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..