Well, y’all, this’ll be the last blog post I write in the States for a good while. After this pleasant if strange pause-button of a summer, it’s time to get going again.
For anyone who didn’t already know, I’ve accepted a position as an English teaching assistant through TAPIF in Saint-Nazaire, France. I’ll be helping out teachers at a couple primary schools with little games, activities, and assignments for students in the 6-11 age range. The program starts October 1st, but after I (hopefully) get my visa, I’ll fly to France on September 5th. I’ll visit Paris for a couple weeks before heading to Saint-Nazaire to settle in and (hopefully) find an apartment. The teaching commitment is actually only about 15 hours a week, so once I’m there I’m going to bother nearby boulangerie/pâtisseries until one of them (hopefully) lets me work in its kitchen.
Usually when people get to this point of hearing my post-grad plans, they ask me if I’m excited, to which I answer yes! Definitely! This is very great! Objectively, this is an exciting thing that I am doing, and I am very thankful for it! When I’m in a good mood, I envision croissants, cobblestone streets, baguettes, wine, cheese, babies speaking French, and fully functional public transit. Catch me in a bad mood, though, whether I’m hungry or tired or just received another “no” from a potential landlord, and I’m thinking about homesickness, Saint-Nazaire’s grim weather, problems with my visa, missing a flight, unruly students, language barriers, and loneliness. If it’s midnight and I’m still awake and I haven’t gotten my work visa yet and my stomach is hurting again, I worry myself straight through this year and into the next--what happens if I hate teaching and don’t get to work in a bakery and am homesick and end up back home in May down a few thousand dollars and directionless? Truthfully, and unfortunately, as my departure nears, those bad-mood thoughts are more frequent than the excited ones. On September 4th, I know every item I wedge in my suitcase will be another reason I wish I’d just looked for jobs in Memphis.
On the bright-ish side, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. I was downright dreading my departure this time last year, when I left for eight months of studying abroad, so I’m somewhat used to this. If this wasn’t already clear, I am not at all an adventurer. I do not crave risk and freedom and flexibility. I’m a Bilbo, not a Frodo, and that’s before Gandalf ever even showed up in Hobbiton. I’m not doing this for the thrill of it--I hate the thrill of it--but because it’s an opportunity that I’m lucky to have, and I know it’ll be huge in my development as a person and as a baker. That is, if a French bakery actually takes me on. I would never hop on a plane just to see where it takes me, but I would fidget in coach after extensive price-checking, planning, and preparation. Even then I mostly stare out the window stressing about delays and jetlag.
There are a few things that give me some comfort when I work myself into these sorts of anxiety spirals, though. I like thinking about where I’ll be about a month and a half after I leave, when, somehow, I will have a room in a building somewhere with at least a bed and a toilet. I will have gotten over the awkwardness of speaking French again after a few months of neglecting it, and the first, inevitably uncomfortable weeks at the new job will be over. I’ll have a friend or two, or at least some people I’ve been to a bar with a couple times. I’ll have a bank account and a standard bus route. Hopefully I’ll have enrolled in French Social Security and be able to intern at a bakery. Basically, late-October Julia won’t have it all figured out, but she’ll be well on her way. I’m hanging in there for late-October Julia.
What it really comes down to is routine. It’s something I crave, something that makes me feel like wherever I am is home. When I left my parents’ house and moved into a dorm, I found the jam-packed Welcome Week schedule to be a living nightmare, but I started to settle in after a couple weeks with a set class schedule. Similarly, the first month or so of studying abroad was a strain until I sank into my classes, a running grocery list, weekly market visits, exercise days, and a morning ritual. People talk a lot about how “life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” and I think to some extent that is true. I’m uncomfortable now. I’ll definitely be uncomfortable in those first few weeks in Saint-Nazaire and interspersed throughout the rest of the year, but I also think there’s value in comfort. We certainly grow outside of our comfort zones, but also find strength within them. It’s a balance. Waking up around the same time, eating the same breakfast, and listening to the same podcasts every morning might sound restrictive, but what it gives me is a private, personal grounding to face any unpleasant adventuring that may come up in each new day. When I really know I’ve made it is when/if I’ve achieved a regular morning poop. Nobody can stop me then.
So, currently, late-August Julia is freaking out a little bit. I’m checking the mail daily for my visa to please please please get here in time while trying to enjoy the twilight hours of what may be my last Memphis summer. That whole mostly-vegan thing I do has gone out the window as I chase the foods I craved last time I was away: barbecue nachos, Gibson’s donuts, and, inexplicably, Little Debbe oatmeal cream pies and crappy delivery pizzas, which, yes, they have in France, but it’s just not the same. I do all this to savor as best I can the city that raised me before I have to leave it, all the while with a tightness in my chest that I know won’t totally go away again until I’m comfortable in France--that is, until it becomes my new home.
Late-October Julia, I’m looking at you, girl. This isn’t to say that there’s nothing to look forward to in September, especially when I get to have fun and fart around in Paris, but it will also have some major stresses. That next month after is what’s going to swing me into my routine and my rituals in an unfamiliar place. Ultimately, that’s really what I’m travelling for: to broaden my horizons and open my mind and push those boundaries, yes, but also to figure out how to make of an unknown a home. For that, I’ll climb out of my anxiety pit and get on the road, or, rather, in the air.
I’ll write again in a couple weeks. See you in Paris.