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!