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!