pen-voting northeast France. DC has random gay flags everywhere, and we even ran across a church that had a Black Lives Matter sign outside. Silver Spring, Maryland is so much more vibrant than Laon—a downtown! A metro! More than a single street of shops! Neighbors who are my age!

Speaking of which, everyone that my roommates and I have met so far seems really awesome. Like TAPIF, we’re all dedicated to City Year some way or another…although after meeting recent high school graduates, I feel like an old lady.

Anyways, the plan after these next 11 months is to attend grad school for a French PhD (If I pass the GRE. And get accepted into a school). Also, bienvenue à la vue from our apartment, where we have free utilities and can happily blast the AC after long, hot work days:



Addressing Race in France

Back in June, I was solicited to write a column about my experience living as a Chinese-American in France. Of course, I got right to work because the prospect of paid writing was far more attractive than studying for the GRE.

My original intention was to be as salty as possible, but I realized that wouldn’t be very encouraging for anyone looking to study/work/live in France, so I ended up balancing the negative with the positive. The piece has finally been edited and published at On She Goes:


Regardless or not if you’re interested in traveling to France, if you’re a WOC, On She Goes is a great travel resource! And if you’re a WOC writer, they take pitches–and pay for accepted pieces.