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

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Friday, August 31, 2012

Return to Deutschland

Well, if you remember from my To-Do list, I've been considering getting out to Munich in September for Oktoberfest before settling down in the south of France. Well, guess what. It's happening! :)

The same day I arrive in Paris (the 18th), I'll take a train to Munich to stay for a week. I could not be more excited about this bonus trip! Though I know maybe ten words of German and have only been to Munich and a few places around Bavaria, I really love Germany. I haven't been in eight years, and I'm excited to return!

The entire reason this is possible is due to my wonderful German BFF, Irene. Irene and I met when she came to Texas as an exchange student my sophomore year of high school. We were both 15 years old, meaning our friendship just turned ten! She was staying with my amazing French teacher, and Madame asked me to show Irene to her classes on the first day of school. I did, and I asked her to have lunch with me that day. The rest is history! I loved getting to know Irene; she was my first close friend from "somewhere else," and I learned so much from her. She taught me so much about her home and our friendship played a large part in fostering my love of travel and learning about other cultures. We get along so well and have so much fun, and when she left at the end of the school year, I promised her that I would save my money to come and see her. One year later, I left the States for the very first time and headed to stay with her amazing family for two weeks in their beautiful town just southwest of Munich. It is still one of the best experiences of my life! (She even took me to the Swiss Alps for a weekend, no big deal, don't be jelly.) Since Irene left Texas in 2003, we have met up five times (once in Germany, twice in Texas, once in France, once in Louisiana). We have one of those friendships where we can just pick up right where we left off (which generally involves staying up way too late talking), despite time and distance. I can't WAIT to see her and her family again and have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Oktoberfest!

Texas 2002 - first picture together! Baby Katy & Baby Irene

Munich 2004

Switzerland 2004

Paris 2007

Texas 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

Once upon a time, I was born... in FRENCH!

So, if you know much about France, you know that the French love forms and paperwork. I mean really. Love it. Also, photocopies. And passport photos. And photocopies of passport photos. And passport photos of photocopies. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. Emphasis on the slight.

Basically I've been buried in paperwork throughout this process, and it'll only get worse upon my arrival en France. (I'm not ACTUALLY complaining because I fully expected it and really, it'll be worth it. It's also part of the whole experience, and I want it all - the whole shebang. Fiches, formulaires, documents, oh my!)

Up front, they tell you that you'll need an original (as in not a copy) birth certificate when you arrive in France in order to enroll in the Sécu (social security)/be some sort of fake temporary citizen (travailleur temporain is what I think it's actually called) and therefore be covered under government insurance.

Okay, sure. Pas de problème. Got it!

However, they also tell you that you MAY need a translated birth certificate, that you can get from a certified translator either here ($$) or in France (). They also say you MAY be able to translate it yourself and just use that (obviously not an "official, certified" translation). Some people in the past haven't needed any translation at all. Basically it's just kind of... up in the air. Quelle surprise.

So I decided to try to pass with my own translation, which was then finalized by a friend. (Hollerrrr AE!) It looks pretty fancy, if we do say so ourselves.

Well, here comes the best part. Approximately two weeks after I return from my visa appointment in Houston (where I drove to and from all in one day, if you remember), I get an email from the TAPIF that states that France has decided, tout d'un coup, two things, both of which are problematic in their own unique way.

1) I must pay $15 and send off (to the Texas Secretary of State) for something called an apostille to be affixed to my birth certificate so that I may prove to France it's legit. A little extreme as it's already an original document from the state, but not necessarily problematic at first glance. Except for the fact that I received my apostilled birth certificate in the mail a few days ago, and, despite filling out the paperwork clearly, it was issued for use in Mexico (as in NOT France). Gracias, Tejas. One more thing that will now be more complicated than necessary. ¡Que fantástico!

Sassy Katy wants to include the following helpful guide I made
to aid in the selection of the correct country:
(Practical Katy actually wants to get her French apostille... 
so in reality I just included some helpful Post-it Notes.)

2) I MUST have an official translation from a certified translator and it MUST be stamped by the French consulate. (Yes. The one in HOUSTON.) Also, they state that the consulate may or may not agree to stamp it, as some of them do not perform that service.

Ummmmm. What?! Sooooo... you'd like me to drive another 9 hours, spend an outrageous amount of gas money, all to ask for a stamp I may or may not receive? Let me see... I think not. Non merci, I will not be partaking in this risky little exercise in futility.

My plan, you ask? Well, it's quite simple. I show up in France with my apostilled birth certificate (hopefully that actually says "France" on it) and my translated copy sans stamp and try to convince them that I was, in fact, born. In Uh-murica. It'll go a little something like this: "Mais, Monsieur! Je suis née, je vous promets!" [twirls around to prove existence]

Frankly, I'm feelin' pretty good about this plan. I'm not stressed. However, if at some point in late September, someone in Texas gets a Katy-shaped box in the mail with "par avion," "fragile," and "retour à l'expéditeur" stamps on it... well, this means my plan has failed drastically and France has shipped me back. So open the box up quick, for the love. It's probably hot in there.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Home Sweet Soon-to-Be Home

Probably the most exciting/nerve-racking part of this entire process was figuring out where exactly I would be placed. Through TAPIF, you have some choice in your region of placement (e.g., Montpellier), but absolutely NO choice in your city placement. You wait until you find out, and then you have a choice to a) accept or b) decline. Thazzit.

Now, I tried to get what I wanted by choosing a region in the south. First of all, I've never been in the south, and I wanted to see something new! Second of all, I HATE the cold. Hate. it. Once I found out I was in the Académie de Montpellier, I was pretty excited. However, there is a portion that stretches somewhat north, and there are also the Pyrénées, so there was no guarantee of warmth.

In my mind, the worst possible scenario would be me in a tiny, freezing, remote village somewhere with no easy access to any larger cities. In this hypothetical situation, I cry often, write sad daily emails home, read a lot of books,* and attempt to befriend sheep.

Belle makes this look good. (Thanks Disney!)

I, however, would probably look more like Buster than Belle, in reality.
(Arrested Development Netflix series and movie... PLEASE?!)

... or this. (verydemotivational.com + me)

Like I said. Worst case scenario. (Only imagine me in that last picture with like four scarves and a wool hat, because it's cold in this nightmare, remember?)

Then, in my KatyMind, I had these two much better alternatives:

1) I end up in a bigger city, anywhere. (I always prefer the sun, but if I were in a bigger city with more to do and good transportation, I could do the cold... kind of. Maybe.)

2) I end up in a small, charming city, as long as it's a) near some water, b) near some bigger cities, and/or c) somewhere sunny.

Well, on June 16th, I got my arrêté de nomination and discovered my placement in Narbonne ("Nar" sounds just like it looks and rhymes with car, "bonne" sounds like bun, as in hot cross or honey), meaning I got alternative #2! I had never heard of this little city, which has a population of about 60,000 and dates back to the Roman empire, when what's now France was Gaul. It was located on the Via Domitia (first Roman road in Gaul), and it even has part of the original road exposed in the middle of the city (the history nerd in me is squealing). It also has a little canal, Canal de la Robine, that goes through the city! 

It's also about 10 km from the Mediterranean, and there are several beaches nearby. It boasts around 300 days of sun a year. 

Now you know where Narbonne is, thanks to GoogleMaps.

It's also about an hour away from both Carcassonne and Perpignan, an hour and a half from Montpellier, and two hours from Barcelona. 

Basically, I'm a happy girl. The small city thing will be interesting, but I'm actually really appreciative of it (in theory, at least) as a true departure from my life here in the States. (Lord knows I would never try the small town scene here (no offense, anyone). I'm definitely a city mouse!**) And I know that there will eventually be things I don't 100% love about the town. However, at this point, all-in-all I'm charmed. I'm a little in love with my soon-to-be home, and I can't wait to be there and take pictures and show you around myself. :)

*To be fair, books are a part of the worst case scenario, the best case scenario, and any scenario in between.

**What up, Aesop! I use the country mouse/city mouse reference all the time, and I feel like no one ever gets it. What is wrong with people?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Breaking up is hard to do...

Those of you who know me in real life probably know that I have a little accessory that's pretty much always with me. To work, to a friend's, out running errands... it's always there. I almost look and feel strange without it. It goes with everything, really. It's never out of season. It's become a part of me.

You know what it is.

Je t'aime, mon amour.

For the past 3.5 years now, my life has been one big BYODDP party. I know that several people have seen me, on occasion, reach into my purse and pull out one of these bad boys. I'm infamous for it. But I wasn't always like this. I had a life before DDP, a life full of hope, H20, and occasional (yet not overwhelming) fatigue.

Then grad school hit. HOW can one person be expected to do so much at a time?! I needed caffeine, and I needed it badly. I continued to try coffee (yuck!), to no avail. So I picked up this little habit. Before grad school, I never kept any cokes in the house, and just had a regular DP on occasion while out. It did take me a while to get accustomed to the taste (vs. regular DP), but once I realized that DDP could provide what I needed (caffeine) without what I really DIDN'T need (calories), it was a done deal.

Actual picture from my fridge during grad school.
(Photographic evidence that j'ai un problème.)

For those of you who think that this may be a good time to rail into me about the unhealthy affects of drinking soda... no need. I am a grown up (kind of) with a fully functional brain and the ability to read. I understand that this is unhealthy. I've always known I'd stop ("once I got settled into a non-ridiculous schedule" - never going to happen, btdubbs), but now I have a stopping point set in stone (a stopping stone, if you will), as there is (basically) no Dr Pepper of any variety in France. I actually happen to be quite thankful for the excuse to get my act together and quit.

That said, I am now (as of today!) embarking on a "Au revoir soda, Bonjour France" plan. Yes, this situation necessitates a plan. I can't just up and quit, because as of right now if I don't have my caffeine I look like some mixture of this:

Can't figure out where this came from originally,
but I got it from a Google search and wonderfulinfo.com.

... and this:

Actual screen shot from a video of me when I was about 4 years old.
(For good measure, here's a link to its
corresponding video, have you any interest.
Fair warning, it has not one single thing to do with France.)

So, obviously I can't just quit cold turkey for fear I will turn into a KatyDragon and anger/alienate all my friends and relatives (or perhaps spontaneously combust) before I leave. I have made a plan, involving a special calendar and slowly reducing beverage sizes (12 oz > 9 oz > 6 oz). (That reminds me about how you have to slowly increase baby bottle size from 2.5 oz to 3 oz, etc. Which makes me feel a little weird. Like there's some sort of full-circle/Benjamin Button thing going on here. I know that reference doesn't really make sense, but whatever. That movie freaks me out, okay?)

I'm sorry, Miss Jackson - I am for real.

So, yeah. I'm probably unique in that my plans for moving out of the country have to include kicking an addiction. (Also, if you are my real life friend and have to see me in the next few weeks... tread lightly. And... I'm sorry, in advance.)

Friday, August 17, 2012

How'd you get this sweet gig?

This (or something closely related, like its more grown up cousin "How'd you get this amazing opportunity?") is a question I get all of the time. So I figured I'd address it early on in the life of this little bébé blog.

***WARNING: If you are a fellow TAPIF-er or you already know about the program or you don't care how I'm getting there and you just want to wait and read about what actually happens once I'm there, feel free to skip this post. I will not be offended.***

If you are interested in what I'm actually going to be doing (i.e., who is actually paying me to live in France and why), read on!

How DID I get this opportunity? Well, first of all, let me explain what exactly this opportunity is. I'm going to France through a program called the Teaching Assistant Program in France (henceforth known as TAPIF). It's a program sponsored by the Ministère de l'éducation nationale (of the French government) as a way to give French students the opportunity to learn foreign languages, in this case English, through exposure to native speakers. I'm going to give an overview, but you can get all the deets from the program website, which is in English. (If you're interested on applying in the future (**hint hint former students hint hint**), click away in the "prospective applicants" section.)

Basic requirements/application components:

-Be a native speaker of English

-Have a certain level of proficiency in French (you don't have to be fluent!), as evidenced by either a professor reference (merci SD!) or a test (I forget what it's called; there are a few options)

-Be between 20 & 30 years old

-Have a good professional reference (merci RT!)

-Fill out an application detailing your travel/study/work/teaching experiences

-Write a personal statement in French

Duties, should you be accepted:

-Teach (or help teach) English for 12 hours/week in France. That's right. I said 12 hours/week. (Notice the ASSISTANT in the title of the program.) Maybe you didn't really let that settle in all the way. 12.hours.per.week. Now that I've stressed that important and incredibly attractive detail, I'll explain that duties vary by school. From what I understand, some schools actually have you teach groups of kids by yourself. Some schools have you assist a teacher in a classroom setting. Some have you host small discussion groups or individual conversation pullouts. Some have you tutor students, or run an English club. Really, it's up to the discretion of the individual school(s), and it could be any combination of any of these things.

-Manage to live on 780 EUR/month. That's right. I said €780/month. This is (as of today) the equivalent of about 959 USD/month. Yes, mes amis, I will soon be broke. You know it's bad when this salary makes my public educator's salary look GIANT.

Regarding how exactly I got the opportunity... well, I applied. :) Ta-daaa!

So, that's basically the deal! Will I be rich? Nope. But there are more important things. I feel like, looking back on this experience, I will never, ever find myself saying, "Man, I really regret that year I spent living near the Mediterranean meeting interesting people and eating brioche. I mean, I was so BROKE." Also, 12 hours/week? That's basically a vacation. I feel as if I'm being paid (however meagerly) to take a year off, all the while improving my French language skills, my knowledge of French culture, my résumé, and hopefully my sanity (because the past five years have been stress-ful, straight up). What will I do with the 156 free hours/week, you may ask? I don't know, people. Read a book. Take a nap. Meet some people. Write some blog posts with which to entertain you. Sit by the beach. Who knows. (Though I have heard that finding things to fill those 156 hours is crucial and if you don't, you may actually go insane and/or get depressed. So that'll be something I'll need to figure out. Imma try to beat it. Katy vs. the Crazy.)

If you've ever thought that maybe you'd like to be broke, live in a foreign country, and have an adventure, maybe this is for you! I'll leave you with a link to a very funny TAPIF-related post from another blog by Jessica, who participated in the program this past year. (By the way, I've read her entire blog and it's fantastic!) Enjoy. :)

ps: Today = exactly 1 month until I leave!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

the To-Do List & the To-Done List

Disclaimer: I know that the title doesn't really make sense. (To-Done? What is this grammatically paradoxical nonsense doing here?) Just go with it & read on, s'il vous plaît.

Well, with slightly more than a month to go before departure, I am finally getting in the mood (kind of) to really start preparing. For the past few weeks, I've been in some sort of weird limbo (I've done all the big things and am not yet to the place where I can start doing the sort-of-last-minute things), but I'm ready to move on to the final stages here, people. So let's review:

To-Done List: (This also serves as a look back on the process, for those of you who haven't heard about it in painstaking detail in real life.)

1) application to TAPIF* - due January 15th, but mine was finished in December, bien sûr. (Funny story Somewhat-related sentence, I was actually in Paris for an unrelated training the day the application was due.) Note, on the application, you must choose your top three choices of regions called académies (mine were 1. Montpellier, 2. Aix-Marseille, 3. Poitiers) and your top choice of level (secondary vs. primary, my first choice (logically) being secondary).

2) acceptance email - received April 4th. (Excitement! Relief! Big giant Facebook announcement with a zillion likes! Love you guys!) Académie: Montpellier, Level: Secondary (top choices ftw!)

Facebook status April 4, 2012

3) work contract application - in mail April 30th. Paperworrrrk! So exciting! J'adore remplir les formulaires! (Le sarcasme est bilingue.)

4) arrêté de nomination (work contract & placement notification) - anxiously awaited, then received June 16th in a beautiful, handwritten envelope. This I actually was MUCH more excited to receive than the acceptance, as this would contain the actual details of exactly WHERE in the world Katy SanDiego would be starting in September. Couldn't be happier** with my placement in Narbonne!***

pretty much the most exciting day of my summer

5) email contact person at my school - late June/early July. I have received response emails from three English teachers at my school, and even from the assistant who had my position last year! All of whom have been extremely helpful and informative and so very nice. God bless 'em for making my day and easing my worries about work. I even found out that I have a free ("very basic") room (I think at the school) waiting for me and at my disposal until whenever I find something more permanent. GRACE.  À . DIEU... for a free room! That was my number one stress.

6) visa appointment at the French Consulate in Houston - July 6th. I had such a nice visa processor who spent the entire time asking me about my previous travels in France and telling me how I'd love the south, rather than interrogating me about... you know... visa-ish things. (He even issued my visa for a full 11 months starting Sepember 1st... merci beaucoup!) In related news, who DOESN'T love driving from Fort Worth to Houston (4.5 hours) and back in one day, all for a 15 minute appointment? WOO.HOO. Got some good car singin' time in though. (ps: For those of you who are thinking, "Hello, just call your bank for a Visa" or "Really, I prefer American Express"... a visa is a document (really a passport sticker) necessary in order to live/work in a foreign country.)

... and then (a mere 5 days after my appointment!),
I was one with the visa and there was much rejoicing.

7) plane ticket - bought! (Shout out to my dad & my uncle for helping me with airline miles!) Dallas-Paris September 17th, Paris-Dallas May 23rd. (That's right, start counting down now, Texas.)

8) duffel bag - bought! (Okay, this is not nearly as significant as the previous items. But it is the ONLY "France shopping" I've done. And it's cute. So whatever.)

9) ticket to a Fun. concert in Barcelona on October 20th - bought! (Also not as important as items 1-7. But for 21, I'm totally down for an excuse to head to Spain for the weekend with some new friends!)

To-Do List:

1) gather teaching materials (real life stuff ("realia" in teacher-speak) to teach kids about the States/Texas specifically/culturally interesting topics)

2) figure out travel plans, specifically the quickly approaching (Oktoberfest in September?! Ja, danke!)

3) figure out what exactly to pack (I have this irrational fear I'll end up accidentally packing like 17 books and only 4 pair of underwear and something ridiculous, like 7 pair of tweezers or something. And the wrong bras. I always pack the wrong bras.)

4) call Sallie Mae and tell them where to stick it for a year (read: beg/plead/cry/make promises of my first-born child in order to receive student loan deferment)

5) magically find at least $2,000 to help me get set up/allow me to travel

6) stop cell service/"park" my number

7) read/re-read all the materials about the program so I can pretend I feel prepared

8) other stuff I forgot about on here

9) even more stuff I forgot, but will remember (and subsequently freak out about) at some horribly inopportune time, like in the middle of the best part of a really intense movie, or while helping a customer at work, or in the midst of taking part in a high-speed police chase, or right at the beginning of a hair cut. Hmm... that reminds me...

10) get a hair cut (CG? You out there? Girrrrl Imma call you!)

So, there you have it. The big stuff's done, as you see. For now, I'll just keep making progress... slowly but surely. It seems time is both rushing and crawling, en même temps. I'm sure I'll continue feeling relaxed until approximately three days before I leave, at which time I will cry on my bedroom floor (or maybe in my car, if it's still running) like the hot mess I am because I'm overwhelmed at all the stuff I haven't done yet. Stay tuned!

*More about TAPIF soon!

**I realize I've never actually been there, so I'm not sure yet. But on first impression, I couldn't be happier.

***My "placement anxiety" and relief at discovering Narbonne merits its own post, and so it will get one.

Monday, August 13, 2012

In the beginning, there was The Decision.

Well, I spent a little time trying to figure out how to start this thing they call Blog. I've dipped my toe (very briefly) in the pool of blogging (wrote ever-so-rarely when I moved to Louisiana for grad school), but wasn't so successful in remembering to keep it up. (Also, grad school? Not really that great of a time to start a new activity that includes writing, extracurricular style.) I also wrote a brief blog over my Spring Break trip to Paris in March 2012 (with 34 high school students, no joke), but let's be honest, that was for the students' parents, not for any personal motive. However, I figure a stay in France will prove interesting enough to merit a return to the world of blogging, even if temporarily.

Basically, I'm going to start this blog by going back to the beginning: my decision to spend a school year in France. This means that this inaugural post will NOT be very exciting. I feel a little guilty about that, but hey, I really feel like you need to know the background before you get to the good stuff (i.e., eight months worth of adventures/my (hopefully) hilarious commentary). So, voilà, here we are!

If you're reading this blog, you probably know me, and therefore you probably know all this, and you can probably skip a lot of this initial post.* But just in case you've stumbled upon this without knowing me, here's a little bit of my story: I started learning French when I was 15 years old. It was my sophomore year in high school, and it came time to pick my foreign language. As I'd lived in Texas my entire life, Spanish didn't appeal to me because I was so used to hearing it so often (for the record, I would now love to be able to speak Spanish), and so I chose French. I vividly remember my amazing teacher (shout out MH!) teaching us the word quelque chose, which means "something." That a word so mundane in my own native tongue could be transformed into something beautiful in its novelty inspired me, and I was hooked. Three years later when it came time to pick my major in college, my parents' encouragement to pick something I loved (shout out mom & dad!) resulted in my choice of French (English minor,  btdubbs) and my subsequent Bachelor's and Master's degrees in French (and teaching career).

Of course, someone who chose to dedicate her educational and then professional life to the study of the French language will have spent significant time in France, n'est-ce pas? Guess what? Nope! I finished my undergrad in three years, and as my time at Tech with my friends was already shortened, I opted against spending a semester or two abroad (I instead spent two summers in Quebec, as well as some summer time in London and Paris). Then in grad school, once I was financially independent, I realized that while it would be enjoyable as well as professionally advantageous to spend time in France, I should probably get the heck out of school and start MAKING money instead of continuing to increase my student loan debt, so I finished in my two years and got back to Texas. After that, I started my career as a high school French teacher, and figured that as I was officially a "grown up," maybe my shot at being adventurous and living abroad had passed. However, at the wise old age of 24 (and in the midst of a very difficult year, during which being a "grown up" officially sucked) I realized, well, forget "grown up"-ness. (What's the rush, anyway!?) If I don't do this now, I may never. I mean really, up to this point I've spent a mere four weeks in France, mostly in Paris. I HAVE to go do this. So now all my belongings are in storage, my tiny dog is comfortably settled in with my parents (as is my 12-year-old car, which threatens to die at any point, really), and I await the day (September 17th) that I get on a plane (or three) and start my grande aventure. France, get ready. Readers, get ready.* Katy, get ready?

*Regardless of whether or not you finished this post, please, be sure to come back for more. I promise my future posts will be stronger on both the brevity and the entertainment fronts. It'll be fun. Believe me. :)

OH! Before I forget. I was clicking around on my stats and views (how does one get views before one even writes a post?!), and it turns out, I have not only already had viewers, but I have had a viewer in RUSSIA! (Does anyone else think it's weird they track that?!) So, here's to you, Random Russian Reader, who somehow found me before I posted anything. You'll always have a special place in my heart.