Bonne année à tous!
Seriously, it’s hard to believe that it’s 2018 already. It sounds cliché to say, but time really flew this year. Maybe it’s a matter of getting older, that each year starts to blend together and makes it difficult to distinguish where one ends and the other begins. In any case, plenty of things have happened in 2017– the good, the bad, and the in-between.
Compared with 2016, I would say that 2017 was less of a roller coaster– more tranquil, in fact. Not to say that it was boring, though: I didn’t travel as crazily as I had done during my first year as an assistante, since I was preoccupied with my second year teaching abroad, doing my Masters (having started it towards the end of 2016), and freelance writing on the side to earn extra money. That said, I became more cautious with my money, saving as means of having some sort of savings that I could rely on later. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t do any traveling, though: in fact, I enjoyed a solid year of discovering new places, meeting new people, and overall better knowing myself. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older, or maybe since it’s my third year abroad…things are more familiar, although I still have a long way to go!
Without any further ramblings, I’d like to share month-by-month snapshots of my year in review– 2017 edition! Enjoy. 🙂
My Recap of 2017
I spent the first two days of the New Year in Le Havre with an assistante friend– despite the *bone-chilling* Normandy weather, we went out on hikes in the nearby woods and strolled along the beach. It was a peaceful way to ring in 2017, as I returned to my town afterwards refreshed and optimistic for the new year.
Of course, the back-to-school winter blues hit hard once more in the two weeks that followed: I also had an inconsistent teaching schedule with one of my colleagues, since she was getting surgery and out for the entire month. It proved to be frustrating and discouraging at work, but making day trips to Rouen and Paris over the weekend to see friends, as well as hosting my assistante friend from Le Havre, helped combat the sadness.
The winter blues continued, but taking a short, three-night holiday to Marseille with five other assistant(e)s during the February vacances was a great break from the dreary, Normandy skies– although Marseille wasn’t hot (after all, it was still winter), it was certainly warmer and sunnier, which were what I needed with good company. It was my second time visiting, but it was great to revisit the well-known sites (Vieux Port, Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, le Panier…) and hike the calanques de Marseille…even though we were absolutely exhausted at the end of it!
Upon returning to Paris via overnight bus, I spent half a day exploring the places I hadn’t been to yet, including climbing the Notre Dame for stunning views of the city at the top. I also enjoyed a tasty, fresh lunch at Miznon in the Marais district before taking the train back to Normandy. While my February vacances wasn’t the grand Euro trip that I’d done my first year as an assistante, it was a modest (and inexpensive) break from work.
Things started looking up in March: the days were getting warmer, and I started taking more weekend trips out of town, first making a *semi-spontaneous* day trip to château de Fontainebleau with some of my roommate assistant(e)s before doing other day trips to Rouen to ring in one of our roommate’s birthdays and Paris to see an old friend from college.
I also celebrated my birthday with the roommate assistantes in the lovely city of Dijon over the last weekend of the month– it was my first time visiting there, and it was a pleasant stay: I got to experience la vie bourguignonne, which is reputed to be “authentically French” in terms of tradition and lifestyle. Dijon certainly had a slower, laid-back feel to it despite being a larger city, and it was an excellent way to ring in my 24th year with good Burgundy food (still dream of that boeuf bourguignon!) and good company.
As our contracts were coming to a close, the assistant(e)s whom I was living with gradually left– the first to go was the German assistante, whose contract only went until the end of March. The Spanish assistante and one of the Mexican assistantes left once the April vacances came, choosing not to return for the last week of teaching afterwards. Rest of the assistant(e)s left during the last week of our contract, while I was the last to leave, as I had to deal with the Wifi box we’d rented during the year and other administrative affairs. I also found out that I was accepted to be an assistante for a third, consecutive year in France, since I’d renewed my contract earlier that year, which was exciting!
Of course, there was also the April vacances: I made my way to Poland for the first time, spending about ten days taking in as much of the country as possible. It proved to be a wonderful time, probably one of the best trips I’d taken in a while. I covered north to south, from Gdańsk to Zakopane, as well as learned about the sad, but poignant history of the country (e.g. Warsaw Uprising, Auschwitz concentration camps). Had fun living it up in Krakow thanks to the lively hostel I stayed at: plenty of memories were made with other hostel-goers over communal dinners (and *incredibly cheap* beer) before heading out to the clubs later that night. Ended my time with a pub crawl with another assistant whom I’d met up by chance before taking my flight back to France the following day on Easter. Considering that I hadn’t really gone on a *big Euro trip* until then, my visit to Poland was much-appreciated.
My contract as a second-year assistante ended, and I said goodbye to my small town in Normandy before heading to Paris, dropping my luggage off and staying the night at a friend’s apartment before taking a flight to Marrakesh the following day for a ten-day visit of Morocco, which I’d been meaning to see for a long while: I’d booked my plane tickets way back in December with a friend, and I was really anticipating my time up until that point. Overall, Morocco was fun, even though I had a horrible incident of getting robbed in Marrakesh (thankfully got my stuff back!) and being constantly harassed by Moroccan men. Considering that it was my first time in a northern African country (or Africa, in general), it really exposed me to a new set of cultures and norms, but it also dazzled me with its stunning architecture, mysterious souks, and vast Sahara Desert.
I’d returned to Los Angeles in mid-May shortly after Morocco. The first half of the summer was spent relaxing at home and getting readjusted to American life. I had also received my acceptance to be a lectrice d’anglais for the upcoming year, which I was absolutely thrilled about. After all that hard work of applying and doing my Masters, I was glad to see it pay off! Granted, there was paperwork to be processed for my work permit, but it turned out to be a smooth process.
My family and I did a brief, week-long road trip along the Pacific Northwest, which turned out to be a refreshing experience. Not only did I see the beauty of the pine forests and Puget Sound, but also I discovered that there was much more to the United States than I’d previously thought. Having traveled mostly in Europe, I hadn’t given much of a chance to visiting my own home country– that summer road trip awakened my appreciation for the diversity of the United States, and now I’m inspired to see more in the future!
The month of July was probably the most tranquil period of the year. I stayed home the entire time, soaking up the *much-needed* Californian sun and starting personal projects to pass the time. I participated in my community’s summer reading program, where I had to read a certain number of books to complete it. Doing so revitalized my appreciation for reading leisurely, and I discovered new favorite reads! Also used my library’s *free* language database to dabble in German and Italian, as well as brush up on my Mandarin: while I can’t say that I’ve made much progress in those languages, at least I know a bit more than I did before!
July was also the month for reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances. Since graduating high school, many of my friends and peers have since moved from our neighborhood either to another in LA, or somewhere else (out of LA, out of state, even out of country). Some of my close friends, however, have stayed in the neighborhood, and it was a matter of spending time together like how we used to as children. Making visits to the beach, as well as to art museums and local food festivals were some activities that we attended– although things between us aren’t the same anymore, we still appreciate each other’s company and it was a great way to spend the long, summer days.
The idleness of summer continued, but there was also the pressure of preparing to return to France: I had my visa appointment at the beginning of the month, as well as organizing my arrival to the town in which I would be working (e.g. booking transportation, finding accommodation before housing, etc.). Also explored more of LA through its food, enjoying the familiar like Korean and Taiwanese and delving into new ones like Ethiopian. I admit, it was rough saying goodbye not only to my hometown friends, but also the delicious diversity of cuisines.
In late August, I once again bid goodbye to Los Angeles and headed to Paris, where I stayed overnight at a hostel before taking the train down to the Lyon region, where I would be working for the year. One of my colleagues welcomed me to stay in her house while I looked for housing: although it was a stressful time readjusting to France and dealing with housing/school administration before la rentrée, I also had some idle moments basking in the last few weeks of summer. My colleagues and I even did some hikes to the nearby villages, as I got to explore more of the région lyonnaise.
After over a week of apartment hunting, I settled on a flat with three other roommates. The apartment itself had been recently renovated and conveniently located in the city center. Although I hadn’t wanted to live with roommates, I didn’t mind so much since the place looked quite nice, anyway. Rent was 40€ over my intended budget, but I was fortunate to get CAF starting in November, which paid for my October rent.
Also started teaching at the university, which is both similar and different to teaching as an assistante: while I now had complete autonomy over my classes with lessons and grading, I also recycled a few topics and teaching styles I’d done previously. My students, being second years, were relatively motivated to learn, and the first few weeks of teaching were actually enjoyable.
Considering that I’m situated in a larger city compared with former years’, I started going out on Friday and weekend nights. I’ve met and established an expat community with other lecteurs, assistantes, and international students, which has been fun. Sure, there’s plenty of nights out at bars and house parties, but we’ve also traveled a bit to nearby cities (e.g. Lyon, Grenoble) and have had dinner together. I would say that it’s a more tight-knit group, which I’ve greatly enjoyed so far.
Amidst teaching, there was also a ton of administrative work to be done. First thing was my OFII appointment, which took place in early October: I went to Lyon to process everything and it went very smoothly and quickly. Also reactivated my carte vitale from my assistante years and applied for CAF and transport reimbursement (the latter for my school commute). It was a matter of staying on top of everything that needed to be done and, by the end of the month, I was pretty much set for the year. Not all assistant(e)s or lecteurs can say the same for their situation, so I consider mine extremely fortunate.
My honeymoon period with France ended soon after, though– sometime after giving midterm exams, I started experiencing a shift not only at work, but also in myself. The novelty was wearing off, and now I was beginning to see the cracks and faults in my teaching abilities (along with my students) and my relationship with my roommates. While things were still going well in the latter, I started noticing that I just, well, never felt completely comfortable in my apartment. Perhaps it was because I was sharing it with people, but even then, I was feeling even…uncomfortable?? I had a hard time putting my finger on what was wrong, and it wasn’t until November that I found out.
Homesickness chose to arrive as I was feeling all of these conflicted emotions– I thought I could deal with it better, since it was my third year already, but it still hit pretty badly. Escaping to Lyon for a few days during the October vacances helped tremendously, as I rediscovered my passion for traveling and meeting new people. Also discovered new places like Pérouges and le Palais Idéal, which are truly regional gems– they gave me more of a reason to let go and travel like crazy in the months to come!
If I’d thought that October was bad for homesickness, November was even worse. No longer did I have the still-warm weather to keep my spirits up: grey skies came and stayed, and I was nearing the end with teaching for the semester, both literally and figuratively. Not to say that I hated the job: I still enjoyed it more than my time as an assistante, but really, I just needed a break.
Finals Week proved to be the most stressful, anxiety-filled time I’ve experienced so far as a lectrice. While it wasn’t necessarily the final exams that made me anxious, it was the surrounding events which nearly broke me. I’d avoided writing about it in my last “Life Update” post, but I’d gotten into an argument with two of my roommates that week, over house-managing issues that’d not been effectively communicated in September and now came to a dangerous boil– it was that moment that everything exploded and, admittedly, it got extremely messy. It wasn’t until the two of them announced that they were moving out (having already given notice a month prior) that it really shocked all of us– it wasn’t until they moved out that I thought about it and realized that it wasn’t a good roommate situation to begin with (e.g. passive-aggressiveness, miscommunication, gas-lighting, etc.).
I managed to make it out unscathed, enjoying a day trip to Grenoble with a friend and celebrating not one, but two Thanksgivings with good company. My first semester teaching ended after Finals Week, and I wasted no time heading off to Germany for a nine-day visit of the Christmas markets in several, yet-to-be visited cities. I had a variety of extraordinary Couchsurfing hosts who welcomed me in, and I had an enriching time seeing what a true, *snowy* Christmas season was like. Plenty of glühwein, festive lights, and sub-zero weather (well…not that) to experience! My trip to Germany was also the start of my whopping two-and-a-half month break from teaching, as I would be traveling relatively non-stop for the entire time (still am, as I’m writing this!).
I returned to France in cheerier spirits, and I subsequently met my new roommates upon coming back. After my ex-roommates had moved out, the new ones moved in while I was away. I will say that, so far, I feel much more at ease and happier with these new ones. It’s interesting, because the dynamics have shifted incredibly– it’d formerly been three French girls, and now it has become a blend of different nationalities (Portuguese, Bulgarian, French, American), as well as a blend of languages, namely both English and French. Not to say that my previous roommates were bad people, but I think our living habits just didn’t align: I would say that those of my new roommates (and mine) are more similar, or at least, we’re more accepting of them. Granted, I’ve been out of house constantly throughout this past month, so I haven’t gotten to know them well, but so far, I feel much happier, and I hope that this sentiment will carry on with the rest of the year.
Following my return from Germany, I had less than two days of rest before I headed back out to Lyon for the fête des Lumières weekend. It was three nights of madness, but pure fun, as I met so many wonderful people (lecteurs and assistantes alike) and saw so much more of the light shows that I couldn’t get to the previous year. I was utterly wrecked upon returning home, but I don’t regret it at all.
I had about a week’s rest before I traveled again, this time for the actual vacances de Noël. I flew to Rome, where I met my family for a holiday trip together: we revisited the “Eternal City” after over 11 years, and I still loved it– so steeped in history, and the food was incredible. After four nights, we boarded a cruise along the coasts of Italy and Spain– it was basically a week-long, food-fest with a few excursions peppered throughout. And wine– lots of wine— to boot. I came home a few pounds heavier, but very appreciative for my family and the vacation we took together, considering that I won’t see them until June!
…and there you have it: my year in review of 2017! I would say that, on a personal level, it was one of the better years I’ve had in a while: the year had both its slow and quick-paced moments, but also more balanced than usual. 2017 was the year that I started to know myself more, knowing my capabilities (which are more limitless than I’d thought) and knowing how to deal with things better. Of course, there were trying moments and, while painful to reflect on, have made me stronger, which sounds cliché, but at least I can know how to anticipate similar difficulties later on.
There’s still so much to come, even for this new year. I still have about a month of vacation left, and you can bet that I’ll be using it to my full advantage. More traveling has been planned for January, and I’ll be sharing my adventures once I return. Really excited to see what 2018 brings, and I hope it’ll be just as fruitful and fun as 2017.
Happy New Year to all!