Here we have it: the end to my year review – admittedly a trifle behind schedule (evidently I’m far too busy and important), seeing as we are now well into 2013. How’s it going, by the way? You having a good one? In this post I will quickly be reviewing my September-December 2012. I intend to keep this rather concise, as although plenty has gone on during this time, I’ve also been documenting a considerable amount of it already on this very blog.
With September came a whole host of new experiences and new challenges, for this was the month that I began my second year abroad, working as a lecteur in Rennes, France. Why was this month challenging? Well, if you’ve ever moved abroad, you’ll appreciate that there is a hell of a lot of things to sort out when you go somewhere new. Finding somewhere to live, meeting people, eating, not getting lost in your new city, getting a bank account, getting a phone and learning how to do your job. Not to mention the various linguistic debacles that occur on a frequent basis. You do have to put up with several months of essentially being the village idiot, as people chuckle at your weird accent and bizarre turns of phrase. Similarly you have to get over the hurdle of not feeling yourself in a foreign language – but that alone is a topic for a blog post itself. Nonetheless, living in a foreign language is something that should be on anyone’s bucket list, it really is a marvellous thing. As I write this, in January 2013, my confidence and ability in French has considerably improved, although the other day whilst asking my new housemate about the location of various kitchen implements, I most definitely asked her “And where do you keep the brains?” (Cerveaux vs. Couteaux).
Of course, any followers of my blog will be away of the many accommodation-related woes that this month brought about. By the time the month was over, I was pretty much on first-name terms with the staff in Rennes’ one and only hostel. During this time, I also tried and tested various other Rennes accommodation hotspots, couch surfing and staying in a bizarre hotel-like school. Wes (my colleague, and sort of friend, I guess) and I were so utterly fed up after two weeks of this that we took to the road to see what else the grand region of Brittany had to offer. Attempting to make the most of the last of the non-existant September sunshine, we headed for the seaside resort of St. Malo – whose ghostly feel resembled something out of Shaun of the Dead, and we decided that we utterly abhorred it. During this time, however, we also had a daytrip to see the impressive Mont St. Michel which restored all of our faith in France, and gave us the energy to give the accommodation hunt another stab. On the plus side, by this point we had become pros in ringing up agencies and discussing housing options, so if you ever need someone to decode a French accommodation ad, don’t hesitate to ask. I also finally know how to pronounce the number 81 in French, having cited my phone number an average of five times a day during this month.
October rolled around, and our accommodation woes were temporarily solved, with a place in a foyer de jeunes travailleurs for Wes, and a university studio for me. For the time being, we relaxed our frantic search for accommodation, and tried to focus on being half-efficient at our jobs. Learning 240 students’ names and planning lessons for them had taken a bit of a back seat, and we decided we ought to get back into the swing of things. After teaching my students mainly about that Spanish woman who painted over the Jesus fresco like a monkey, it was already time for their oral exams. Now, if you’ve ever sat a foreign language oral exam, you will have already shuddered at the sight of the words “oral exam”. You’re being judged, you’re even more conscious of your mistakes than usual. Basically, they’re a pretty shitty way to spend 15 minutes. Well, let me tell you something. Marking the bloody things is no mean feat either. Rightly or wrongly, as the assessor, you have to deal with the students’ reactions to their mark – either over-achievers demanding to know why they didn’t get the best mark in the class, or the ones who failed and then act like it’s your fault. Indeed, it’s very challenging to make a judgement on students’ linguistic performance, especially when using an unfamiliar grading system. When you have students perfectly happy with 10/20 and then others exasperated at ‘only’ getting 15/20, you begin to wonder if you can ever win. Nonetheless, as corny as it sounds, the realisation that you can justify giving a really high grade to a student really is a fantastic feeling. Whilst marking the exams I felt like I was rooting for all 242 of my students at once.
Socially, things also began to pick up in October. Facebook strikes again – an “assistants’ meet-up” was organised in Rennes, with over fifty foreign-language assistants hailing from all over Europe and the Americas trying to cram themselves into a single creperie rennaise. It was thanks to meetings like this that I met some really cool assistants from America, Canada, Britain, Germany, Austria, Spain, Mexico and South America who all understand the hardships faced by foreigners trying to figure out the bizarre complexities of a foreigner’s life in Franceland. One of the great aspects of living abroad is not just the ability to meet people from the new country, but also to find your place in a real “international community”. This was something I didn’t really have in my last abroad experience in Mexico – and it is indeed very agreeable.
The end of October and beginning of November was when all that crazy stuff with my unhinged housemate went down. Obviously, I have written at length about this already, so if you haven’t read about it you can do so here:
Oh, and in case anyone was wondering what happened to Christophe; well, he’s back at large. I know this through recent contributions to his twitter feed, such as:
“hello ! back from psychiatric hospital . 6 weeks … i am free but not totally out of the shit< tx to anyone whom have may help… 🙂 i also would precise since they re probably some Indians monitoring me that if you want to offer me a small ashram,then , i come…. lol”
Aside from the visits to the police station, November was a pretty straight-forward month. Life carried on as usual, social events, soirées, coffee afternoons and brunches with various assistants and colleagues of the university were abundant. I gorged obscenely when celebrating my first thanksgiving (it pays to befriend Americans). Trips to small towns near Rennes, such as Vitré and Fougères temporarily satisfied my need for travel. And there was even a very kind, complementary “welcome meal” for all the lecteurs at a local creperie.
The best news I’ve had since arriving came at the end of this month: that I had another apartment. Yep, my landlady from psycho-flat wrote to me to say that one of the rooms in another property of hers would be free from January onwards. Better still, none of its current occupants had shown a particular penchant for making death threats to English people. I accepted the room and it is in that very apartment that, weeks later, I write this blog post. All is well in Rennes and the world.
As the semester ended, I revelled in torturing my students with videos from India and Australia (difficult accents), attended an amazing Mexican dinner party hosted by a good friend of mine whose ability to create some of the best Mexican dishes with only ingredients found in French supermarchés, and got ready to pack up my life yet again and go back to the UK. Before that, I had a charming few days with the mère in the capital of the country I somehow find myself living in: Paris.
Paris, although generally recognised for being a cultural and picturesque hotspot, still gets its fair share of negative write-ups. People complain of it being dangerous and unclean, or of the people for being rude. As such, every time I visit Paris, I am always bowled over by how much I enjoy it. Places like Montmartre never lose their charm, and the tourist traps like the Eiffel Tower are still always a winner. Seriously – there’s a lot wrong with the place, but there’s a hell of a lot right too. I even got to see one of Paris’ charming banlieues (depending on your definition of ‘charming’) from my hotel room window! Not wanting to cram too much into this already waffley post, I intend to do a full write-up covering some of the hilarities my trip to this city; including a drunken bike ride through central Paris at 4am, and possibly the worst metro station known to man and womankind. Basically, it was just great to have the opportunity to spend a bit of quality time with the mothership, whom I adore. (Kind of obliged to say that though, given she’s my only reader).
So, there you have it – my 2012. I don’t remember ever getting to the end of a year and thinking “thank God year X is over”, and this one was no different. 2012 brought me experiences abroad, time with friends and family and a degree. I couldn’t ask for much more.