So even though I’ve been in France for over a month now, I’ve only just recently locked down a house, visited my workplaces, and met some people that could very well end up as friends. I wrote before I left home about my expectations for a somewhat settled Mid-October Julia, and, thankfully, a lot of those worries worked themselves out, but in other areas I'm really just starting off.
That being said, the reason it took me over a month to get to the starting line in Saint-Nazaire is because I spent the first few weeks in a good place with good people just ignoring my responsibilities, so this is not at all an indication of plans going awry. In fact, things have gone surprisingly well, and in most cases, such as my living situation, I’ve totally lucked out. In that sense, my hopes for Mid-October Julia having taken care of the biggest anxiety-inducing chores were 100% fulfilled. I’m set, like your grandma’s grandest and grayest congealed jello salad. However, my expectations to have my work and social life at least somewhat figured out landed a ways away from my current reality. What I do have are a handful of first impressions, as untrustworthy as they may be.
To update you on the areas wherein I’ve totally lucked out: I have a place to live! I didn’t have to go around apartment searching for a week! I only had to make a few cringey French phone calls! This is wonderful! Basically, my program coordinator let me know that a friend of hers had a room available that she doesn’t normally put out on the market. It’s a space inside an old family home that she and her sister and nieces occasionally use for weekends away or small gatherings, but it's otherwise unoccupied. So while I’m paying for a room, I largely have the house to myself, and meanwhile I help her offset costs and daily upkeep that she’d have to deal with anyway. We have a convenient symbiotic arrangement going, and I am so. very. lucky. that it turned out this way. She lives next door, checks in regularly, takes me on small sightseeing adventures, and occasionally feeds me enormous lunches on the weekend. It’s delightful, especially the five types of cheese she serves after the main course, which I devour and only mildly regret later on when they tear me apart from the inside. The only downside is that there is a small porcelain puppet of a mime in a downstairs cabinet that I am absolutely convinced will strangle me in my sleep one dark and stormy night. There is also the occasional huge man-eating spider, but I have been assured that, somehow, they are not dangerous.
As far as my job goes, well, we’ll just have to see how that turns out, friends. Normally the teaching assistants start in the schools on October 2nd, but my district surprised me with a week and a half of orientation in a different city. Seeing as most other assistants just get a purely logistical one-day brain dump, I was thankful for the extra time and information, but spending six days getting up at 5:30 in a suburb of Saint Nazaire to take a bus, a train, and a tram to get to a classroom in Nantes by 9 was, to put it mildly, a huge drag. As a result, I’ve only been in my three schools a couple of times, mostly as an observer. The kids are cute, the schools are sweet, and the teachers don’t know what to do with me. At one school in particular, I’m the first English teaching assistant they’ve had, so the afternoon I spent visiting their classes was largely composed of Oh! You’re here, ah, would you like to just sit in the back and watch?, So, what do you do with the students?, We may want you to prepare a lesson, but we’ll tell you when you get here, and so on. It’s okay, though, I understand. I get it. We’re all just figuring it out together. I don’t know what to do with me either.
I’d also very much like to spend some time in a local boulangerie if they’ll have me, but the only one in my little suburb has been closed for two weeks of vacation, so I’ll have to wait a bit before I try to woo them into inviting me backstage. They did, however, leave a baguette vending machine out front so as to avoid abandoning their patrons to a sad, breadless existence. I’m not sure how it gets refilled with fresh loaves, but regardless, no proud French citizen of Saint-Marc-Sur-Mer need face a single sorry day sans baguette.
So, in thinking back on what I wrote before I left, about depending on Mid-October Julia to have found routine and rituals in an unfamiliar place, I find myself happy with my progress in that regard. I eat my oatmeal in the morning, I get groceries every Wednesday, I pick up some extra produce from the market on Sundays, I walk 10,000 steps a day, I have a bus pass, I shower regularly. Things are good. I have a foundation, and my initial impression is that, after some adjustment between the students, teachers, and myself, I’ll enjoy what I do. I’ve even been hanging out with some of the other teaching assistants, although I haven’t yet met any French 20-somethings in Saint Nazaire. Working on that.
Overall, though, I’m looking ahead, instead of dwelling on the nostalgia of all that’s changed in my life. Ultimately, Mid-October Julia's doing just fine. I guess it turns out that I can be optimistic, for once.