a TAPIF language assistant blog / un blog d’une assistante d’anglais

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Monday, February 29, 2016

Parlez-vous franglais?

May 22, 2013: Paris, France

As I sit down to try to put my thoughts regarding this year on this blank page, it seems near impossible. So I'll just start somewhere, and that somewhere is here.

Tomorrow, I return home. I haven't set foot in the place where I spent most of my life for over eight months now, which is not that long, in the big scheme of things. But it feels kind of long. Yet also short. These words are insignificant and cliché. We'll get somewhere real. I think. Give it a minute.

I wonder to myself what it will feel like to be home once more. I think about what home is, what it means. Home is big skies and perfect sunsets. Home is Dr Pepper and enchiladas and tacos and Reese's shapes (though not for another few months, and they aren't specifically Texan, but you get it). Home is the heat that will assuredly greet me tomorrow when I step out of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, and which won't relent until the beginning of October at the earliest. Home is the sights, sounds, and even smells of a rumbling spring or summer thunderstorm. Home is warm summer nights with a cicada serenade. Home is all of the convenience of the suburbs of a major American metropolitan area. Home is the feeling of independence and freedom that comes with driving in my car while singing at the top of my lungs. (Unfortunately, home is more frequently the feeling of entrapment that comes with getting stuck in traffic on any of our many freeways.) Home is baseball in the spring and summer and football in the fall. Home is strangers smiling and greeting one another like friends. Home is not being the only one that says y'all.

I'm so thrilled that I'm going home to all of these things and, more importantly, to all of my people tomorrow. I have loved my time in France (and all over the place) and have made it a point to make the most of it all. But here's the thing: at the end of this... (Can we call it a trip at this point? It's not a voyage, it's a séjour. So what's that in English, like a stay? Sure.) stay, it's no longer just a question of returning home, but also of leaving home. In order to get back my to my enchiladas, I'm leaving galettes. I have to trade in wine on terrasses to get back to margaritas on patios. I'm headed back to queso, but I'm leaving fromage, wonderful, delicious, varied, real fromage, of which the US knows nothing. To get back to singing in my car with the windows down, I have to leave the convenience of being able to buy a train ticket to one of hundreds of possible destinations. To return to the warm comfort of southern drawls, I have to leave the opportunities to conduct my daily life in the language I chose and to easily travel somewhere I can challenge myself by encountering languages completely unfamiliar to me. I have to leave the Meditteranean, cobblestone streets, inescapable history, and pastries. Oh, the pastries. Pain au chocolat, croissants, brioche... Je peux pas.

And so I wonder: Will I ever truly be home again? Not "Will I be happy to be in Texas again?," because the answer to that question is a definitive yes. But now the questions are "Will I ever not miss something halfway across the world?" "Will I ever not be missing a part of myself?" "Will I never not be missing someone whom I don't know when I'll see again?" I've felt this way before, after my time spent in both Germany and in Quebec. But now, it's even more intense. I have truly left my heart in so many places.

Another question that was originally posed to me not by myself but by many others: "Are you going to go back?" or "Are you going to do it another year?" Well, the immediate answer is no. I am actually very much looking forward to being home, (hopefully) returning to teaching in a full-time position (please God), and perhaps being able to resume paying my student loans and other "grown up" things. But will I leave again someday? It's possible. And that's the thing: I don't know how my life is gonna turn out. When I try to picture myself moving abroad again, for another year or even longer, I can imagine myself being happy. But when I picture myself living in Fort Worth, even perhaps eventually (not anytime soon, thank you very much) making some kind of commitment (to a house, to a man, or even both... maybe... sometime...), I can see myself being happy that way, too. I'm not closed off to either possibility. I honestly have no idea how it's gonna shake out. The good news is that both paths are paved with the possibility of happiness and that I don't have to decide today at this café in Montmartre.

Today, my job is to sip wine, eat crêpes, and soak up this beautiful city. Tomorrow, my job is to get home to Texas, hug the ones I love, and eat enchiladas. Regardless of how anything beyond that turns out, these things are certain: I will carry the memories of this year for the rest of my life, and I will never be the same girl I was before. The year and a half prior to my departure for France were characterized by uncertainty, loneliness, and even depression. (Added 2016: All centered around my work-related struggles, referenced here.) I was broken and calloused and cold. I rightly sought a change. This year has undone the damage and validated the journey. I spent time with beautiful people in beautiful places. Perhaps even more importantly, I spent time with myself. I thought and I thought and I thought. I learned more about who I am. I now feel whole and softened and warm. And ready. I regret nothing. My world is bigger now, and my heart is, too.


February 29, 2016: Fort Worth, Texas

It has been such a joy to walk down memory lane this past month or so in order to finish this blog. I do regret not finishing it earlier, but life was crazy, y'all. And, in a way, it's been kind of nice to do it now, because it's given me the chance to really think about what I experienced and what we had. For that, I'm thankful.

Not only that, but concluding this blog this far out gives me distance enough to reflect on how this year truly changed me. There are many ways in which that year etched itself into my mind and my heart: some big, some small, some expected and some not so much. I'm going to try to share them with you here.

1) I think differently about possessions and spending. I lived for eight months with the contents of one suitcase. And I was fine. I did eventually tire a bit of wearing the same things over and over, but really, I was fine. I look around now and I just have so much stuff. My "things" were in storage from November 2011 to January 2014. That's 27 months, y'all. When I finally got my things out of storage two years ago (wow), I was hit by how much stuff I have. So much stuff! Lots of which I had completely forgotten about. (It was like Christmas and my birthday in one, opening all of those boxes! And I still remember sleeping in my own bed for the first time in 27 months on January 11, 2014. HEART EYES EMOJI.)

So, here's the thing: I'll admit to you that stuff is nice. It's convenient and comfortable. It can be fun, both to have and to buy. But truly, how important can it be if I lived happily for over eight months with only one suitcase worth of things? How important can it be if I forgot that a lot of it even existed while it was in storage all those months?

This isn't to say that I don't buy stuff. I do buy stuff, both by intention and, also, sometimes just on impulse. Because it kind of feels good. But not all the time. Because when it comes down to it, I personally value experiences over things. We all have x amount of money, and we can't have everything we want, so we have to make choices. I'd rather spend what little disposable income I have doing fun things rather than buying nice things. I would rather spend money on a girl's trip than on new clothes. Also, when spending money on myself, I think about permanence, necessity, and convenience. This is why I chose LASIK over spending lots of money decorating my apartment in the way I'd love. (Last year, I actually used LASIK to get a free flight to Germany.) It's also why I would rather get laser hair removal than pedicures. (Y'all, shaving regularly is the worst. Shaving in a hostel shower? Even worse than the worst.) How do any of these seemingly inconsequential facts have anything to do with having lived abroad? Well, I just generally choose to spend any selfish money on things that will benefit me regardless of what I decide to do with my life. I prefer to spend money on things that can't be taken away and won't have to be left behind if I move, which (circling back) also includes experiences and their accompanying memories.

2) I think differently about my own abilities. I was never really lacking in self-confidence or faith in my capabilities, but I just feel a bit fearless now. Okay, so, not truly fearless, but I am just able to push myself further than before. I pushed my limits that year and was successful, which propels me forward to do so again.

For instance, I traveled by myself for the first time that year. It was only a few days at a time (some time in the Riviera, and certain legs (Stockholm, Edinburgh) of my end of the year trip), but I did it, and I enjoyed it. I got to use all modes of public transportation in many different countries. I got linguistically adventurous and for the first time I went places where I didn't speak the language (and wasn't with someone who did). Through all of these firsts, I paved the way for many others. I learned that I can pretty much travel wherever.

Two years after moving back home to Texas, I returned to Europe in summer 2015 and spent two weeks traveling solo through Croatia, Hungary, and Czech Republic. I didn't speak any of the languages and I had never been any of these places. It was incredible. I met amazing people and had a wonderful time. I wouldn't have had the confidence to do that if I hadn't spent time living in Europe familiarizing myself with so many places. Not only that, but after those two weeks on my own in Central Europe, I can imagine myself going to even less familiar and more exotic places, and for longer, either with others or on my own.

Honestly, at this point, I feel a bit (not completely, but somewhat) at home wherever I go. To continue this question or notion of what home is, exactly, here is another interesting point: I now feel like the world is my home. Like I could show up anywhere and experience some sense of belonging. There is something beautiful to be found everywhere. I'm going to explore this idea in my new blog (coming soon), but I feel like through that exploratory year, I started to think of the world not as a collection of unfamiliar places, but as a collection of versions or shades of home.

3) I think differently about gratitude and not taking things for granted. I remember a time when I made €780 (the equivalent of $959) a month. There was a time when I couldn't text my friends or family. There was a time when I couldn't see their faces except on Skype. There was a time when I couldn't hug them. There was a time when I had no private space in which to sing at the top of my lungs like I enjoy so much. There was a time when I couldn't get anything at the store on Sundays or past 8:00 pm. Some of these things are a big deal, and some really aren't, but either way, I know what it's like to do without them, and it makes me more grateful for them. Living a life very different from my normal one gave me perspective I wouldn't have otherwise, and I appreciate that. I know that I may always be here in Fort Worth with all of these things, and I may not. So I should enjoy all of these things for what they are and acknowledge them with gratitude.

4) I think differently about opportunity and possibility. I am currently in my third year teaching at the same campus. Next year, when it's four years, that will be the longest I've stayed put in any one place or doing any one thing since high school. I have no certain immediate plans, other than to return back to work next year. In the years following, I could stay here in Fort Worth, maybe actually invest in a house (commitment!), and do grown-up things like start seriously saving for retirement (about that... oops). Or, I could move abroad again. I entertain the idea. I get whims and I do research. Not all the time, but it does happen.

My life has looked so completely different than what I thought it would when I was 18 years old. Every time something happens that isn't "supposed" to happen, I've rolled with it. I've been open to possibilities, which generally take me down some life path which isn't what it's "supposed" to be. My layoff from my first teaching job (again, explained here) and my subsequent decisions, the culmination of which was my moving to France, are the most impactful example of this philosophy in my life. I have learned to be open to anything, even if it's not typical or expected. Truthfully, I have always had this innate inclination to do so, but it's only been further confirmed through this, my most beautiful story. If I had to articulate how I feel about this idea of rolling with the unexpected, I'd say this: Let life hit you hard and take you far. Or near, for that matter. That is to say, when life throws something unexpected at you, be open. To any of many possibilities, not just what society might lead you to consider.

I look around at pretty much all of my friends and peers and see them doing what is expected: getting married, buying houses, having babies. And their stories, their own adventures, are all beautiful. And I'm happy for them, and if my path takes me to a similar place, I'll be happy for me, too. But, contrary to what many people fear, I am truly happy without those things. I do not walk through life with a sense of lacking, but of completeness. I feel whole. Even full, to be honest. Full of life and love and adventure. I think this is completely beyond some people's realm of reality, but it's true. I know good and well that my life doesn't conform to all of society's expectations, and I'm way more okay with that than some others are, I think. (Some people seem pretty concerned for me, like, for instance, my taxi driver in New Orleans earlier this month.) As I've mentioned before: I am not closed to any possibilities. I do not see one path to happiness. I will not force my life to be any certain way. I will let it unfold before me and continue to surprise me.

Will I eventually settle down? Or will I keep exploring? I am rarely envious, but there is a very small part of me that sometimes envies those who know what they want. I know so many who unwaveringly want to spend the rest of their days right here, in Fort Worth, Texas. I also know some who have made the jump and choose to live their lives permanently in their adopted language and culture. But for me, I am not all Texas nor all France. My language of choice is neither English nor French. In truth, the language of my heart is franglais, which puts me in a bit of a predicament. There is a duality in me. I see beauty in both the extraordinary and the ordinary, in both the risk and the comfort, in both the adventuring and the being home.

Guys. I made dis. (photo from the Greek isles November 6, 2012)

For now, and perhaps for good, I am home. Texas home. What will happen in the future? Anything. Anything at all, and I love that. Even though there is that small part of me that envies those who know, for the most part, I kind of love the not knowing. There are times when it scares me a bit, but mostly it thrills me. It's not set in stone. I don't know what adventures are in store. But I know that the adventures I had during that magical year give me courage and motivate me to pursue others.

Why not take one last look at those adventures before I go?

interactive (seriously, touch it) Google map charting my stops that year; click here to open it full screen. Each stop contains links to the accompanying log post(s). For full functionality, must use a computer or Android phone; links don't work on iPhones.

To start the year off right, I dropped my camera in the toilet in the castle of Salzburg, Austria. (Yes, it was my first week in Europe, thank you very much.)

I experienced the real Oktoberfest with real Münchners in a real Dirndl,

rode a motorcycle along the coast (the first time I ever saw the Mediterranean!) with my first couchsurfing host in Marseille,

saw Fun. in concert with new friends in Barcelona,

spent a day in fairy tale Lake Como,

got lost wandering the canals of Venice and attended a stringed quartet Vivaldi concert,

threw a coin in Rome's famous Trevi fountain,

happened into hearing the Pope speak at the Vatican,

marveled at the Colosseum, 

strolled along antiquity in Pompeii,

walked on the foundations of western civilization in Athens,

spent a presidential election day sailing to Greek islands,

explored the cité of Carcassonne (fighting the wind all the while),

drank vin chaud at the Christmas market in Narbonne, 

and glühvein at the Christmas market in Munich,

spent Christmas with Irene and her family in their home with a real Tannenbaum (and real candles!),

attended Christmas Eve mass in German,

missed the first white Christmas in Fort Worth of my lifetime (because of COURSE),

visited an Alpine castle in the snow,

walked along the Baltic Sea while bundled up and waddling like a penguin,

visited Nici's family in my first non-Bavarian German city, Hamburg,

ushered in 2013 while drinking champagne among friends (and strangers), singing "Auld Lang Syne," and watching a firework panorama in Munich,

rang in 26 at midnight, German-style,

went to the Sahara and rode a camel who did not like my backpack,

had a Disney/Enrique/Shakira sing-a-long with brand new friends and a Berber man under a Saharan night sky full of stars,

survived a rainstorm in the Sahara (NO JOKE) in this tent, 

drank way too much mint tea in Marrakesh,

persevered through the rain in Madrid,

went on a spur-of-the-moment Riviera trip, including Monaco,

gave in to peer pressure to go paddle boarding and casually got interviewed in French on the national news,

spent a year as "Kate from Dallas" teaching English to (mostly) eager French students,

(Both "Katy" and "Fort Worth" prove a bit difficult to pronounce for many French speakers, so I went with "Kate from Dallas" quite a bit that year.)

made international friends who became family,

explored the beautiful island city of Stockholm,

reunited with my friend Silje in Oslo,

fell in love at first sight with Edinburgh,

visited Emily in her home in Oxfordshire and saw Oxford itself,

visited Lottie in her home in Norfolk and saw the seals at Blakeney Point,

and biked through vineyards to say au revoir to the south of France over glasses of wine by the canal among friends.

In the end, I spent every penny I had on pastries and passport stamps,
and I don't regret a thing.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, mes chers:
La vie est belle, y'all. Il faut en profiter.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

So she thought she could France...

After an overnight train from Narbonne, I arrived in Paris on the morning of Monday, May 20th, giant suitcase in hand(s) once more. People watched me with either pity or disdain in their eyes as I traipsed across town (well, from train to metro station to other metro station) during morning rush hour; one man even stopped, told me (in French) "I'd help you if I didn't have to go to work, but I do," and kept going. (Um, merci, I guess?)

I was very fortunate in that Emily, babe that she is, had asked her university friends Julie, Becky, and Louisa (who were doing their year abroad in Paris) if they could let me crash on their couch for a few nights, and they graciously agreed! I would have been thankful anyway, but I was especially thankful as I basically had no money at this point. Euros, dollars, yen, pesos, didn't matter. I was all-around out o' cash. So I was, and remain, very thankful to these three kind souls for their hospitality. Cheers, ladies! I will never forget this. You have a couch in Texas anytime.

Merci beaucoup, les filles de 142 rue Lafayette! 

I spent three days in Paris, and left on the fourth. It was gloomy the whole time I was there (maybe France was sad to see me go?), and the first two days it was actually pretty rainy. So, I spent my time taking care of some business (a little bit of final shopping, a little bit of shipping things home, and consolidating the contents of one giant luggage and several totes back to just the one giant luggage before I left). I also got to spend some time with that city I love. I had a gyro in the Quartier Latin, walked along the Seine, stopped at Shakespeare and Company to get a book since it was rainy (Hemingway's A Moveable Feast), strolled around on Île de la Cité, and then did a lot of sitting in cafés, reading, and taking every last opportunity to engage in French conversation.

Fortunately, one of my evenings was also filled with a bit of fun with friends! My friends Michelle (California), Nareh (California), and Mary (England), whom I had met on our bus journey to the Sahara (caaaaaasual), were all in Paris, and so we arranged to meet up!

Okay, story about these first three photos: I first met up with Mary at Bastille, and there were police and police cars everywhere. There was also some stage set up facing the roundabout. We joked that perhaps Beyoncé was about to give a show... to the roundabout. I don't know. It was weird. 

"Creer, c'est se souvenir"
("To create is to remember")
Victor Hugo

I should mention I like people watching.

I mean, look at this little boo! How cute is he? He looks like he's into doing hoodrat stuff with his friends.

Falafel is always a good choice. Especially at l'As du Fallafel.
Michelle, Nareh, moi, Mary

I really want this right now.

I can't remember where we went, but I remember we were the only ones downstairs in the cave.


It was so much fun to see all of these girls again! Yet another instance of meeting fantastic people abroad and then being lucky enough to get the chance to cross paths with them again. It's just nice and warm and fuzzy and fun. We did miss the rest of our #camelcrew (Em, Lottie, Louise, & Ayush), though!

The following day, Wednesday the 22nd of May, I spent walking the streets of my beloved Paris, soaking it in and reflecting on the year I'd had. It's always so nice to return to this beautiful city I love so much. It's even nicer that, since I've done all of the big touristy things, I don't feel like I'm missing anything if I spend time just strolling, drinking tea, reading, and people watching. Which was pretty much all I could afford at that point anyway, so it all worked out.

Galeries Lafayette, bien sûr

Place du Tertre, Montmartre (comme j'adore Montmartre)

I sat at this little café in Montmartre a couple streets off Place du Tertre for quite some time. I had a glass of wine, a nutella crêpe, and wrote my very last postcards of the year. I had a nice long conversation with some women sitting at a table near me. One was Scottish and one was Australian; they'd met many years before and became good friends and tried to take trips together every so often. Lovely! 

Anyway, to this day I remember sitting at that café, talking, and then writing, and thinking. I thought about my year. About who I was. About how I'd changed. About the fact that the following day, I'd be returning to Texas again after nearly nine months. I hoped I'd be employed again, and I wondered where it might be. I wondered what it would be like to see my friends, my family, and my sweet Nolie Mae again. I thought about how things would be so very different once I recommenced my American lifestyle. I thought about the people I'd met and the places I'd been and how so, so very grateful I was for all of the opportunities I'd been afforded that year. How lucky I was, and how surreal it all was. I thought for a long time, and many of those thoughts became the contents of my final post, which, by the way, I'll be posting next. (Yes, this is officially my penultimate SYTYCF post.)

Eventually, I got up, intent on doing a bit more wandering on my last day.

la Rue Foyatier (l'escalier de la butte)


a little Amorino by the Bassin Octagonal

some Tuileries and Louvre

le Musée d'Orsay (fave)

more Louvre

Pont des Arts & l'Institut de France

Paris, je t'aime.

[This is the moment I took my last Euroselfie for the year, which I'll give ya in a minute.]

Final photo of the year. I walked down these stairs to the metro, went home, and didn't leave again until the next morning when I left for good.

I remember Skyping my dad that evening from the girls' couch to talk with him about the arrangements for my arrival the following day, as well as about the job possibilities I was considering. I was so stressed about the interviews and which jobs would truly be open and whether or not anyone would hire me. I was worried about when I'd be able to get back to having a salary and benefits so that I could afford my own place again and earn money to pay off my debts. The real world was rushing back to me, fast; the time had come and it was now the eve of reality. I remember my dad, who is a very rational person (logos over pathos, for sure), saying to me "Katy. You are going to be just fine. You might not get any of these jobs we're talking about, and you will still be okay. You moved to France by yourself and handled yourself. You speak fluent French. You can travel the world by yourself. People will want to hire you. Not just as a teacher. You will be just fine." I remember feeling like I could breathe again when he said that. (Also, spoiler alert? I was and am just fine. It's a funny story how. I'll tell ya all about it sometime.)

The next morning, I set off early for Charles de Gaulle, giant suitcase in hand one last time. (Of course, I had to leave some random stuff like vitamins and socks in order to get it to close. But I did it. Back to one suitcase for my grand return!) I was all smiles and cheer, as I was honestly so excited to go home. The whole year I had never gotten homesick, as I had the mindset that I should value where I was when I was there, because I'd only have a certain many days to live in Europe. But still, in keeping with that same mindset, I woke up on May 23, 2013 excited to go home, and everyone who saw me could tell. 

Facebook status from the morning of May 23rd

I have a lovely story from the airport that morning. When I arrived at the check-in counter, the American Airlines employee was a kind French man, and I was happy to profite from one of my last opportunities to speak French. My luggage, weighing in at 69.5 lbs, was going to incur a $60 overweight fee, which I knew. (70 lbs is the absolute limit.) I had my credit card ready to go, when the following happens (all in French):

AA man: "You know, your French is wonderful. It's really beautiful. You don't have an American accent! How can that be? Are you really American?"
moi: "Wow, thank you so much! Well, I wasn't just visiting, I've lived in the south since September. I was an assistante de langue. But yes, I'm really American."

AA man: "Well, I guess that's why your luggage is so heavy. From all of your books that you used because you were studying French, right?"
moi: (clueless) "No, I wasn't studying... I was working. At a high school. I was teaching. I haven't studied in years."

AA man: "Well, I'm sure your bag is full of so many heavy books from studying our language, and you've done so well! Let me go ask my colleague if perhaps we can waive your luggage fee since your books are so heavy since you are such a good student and speak such beautiful French."

moi: (finally gets the hint)

And yes, he was able to waive the fee. Isn't that so sweet?! What a perfect final interaction to end my time in France. What a dear man. I do love how excited French people get when they hear an American who speaks French. I'm especially glad because you may remember that I was quite broke at this point in my life.

After an uneventful flight, I arrived home in Texas on a hot, sunny afternoon. I was expecting my family to be there, but instead, my best friends surprised me! (My parents had an event of my brother's to attend; he was graduating high school the following Sunday.)

with Amy... do you see that large Sonic Diet Dr Pepper, EZ ice?! 

with Shannon, Maddie, and Belle

with all of my girls! (and my giant suitcase)

These are the same best friends who had thrown me my bon voyage party in September. I wasn't expecting them to be there at the airport, but I was so glad they were! It was perfect. We headed out to meet my family for TexMex (of course), and all was right in the world. Or at least, all was back to my normal. I was exhausted, but I was home. (I also kept thinking, "HAS EVERYTHING ALWAYS BEEN SO BIG?!" Seriously. Everything is huge in the States/Texas. The cars. The roads. The buildings. The sky. The parking lots. HUGE.)

Facebook status from the evening of May 23rd

And that, mes amis, is the end of this particular story. Sometimes I still can't believe it all happened. I'm so grateful. I can't believe this was and is my life. I filled out all the paperwork, met all the people, survived all the strikes, sometimes scavenged for all the food, went all the places, spent all the money, ate all the pastries, and lived all of the adventures.

I thought I could France. And so I did.