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?

Monday, May 10, 2010

I'm baaaaack

Jardin du Luxembourg on a beautiful spring day

I'm horrible, I know! Okay, so I have had entries written out, saved for later to be finalized, and then sort of..forgotten. I witness potential blog entries nearly every day, and then I get home and catch up on e-mails and eat dinner and zone know.

Anyway. The last month. So, I had this whole long entry written about how I had too many choices for the next year and I just didn't know what to do, quarter-life crisis business, etc. Here's the abbreviated version since I know I get long-winded:
I seriously have considered moving to:
--New York
--Paris (staying)
All would be for studying, or working for a year and then studying (to get in-state residency, for first two). All of these possibilities sound just grand, and I like each one for different reasons--New York for the budding journalist in me/big giant city, Florida for the warm weather and really good program at UF, Germany for an exchange through my old university and friends that live there, and Korea for ridiculous good money (teaching English) and a totally different culture for a year.

Ultimately, I've decided to try to stay in Paris. For a number of reasons. The first being that I'm already here. Hardest part is crossed off the list. Add to that that:
--I have a valid, renewable visa
--I have a job for the next year
--Grad school costs a whopping 231€ per year
--I speak French and know the culture well enough to get around comfortably
--World's best health insurance
--There are a few programs that I really like that I have yet to see in the States
--Did I mention that it grad school costs 231€ per year
--Traveling is easy and fairly cheap

Of course, there are some downsides to it as well. I'm committing for at least two years, maybe more. This is the hardest part for me--to know that I won't be near my home country, friends, and family for long stretches of time. I'd say I'm a pretty good expat; I don't really get homesick much, and I think I've adapted well to living in another country (most days). But I am missing out on life at home, too. Siblings and cousins will have grown and not only be taller than me, but closer to adults that I feel like they should be. I remember this being a weird sensation when I came back home in 2007--as if the world I left in the US was going to be exactly how I'd left it 18 months before. But my little sister had gotten older, her face longer than I'd remembered, the "baby" roundness diminishing with each month. New stores had popped up in the former cornfields, my university had changed the names of its buildings, and music I'd never heard was on the radio. It was surreal, as if my own country were foreign to me, kind of. I coined it "reverse culture shock," but I doubt I'm the first person to ever use this term.

There were stories that I wasn't a part of, most of my friends had graduated and moved on, and I had to start from scratch--new job, new apartment, new roommates, new friends, new classes. That first summer back was tough sometimes--I missed Paris, I missed speaking French, and I missed the family I had worked for. But I survived. The American in me came back, with maybe a little European flair for fun. I had a really great last two years at college. I have to think about the amazing opportunities I could have here, too. I'm always going to be missing something, somewhere. All I can hope is to catch enough good from both places.

This isn't a finality--I haven't yet been accepted, and I'm not necessarily a shoe-in just because I'm a foreigner who speaks English as a mother tongue. The programs I'm applying to do have limits of how many people they accept, but I haven't seen anything seeing exactly how many people apply. What am I applying for? In general, international media/culture studies. There are a few tracks, one being more focused on culture, one more on media, and one on the creative industry--page layout, websites, etc. The cool thing is that they are bilingual--and I won't be signing up for the English/French program. I'm (eek) trying to get into the Spanish/French program. The application process is a pain, especially the part where I have to fork over tear-inducing amounts of money to get my transcripts and diplomas translated. In addition, I have to write a detailed cover letter and CV (in French), and give a 20-minute interview in French and Spanish. But the scariest part? A three-hour exam where I'm given documents in Spanish and have to write a 2-page resume in French. I've been putting off studying this because it scares me..but I need to get my ass over to the library soon and get to work. It's not just the Spanish that I'm worried about that--I can study that and prepare answers to potential questions. I'm actually more worried about the format and way the French write their essays. They have a certain format--ie, this piece of information is presented here, transitional phrases must be used in certain places, blah blah. I'm giving myself an ulcer so I'm going to stop thinking about it for tonight.

If I'm not accepted, I'll have to reorganize my plans. I don't know if I want to live here another year just as an elementary school teacher making a piddly salary per month. From what people tell me, it's not as hard to get in as they make it out to be--some departments really need students to keep up the quota, and in general, French universities are not nearly as competitive as their American counterparts (except the elite "Grandes Ecoles"). I also have advantage already speaking English, since a lot of the programs strongly recommend a good level of it to apply. But I'm not going to let myself think I have any better of a chance than anyone else. I've already finished my CV, half of my cover letter, and my transcripts are in northern Paris being read over as we speak. More than anything, I need to work on my skills reading and resuming texts, and of course, my Spanish. I bring my Spanish grammar book with me everywhere, and I'm reading Camus' famous L'Etranger (The Stranger) in Spanish (El Extranjero) since I know the story and can understand it a bit easier.

Alright, so much for not being long-winded. I hereby promise to not suck so much as posting. It's my 25th birthday resolution (as of yesterday..I'm offically old). I recently went on vacation, and I will soon post pictures of my little escapades around Europe. Paris isn't too bad, either! I was out and about in Paris the first week of my vacation, when it actually felt like spring here. No such luck since last week--I've had to (re)pull out my winter coat and make pouty faces on my way to work in the morning (as if 7:15 am wasn't bad enough on its own).

Seriously lucky.