In light of the facts that it has been AGES since I last blogged, and that I’m about half way through my contracted time in Troyes, I’ve decided to write a simple Q&A style blog entry. We’ve also come up on a new year since the last time I wrote, and as the end of an old year and the beginning of a new inspire reflection—as well as new, unanswerable questions—I figured this would be a good way to update you all on my musings and goings on.
So here we go, in no particular order, with some questions and answers:
What’s in your fridge right now?
As it’s the end of my pay period, my shelves are looking a little bare. Yet, once payday rolls around, I’ll be stocking up once again on some good French cheese (Chaource is the local specialty), yummy yogurts for desserts, and my weekly full kilo bag of fresh spinach. I love food in France so much more than food Stateside. It’s simpler, and feels more real. And the bread, wine, cheese, and chocolate are all bountiful, high-quality, and inexpensive. Yet there are of course the comfort foods of home that I miss. The kid in me will always love Annie’s Mac ‘N Cheese. I wish hummus were easier to find here. And I’ll never love any desserts so much as frozen yogurt and smoothies.
I will say this, though: the foods I miss from the States (or at least reasonable substitutes) are far easier to find in France than they ever were in Ukraine.
Pick three words to describe this past year.
Turbulent. Adventure-filled. Emotional.
On easy reads and great literature:
I finally read The Hunger Games last year and found out what all the pre-teen fuss was about. They were a fun, quick read. I do enjoy a good dystopian novel.
I re-read The Great Gatsby in the spring (in anticipation of seeing the movie), and then picked up Tender is the Night in the fall (figured I should get in some more F. Scott Fitzgerald while living in a country he lived in and wrote about).
I finished my first full-length French language book in years: This Is Not a Love Song (yes, the title is in English). It’s a novel written by a fellow English teacher at my school.
But the best book of this past year was probably Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. At times deeply disturbing and uncomfortable, it is the moving, provocative, and thought provoking memoir of an Islamic woman brought up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya.
Currently I’m reading a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that I bought second hand in the most adorable little bookshop in Brussels. Next I’m reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. It’s been on my list of books to read since I lived in Paris five years ago. My flat mate lent it to me, and I’m finally going to get to it.
What was the biggest change in your life last year?
This question makes me laugh. When was I not experiencing extreme change in the last twelve-ish months? I moved back to the luxurious United States after spending two years in the developing world; transitioned from the slow life of a full time volunteer, to the exhausting 60-hour workweek of a minimum wage earner; went from a Ukrainian-speaking world, to an English one, to a French one; held five different jobs in twelve months.
There was no one big change this past year. The entire 12 months were filled with constant chaos.
The worst part of your job:
As a language teacher, the most critical aspect of your job is to create an environment where students feel safe enough and comfortable enough to tackle difficult materiel, while laughing at and learning from their mistakes. I see my students at most once a week, but more normally only once every two weeks. I’ve been frustrated by the lack of continuity this causes, and by the amount time it takes to develop a friendly, trusting relationship with my students.
I adore working with children and young adults. Kids always astonish me with their off the wall ideas, wild imaginations, innocent desire for approval, and insane energy. I really appreciate getting to work with teenagers. Most people recoil in horror at the prospect of working with high school-ers all day long, thinking them jaded, impolite, or uncontrollable. But I love it. Perhaps I’m naively seeing only one side of my students. But shouldn’t we always be looking for the best in people, and highlighting these qualities?
What are your nicknames?
Great question: one I wrote an entire blog post about a couple months back. Most of my students call me Alexandra or Madam. They usually vouvoyent me, but some of them informally tutoyent me. Not sure about how I feel about that.
Do you save old greeting cards and letters?
People don’t write to each other as often as they should anymore. I’m guilty of this too. Even a few short years ago, when studying abroad for the year in Paris, I wrote far more letters than I have this year (in hardcopy, or even in email form). For better and worse, skype, whatsapp, google hangouts, and my call-pretty-much-anywhere-in-the-world-for-the-same-price phone plan mean that I have written very few letters this year, and have received very few to save.
How often do you read the newspaper?
The newspaper: almost never. But I listen to NPR pretty much every morning, and watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report most evenings (can you tell I lean liberal? Here’s the tipping point: I also religiously download and listen to This American Life.). It’s interesting though: although I can access American media and news from abroad, there is a disconnect. Without discussion among other Americans, I perceive things through a haze, comprehending neither which news stories are most widely covered in the Sates, nor which garner the most emotional outcry or debate. I have only my own opinions or ideas to inform me. I lack the input of a community, the debate and the discussion of a circle of informed Americans.
And now a question for you all…does anyone get their news from Aljazeera America? Just wondering if this new news outlet is starting to get more traffic in the States.
Do you have a catchphrase?
In English I say “so” all the time at the beginnings of sentences. Not a catchphrase, more of a habit.
In Ukrainian, I used to find myself saying я незнаю (I don’t know) all the time. People always seemed to be asking me questions to which I’d have no earthly way of knowing answer. For example, I was always being asked where a random colleague was at any given moment, or when a new Volunteer might be placed in my region. No idea.
But in addition to that, Ukrainian life does generally involve a significant amount of uncertainty. Life is dictated much more by fate and weather, than by schedules and planning.
In French, a favorite phrase is “à table!” It’s the phrase any parent would shout to call kids to dinner, and literally translates to “at table!”
My favorite phrases are always the ones that don’t make sense when directly translated back to English, but that are commonplace or indispensable in their own language.
What’s your all-time favourite town or city? Why?
During the winter holidays I spent two glorious (albeit gray) days in Paris. Although I live an easy day-trip distance away from the city, I didn’t take the time (and couldn’t spare the expense) to visit last semester.
This semester I fully intend on going back at least once a month. For I love Paris.
I know its cliché, but I can’t help it.
And to me, it doesn’t feel cliché. It feels like home. My first memories of France, of Paris, are the memories of early childhood; memories that poke through the consciousness like forms emerging through a misty fog. My strongest memory of my first trip to the Eiffel Tower is not how long the lines were, how tall the tower was, or even how picturesque it was. I scarcely recall that first trip to the tower at all. What I remember most is that it was the first night I had ever stayed up past midnight. That was the impression left in the mind of a nine year old tourist.Paris will always feel like a home to me. It will always be a place I yearn to return to, wish I could live in again. I love the dirt and grit of Paris. I love the art and the snobbery of Paris. I love the parts that transport you back to a time of kings and queens. I love the parts that feel more like a street in Senegal than a street in France. I love poor Paris and rich Paris. I love the stereotype and the reality. I love it all.
What was the most recent compliment you’ve received and savoured?
This requires some unpacking: At a French high school, there are teachers, stagiaires, and assistants. I fall into the assistant category: we’re the foreign, native speakers of modern languages (English, German, Italian, Spanish, etc) who lead discussion-based classes. A stagiaire is the equivalent of a student teacher. S/he generally spends a full year at a new school in a sort of training stage. They are French citizens who come from French universities.
Multiple times this year, after I’d had my first real conversation with a different teacher, that teacher then told me that they had thought I was a stagiaire.
Interpretation: they had thought I was French. Now, this assumption was based solely on seeing me around, perhaps overhearing snippets of my Franglish conversations with other English teachers, and the odd Bonjour! or Bon courage! that we might have exchanged in passing. Yet, I still take it as a compliment. Someone thought I was French!
When do you find yourself singing?
Um, do you even know me at all? All the time.
What was the single best thing that happened this past year?
Seriously? Yeah, I’d need a-whole-nother blog post to even begin answering this question! So, until next time:
Peace, love, and bon chance in 2014!