It’s been almost a month since I left France and while I’m still processing and debriefing my experience (aka, having croissant withdrawals), I thought I could take a moment and reflect on the goals I had for myself before leaving. While the past few months of living in Paris were a blur of packed metros, endless stairs, all the fresh baguettes and cheap wine I could ever ask for, amazing conversations with my students and struggling to improve my French, I’m sure I managed to knock off a few goals along the way. As I boarded my plane for Paris, I decided on 5 major goals that I wanted to complete while in Paris.
Below are my analysis on how I did with each goal:
1. Get out of Paris at least once a month.
Wow, I’m so lucky to have been able to more than accomplish this! I was able to explore quite a few countries throughout Europe and even made it to Istanbul and Morocco. I also traveled around France, visiting friends and going on excursions. I’ve wrote a post about my time in Normandy , and posts for many of my other travel experiences will be up soon, including my trip to around Eastern Europe and even my first solo trip around Italy! As I explained in a previous post, I was in Paris teaching English and the way the French school system is set up definitely helped my jet-setting bug. We would have six to seven weeks of school and then two weeks off. That equaled two solid months of vacation time during my seven month contract. I also visited friends and found the most cost effective ways to get around! Not to worry though! As I recap my adventures, I’ll be dropping tips and suggestions about traveling on a budget! If you can’t wait for the next post, feel free to contact me via the contact form or email.
This is me in Istanbul during our first vacation – two weeks in the job.
2. Come back semi-fluent in French
I’m starting to believe that fluent is a relevant term – aka, I didn’t improve as much as I would have liked, and I’m trying to make myself feel better. In general, this goal took a little bit of time to kick off, but after the new year and I laid out my 2016 goals, I really recommitted myself to speaking as much French as possible. After the new year, I found a language partner that was recommended to me by a colleague and she and I really hit it off! Unfortunately, between all the vacations and her busy schedule, we were only able to meet a few times. Regardless, the few times I met with her were really great and outside of our get-togethers, I made a more concerted effort to speak, listen and think in French. With all the English I spoke at school and all the English available in Paris, it was quite a uphill battle, to speak French all the time, but I tried hard to hold my resolve. For example, when people hear that your accent isn’t French, they try to speak English with you. Often times it would be people whose English wasn’t must better than my French. So we were either about to struggle through their broken English or my broken French and I didn’t go all the way to France to struggle through the broken English of anyone who wasn’t my student.
Overall though, I honestly do believe that my French improved quite a bit. Language is often one of those things that is hard to bench mark on your own. I think I was expecting an exponential increase in my language capabilities, like I had experienced in Senegal. One reason this didn’t happen was of course all the English I spoke on a daily basis. The other reason, though, is that at a certain point, you can no longer sky rocket in your language acquisition. You make slow incremental changes: learning this vocab word, refreshing this grammar rule, perfecting that pronunciation. And that’s just what I did.
3. Impact my students in a meaningful way.
My students were definitely one of the main highlights of my time in France. I learned so much from teaching them and even just interacting with them in the halls. I hope they learned plenty from me as well. The end of my time came rather abruptly – as in I wasn’t thinking about it, so I feel like my goodbyes were rushed. The students are still in school and would be in the middle of their exams right now. Our program ends before their school year is over. I miss them immensely and there are definitely a few students I hope to keep up with!
Here are a few of the awesome projects that I got to work on with my students:
I graduated from Leonardtown High School in Maryland and before I left for France, I approached one of my former teachers about starting a connection program with my students here in Paris. It took some time and some logistical gymnastics, but we finally had one of my classes interacting with a class of students at Leonardtown. We discussed things like Education Systems, holiday traditions, current events, and of course food. We held discussions over Moodle where students posted and responded as they saw fit. In class, we discussed the topics as a group and one person volunteered to post about it on the Moodle site.
I Learn Jacques Brel
This project is an after school project (which is not entirely typical in French schools) that kicked off last year. It started with a documentary called I Learn America, that some students went to watch at the American embassy last year. Those students then decided that they would like to do something similar about their school. Now they meet every Wednesday to create a documentary about the school and also to foster a connection between students at Jacques Brel and students at a high school in the Bronx. The questions and issues the students addressed were fascinating and quite needed. They asked girls who wore hijabs about their experience at the school. They asked teachers and students about the perceptions of the school and the realities of the community. I really just can’t wait to see the final product! I think they even interviewed me for a segment!
Super Awesome Topics
Besides these two awesome projects, in a lot of my classes, I had amazing freedom in choosing the topics discussed in class. Anyone who follows me on Instagram or Twitter (links) would have seen the snippets of these conversations. I discussed things from Black History Month, U.S. immigration, Human Zoos, Death Penalty, Gun Control and also fun topics like Black Friday and the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop. I’m always very impressed with the ways my students engage with these topics – particularly because race is something they are indoctrinated with not talking about. They were consistently open-minded, insightful and respectful when it came to touchy topics.
One of my classes threw me a farewell party! I honestly had the sweetest students.
4. Get involved with a community or cause outside my school.
I got a chance to volunteer at two different organizations in Paris starting in early November. I eventually stopped going to RAJFIRE, because, more often than not, they had nothing for me to do and I would just sit around twiddling my thumbs for a few hours. That said, the work they were doing – helping immigrant women in precarious situations, was extremely important. The other organization through, CADRE, part of Catholic Relief Services, was an amazing experience and was one of the main reasons my French improved so much during my time in France. It is an organization dedicated to helping people who are applying for asylum in France. I worked at the front desk and greeted the people who walked into our office building. I would sit with them to figure out why they came in and then forward their file on to the appropriate service. Some problems I could help solve immediately, like telling them what their appointment notice said. The work was fast paced and sometimes heart breaking, but always rewarding. With both volunteer opportunities, I learned a lot about the ins-and-outs of the French immigration system!
5. Don’t come back broke/in debt.
This one was definitely the hardest to do. And to be honest, I was struggling there at the end. But I was able to come back with some change in my pocket and that’s come in handy since I jetted to my alma mater and then New York, after getting back to the states. I’ve definitely traveled on a budget – hence taking a 10-hours bus ride to London…yikes. Some locations automatically come with high prices – for example, my flight to the South of France was a bit pricey compared to most European flights.
It helped to keep a strict eye on my budget and meticulously document every centim I spent. Even my 40 cents on coffee at school.
Also, Paris is just a pricey city over all.
But I did pick up a side job and that put a little extra spending money in my pocket each week.
You can’t manufacture or force aha-moments.
While these 5 goals helped structure my time in France, there were other loftier goals that helped direct how I spent my free time.
For example: make friends. Have fun. Be spontaneous. Get your blog bumping (whoops). Figure out what you want to do for grad school / your life. This last one is really funny and I’ve quickly learned that you can’t manufacture or force aha-moments! Going on adventures and avoiding the fact that you don’t know the next step won’t slow down the inevitable. I stopped waiting for the moment where the clouds suddenly open up and God’s hand points down and says ‘Omolayo! THIS is for you and this is how you’re going to do it!” Instead, I read more, asked more questions, and watched more Ted Talks about multipotentialites. Most importantly, I hit the ground running as soon and I got to the states and started making moves. Indecision because you are not sure what is next is the most crippling feeling. I’d rather just start walking in one direction and have to change course than stand in one place for too long trying to decide which direction to go.
Did you make study abroad or travel goals? How are they going? Also, are there any questions you have about my time in France that you want me to address?
I’m looking forward to bringing you more of my adventures during my time in Europe. Subscribe via email to get updates as soon as I post something!
Have an amazing and productive June!