Life Update in France #2 (and 2016 Recap!)

Bonne année!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and rang in the 2017 year in good spirits. For myself, I had a wonderful vacances de Noël, visiting a bit more of Europe with great people and plenty of photos for memories. I returned to Normandy earlier this week and the following day went right back to work. Still was in the holiday mindset (as so were many of my students, I could tell), but otherwise, the first week back was all right.

A lot has happened since my last life update in October. Aside from teaching lycée général students (which is a huge change from having taught collège and lycée pro last year), starting my online Masters in Education (so far, so good. Learning a lot!), and freelance writing to earn some extra money for school, I have surprised myself in traveling quite a bit than I’d expected since arriving in Europe. From day trips to Giverny, Le Mont Saint-Michel, and Paris, I also explored quite a bit more of the Upper Normandy region during les vacances de la Toussaint in October, along with a short, but lovely weekend in Lyon for la fête des Lumières and finally, my winter holidays in two different countries– Germany and Spain– followed by a quiet, but lovely New Year back in Normandy with good company.

With 2017 in full swing now, I thought that I would recap my 2016 year. I am well-aware that this past year had lots of ups-and-downs but, unlike what many of my peers believe, I can’t say that it has been completely a “shitty year.”

I’ll save the bad events for later in this post but, on a personal level, 2016 has been a very fruitful year for me. I’ve learned so much in these past twelve months about myself than I possibly could’ve whilst back in college, and while it wasn’t always filled with sunshine and good times, I would have to say that it was a good, eventful year in traveling, working, and discovering more about myself and my abilities in this short span of time.

That said, I’ll be doing a month-by-month breakdown of my 2016 year as a way to reflect on what I did before moving ahead with this new year. On y va!

My Recap of 2016

January

After an intense vacances de Noël in the UK and Ireland, I returned to work teaching and found it difficult to get back into the swing of things. Winter depression hit pretty hard, and I found myself escaping more so than ever on the weekends away from my small town in Normandy. Went to Lyon over a long weekend to visit and stay with an assistante friend, while also making a day trip to Annecy and enjoying the lovely (but freezing!) views of the French Alps.

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On Annecy Lake (Jan 2016).

Also had a stroke of luck in that I was exempted from teaching the last week of January at the lycée, due to the terminales taking mock exams for le bac and my other students being on stage. I decided to take advantage of this opportunity and head off to Switzerland for five days, passing through five cities (Geneva, Lausanne, Bern, Lucerne, Zurich) and admiring the beauty of the Alps and discovering the distinctive, multilingual culture of the “neutral” country. Switzerland was pretty, but certainly not good for one’s budget!

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Bern, Switzerland (Jan 2016).

February

My two-week vacances d’hiver rolled around, and I wasted no time jetting off to warmer climates to get away from the Normandy cold: I made stops in the southwest of France (Bordeaux, Pau, Toulouse) before hopping over to Spain (Barcelona and Madrid) and then Portugal (Lisbon, Sintra, Aveiro, and Porto). One of my favorite vacances to date, as I saw so much, ate so much, and overall felt happier with the sun shining on my face, beating the winter depression one day at a time. That holiday left me in better spirits even after returning to Normandy, and somehow improved my French!

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Costa Nova in Aveiro, Portugal (Feb 2016).

I, along with another assistante, spent a long weekend during the last week of February visiting the landing beaches of Normandy (specifically, Omaha Beach for the Americans) and le Mont Saint-Michel, which was a first and a lovely sight, albeit in super windy and chilly weather!

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Normandy American Cemetery (Feb 2016).

March

Had another stroke of luck in March with my teaching schedule, since my colleagues at the lycée would be gone with the students on a week-long field trip to London, and so I didn’t have to teach that week. Took advantage of the opportunity and went down south along the French Mediterranean coast, hitting the cities and towns of Montpellier, Nîmes, Arles, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, and Marseille. Again, warm weather and plenty of things to see and do. Loved Marseille, as I explored both the city proper and made a day trip over to les calanques for hiking and jaw-dropping views of the turquoise-blue sea.

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Calanques de Sugiton in Marseille (Mar 2016).

Celebrated my 23rd birthday in the Brittany region, during which it was the long, Easter weekend. Visited Rennes, along with Saint Malo and Dinan, before making a quick visit to Nantes in the Pays de la Loire region. Weather was rainy and cold, but still beautiful views of the Atlantic!

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Along the fortified walls of Saint Malo (Mar 2016).

April

Les vacances des Pâques (Easter holidays) came, funny enough, on April Fool’s Day; I took a night bus over to Amsterdam where I spent three nights visiting museums, strolling along the picturesque canals, and even dabbled in the Red Light District (which was seriously overrated). Made a day trip over to Keukenhof Gardens for the tulips; unfortunately, it was pouring rain when I went, but the flowers still looked colorful and gorgeous!

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Keukenhof Gardens (April 2016).

After Amsterdam, I flew over to Munich where I met up with my parents and together we spent three nights visiting the city, as well as making day trips over to Salzburg and the Neuschwanstein (castle that has inspired that of Disney’s icon). Later boarded a very posh river cruise that took us along the Danube River and we visited many more places in Austria (Melk, Durnstein, Vienna), along with Cesky Krumlov (Czech Republic), Bratislava (Slovakia), and finishing with Budapest (Hungary). Saw so much in so few days and while it was merely a sample of each destination, it has inspired me to return to visit them in more depth some day.

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Cesky Krumlov (April 2016).

Had only two weeks of teaching left after returning from les vacances before my contract ended, and so I made a day trip over to Giverny to visit the Monet House and Gardens, as it was springtime and it was opened again.

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Monet Garden (April 2016).

…also found out that I was wait-listed for my renewal to be an assistante for the following year, which devastated me. I know that I still had a possibility to be accepted, but the uncertainty really threw me in a loop, for I had no backup in case that I didn’t make it.

May

After eight long months, I was finished with my first year as an assistante in France. Lots of mixed emotions, but otherwise plenty of nostalgia to go around. However, I wasn’t quite ready yet to return to the United States, and instead I spent five days hiking along the beautiful cliffs of the Cinque Terre in Italy. Lots of walking, lots of gorgeous views of the sea, and lots of good, Ligurian food to stuff my face with! Plus, the warm weather was much needed!

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Riomaggiore, Italy (June 2016).

Returned to the United States where I continued to apply for other jobs in France besides TAPIF, as well as do some small jobs (tutoring, freelance writing) to make and save up some cash. Got an interview for a position at the lectrice level in French universities towards the end of the month and was ecstatic when I was told that I was “selected” to be the new instructor at one of the universities. Also got off the wait-list for TAPIF, which I was glad, but declined because of the new potential job.

June

Still had paperwork to process for the new lectrice position, but was receiving no news about it from the university, for some strange reason. Worried me greatly, but at the same time, I spent the second half of June until early July traveling again, this time with my family to Japan and Taiwan, the former which I hadn’t visited before but enjoyed with its blend of nature and architecture, excellent customer service, and diversity of food (fyi I ate so much matcha-flavored dishes whilst there!). Saw the big cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka and also the smaller ones like Kamakura and Nara, all of which were fantastic.

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Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto (June 2016).

After Japan, we headed over to Taiwan where we not only visited my grandmother and my mom’s side of the family in Taipei, but also spent a few nights touring around the country, of which I’d never done before despite visiting it frequently since childhood. Hit all four corners of the island nation– Taichung, Tainan, Hualien– and seeing so much pristine, tropical nature while also exploring the night markets and eating amazing Taiwanese dishes to our heart’s desire. If I’d already been proud of my Taiwanese heritage before, then I was even more so after that vacation!

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Sun Moon Lake (June 2016).

…and yeah, Brexit happened while I was overseas. Super shitty.

July

Returned to the United States in time for the Fourth of July and, a few days later, I received news that my paperwork didn’t go through and that I couldn’t be the lectrice at the French university for the upcoming year. I was super upset and super angry, not to forget super stressed about what to do, especially after having declined my TAPIF position beforehand. Ironically enough, I’d received this horrible news on July 7th, aka “lucky 7/7.”

Eventually, I emailed the person in charge of the region that I’d renewed in, and was informed that there was still a possibility for me to get back into the program, but it would take time since things were closed for the summer and that I would have to wait until late August for things to take effect. Definitely was reassuring, but still, the uncertainty continued to fester for the rest of the summer, keeping me on edge every day. In the meantime, I continued to work my small tutoring/writing jobs to save up money should it actually happen, as well as looked into Master programs as an alternative thing to do.

August

Remained stressed about my prospects (or not) of returning to France for the upcoming school year, along with continuing to work hard at my small jobs. Got together with a few of my friends from my hometown before they left for grad school. Had a falling out with an old friend that didn’t end well, too, which is still upsetting, but I know that it was for the best for the sake of my happiness and trust in people.

Mid-August rolled around, and I finally heard back from the director of the French region that I’d appealed to for a second-time around, saying that they found a place for me to teach at and gave me the contact information of the school. I was ecstatic! Got in touch with my prof référant and scheduled a VISA appointment for early September. Things were looking up! Also finalized my decision to enroll in an online Masters program for ESL and applied to the school.

September

Had my VISA appointment and received my VISA around two weeks later, close to when I was about to leave. Made preparations to move back to France again, including notifying my clients at my small jobs and packing for the eight months ahead. Los Angeles experienced an intense heat wave the week that I left, of which I was glad to get away from (I like warm weather, but not that warm!).

Took a direct flight over to Paris (was a budget airline, but with good service!), then took the train over to Normandy where one of my colleagues received me and invited me over for dinner before taking me over to my new flat for the year. Spent the next few days cleaning, figuring out paperwork and acquiring Internet, and fighting through the jet-lag.

October

Other assistant(e)s in my town slowly started arriving, eventually with nine of us in total. Definitely has been a huge change since last year, and I’m very grateful that there’s company, let alone people to turn to instead of going through the year alone. Explored a bit of our town center, as well as made a day trip to Giverny (second time within six months!). Continued struggling to acquire Internet in our flat, which was frustrating but also gave us assistant(e)s a reason to complain and throw Friday-night parties for that.

Also started my Masters online, but with the lack of Internet in the flat, I had to make trips over to my school to use its computers for submitting papers and whatnot. Oh, what a nightmare…

Les vacances de la Toussaint came, of which I only made a modest, weekend trip over to Le Havre and the Normandy coast to visit an old colleague. Explored more of the Seine-Maritime department in depth and later headed over to Rouen for the OFII appointment. Afterwards, I was legal to work and stay in France!

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Honfleur, Lower Normandy (Oct 2016).

…finally got Internet after returning from vacation- it was a miracle!

November

After two weeks of observations, I officially started teaching at my new school. Also made day trips to Le Mont Saint-Michel and Paris, which were pleasant even after having visited them before. Wanderlust hit me hard after seeing other assistant(e)s’ Facebook posts of their grand adventures in Europe, which drove me to book travels for the month of December (and subsequently dipping into my savings that were for grad school! Not very smart…).

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From the top of the Arc of Triumph (Nov 2016).

…and yeah, Trump won the U.S. elections. Really, really shitty.

December

Had the last formation for English assistant(e)s and immediately after booked it all the way to Lyon with other assistantes for la fête des Lumières. It was an exhausting, brief weekend, but the light exhibitions were lovely, and I was so glad to have crossed it off my bucket list!

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La fête des Lumières in Lyon (Dec 2016).

Les vacances de Noël happened shortly after returning from Lyon, and I didn’t waste any time gallivanting off to my destinations for the holiday season. Hit Germany first for the Christmas markets in Aachen and Cologne; I spent three days taking them in: the sights, the smells, the incredible vin chaud. Loved the merry atmosphere, despite the crowds, and also had amazing German food to boot!

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Christmas market in Cologne (Dec 2016).

Returned to Paris for one night before jetting off early the following morning to Madrid, where I would meet my family and we would travel together for the week, visiting not only the Spanish capital, but also taking a guided tour through the Andalusia region. We hit other parts of Spain besides just Barcelona and Madrid, seeing places like Seville, Granada, and Toledo along with Cordoba, Ronda, and Marbella. Warm weather, warm people, and amazing food (seriously, Spanish cuisine is underrated; it’s so good!)- what more could you ask?

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View of Seville from the cathedral (Dec 2016).

Returned to Normandy on Christmas Day, spending the night celebrating the holiday with another assistant in the flat. It was low-key, but fun; I was super exhausted afterwards, having been up for 22 hours in the end!

Headed out again a few days before New Years to ring in 2017 in Le Havre with a good assistante friend. Also made a day trip out to Étretat which remains one of my favorite places in Normandy. Celebrated New Year’s Eve quietly at her flat and turned in after it hit midnight. Also low-key like Christmas, but I’d much prefer it that way!

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The cliffs of Étretat (Dec 2016).

…and there you have it! My 2016 year in review. Overall, it was a crazy year of travel, probably the most that I’d ever traveled in all of my life. Considering that I’ve been traveling since I was young, that statement definitely says a lot about my ambitions to travel, which I would say now borders on obsessive…any case, 2016 proved to be a very eventful, enlightening year, and I wouldn’t give anything in the world for it to not have happened.

For the sake of this post running too long, I’ll end and say that I hope for 2017 to be just as eventful and enlightening as last year, and I hope that I’ll continue to discover, in the world and in myself. Here’s to another great year!

— Rebecca

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8 thoughts on “Life Update in France #2 (and 2016 Recap!)

  1. Even having read all your travel-related posts throughout the year, it’s incredible to see how many places you managed to visit in twelve months! Your picture of Cologne looks so atmospheric; visiting a German Christmas market is still on my list of things to see at some point as I never got round to crossing the border for one when I was in Alsace (too preoccupied with Strasbourg, Colmar and all the smaller towns’ markets back then!) Hope the rest of your time as an assistant goes well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s even surprising to myself that I did so much exploring last year- no qualms about it, though! Christmas markets in Germany are incredible; the ones in France (with the exception of those in the Alsace region) cannot compare with them.

      Same to you with your lectrice position; I may or may not choose to visit Lyon again soon, so I’ll let you know if I decide to come. Have a good year!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Germanic countries definitely know how to throw a Christmas market better than the rest of us – those in Austria looked pretty good too from the photos I’ve seen on others’ blogs. Sounds good, you too!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Crikey what a rollercoaster of a year you had! As a pretty recent follower I wasn’t aware of all the ups and downs of getting to where you are now so was interesting to read. You really managed to squeeze in a lot of Europe too, I’m rather jealous! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was definitely an eventful year of traveling, which even surprised me! I was fortunate to have lived in France to be able to get to so many other destinations in Europe; I plan to do some more of it this year, being back and all! Looking forward to reading about your travels in good time, too. 🙂

      Like

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