Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cue the holiday tunes

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wish I were back in the US at this time of the year. Good times with family, delicious food, awesome deals on Black Friday..I miss it all. When I came to France last fall, I knew that it was going to be a long haul for at least a few years. I knew that missing holidays like this—ones that aren’t celebrated here—would be part of the sacrifice of living in France. There are upsides to the expat thing—I have at least a week of vacation in October, February and April, and the months of November and May have bank holidays that take a little edge off the week, or add to the weekend to make a great mini-vacay. Plus, the French like to throw in a random Roman Catholic holiday every now and then. These days are always welcome in my book. But still, Thanksgiving! It’s the start of the holidays! Lights go up, Christmas music plays, family and friends laugh over plates of food and glasses of wine, kids run around, football plays on the TV..

Missing it last year didn’t affect me as much since I had just arrived. But I feel it more this year. My time home for a few months this summer was great, but there weren’t any major holidays like this one. (I missed July 4th by three days.) I miss seeing my family that I sometimes only see this time of year, taking pictures and catching up with everyone, and getting up at 4am to go nab some deals in Suburbia, America. I am not at all as hardcore as some of the (usually) women I’ve seen. One year, some crazy lady grabbed a flash drive out of my little sister’s hand and ran off. Another year, poor Han got lost in a crowd as people abandoned carts and ran through the aisles, grabbing stuff on the way, making their kids/husbands “guard” a boombox or TV while they scouted out other deals. I remember seeing her face in a sea of people, but the crowd just kept pushing me away from her. It was kind of funny, actually. She looked like she was about to cry—I think she must’ve been 10 or 11, but we finally found each other and laughed about it. It’s craziness, and kind of embarrassing how far some people will go to get what they want. It’s also amusing, even if it’s contributing to the horrible American consumerism society. Guilty as charged. Don’t tell me you don’t enjoy getting a new DVD for $4 or a winter coat for $30. Of course, the lines are the worst part, but it’s my own little Thanksgiving tradition. Christmas shopping, self shopping, sister bonding, coffee, Goodwill treasure hunts, more coffee, turkey leftovers for lunch and then a few last shops in the early afternoon. All followed by a nap on the couch while football continues on TV. I've got to find a way to come back next year for at least Christmas. It’d be too depressing to miss both holidays three years in a row. I did want to come home for Christmas this year, but the tickets are so expensive. One of the biggest reasons I’m foregoing holidays in the US is that I desperately need a new computer. So this year I’m essentially spending my plane ticket on a new Mac. I’m sorry, family, I would really enjoy coming home for a few weeks, but plane tickets don’t take notes during lectures! I really hope to be on American soil for the holidays next year. Don’t even know where I’ll be at that point, so it’s hard to make plans!

Life in Paris is going. I’m glad this gloomy month is almost over. I strongly dislike the month of November because of the awful weather (soooo much rain and cloudiness), the realization that Winter is indeed upon us (I never want to admit it), the return from All Saints Day break (depressing), the solid block of classes with no end short, I’m really excited to welcome the last month of the year.

I’ve been horribly sick the last few days. Also November's fault. I just really started feeling better today, even though I still have a cough. It started last Friday, and by Saturday I could tell something was not right, but I still went to both my jobs, a total of about 12 hours. Not smart. Of course I had two group projects to do over the weekend, so I couldn’t just lie in bed and feel sorry for myself. I somehow finished the projects (quality questionable) just in time to go to work on Sunday night. It was a terrible, never-ending night and my voice was almost nonexistent. I went to the basement (where storage is) to blow my nose and wash my hands at least 100 times, I think. Ran back upstairs to take orders with my manvoice, and then returned to basement to repeat the process over and over. UGHHHHHH.

I gave up and called in on Monday. I found someone to work for me, thank god, and I went home to drink tea and go to bed early. I was going to go to the doctor if it wasn’t better Tuesday (I’m a tightwad, what can I say), but thankfully, the fever had passed, my thoughts were coherent again, and my coughing wasn’t that horrible, deep seal-cough. I am still a little under the weather, but not like before. I’ve already arranged a deal with my body that this will be my one big cold of the season. I’m hoping it’s stored up antibodies for future menaces. You hear me, body?!

I couldn’t help but wonder if this unexpected bout of sickness was a cause of my over-working. (And the dozens of kids I’m around perhaps?) I love Paris, even on the crap days, but I’ve recently been feeling kind of down about it because I essentially live in my little world of home-school-babysitting-work. I don’t even get to enjoy Paris for what it is! But I can’t not work, so it’s kind of a situation that I guess I’ll just have to live with for now. I need to research some scholarship organizations and see if there’s any chance I could get some kind of help if I continue my studies into the second year. Master’s programs are hard enough without three part-time jobs!

School is going alright. I ordered some books from the UK to help me with communications theories and I am slowly getting through them, plus the zillion other readings/books I have in French. I very much feel that I’m more teaching myself, and getting insight/reinforcement from lectures, rather than the other way around. I like being able to control what I learn and what books I read, but at the same time, it’s almost too open-ended. There’s no stop of information. New theories and their sociologists are introduced all the time, with the comments that we should read them if we want to understand more of what they talked about. I really don’t think you can pass an exam purely with the notes from class. You are expected to research on your own as well. Maybe this is how Master’s programs are in general, even in the US. I don’t know. There are no syllabi, yet there are often lists of recommended books. I never thought I miss the clear, concise textbooks I was so used to in my undergrad studies.

I’ve finally chosen a subject for my mémoire and I will devote most of my Christmas and Exam breaks to reading books about it. That’s what you do—you read, read, read and note, note, note for a few months. Then, around mid-March or so, you start collecting all your info together and you begin to write out your 40-50 page mémoire, following the plan you drew up. I need to finish my plan now that I've finished half of my group projects. I’ve decided to write about “Net Neutrality,” which is an entry in itself, but basically it's about the Internet and its availability to the masses. Seeing as I’m pretty Internet-savvy and a lot of the research will be in English, I think I might have a chance at making something worthwhile. I’m still waiting on a director, but since I was late (surprise, surprise) in choosing a subject, I’m kind of in the last-dibs category of good directors. Too bad, because the one I wanted speaks really good English and the Internet 2.0 is his speciality..this is what I get for being such a procrastinator.

Anyway, kids to pick up, turkey sandwich to celebrate with later, christmas music cued up for my return..

Happy Turkey Day to all!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Back to the salt mines

Well rested after a little more than a week of vacances, I've been trying to be more optimistic about school. The French just seem to do it so well that I sometimes have to remind myself that I'm playing by their rules, on their turf, so they obviously have the home-team advantage. And they also aren't deranged, working full-time in addition to their studies.

Classes have really "started," and the atmosphere has a palpable seriousness about it. The last few weeks had been bombarded with absences (my part and the professors), protests, and a general before-vacation atmosphere. Now that school is back in session and the retirement bill was passed, everyone seems to have hunkered down for the long seven-week stretch that is ahead of us. There are still protests happening, and I was just given some more literature this morning, but I think that at this point, it's kind of a futile effort. But we'll see--the French are not quick to give up, especially the young and unemployed.

Group projects are underway and even though I admittedly work better alone, being forced to work with others isn't the worst thing in the world. I have three group projects, all fairly time-consuming; a mémoire to start (but first, I need to narrow down a subject); and hours of lectures that I need to transcribe. Oy.

Anyway, the learning has begun, even if the un-learning seems much bigger at this point. I spent part of break reading some undergrad media studies and communications books (well, chapters of said books..reading an entire textbook is very, very dull) and whaddya know, I understood more of my lecture classes this week! I knew the sociologist they were talking about! I knew what theory they were talking about! Now I am officially getting, you know, 42% of the material in class. Wooo.

There are definitely some other skills I've been improving on:

Time-management skills. This is the biggest. I have weird gaps of time, and not a lot of it. So I have to make do with what I have, even if it means from 12:30-3pm or from midnight-2am. Since my schedule is so packed with work, children, work, school, sleep, etc. I have to find a way to manage it all. I've always sucked at this, but I've never had such a tight schedule that really didn't give me the option of lounging on the couch for a few hours before actually doing anything. I sadly don't have the luxury this year. I bought a desk from my beloved IKEA last week and ousted the futon chair that was here into the basement. However, I messed up the cord hole and so now it's been rechristened as a cupholder, which coincidentally (or not, IKEA?) holds my favorite cheapie plastic IKEA tumblers, that often contain wine..'nuff said.

Inadvertent Cupholder

Taking notes. I used to consider myself a good note-taker. Maybe it's because the majority of my notes have been in language classes, or maybe because it's been years since I took a large lecture-style class, but I am a (improving) failure at taking notes in French. It's hard to listen for the main points, then write them down, while he says another main point. And might I add that French words seem so much longer when you're in a hurry! I've developed some abbreviations for myself and also adopted the degree symbol for words that end in -sion, -tion. The French do this, so I can't take credit for it, but I'd never seen it before.
Thus, communication ⇒ comm° etc.

I also try to camp out behind students with laptops, which seems to be my best strategy so far. They love to play solitaire in between main points, which adds to my failure-like feeling. On the other hand, every time there's some technical term or theory mentioned, it's usually of a British or American origin, so they sigh and moan about oh non, encore de l'anglais? (Oh no, not more English!) while I silently revel in the one moment where I beat them. I also enjoy hearing my professors talk about zee wourld weyde wehb and zee eeenturrrneht.

I haven't decided yet what to do after this semester. I don't particularly like my program, but maybe part of it is the classes I'm in. I got last dibs on the electives, so I'm in two really boring, really non-related classes that I don't enjoy at all. One's about social representations (a very vague class involving how people are represented in films and literature) and the other is a psychology-based class about evaluating people in the workplace. It's as boring as it sounds. And also, pretty useless to me.

However, the next semester looks more promising, and hopefully I'll have a better chance of getting into more interesting classes. The thing I keep coming back to, though, is language and linguistics. I am such a language nerd. I'm constantly thinking about languages, no matter where I am. I note constructions people use, I carry around a journal to mark new vocabulary down in, I have in a browser on a nearly permanent basis..I wonder if I should just follow what I really love, even if there are few job opportunities, or follow what I still like, but less, with more job opportunities? I keep thinking that I could still use languages with my communications degree, but could I still do journalism with a linguistics or translation degree?

Decisions, decisions..

Well I am obviously not doing too well in time-management today, as I'm cutting into studying time by updating this blog. I must allow myself a little diversion now and then! It's November, the absolute ugliest, crappiest month of the year, and I'm already counting the days until December, when at least I have the holidays to look forward to. Don't think I'll be making it stateside this Christmas, as much as I wish I could. Missing two in a row is not what I'd planned on, but alas, I'm poor, my home country is 4,000 miles understand. Kind of pissed at my compatriots, anyway. What is wrong with you, America?!

I'm just glad I didn't have to listen to all the political ads!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Adjustment in higher education

French school is hard.

Into my third week as a Master's student and I am trying to adapt to an educational system that is in many ways very different from the American one I'm used to. The French have their own system of learning. I found this out last year, as an assistant in the elementary schools, where it all starts. The four-color note-taking is one example:

blue/black for writing (I see more blue)
red for titles,
headers and underlining
green for correcting

I guess I didn't think it would be so identical in college, 15+ years after they learned it. I don't write at all like I did when I was a kid. Americans kids, in my experience, are much more eager to have their own handwriting than French kids. And so in short, an 11-year-old essentially writes the same as a 23-year-old. The older ones have just learned how to write faster. They take clean, beautiful notes, and quickly. I sit behind them as I scribble the most illegible, ugly notes, with half the information in twice the time.

Them (well, a 5th grader them)


vs. my chicken scratch:

Other differences, if you're wondering:
--underline with rulers
--use squared paper, often one giant sheet folded in half, making it a paper folder. Usually they take notes on loose-leaf paper and not in notebooks
--everyone dresses nicely, even at 9am.
--hardly anyone asks questions. Not at all the same atmosphere as in US.
--one professor told us to explicitly not e-mail her; she's got too much other stuff to do (she said that) and can't respond to our questions
--no homework, just a giant test at the end of the semester. Some smaller classes have one presentation during the semester.

Oh, and if you're wondering, a lot of people do use laptops or netbooks to take notes. I'm glad they've adapted to new technology, but can I just say that:
I am a way faster typer than most of them. They have perfected the art of "pecking" so much that it almost looks like they learned how to type instead of figuring it out on their own. (I have to take my small victories where I can get them.)

Why do they have to be such good note-takers? Because classes rely almost fully on note-taking and are light on using actual textbooks. It's really hard for me because I'm a very visual learner. I have trouble just listening to a person talk for two hours and just take notes non-stop. Only one (!) of my professors uses a visual aid--this one, PowerPoint. Added to that that it's not my native language, I definitely feel frustrated at the end of class. It's not that I don't understand the language. But I have trouble writing and listening at the same time, in French. It's like my brain can't keep a sentence in my head very well (in French), so I forget what I wanted to write, or I only get pieces of it. Which distracts me continually throughout the class, because I'm not really comprehending the material, I'm just writing down words. I don't have time to think about it. I think it's a really inefficient method of teaching, but my classmates seem to eat it up.

So of course, I've done the obvious and gotten a voice recorder, which in this day and age means that I've downloaded an app on my iphone called iTalk. It's actually pretty cool. I was trying to avoid doing having to record all my lectures--thinking I 'had' it--which clearly, I don't. I don't really have extra time in my day to go back and listen to all my lectures, but without it, I am destined to make a fool of myself when I show up for finals in January. It takes me more than twice the time to go back and listen--I have to stop it, rewind it, make sure I got everything. It's. A. Lot. Of. Work.

Add to this a lot of backwork in communication theory (since my degree was in journalism) plus a thesis that isn't writing itself, and I've got my work cut out for me. Can't forget the jobs and the eventual internship..

I'm taking it à la légère, more like a study abroad year than 'I must finish my Master's or my life will be over.' I will try my hardest this year to emulate a model French student, but if after this year, I really do not enjoy it, I may reconsider my options. I chose this program because it's more marketable than a degree in Linguistics or German, but I find myself straying from the communication aisles in the library to language book and language acquisition section a few aisles down. If I'm going to spend hours highlighting books (ones I've bought since there aren't text books..), I'd at least like it to be in something more interesting than a theory about society in the 1950s!

All in all, though, I do like being in class again, even if it is hard. I like the student atmosphere, the slangy speech, the cheap espressos and the flyers littering the walls and floors. Since France is going on it's sixth or seventh day of a national strike, every time I walk into a building, someone is handing me some notice about a future manif' at so-and-so hour, on so-and-so day. Oh, France, you amuse me.

Vacation starts after this week, so I'll have 10 days to recuperate a little, and get started on that dreaded thesis. Wish I could visit some friends over this break, but I won't have been paid yet so I guess maybe in December or January I'll have the chance. My American-married-Swiss friend from college, Brittany, came to visit last weekend and much fun was had. I'd love to go see Bern again before the year is up..we'll see. I love traveling, but my schedule this year is not as forgiving as last year's. On the flip side, I don't have to spend 3 hours a day on public transport. Even if I do miss the time off for the holidays!

Back to highlighting my communications books. All that French student emulation or something..

Thursday, September 30, 2010


DSC_0266, originally uploaded by bendisdonc

My days have been recently filled trying to get myself a job. Which is much easier chez moi than here. The cover letter and CV funfest is back! Luckily, I had a good self-taught lesson in this lovely exercise back in April and May, when I was applying to grad school. CVs and cover letters aren’t just for grad school or “real” jobs, like at home. It’s for every, and any kind of job—from a cashier at a supermarket to the CEO of a large company. You must provide a letter describing just how much you want to check those groceries through and how well you’ll do it! Which, in my opinion, leads to a lot of insincere, bloated letters, but I guess it’s the thought that counts? I miss simple applications and same-day interviews!

Writing each letter takes a lot of time. I have to google the classic politeness sentences to start and end letters with, and then I search for models of the letters, according to industry. I use them to make my own letter, but it's good to have a rough idea of how to write them. French has a way of just sounding much more formal, so sometimes even my best attempts sound elementary compared to what I see actual letters look like. It took me the better part of last week to get about four cover letters that I changed slightly for each company I applied to. I applied as a server, a barista, and an English teacher to several places in Paris. I’ve mostly gotten responses from the English teaching jobs.

I had an interview on Saturday with a children’s language school and got the job, for one day a week. Since my schedule is really limited with already watching kids after school and then having school on top of that, the only day I’m really available for them is on Saturday. They believe that teachers are only effective for five hours a day, which I really admire, but that means that another job is necessary to make up some more hours, because I can probably not survive on just a few hundred euro per month. Unless I neglect bills or stop eating. One of the two. I had a trial day at an American café on Tuesday, and they asked me to come back and train, so it's good to have the job situation figured out, at least theoretically. If only France paid every other week rather than once per month! It'll be another long famine like last October I s'pose..

I guess the most frustrating part is that even though I’m in France, it’s starting to feel like the US, because of the work part. Between school, nannying, and a part-time job (or two), I will not have a lot of free time to do much, especially traveling! I know this is my doing—I wanted, and
want to be here, and I knew full well that this could happen. But I guess that France, to me, has always been more of an adventure than work. Working, really working, was reserved for at home, when I worked 13-hour shifts at the restaurant and went out for drinks afterwards, three nights in a row. France is supposed to be the culture capital of the world, where you drink espressos on a daily basis, wear heels to the grocery store, and wait in 4-hour lines to get opera tickets. Where is hard work supposed to fit in there?!


Sorbonne courtyard

Classes were supposed to begin this week, but at the end of last week, I happened to stop by my department and saw that the Master's students' start day had been pushed back a week. An extra week is fine by me, and obviously it's helped me job-wise. What I found annoying is that it was by total chance that I even stopped by. I was in the neighborhood and I was trying to get wifi from my university and thought I'd stop up by my department to see if my classes were posted yet. The schedules were up, so I guess they figured we'd see the notice that way..but I still think an e-mail or letter should have been sent to the students concerned. Ah well, I should be used to this kind of thing by now!

I’ve been so worried about being able to find a job so that I can eat that I haven’t even given much thought to just how hard my program could be and how much time it will take up in my already over-scheduled life. I am in class for 13 hours per week, which will eventually have to be supplemented by an internship. (I am not yet stressing over this; I can only handle so much at a time and I have a few months..)

Rachel's formula for success in a foreign country:

13 hours of class+

15 hours of babysitting+

20 hours of work

-sleep/social life

= living the dream!

I am determined. I got here on my own; I have had this ambition to return since I first stepped foot here nearly five years ago. I have tried to imagine every possibility of what could happen since I decided to apply to grad school earlier this year. Everything that I’m worrying about now—I’ve thought about it before. I can, and will, make this work. I know I will. In the meantime, cheap wine helps.

Worries aside, I live in Paris, a beautiful city. There are things to do, people! Two weekends ago was the
Journée du patriomine, meaning that tons of buildings around France and Europe were open to the public that are usually closed off or only available by a private tour. So I went to see the Sorbonne, Panthéon, and the Luxembourg Palace, which is where the French senate is located.




Ornate woodwork inside the Sorbonne

Training for my English teaching starts tomorrow, schools begins on Tuesday, restaurant training starts sometime next week..wish me luck. I'll need it!


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Same American in Paris, Part III

I’m baaaaack! So, updating from the States didn’t happen. Don’t worry, all I would have said was I’M WORKING AGAIN. Pretty much my whole summer. I had a few days at home in Iowa, and a few in St. Louis with my maternal side of the family, but for the most part, I was stuck serving tables in my university town that I don’t claim as my own, yet still holds a lot of friends from my last five years. I had fun, actually, and it was good to catch up with everyone after nearly a year 4,000 miles (6,400 km) away. Surprisingly, I still knew quite a few people at work and the ones who were new quickly became work buddies. I’m pretty proud of myself. I managed to pay my school and visa fees, sell my car, and make the a little bit of money that I’m living off of right now. Unfortunately, I didn't get a new computer, but I did get mine fixed and *cross my fingers* it seems to be working okay. I only worked for about two months, but it was just enough time to get what I needed to done and visit family and friends, so all in all a good trip. I would've loved to have stayed a little longer to work and also see more people I missed, but with the start of the school year, I was needed here for my new nannying job.

It was a weird in-between, being in my university town. I’m not from there, but it's so familiar because I spent so much time there before coming to France. I fell back into old routines (going to Wal-Mart at 2am), ate delicious yet fattening American food (double chocolate donuts, to be specific) and fully enjoyed being able to express myself completely at work, throwing “motherfucker” into about every other sentence. What can I say, serving tables is a profane job.

I got back to Paris a week ago and I’ve adjusted fairly quickly. I feel almost like I never left, which tells me that for now, this is home. Yes, I miss the States. It’s so convenient and familiar. I spent the last few days with family, going to our little cabin on the lake, and then to my uncle’s for a delicious Labor Day weekend barbeque. I really enjoyed our time together and goodbyes are never fun, even if I’ve done it a lot in the last few years. But when I came back to French soil, I felt like I was home. Home away from home, I guess. It feels familiar. I got up to my 7th-floor chambre de bonne (maid’s chambers) after lugging all my crap from the airport to my new posh neighborhood in the heart of Paris. I took a break every ten feet with my two suitcases and two backpacks, but I made it. The father of the family was also super nice and carried two of my bags up the giant flight of stairs. I felt badly, but he insisted that he hikes and was used to carrying bags up hills. Well, alright then. I'm okay with that! I’m seriously lucky, guys. Check out my new view:

>flickr has new rules I haven't figured out yet..for now, see link:

I gaze out my window multiple times a day, soaking up the city I’ve come to call home. I know the people can be rude, and the paperwork never ends, and it gets cold and sunless in the winter, but for now, when the end-of-summer sunsets turn the sky delicious pink and orange shades, and the Eiffel Tower lights up like magic for the first five minutes of every hour, I melt. I look out across the city and I am saturated with happiness. I just smile and smile and thank the universe for my incredible good fortune.

I started with my new family the day I got back. Luckily, for the first week, the parents were kind enough to arrange their schedules to help me figure out where the girls (three of them, 10y/8y/6y) have all of their activities, at what time, etc. I have a good feeling about this year. The kids are already easier to take care of because they're girls. (Compared to two boys last year, a world of difference!) My friend was their nanny last year and had nothing but good things to say about the job, so I’m confident that the year will be good. Not that the girls are perfect angels—what kids are?—but at least the parents are on my side for a change, and are genuinely nice. I feel more inclined to teach them English and I hope that they pick it up at least for the parents to notice a difference. They are my experiment on child bilingualism!

I've just arrived, but I’m already worried about a job. It’s the one hitch in my plan and I’m not about to let it ruin my grad school plans. I’ve applied to a few cafés and some English schools for kids. My schedule isn’t the best because all my after-schools (prime time for English lessons) are taken up with the family. I’m hoping that I can find a job that lets me work weekends and maybe a lunch during the week. I don’t completely know my school schedule, but I do know that I won’t have class on Fridays at all, so that’s helpful. I got an e-mail back today from an English pub, so we’ll see if that goes anywhere. I’m also applying to Starbucks tomorrow. Yes, they’re in Paris, too...a lot of them.

School stuff is finally cleared up. I wasted $17 by sending my inscription forms priority mail at the end of July because the university was closed all of August anyway. I waited in line for three days in a row—no, really—and finally, FINALLY got into the Foreign Students Office, only to find out that my file was in an office down the hall, in one of four giant boxes of received mail. I was told to go and get it, like it was totally normal for a foreign student to go and fetch her own mail. Of course said office thought I was crazy and I became the messenger, told to tell the Foreign office that they could come and look for it if they wanted it. Ha. That went over well. Luckily, and I mean, LET ME GIVE MYSELF A GIANT PAT ON THE BACK, I made a copy of my file before sending it across seas. (France bureaucracy has conditioned me to do so. The French LOVE copies!) I got an unusually nice office worker who believed everything I said and treated my copy as if it were an original, saying “it’ll eventually turn up anyway, so I’m not worried.” She renewed my hope in the university, which was pretty low after waiting for so many hours on end to no avail. I’M ENROLLED! I got my student card on Saturday and I’m way, way excited that all of my hard work is finally validated by a little card that says "Etudiant de Paris, Ile-de-France." One step closer to being French bah ha!

I won’t know my class schedule for another week or so, but I have a general idea of it since some of the mandatory classes (giant lecture ones) are only at one time per week, and everyone attends in the amphitheatre. I have to take English, which I find totally pointless, but the secretary told me that it’d be beneficial to take it and get the higher grade, which is graded on a higher coefficient than other classes..I’m still somewhat unfamiliar with the European grading system, but I get the impression that certain classes are weighed more than others. Since French isn’t my native language, she said it’d end up all evening out anyway (since I would theoretically get a lower grade from a spelling or grammar error.) I think that I would rather have a day off (I can test out of it if I so choose) than to go to a class that is way too easy for me. But maybe I’ll see that my other classes are insanely hard and change my mind. I’m really bummed because there’s no option of taking Spanish or German. :(

So, that’s about all I know now. I hope to get a job before school starts mostly because I can train during the day for now, while I have nothing else to do. I watch kids after school, but my days are usually free save a few loose ends for uni or visa paperwork. I signed up for a student mutuelle (gap insurance), which costs 7.55€ a month and covers the 30% gap that the national health insurance doesn’t pay. Awesome! Never have I been more welcomed or had easier paperwork (so far) than as a student in France. I’m loving it! More to come. I start school the 27th of September. I don’t want to eat my words, but so far all is going well in the city of lights.

A bientôt!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Death of a loved one

My computer is on the rocks. Almost dead, even. I've had it for about 5 years, and in the Mac world, that's pretty normal. The computer itself still works (slowly), but the power source has been giving me trouble for months and then the other day, it would not charge. At all. So the battery wore out and I didn't have enough time to transfer my files. I'm going to take it to a shop on Wednesday to see what the damage would be to repair it. I don't know if it's even worth fixing, so I might just see if I can get my files extracted from the HD.

Anyway, I had all these great blog entries to write! Like about how I went on an outing with my favorite class two weeks ago to an amusement park. Or how I ventured into the illegal parts of the catacombs with my friend Hannah and some of her friends. Crazy, I tell you. Not something I would usually do.

Or how it's my last week of school - tomorrow is my last day - and I'm a little sentimental because I found out for sure that I won't be renewed for next year.

Turns out that there are too many incoming assistants and priority is always given to them. I'm kind of annoyed though because it took a lot of work for me to find out that my department wasn't renewing. There are a lot of people still waiting for answers that won't come until much later. The entire program is a mess and no one ever knows anything about what's happening. I had to contact no less than five people to get a reponse. It's frustrating and I wish they were more efficient. I also find it unfair that the wait list - people that didn't make first cut to be in the program - are above renewing assistants. So priority goes: incoming first-cut assistants, wait list second-cut, renewing. And then in the renewing list, god knows where I am. I understand that incoming assistants get priority, but I now have a year of experience, not to mention a easily renewable visa! It's like they're trying to make their lives harder..

So what's happening? Well. I got accepted to grad school, yay. I thought I could renew my current visa here seeing as I am a legal foreigner. But France wants to be difficult so it appears that I will have to return to the States and change my worker visa to a student visa. So fun! Especially since I will have to make a trip to Chicago (again) to get said visa. Yes, I have to go in person, yes, this is stupid, yes, I still will do it all because I want to live here. Since I'm obligated to go back anyway, I'm just going to use my original ticket (the second part of the round trip) in early July and come home for two months. I will likely be working the same job as before (restaurant), at least I hope so. I've contacted them to make sure it's okay and they're being wishy-washy about it, but I gotta find something! I need to make money! I desperately need a new computer for school, not to mention money to live off of.

The one thing that's really stressing me out is that I won't have a paying job when I come back to Paris in early September. I recently landed another babysitting gig closer to the center of Paris, and with a great family that comes highly recommended. I'll have a tiny room on the 7th floor (no lift, but damnit, I'll have thighs of steel) with access to an awesome roof. But like this year, I'll be working in exchange for lodging. Not a bad deal for 15 hours of work, although I had hoped I could leave behind nannying during my studies. Not quite yet, I guess. As far as money goes, I will have to babysit on the side (there are lots of families in the area) and/or give English lessons. I don't like this new part of my plan - not having a for sure source of income - but I'm confident that I'll find some job. I'm familiar with the city and I think I'll be able to figure something out. In the meantime, it'll be work work work at home to provide a buffer of money when I come back to France and also to pay my inscription fees at the university. (around $600 for the school year). And of course I'll be on the lookout in KC for a used Mac to tide me over for at least this year. I can't live without one, and not just because of my internet addiction! The program I'm going to take is very book-heavy, with loads of papers to write and projects heavily relying on the Adobe suite of software.

I have one more day of class, but for the last few weeks we've just been reviewing and playing playground classics like Red Rover and Color Tag. I have a little slideshow to show my kids tomorrow about American schools and we're having a goodbye party. Should be fun.

Well in case I don't update again, I'll be back stateside in about a week. Arriving at the airport and passing the ginormous NON AMERICAN line is one of life's little pleasures. Payback for all the lines and paperwork I've endured for being born on the wrong continent! I will remove my passport from its normal cover, smiling slyly. I'll make sure to flash the blue passport as I walk to the much shorter, familiar line of AMERICAN CITIZENS. Home.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rachel tries to get into grad school; stomach ulcers ensue

Nothing to do with anything, but look how cute my new sac is. I got it for cheap because it's really a bike bag. The snaps clip on your handlebars! I don't care about this or the fact that French people keep giving me weird looks. They're jealous they didn't find it for 19€.

So my Thursday. Totally consecrated to tests and interviews. I got there at 9am, after studying all Wednesday with this book :

I was all ready with all kinds of phrases like:

Quant à cet auteur (according to this author)
Certes, ____ admet que l'on peut (indeed, ____ admits that we can/it can be)
Il est indéniablement lié à (it is undeniably linked to)
______, contestant que _____, souligne l'importance (____, contesting/agreeing that___, highlights the importance)

FUN! Except that when I got there, this is what I was presented with:

I knew I was going to have to write a synthesis, but I did not expect it to be all in Spanish! At worst, I thought the documents would be in Spanish and I'd write the synthesis in French, but not so...

It's not that my Spanish is that bad, it's just that I'm missing more vocabulary. I had no trouble understanding the documents. It's just that a synthesis is not supposed to use the words that are already in the articles, so it was kind of hard regurgitating the same idea using different words. My final text--383 palabras, gracias--probably looked like something a 14-year-old would write. Ah, well. I tried, damnit!

Okay, so the worst part, so I thought, over. I had two hours to hang out, so where do you go when you need to sit down and pass time? The library, of course! The university, Université Paris 8, is a little rough around the edges--it's in the same department I work in, if that gives you any indication. But it has a fabulous library that's only 10ish years old and it was big and quiet and had lots of Spanish books I wanted to steal, but instead just took pictures of to buy at a future point (when I'm not so damn basically never). Studied some media vocabulary that I thought would be useful for my interview at 2pm. To be honest, I did not study enough Spanish. I had intended on going through questions I thought might be asked, and preparing answers in Spanish. Memorization, I can do. But I was too caught up in 1) working 2) working 3) defending myself from often evil and violent children 3) working 4) studying for synthesis that ended up being in the wrong language 5) sleeping. I did go through what I was going to say, and took lots of notes, but I didn't have enough time to do it really well.

So I get there at 2pm, well let's be honest, it's 2:10 because I had to get a panini and hunger pangs are not that attractive in interviews. Just for the record, I DID order the panini before 2pm, but the panini man was taking forever and a day, and what was I going to do? LEAVE MY PANINI? No. That's ridiculous. So I run to the interview, panini in hand, looking a hot mess, just SCREAMING serious, professional 25-year-old American that wants to be here, really!

Three men are chatting, two of them old and obviously the smartest men that have ever existed in France judging by the way they act, one young, beyond attractive, that will distract me in the interview. Damnit.

But onward. I present myself, and there's a mix-up about how I was supposed to be there in the morning, but no, I explain, I was told it was okay since I was taking the synthesis..blah blah blah we go to another room across the way, walk around for a minute, then come back to the same exact room we started in, while Dr. Attractive whispers "Welcome to France," half-laughing, in accentless English.

Okay. So to condense this 15-minute painful interview, let's just say that my Spanish was not up to par. And can I just add that being in a lecture hall, in the front row, while three men 10 feet away are taking notes about me is intimidating, to say the least. Oh, and did I forget to mention the part where they are all perfectly trilingual? The main man speaking in Spanish has a difficult accent. I don't know where he studied, but it's a thick Spanish accent that I have trouble understanding. And also, I'm not gonna lie, I am in no way fluent in Spanish. Anyway, after five minutes of "what the F is this girl doing applying to a Spanish/French program," they switch to French, and then later English, so at least the linguistic problems are no longer a worry. BUT. The questions. Hard, real questions about theory and the role of media today, and if there will ever be a non-biased media, and have you read this certain author from the 1970s (no), or studied this certain theory (also, no) and my favorite: How will you cope with the added stress of not being at the same level as the other students that have studied theory, in addition to all the reading that is already in the program?

First of all, vague. Second of all, ouch. Make my degree(s) seem like merde because excuuuuse me, we did not spend as much time with theory, but they didn't spend as much time hands-on! What can I say to that about the theories? Sit in a library for 4 hours a day and read? That I'm motivated and want to be here?

I know that I didn't learn all these obscure communication theories, but maybe that's because my degree was in journalism, not communications! Anyway, I stop there to defend myself for a minute because the two schools of teaching--in the US and in France--are not the same. Not that one is necessarily better than the other one, but still. I have no doubt that my mastery of software and hands-on experience is better than some French students'. And does the fact that I have a double major, a minor, 18 months abroad, and worked 30 hours a week for five years mean anything? Mmmmm no. But I try to be charming, saying "I really like this program, it's very unique and I've never seen anything like it, even in the US."

And I'm going to break here for a minute, so you can conjure up your most stereotypical Frenchman caricature in your head, especially thinking about the word POMPOUS and then imagine the two old men saying:

"Well [pause for dismissal "hah," like how dare you even say this] that's because, Mademoiselle, it doesn't exist anywhere else. We know it's unique because we created it."

Okkkkayyyyyyyy then.

I kiss ass once more: "Well, thank you so much, gentlemen, for your time. I hope to hear from you soon."

I walk out, almost in tears just from the stress, but also kind of relieved that hey, it's over. I am sure that I didn't get into either, even the English ones, because hello! I am apparently lacking theory!!

On the upside, the panini in my sac is still warm, the sun is out, and the sunset later that evening is magnificent.

I checked my e-mail yesterday morning while waiting for my bus to take me back to Paris:


Nous avons le plaisir de vous informer que votre candidature à l’entrée dans le Master 1 Médias internationaux : Culture et société étrangères (MC2L) anglais, a été retenue.

Nous avons le plaisir de vous informer que votre candidature au Master "Médias Internationaux : enjeux et pratiques", première année a été acceptée.

Rachel, we have the pleasure of informing you that your candidature for the Master 1: International Media: Culture and Foreign Societies (English) was accepted.

We have the pleasure of informing you that your candidature for the Master: International Media: Issues and Practices, first year, was accepted.

[To clarify: the programs are similar but have two different tracks, one more cultural and language-centered (1), one more journalism/media focused (2) Also, the 2nd one did not specify a language but I sincerely doubt that it's Spanish]

I've been smiling since yesterday. I DID IT!!!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lots of the air.

Alright, I'm almost at the finish line. Major day tomorrow for grad school and of course, instead of studying, I'm updating my blog. Brilliant! Anyway, I need a break. Spent all afternoon and early evening in my favorite library in Paris, which I've written about before, studying the different methods of resuming texts. I'm so thrilled that the university I've applied to has decided to give me this test that is usually reserved for les grandes écoles and naval academies. Thanks! I basically have to read 2-3 documents, around 1500 words a piece, and weave them all together into a summary, around 400 words. FUN! It's harder than it sounds, though, because it's in French. Although I might speak good French, it's not my native language. I don't always know shorter, more succinct (and less used) verbs, and sometimes tiny nuances in the language go over my head because, well, I didn't grow up listening to the language all my life. There books upon books about this type of test, all equally boring and "aww MANNNNNN"-evoking. So, tomorrow, at 9am, I'll be highlighting passages, racking my brain for shorter synonyms, and trying to pretend I know what I'm talking about. I'll probably get some topic I know no vocabulary for I'm trying to be optimistic.

As if that weren't enough! I have an interview! In three languages! Just as soon as the French version of American Idol, Nouvelle Star, is over (it's the finale!), it's back to work. So much for sleeping well before the big day!

I have photos coming out of my ears. I am horrible about taking them and then leaving them on my memory card for weeks or months. I recently finally went through a lot of them and sort of clumped them into different folders, but there's still lots of organizing to be done. And you all know how well I do that!
So let's go back to a month ago, when my buddy, Brittany came to visit. I started to write about it on my last post, but I got a little carried away with my Swiss trip. Brittany and I decided to take an Amélie-themed tour, from the famous 2000 French film. This canal, Canal St. Martin, is in quite a few scenes. The area, in the 10th arrondissement, used to be kind of ghetto, but it's really gentrified in the last decade or two. Still has a lot of immigrants, which gives it a cool sort of hippie feel, but it's also old Paris and has cool buildings. And a giant canal, where old men meet up and play chess or pétanque.
We went to the Galéries Lafayette, which is the department store in Paris. It's all ridiculously bourgeois, of course, but the ornate dome and the Prada bags make you feel all classy like for a few minutes..'til you remember that your whole monthly salary won't even buy a dress with less fabric than a washcloth. Ah, well. I'm cool with H&M.

Onward to the flea markets north of Paris!
Stylin' cat eye glasses
And onward to continue our Amélie tour at Sacre-Coeur. I never get sick of this view. However, climbing up the hills to get there, not so much. But it's worth it. In front of the carousel is where Amélie calls Nino from a payphone. I may or may not have seen the movie multiple times.
And then we went to the café where Amélie works and had some delicious caffeine treats..
This little display was in the bathroom

Later on that evening, we stole my friend Hannah's awesome rooftop for a few minutes to take in all of Paris' beauty. The little chimneys on top are probably over 100 years old. I love the hearts cut into them. Whenever I go up there, I wonder if the maids that used to occupy the top floor would ever come up to the top and bitch about their jobs while looking over Paris. Probably.

Brittany and I had a good time for the three days she was here. I had just seen her a few weeks before, in Bern, but we both had a long weekend and all my money was tied up in expensive translations, so I offered for her to come up to Paris. I mean, c'mon, Paris for a weekend? Not bad. It was super nice out and we got lucky because there was a free museum festival on Saturday, too. We had originally intended to do a museum crawl--we had wine in plastic bottles to complete the image--but I hadn't thought about the amounts of people that would want to cash in on free museums. Soooo after seeing lines upon lines of people at Musée d'Orsay, we hopped over to the Louvre, which is pretty good at handling masses of tourists, and got in to see some artwork. I have now seen the Mona Lisa three or four times. (It's small.)

I'm not a huge museum go-er. Call me culturally insensitive, but I would prefer to see the city the artwork is in rather than the museum. I like street art, concerts, little cafes tucked in forgotten corners. I have been in Paris for nine months and have seen a handful of expos, but it's just not my thing. If I'm in Paris this summer, I'm going to try to see more, since I will hopefully have a little more time on my hands. I love living here, but man, having two jobs and applying for grad school is really good at sucking my free time up. The city is beautiful at this time of the year. Long days and pretty sunsets after 10pm. Summer always washes away memories of frozen feet and cold winter mornings while waiting for the train. I forgive you, Paris. You're worth it.

Another reason I love Paris? Things like this:
Making Les Champs-Elysées a garden for three days!
It was a festival called "Nature Capitale" and it was at the end of May, for yet another long weekend. Something about man reuniting himself to nature and not forgetting his roots, etc. There was also a lot of information for to-be gardeners or nature-enthusiasts. I saw posters in buses, but I didn't really know what it was. While watching the news, I saw the clips of the world's most famous street covered in green! So I moseyed on over there the last day with a few friends.
Mulch on one of Paris' busiest streets! Bus stops served as places to sit for a breather, lights went through their cycles with no cars. Definitely a cool idea! This is its first year, so maybe next year it'll come back. I love that in a city as busy as Paris, the officials still allow an event that perturbs traffic for three days around the famous Etoile.

Since it was the last day, people just started taking plants. At first, I was like..what are they doing?! But then everyone was doing it, so..I caved in to peer pressure! I grabbed a lavender plant, nothing like the giant trees I saw some people trying to get away with. At the exits, some police officers were making people put the plants back, but for the most part, what were they going to do? There were thousands of us, only a few of them...
Moving through my memory card..I went to a spectacle two weekends ago, to see the CPs (cours préporatoires--preporatory classes--equivalent to 1st grade) act their hearts out after taking theatre classes all semester.
I eat lunch with the two theatre guys that come once a week, and even though I don't have any of these kids this year, I wanted to see what my lunch buddies had been up to since January. The kids were adorable, and in classic French fashion, the sketches were kind of vague and strange, but cute nonetheless. I think it's great for kids to have the chance to have these little workshops, especially for the shy ones. The neighborhood I work in is kind of a rough area, so if it weren't for the school, the kids probably wouldn't have the chance to do this.
I think they are wolves here..couldn't help but smile :) Some of the CPs have older brothers and sisters, so I got to see some of my students, too. Most of the teachers there were surprised that I got up early on a Saturday morning and made the trek out to the suburbs to see a performance from kids I don't even have in class. But as the end of the year is quickly approaching, I'm trying to make the most of it. I really enjoy my schools, despite the fact that it's a bit far from the city and especially from where I live. I've been kind of kicking myself recently for having requested to be put in a different school district. Not because I don't love mine--I get along well with all my teachers and students--but because the city where I work is in a dead zone for public transport. I have to take a bus to get just to the train station, where I then take a commuter train to the city, and where I then transfer to a metro to go to my house. It's a solid hour and a half each way, and if I go to school next year, being this far away will really limit my options of classes and/or a part-time job. But despite all that, I can't help but think if it isn't broken, don't fix it...

Case in point, I got asked by one of my school's principals to come to her house after the spectacle to pick cherries from her cherry tree. It's the season, and while I originally thought I'd just take a little bag, I quickly realized that her tree had so many that she needed to give some away before they went bad! I think my principal really likes me. I helped her son out a while back in writing a resume in English and sending it off to the States to a few contacts. Although nothing has come back job-wise, I think she remembers that I helped out when I didn't necessarily have to. Being nice pays off, kids! We chatted a while, had lunch, I met her son, neighbors stopped by, and she offered me a place to stay for the summer if I wanted! I'll definitely take her up on the offer if I'm here. More on that in the near future...
And of course, we picked cherries! So many cherries. In the hot sun, for over an hour. We talked while standing on ladders, and she told me about her sons and her students over the years, and in the end, it was a lovely little afternoon. I left with a giant sack of ripe cherries with the implicit instructions to SHARE THE CHERRIES! And I did, with everyone but the family I work for, because, well. They're not getting the fruits (literally) of my toils and labor. I get enough work from them, thank you.

I promise to write soon! After tomorrow, I'll be freeeee as a bird. It'll just be a waiting game, which unfortunately, in France, is pretty common. I'm pretty stressed at the moment with applying for school, finishing classes, going on outings, saying goodbyes to friends, watching devil children, waiting waiting waiting on getting renewed, e-mailing French people here and in the States, deciding on whether to go home or stay here this summer, getting a new's all a lot of balls in the air and I only have two hands! But I'm determined to stay here next year. I made my decision and I'm sticking to it. If only France would make theirs!

Ps. My favorite candidate on Nouvelle Star won! Back to studying..

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Picture catch-up

The end of May! Already?! I can't believe it. The last few weeks have just melted before my eyes. My days blend together, and before I know it, it's another weekend, and then I sleep and catch up on blogs and go hang out with some friends and work on some lessons and then poof! Another week starts. Last week was cool because we had a three-day weekend. The week before that I had a four-day weekend. May is the bank holiday jackpot! The four-day weekend was a classic French institution: They faire le pont, or "make the bridge." Ascension was on Thursday, but no one wants to have a day off on Thursday and then have to go back to work for one day, so a lot of businesses generally assume their employees will just take a day of vacation on Friday to have a long weekend getaway.

In my case, I usually have Wednesdays off, but I worked on Wednesday to have Friday off. Awesome. My friend, Brittany, came to visit. I was recently at her place during my last vacation. This is where she lives:

The picturesque town of Bern, Switzerland. Brittany and I knew each other in Missouri, so it's kind of cool that we are both back in the same area (ish) again. She's married to a Swiss guy and they moved there earlier this year. It's a really, really beautiful country.

I took a bus to get to Bern, thinking I'd be a savvy traveler and save the 30€ by taking the bus instead of the train. Stupid. I was supposed to change buses at Strasbourg, but no one told me. Not the person at the counter in Paris, not the bus driver--and I asked him twice if he was really going to Zurich! There was nothing marked on my ticket, so when we stopped at Strasbourg, I had no idea. He didn't say anything--not even in German. He just went on his way. Six hours later, I'm looking at my predicted arrival time of 8h45 and I'm thinking, man, we should be getting to Zurich soon, but I'm pretty sure we're still in Germany. I asked the replacement bus driver when we were stopped in Stuttgart if we would be arriving soon in Switzerland. He looked at me like I was crazy. "But miss, you're on the wrong bus! You were supposed to switch at Strasbourg at 2am!"

And thus begins a long, long day (preceded by a long, long night).

I continue onward to Munich, assured by the driver that there is a bus that goes to Switzerland from Munich. I review the geography in my head and think, I'm pretty sure Munich is way to the east of Zurich..

No buses. At all. There is no route; it's never existed. The bus driver accompanies me to the ticket office, giving me sympathetic looks and seems to genuinely care. He offers his hotel room if I need a place to stay. He's nice, but haha, no. I scramble German verbs in my head and remember that anrufen is a separable verb and I should say Ich rufe Ihnen an..or something like that. I try to explain to him that I'll call him if I decide to stay in Munich, so he can tell the office to add me to the next night's roster. I'm so frustrated and tired that I resort to French and then English, and he's probably the only German I've ever met that doesn't speak a minimal amount of English. I have two options: stay in Munich for a day and a half, and wait for the next bus to come and take me up to Strasbourg and then go back down to Zurich, or: pay for a 70€ ticket and get myself to Zurich. I don't like either option at all. I don't want to miss a day and a half of my time chez Brittany and I don't want to pay 70€, considering I have like 120€ total for the rest of the week. I had not planned on buying a train ticket.
Meanwhile, it's a beautiful day in Munich:
..but I'm in a pouty, "I hate the world right now" mood, I want to take a shower and not look so scurvy, and I'm lugging around my suitcase and backpack (with 80-lb. 5-year-old laptop in it). I get a coffee and sit in a bookstore and decide that as much as I like Germany, it was not on my itinerary! So I buy the f-ing ticket and curse Eurolines. Don't transfers usually get printed on tickets?!

The trip from Munich to Zurich was beautiful. Southern Germany and and Switzerland remind me a lot of home. Lots of farms, green and yellow fields that stretch over the horizon, cows roaming around..
I get to Zurich and meet Brittany, and then we hop on yet another train to get to Bern. Finally! I wrote a letter to Eurolines a few weeks ago, but have yet to receive a response. I'd be happy with just a ticket voucher instead of cash, but I'm not holding my breath..

I really enjoyed my trip to Switzerland. The only thing I didn't like was how expensive everything is! I lived near Geneva for seven months, so I knew prices would be exorbitant, but still! It's $3 for a bottle of Coke less than the 20-oz. American equivalent. The Swiss' salaries are in general much higher to combat the high cost of living. And the quality of living there is amazing. Even the unemployed get vacation, because job searching is tiring. Everyone needs a break!

Swiss German was really interesting to me. It's German, yes. A dialect of it. And if you listen carefully, you can hear that it's close (approximately 90-95% same vocab). But even native Germans have trouble understanding it. Even if a lot of the vocabulary is the same, the Swiss (and especially the Bernese) have a different accent. They also have a little different grammar. In many ways, Swiss German is more pure than Standard German, because a lot of older words that have fallen out of use in Standard German are still present in Swiss German. It was cool to hear it. The only thing I could really understand were prices, since the numbers are essentially the same. Besides that..not much. The thing I find strangest about Swiss German is that it's not really a written language. Some kids books are in Swiss German, but in general, even though the spoken language is Swiss German, all the signs are in Standard German. Schooling is done in Standard German, and governmental institutions do the same. Strange, but cool. And to top it off, the French-speaking part of Switzerland is only about 20 minutes from Bern. And in the South, they have a tiny Italian-speaking part, and then in the East, up in the mountains, they have an even tinier language called Romansch that says ALLEGRA! for hello. Can I be Swiss?!

Some more pics from Bern:

We had a barbeque, Brittany and I walked around, we lay in the grass and read books, we stopped at cafes and got espressos and ice cream, saw the famous Bern bears (their mascot, and they actually have a family of bears living on the river bank, in a little zoo area) and stayed up late into the night drinking wine and talking while sitting in the garden. Good time was had by all, despite the initial troubles of getting there.

So back to present day: I've been crazy swamped with grad school stuff. I don't mind being creative and making an aesthetically-pleasing, dual-toned CV, even in French. But writing a cover letter is a different story. I don't even like writing them in English. Too much blah-blah and lots of eloquent phrases to make yourself sound better. The French stick hard to classic polite formulas, so I had to have my letter checked more than once to make sure it sounded legit.

Take this classic formula, put at the end of the letter, before the signature: (I've added the literal translations, although the official translations would be something like "Sincerely," "Yours faithfully," etc.)

Je vous prie, Madame, Monsieur, d'accepter l'expression de mes salutations distinguées
(I pray that you, Madam, Sir, would accept the expression of my most distingued salutations)
Veuillez agréer, Madame, Monsieur, mes sentiments dévoués
(Please agree, Madam, Sir, my devoted sentiments)

And if you want to be rull fancy, you can add a little bit before that long sentence to spice it up even more:

En vous remerciant de la confiance que vous me témoignez...
(Thanking you for the confidance that you witness from me)
En attendant la faveur de votre ordre...
(Waiting the favor of your order)

So you could have something like this:
En vous remerciant de la confiance que vous me témoignez, je vous prie, Madame, Monsieur, d'accepter l'expression de mes salutations distinguées.

Those silly French.

Yesterday was a non-stop day. I couldn't go to work; too much stuff to do. I had to call in. Sorry little French elementary students! I got up early to finish writing my letters (four slightly different versions for the four programs I'm applying for), and 9:00 turned into 11:00 and then noon and then I was rushing to put the PDFs on my flash drive to print off at a copy shop. I got to the copy shops (two next door to each other), and wouldn't you know THEY'RE CLOSED. Both of them. For lunch. For an hour. I got there at, I swear, 1:01pm. Damnit, France, we are in 2010. You cannot close for lunch! I had to rush up to the translator's, write a check (and cry on the inside from the price), and hop on a train up to Saint-Denis, where the main university I'm applying to is located. It's 3pm and I get to campus, and I'm super rushed, trying to finish writing my applications, and I see a copy shop on campus, and I rush in and there's students everywhere and copying and printing and workers shouting and


...and I realize that I want to be part of this. I want to be rushing into the on-campus, 5c copy shop, chatting with classmates, rushing to get to my next class, copying my notes or printing off my project or whatever. I really want to study here, in Paris (region), for a Masters. I really want into (one of) the programs I'm applying to, and I have a lot of ambition. Hopefully that (and my aesthetically-pleasing, dual-toned CV) will be enough.

I sit on some steps and sort all my stuff and before I know it, it's 3:45 and I have to head back to the city for my other job - watching the kids after school. I'm at the university. I'm sitting on its steps, but I don't have time to go in and drop off my dossiers. Arrrghhhhhh what I would've given yesterday to not be a babysitter. I essentially went north of Paris to get cheap copies.

I sent the dossiers by post, missing one document. I really hope that they'll be okay with me giving them my high school diploma (really, France?) next week, when I receive it.

So. Two more due next week, although I haven't figured out how I'm going to physically turn them in since I work all day and evening. I literally have no free time, and I already called in sick yesterday. Let the stress start again..

I'll know in a few weeks' time if I've been accepted for an interview. And then there will be a whole host of things to do, like bilingual interviews, 3-hour tests, all that good stuff. I'll keep you updated.

Interesting sidenote: the entire cost of me applying to grad school, ie translations, postage, copies, etc. cost me about the same as an entire year of grad school. Ask me again why I want in so badly?