Throwback Thursday: Paris

Yesterday, I got my assignment for the exact city I will be teaching in this fall. I'll be in Loos, a suburb immediately outside of Lille. I'll be an English teaching assistant at the primary school level in three different schools. Am I excited? Yes. Am I nervous? Also yes.

I tend to make myself more worried about things than I need to be. I know this is going to be one of the best opportunities of my life, but there's still a part of me that keeps asking, "What if I completely fail at this? What if I forget how to speak French? What if the kids don't like me?" I'm trying to let another part of me take control, though. The part that says, "Relax. You've done this before. And you loved it."

That's right. I was here.

When I was a junior in college, I spent a semester studying abroad in Paris. I went through Sweet Briar: Junior Year in France, which I really hope can continue even with all that's happening with Sweet Briar right now. It's the oldest exchange program in Paris, so it would be a shame to see it go.

My host family lived really close to the Arc de Triomphe. I took this at an exit for my closest metro station.

I was really nervous about that semester. I didn't think I knew enough French to get by, and I just generally assumed that I would epically fail. Well, spoiler alert: I didn't.

I made the Eiffel Tower my model

After a few days abroad, I realized that it didn't matter how much or how little French I knew, because I was going to learn more. Even if I hadn't gone to France with the intention of improving my language skills, I still would have gotten better. I needed to speak French in order to go about everyday life. I lived with a host family, and if I wanted to talk to them at dinner, it had to be in French. If I needed to ask for directions, it had to be in French. If I had a point to make in class, it had to be in French. If I wanted to order something to eat, it had to be in French. My French skills got better simply because staying at the same level or getting worse wasn't an option. 

Louvre-ing life

Experimenting with shadows

Speaking French all the time also made me more confident. In French classes back in the United States, I had time to rehearse what I wanted to say in my head before I said it out loud, but I also had time to overthink what I was going to say and doubt myself. There's no time to overthink before speaking out in the real world. People walk fast and talk fast in Paris, and you're expected to keep up. 

They don't eat fast, though.

When I first got to Paris, I would speak softly and hunch my shoulders and end every sentence on an up-note, like it was a question. I basically had INTIMIDATED AMERICAN branded on my forehead. But by the end, I was speaking more normally and acting as though I knew what I was talking about even when I didn't. I was even able to navigate a doctor's appointment entirely in French. My French still wasn't perfect, but people took me much more seriously.

And it helped as far as getting a discount for entering museums

And as far as the teaching aspect goes, I actually have done this before. I was able to get an English teaching assistant position for the semester through my program. And yes, at first it was overwhelming--I had a large class of 11 and 12 year old boys--but by the end, I'd created a high-energy environment where all the students were still learning. One of the coolest things was when the second Hunger Games movie came out. I explained to them what "catching fire" means in English, and they taught me a new word: embraser, or, "to catch fire."

rip lock bridge

I made great friends and great memories in Paris. Hopefully, I'll do the same in Lille and Loos!

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