Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Two-Month Mark

I've officially been back from France for two months. It hardly seems possible that time could go by so quickly. But still, I've had so many changes since coming back home. For one, I've already moved three times. And instead of taking a teaching job in Salem, I'm holding out for a different teaching job in central Oregon and working at Starbucks in the meantime. Instead of being in the city, as I'd planned, I moved out to the high desert in what many consider to be the middle of nowhere.

But I absolutely love it.

I'm happier now than I've been in many years, and I feel like I have direction and a clear purpose. There are things that I miss about France, of course, but for the most part, I am so very glad to be home.

I'd kill for some good wine on most days, I'd love some moldy goat cheese, and I sure miss the sound of the roaring TGV. But on a crisp Central Oregon morning, when the sun is just rising above the rimrock, and I know that the only thing between me and the border to Idaho is the desert and a few random farms, I just have to smile and remember that, in the end, I love Oregon.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nothing Gold Can Stay, and other timeless clichés

Well, as things tend to do, my time in France has officially come to an end. I had my last day of class on Tuesday, and later that day filled out the Fulbright Final Report. So I am indeed done with my time as a Fulbrighter to France. It's been an exciting time.

Now, I'm at a hotel near the airport in Barcelona. Tomorrow morning, I'll take the shuttle over to the airport, probably get scanned for the swine/H1N1/Mexican flu, and then be on my way about 20 hours. I'm very excited to get home, of course, but sad about the many things that I'll leave behind. There is, after all, so many wonderful aspects about living in Europe. I'll miss the sidewalk cafes, the slow pace of life, shopping in general, and all the rest that comes from the exoticism of living abroad.

Looking back, I see so much that I wish that I had done, or done more often. But I also see a year spent meeting new people, making new friends, trying new foods, seeing new movies, going new places, learning new things, speaking new languages, and making memories that will last forever. It's been an up and down ride for sure...

But totally, absolutely, and completely worth it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Good News! More Videos!

Even though my camera cord never returned to me after its trip from Paris via the French Postal Service, I have managed to find an adapter that works with my camera. And voilà! More pictures have been uploaded onto YouTube. Look for them to be finished tomorrow.

You'll find videos from Christmas in Paris, from Rome, from around town in Perpignan, and one short clip from Belgium.

You may access these videos at:

I hope you enjoy these new videos! I certainly am glad to finally have them uploaded!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One Thing I Will NOT Miss: French Bureaucrazy

If there's one thing I hate in France, it's putting up with any sort of paperwork. I don't have a clue why, but the ALL of the French (and yes, that's a generalization because in 16 months of living here, I've yet to see it contradicted!) are slow, inefficient, and frustrating in producing any sort of documentation.

For example, here's a run-down of what I've had to deal with this year alone (my year in Poitiers had its own fair share of frustrations:

- Getting my carte de sejour (long-term visa): I had to wait in October until I was assigned a medical visit that I HAD to have in order to get my visa. I ended up not ever showing this document to another living soul while I was here. On seven separate occasions, I had to wake up early and stand in the freezing cold in line for over two hours; I only made it in twice. By the time that I should have had my document, I was past due in needing it. And the required more documents that I HAD ALREADY GIVEN THEM!! Exasperated, I contacted the head of education in Montpellier (1 1/2 hrs away), and demanded that she help me get my visa. I finally got the end of February.

- Getting my "Carte Vitale": I sent off the request for my carte vitale about two months ago. It came back to me, saying that I had forgotten to attach a photocopy of my identity card. Would have been nice if they had instructed me to include it, don't you think? So I sent them a copy of my passport, and just got a letter yesterday saying that it was not "receivable." What does that even MEAN??

- Getting housing assistance: I've been living in my apartment since December, but I was only allowed to qualify for a program called the CAF once I got my carte de sejour. Although I got my visa in February, I wrongly waited until March to submit my claim. The man at the counter looked over my documents, and told me that everything looked fine, and that I should be hearing from them within 10-15 days. It sounded too good to be true! And, it was. They took two weeks to let me know they had received my claim, and another two weeks to let me know that I hadn't checked two of the boxes (why didn't the man at the counter tell me to check those boxes, hmmmm??). So I resubmitted my claim, included a copy of my visa, and today I get two more letters: one asking me if my apartment has been my primary residence (again, why didn't the man at the counter ask me this a month and a half ago?!), and another saying that my visa will soon no longer be valid, and that I need to wait until it has been renewed. Augh!

- Getting my pay for working extra hours in November: This is the one that frustrates me the most. Back in November, I gave up a week of my two-week vacation so that I could work at school and make some extra euros. I was told that the payment process would take a while, and that I needed to be patient. Only in January did I get a letter saying, "In order to complete your payment, we need..." So I submitted the required documents, and waited a while longer. By March, I realized that I was the only one who hadn't been paid for working in November. I started asking around. My contact lady generously agreed to talk to both the Vice-Principal and the secretary on my behalf. When that didn't help, I went directly to the secretary and re-sent my documents to the head of education in Montpellier. That still hasn't worked. I still haven't been paid for working five months ago. And I am nearly to the point of no forgiveness. I am livid. In my American mindset, that is unacceptable -- waiting five months to be paid?! That would never happen at home!!

I love France, but these little things have turned into bigger things that grate on my nerves. I don't understand why they complicate things and make life so difficult!

Makes me so glad to be going home soon. I know the U.S. is far from perfect, but at least we process our documents in a timely manner.

And I'll salute my flag for that.

Monday, April 20, 2009

11 More Days!!

The time till going home is getting closer and closer, and every day I count the days, thinking "What was I doing 11 days ago? Let's see...that would have been April 9, the day Gabrielle and I went to Monaco and Nice and drove back to Perpignan. That's not so far away!" I can't help but get excited, and knowing that everyone from back home is getting excited to have me home makes me even MORE excited!! (Can you tell I'm excited here?)

This week at school, I'm seeing each group for the last time. They're asking me questions about life in the U.S., what I think about France, and when they can come visit. Some of them seem genuinely sad that I'm leaving. Some have asked for my email address, and others still vow to track me down on Facebook.

What I find funny is that the majority of my students don't see me as going home. For them, I'm simply going to the U.S. "You're soooooo lucky," one of my female students told me today. I think I saw a reflection of an "I (heart) NY" tee-shirt in her eyes. They don't see me as returning to my normal life -- with my family, my friends, and my beloved Central Oregon pine trees -- but they see me as temporarily traveling to an exotic place littered with celebrities, where it rains money, and people drive shiny new SUVs.

Although I cannot wait to get back home, I know that I have many loose ends to tie before I leave. I have administrative things to take care of (STILL!), people to say goodbye to, and a whole apartment full of stuff to pack up.

I also know that I'll miss it here. I'll miss the freedom that comes with living abroad. I'll miss the 12-hour work weeks, and the laid-back attitude of the French. And I'll miss my apartment, which I've come to love so very much. I'll probably cry a little bit when I leave because, for better and for worse, this place has been my home for the past seven months.

And I'll certainly miss that part.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ouch, that hurts...the economy, that is

All year long, I've been hearing stories about how bad the economy is in the U.S. And, all year long, I haven't really had a clue about how bad it is. Because here in France, the economy has been relatively untouched. Nobody is losing their job, nobody is scrounging for extra cash, and nobody is particularly worried. Despite the fact that some of our neighbors (Ireland and Iceland, to name only a few) have been hurting for months, France hasn't experienced any of the economic pain that the U.S. has. So I haven't really seen the impact that this has made. Sure, I've been keeping up via telephone calls and the New York Times, but I haven't really felt the impact.

Until now.

About two months ago, I started looking for jobs upon my return to the U.S. I looked for teaching jobs, of course, and applied for two full-time writing positions. Both jobs, unfortunately, sent me a letter saying that, due to budget cuts, the position had been canceled. I looked for adjunct positions, and looks like I'll have one for sure (yay!), but adjunct work isn't enough to live off of. So I applied for administrative jobs, only to discover that they want people with actual administrative experience -- not teachers. Go figure.

And now, as I'm back to square one, I realize how bleak the job market is back at home. No one seems to be hiring in my field, or if any, there is only part-time jobs everywhere. I might end up working part-time at several different schools. And if it's a job that pays, I'll take it!

I've been in denial the whole time I've been here about how bad the economy really is at home. And now, with only 24 days left till I return, it's starting to finally settle in. And that hurts.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dear Diary, today I punched the vice-principal in the face...

I arrived at school today to find the staff room crowded with teachers, discussing something seemingly-important. I then spotted my friend Carlos, the Spanish assistant, and asked him what all the fuss was about. "Some kid punched the vice-principal in the face," he told me. WHAT?! I listened to the discussion and got more of the details: Mr. Poite, one of the two vice-principals at our school, had arranged a meeting with this student, who had been missing a lot of school lately. Everyone who worked with this student knew that he had anger management issues...and that he was trained in boxing. Students feared him in the halls. Teachers couldn't control him in class.

Then Mr. Poite holds a meeting to talk with this student about his behavior. I'm fuzzy on the details here, but another teacher came into his office, and somehow the student pinned that second teacher to the wall. Mr. Poite came to help the other teacher, and in doing so, got a swift blow to the ear by the "delinquent" student.

What followed was a lengthy and complicated argument about what should be done next. (I should add in parentheses that the French are lousy at debates. They know this, and I know this. So the "lengthy and complicated argument" was really more like a ridiculous and strung-out series of accusations that really went nowhere.)

By this time, it was 10:20, already 10 minutes into the scheduled class session. The students were gathered outside, wondering what was going on and when their teachers would show up (I'm sure they were hoping to have an extra hour off). Ten minutes later, one of the teachers decided that the conversation couldn't be finished then and there. So he suggested that we all reconvene in the amphitheatre in a few minutes to drag the conversation out until noon.

And thus, just like that, classes from 10 to 12 were canceled.

I decided to sit in on the meeting, just to see what it was like. The second vice-principal came in to make remarks about the incident and to announce, as we already knew, that the student had been expelled from school. He then opened the floor for suggestions on how to proceed with other students who might be considered "dangerous."

Between accusations ("Must be the Inspector's fault! He knew this was a dangerous student, and let him back in to the school! HE should be held responsible!") and victimizations ("He was in my Spanish class, and wouldn't turn off his cell phone! He's a disrespectful student!"), I had to sit back and wonder: was this kid REALLY dangerous? Now, granted, punching a vice-principal in the face is unacceptable and he merited the consequences he received. But really one's life was in danger. He didn't have a gun. He didn't have a knife. He wasn't out to pummel someone into the ground. And because of that, I'm hesitant to call him truly "dangerous" (as school shooting perpetrators are typically the ones we DON'T expect), and much more likely to suggest therapy...and maybe yoga.

An hour into the second discussion, the teachers were still getting nowhere in terms of where to go in the aftermath of this event. A few more diplomatic teachers came to the rescue, saying something to the effect of: "What we need to do is have consequences that students can see. If we can all agree on..." or "This is what I hear everyone saying...., so let's decide what we should do next." And then that hopeful moment would be lost to whomever had the floor (or "the right of the word" as they say in French) next -- someone who felt the need to change topic completely, or talk about their own victimization by the student.

In the final ten minutes, the teachers finally came to a vote about where to go next. Not discussing any sort of protocol, they decided that they needed to get the word out: first to parents, then to the local media, then to the Inspector of the Academy. That was it. No next steps, no further consequences, no future plans.

Meaning that the next time someone gets punched in the face, they're going to be right back where they started.