Emily in Tarbes

English teacher in Tarbes, France, 2011-2012.

Don’t Lose Your Study Abroad Mentality When You Come Home

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Originally published on Life After Study Abroad

Remember when you traveled somewhere new every weekend? Or when you would walk up to complete strangers and start random conversations? Or when you ate crazy food and were totally okay with it?

No, you hadn’t found the secret to an instant confidence boost; you were studying abroad.

Despite the wonderment in these bolder days, you’ve probably noticed how this magical feeling seemed to disappear as soon as you stepped off the plane and returned to your hometown. As a whole, when we return home from our time away, we tend to fall back into our old ways. Once again we frequent our favorite hangout spots, see the same friends, and get sucked back into our old work and sleep routines.

If you are coming home after living abroad, I challenge you to continue your “abroad lifestyle and mindset” in your hometown. From my personal experience, this takes effort and being proactive, but makes all the difference. Here’s what worked for me when I returned to Seattle after living abroad in France:

  • Attend a Meetup
  • Don’t fear rejection
  • Set goals

Read my original article on Life After Study Abroad for all my advice for living abroad while back at home.

How do you cope with coming home after traveling?

 

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What To Do For Your First Lesson

Grading my students’ quizzes. This photo was taken in the middle of winter. Note that I am wearing two sweaters

Isn’t it funny how memories work? I feel like I remember all about my time in France two years ago, but then I read my journal and am blown away with how much I had forgotten. Or, sometimes I will see or smell something that brings back a powerful memory that had previously been hidden away. Or, I’ll catch up with an old friend and remember a joke we laughed about for hours. I’m on that nostalgic path right now, after just finishing my e-book about teaching English in France. I had forgotten about how hard it was to come up with lesson plans, how rewarding it was when the students ran up to me at recess and told me how much they loved my classes, or how much they laughed when I sang to them. I also remembered how amazingly flakey those croissants were, and how strong the coffees. And how fresh the figs were, and how Nutella tastes so much better….Oh sorry, back to the teaching stuff. After daydreaming about the French pastries, I remembered my first ever lesson, and how scary, fun, and successful it was. Here’s what I did. (If you like this idea, you can repay me in croissants):

The First Lesson: 

In theory, when you are accepted into the “Teaching Assistant in France Program (TAPIF),” you work as a teaching assistant. Well, I worked in three elementary schools and I was the sole teacher. No one helped me and I was left alone with the students for 50 minutes each week, with 11 different classes. Needless to say, the first lesson can be quite daunting. But, somehow, the kids loved it. My secret to success? Bring as many American items and artifacts as possible. I had no contact with my schools before the first lesson, so I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if I was going to be a traditional “assistant,” or the teacher. So, I looked at this first lesson as a way to introduce myself and my culture to the students. I brought a ton of American “stuff” the represented me and my hometown. Here were two of the biggest hits:

  • American money was the biggest hit. I brought some bills and coins, and passed it around the classroom. Everyone wanted to touch the money and they were fascinated with its appearance. I took advantage of their interest by asking them to point out all the differences between dollars and Euros.
  • Bring photos of your hometown: I compiled some photos of Seattle and made a little slideshow. I chose scenic photos (ones of the mountains, the water, the greenery) and others of my house and my favorite places to go. With elementary school students, it can be hard to share your culture with them, but having a visual is entertaining and easy to understand. I talked about the environment (how it “rains all the time), asked them to tell me what they knew about Seattle, and talked about my journey to France (they were literally shocked that it took 9 hours to fly to France).

You should definitely have fun with this lesson, but don’t forget that this is also the first impression the kids have of you as a teacher. I was happy and excited for them to know more about me, but I also wanted to establish boundaries and expectations. Don’t be afraid to be on the stricter side – it’ll set up your experience for the rest of the school year. The first lesson can definitely be scary, but think of it like this- remember when you had a foreign exchange student in high school? You were probably fascinated with how they lived their life, what they ate, and what they did for fun. Your students will feel the same way about you.

Have questions? Connect with me on Twitter or Google

From Walking Sticks to My First E-Book

Ever since my groundbreaking literary debut of “The True Story of Aurora and Kiwi: The Runaway Walking Sticks,” I have wanted to be a writer. I have had dozens of journals and wrote for my high school’s newspaper (I even went to journalism camp in the middle of nowhere). Then, it came time to apply for college majors. I realized that a five-page book written in a crayon about two walking sticks did not prepare me enough to start my trajectory as a professional writer.

But, the time has now come. All that writing about sticks has paid off. I’ve written my first e-book!

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I wrote this little guide to share my tips and lessons learned with students interested in becoming an English teaching assistant in France. There are a lot of things I wish I had known – like when you teach in elementary school, you are THE teacher (not the assistant), or that you won’t get paid until December – that I want to pass on to future assistants.

I’ll also explain the application process, a tip to get placed in a fun, lively city, how to decide whether you should work in an elementary, middle or high school, and what on earth you should teach the kids.

Basically, this is everything I wish I had known before I moved to France after college.

If you want to be an teaching assistant in France, I hope you find this helpful. If you have a friend who wants to apply, please pass along my blog. Working in a foreign country can be daunting, and this how-to guide will make you feel more comfortable and confident before moving to France.

Buy my e-book filled with tips, tricks and advice for only $2.99! 

You can also get my guide on Amazon and download it directly to your Kindle!

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Have questions? Connect with me on Twitter or Google

Portland, Adam Levine, Beautiful Views….Did I Mention Adam Levine?

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to go on more weekend trips. Last year, in France, I would visit a new city almost every other weekend. Of course, that is easy to do when you work 12 hours a week and live in a country the size of one U.S. state (I could see Spain from my house). It’s so easy to fall into the weekend routine of waking up late, puttering around and just relaxing. Not that there is anything wrong with that – I definitely appreciate my puttering time – but sometimes you just have to shake things up a bit. Luckily, my close friend from college was in the Portland-area for the week and I hopped on over to PDX. Here are some highlights and must-dos for a Portland weekend trip:

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Enjoy a scenic train ride, but don’t expect WiFI

On a sunny day, the train from Seattle to Portland has great views (I couldn’t tell you where this is, but isn’t it pretty?) I took the Amtrak and was pleased to find out that it offers free WiFi on board. I brought my laptop along thinking I could finish some work projects – the answer was no. During my 3.5 hour train ride, I had an Internet connection for maybe 3 minutes, and the wheel of death the rest of the 3.47 hours. I had one important email to send out and tried everything (no, you cannot connect your iPhone to your laptop to use its 3G – you have to call Verizon to set that up). I even seriously considered asking a fellow passenger for his password to his private network. Moral of the story: do not expect to have Internet when you are on a train passing through small farm towns, bodies of water, and the freeway.

Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens

Ride the aerial tram

Portland’s aerial tram travels 3,000 feet between the South Waterfront Terminal next to OHSU’s Center for Health and Healing and the upper terminal at Kohler Pavilion. It kind of looks like an alien pod, and there are some terrifying moments during the ride when the pod swings pretty heavily, but the views of Mt. Rainer and Mt. St. Helens are worth it. Just think about it like a Disney ride and you’ll be fine.

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Eat at Papa Haydn

Papa Haydn is heaven.You could stare at the pastry case of desserts for hours. We split two cakes: one was a peanut butter mousse torte and this one was a milk buttercream-hazelnut ganache-caramel cake. I almost didn’t want to ruin the beautiful chocolate design, but that only lasted a couple minutes. You can’t let all that chocolate and caramel go to waste!

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Stand 10 Feet from Adam Levine

No, I did not see Adam Levine in Portland nor does he have anything to do with taking more weekend trips (but he does fall into my list of ‘beautiful views’). This post was originally going to be about my highlights from the past week and turned into a recap of my Portland trip. But, since standing in the VIP pit right in front of the stage for Maroon 5 and Neon Trees is a life-highlight, I felt the need to share it.

My other friend and I bought tickets to see Maroon 5 and we were originally seated in row 208, in the highest tier of the Key Arena. Beforehand, we had eaten dinner at a Thai restaurant and they had a bowl of those chocolate mints. So, when I left, I grabbed a handful because I love them and they’re always good to keep in your purse in case of an emergency. When we arrived at the Key Arena and to our seats, I was on my third chocolate mint. Then, this man comes up to us and asks if we came alone. My first thought was that I was in trouble for eating my chocolate mint (since there was a sign explicitly forbidding outside food). Then, he asks us if we want to get a little closer and go stand in front of the stage. Needless to say, we grabbed those VIP bracelets and ran to the floor. Not to brag or anything, but I was so close to Adam Levine that I could see every detail of his tattoos on his beautiful arms. We even made eye contacts a couple times and I stopped breathing for a while. I love Maroon 5, I love pop music, I love free upgrades and I love beautiful men. It was a perfect night.

Emily is…bread

Today was my last class with CE1 (they are about 7 years old). We watched Sesame Street and I was cracking up more than they were. If you haven’t watched Sesame Street as an adult, you are missing out on some top-notch humor. The kids made a super cute book for me, filled with drawings of each vocabulary word we learned. But what makes this book even better is that they drew ME as every vocabulary word. The book is titled “Emily is…” and the following pages depict me as spring, yellow, happy, and pants. I read this on the bus and was laughing out loud the whole time. Here are my favorites:

The cover, complete with bells so I "will never lose it."

"Emily is....bread." I can't decide if I am ON a slice of bread or if I am literally a piece of bread.

"Emily is....bread." I can't decide if I am ON a slice of bread or if I am literally a piece of bread.

"Emily is...fish"

"Emily is...bird."

"Emily is...chocolate" or the most terrifying rendition of chocolate I have ever seen.

I love art by children.

Things to Do in Tarbes

Place de Verdun aka the meeting place of Tarbes: “Meet you at the fountain.”

When I Google Tarbes, I get three sites about the weather in Tarbes, two Wikipedia results and the Office of Tourism’s website. Needless to say, when I found out I was assigned to teach in Tarbes, I had no idea what the actual city was like or what there was to do. Tarbes may not be very well known, but there are plenty of international students that come to live here, either as a student or as a teaching assistant like myself. So, for all you future Tarbais, here is my list of the best things to do in Tarbes (after seven months of primary research):

Cafés

Le Gambetta, with the delicious peanut M&M

Be prepared to develop a slight to moderate caffeine addiction while living in France. I drink a cup of coffee for breakfast, then at my schools, teachers will shove plastic cups of coffee into my hands, then I’ll grab a coffee with a friend in the afternoon and sometimes, after dinner, I’ll have a little espresso. So, obviously, I know my cafés. My favorites are Couleur Café and Le Gambetta. Couleur Café looks like a very cute, American/British coffee shop. It has lots of seating and is perfect for a rainy/cold day. On the other hand, Le Gambetta is perfect for a sunny afternoon. They give you a peanut M&M with each coffee (which is a huge bonus) and their lunch is amazing (8 euros for a tarte salée, a huge salad and a dessert). If you want to eat lunch, make a reservation since they don’t have a lot of seating.

Restaurants 

So many moules.

The first time I ever ate mussels was in Tarbes, at La Cabane Aux Moules. You get a HUGE serving of mussels and can choose from a dozen different sauces (from roquefort to a simple white wine sauce). The restaurant is also cute; everything is pirate-themed and you put your shells in sand pails. P.S. Mussels are best during months that end in -ER. Another bang-for-your-buck restaurant is Caminito San Pedro, an empanadas restaurant. You can get two homemade empanadas, a salad and a dessert for under 10 euros. If you’re looking for a nice, French restaurant, try L’Epicerie or Le Petit Gourmand.

Bars

My friends and I spent a lot of time at Celtic Pub, where you can listen to live music every week and where every inch of the ceiling and walls are covered in music posters. On Tuesday evenings, we would go to Le Régent for an unofficial salsa night. The bar plays salsa music and our friends teach us the basic salsa moves or we just sit and watch other people dance. Le Set is one of the biggest discotheques in the region. It is pretty far from centre ville (it is close to l’ENIT, the engineering school), but they have special Set buses. The best nights to go to Le Set are when they have soirées, either a student night or when they have a special DJ (usually on Thursdays or Saturdays). If you go any other night, just know you will be the only ones there.

Marché Marcadieu

Every Thursday, at Place Marcadieu, is the biggest market I have ever seen. Inside and around the Halle Marcadieu is the food market, where you can buy super fresh and cheap vegetables and fruit (as well as cheese, meat, wine, fish and more). Next to the church you can buy clothes, shoes, kitchen ware, and anything else you may need. Make sure to walk around and compare prices before buying food to get the best deals!

Jardin Massey

I love having a picnic in Jardin Massey when the sun is out! The park is pretty year-round, but especially in spring and summer when everything is bloom. And there are always peacocks walking around, which just adds to the charm (but I still don’t know why they haven’t tried to escape).

Salon du Chocolat

I’m not sure if this will happen every year, but so far, the Lions Club of Tarbes has organized two chocolate festivals. You pay a couple euros to enter, and then you can sample as much chocolate as you want. There are a handful of different stands selling chocolates and each stand will let you try their chocolate (hoping you will buy some). There is a table near the front that makes chocolate and truffles just to give out to people, which is where I spent all my time. Definitely keep an eye out for this!

Go Swimming

I like to be active and always find it hard to find a gym in France. But, luckily for me, Tarbes has a pool! It is about a twenty minute walk from centre ville and costs 2.60 each time (prices keep going up unfortunately). I go a couple times a week and I love it; it is so relaxing! Also, on Sundays when every store is closed in France, the pool stays open!

Explore the Region

Tarbes is in a great location. You are twenty minutes away by train from Lourdes (which, after Paris, has the most hotels in France) and just a couple hours away from the Pyrenées. If you ski or snowboard, definitely take advantage of the mountains so close to you. If not, you can go on some very pretty hikes, like Pont d’Espagne or Lac Bleu. Toulouse is just 2.5 hours away by train and I spent countless weekends there. Pays Basque, home to amazing beaches and the delicious Gateaux Basque, is just an hour or two away as well. Must-see cities include Bordeaux, Albi, Carcassonne and Toulouse.

Have questions? Connect with me on Twitter or Google

Bientôt La Fin

I no longer have to wear three sweaters, two pairs of socks and my scarf inside my apartment; winter is finally gone! But, as happy as I am to wear one layer of clothing, spring also means my time in Tarbes is almost over. I now have my return ticket home to Seattle for the end of May. Don’t get me wrong, I am excited to see my family, live in a city I love and find the perfect job (fingers crossed). But, as always, it is a very bittersweet feeling to close an important chapter in my life. The past couple months have flown by- here are some of the highlights.

If you have said at least ten words to me, you know that I love peanut butter. A ridiculous amount. So much so that I even wrote an article about it (you can read it here). My parents sent me the best Valentine’s Day gift to date: two jars of Jif peanut butter and two packs of Reese’s (my peanut butter addiction is heightened when I’m in France, I think because I know there is a limited supply of my precious Jif).

I went to Seville (and also Madrid and Lisbon) for February break. Seville is one of the best cities I’ve been to and I recommend it to anyone. It is a lively, fun city with so much interesting history. The Moors occupied Seville for five hundred years and you can see the Moorish influence everywhere in Seville. For example, this picture was taken at the Alcazar of Seville, the royal palace that was originally a Moorish fort.

I went on a beautiful hike at Pont d’Espagne in the Pyrénées mountains. Don’t let this picture fool you. Yes, there is a lot of snow, but it was probably about 65 degrees. I was wearing two sweaters and my winter jacket that day (I was so used to multiple layers), but I ended up carrying the extra sweater and my jacket! And by the end of the hike, we all had a nice little sunburn glow.

I finally had a soy latte at Starbucks and had my name horribly misspelled.

Yes, I Understand English.

I just spent two amazing weeks back home in Seattle, filled with peanut butter, almond milk and awkward cultural mishaps. It seems like my brain is split into two parts; the American half and the French half. And these halves do not work together. Only one part of my brain can be turned on at a time, so if I am using my French brain, I speak broken English and forget all the American social norms. The first two or three days I was back in Seattle, I was using half of my French brain and half of my American brain, so I was essentially experiencing a cultural identity crisis.

Our fake Christmas tree, before we assembled it (Photo credit: Camille Esposito)

On the 10 hour flight from Germany to Seattle, I was rudely awakened from my peaceful nap by the woman sitting behind me, who was pressing the buttons on her TV so hard that it felt like she was stabbing my back with her fingers (the TV was on the back of my chair). I turned around and tried to tell her to push the buttons a little more softly. It’s probably because my French brain was still turned on AND I just woke up from a very deep sleep, but  this is how she responded: “I am trying to get my TV to work. Do you understand? My TV isn’t working. Do you speak English? It’s just not working.” To which I responded,” YES I UNDERSTAND ENGLISH I’M FROM SEATTLE” and turned around and put my earplugs back in. A couple hours later, I started speaking French to the German flight attendant.

In the airport in Seattle, I didn’t understand why the other Americans had to shout while talking on their cellphone, describing exactly where and what they were doing. I was shocked to see how big the paper towel and toilet paper rolls were at home. I said “Bonjour” to the bus driver and when my friend leaned in to give me a hug goodbye, I started to give her the bise. My eyes muscles starting twitching and Google told me it could happen after drinking too much caffeine. I am convinced it is because American coffee mugs are so much bigger that I was actually drinking twice the amount of coffee that I was used to.

At the end of two great weeks with my family and friends, my American brain was fully activated. But, of course, that meant it was time to go back to France! And so this whole thing starts again. I forgot to weigh my zucchini at the grocery store before checking out (which just shocked the cashier) and the man who worked at the hotel told me I smile a lot so I must be American. I dreamt that my French friends were speaking perfect English to me and I keep thinking I see my American friends wandering around in Tarbes.

But, even though it will take some time to get my French brain back, I don’t regret going home for a second. I already miss my family, friends, a heater that works, my mom’s cooking and almond milk. My new jar of peanut butter is being sent by mail, so I will only miss that for a couple days.

Have questions? Connect with me on Twitter or Google

When I Talk, You Don’t Talk

The only time I ever sing is when I’m by myself. I sing when I’m cooking, washing dishes, or getting ready in the morning, but never in front of someone else. So, I was a little apprehensive to sing “Head and Shoulders” by myself, in front of six different classes (totaling 130 students). Earlier that day, I thought to myself, “What is the worst that could happen? They are just children.”  Well, I’ll tell you what could happen: they could laugh at you.

Yes, that’s right. In almost all my classes, the students laughed at me after I finished singing. Some students just giggled, but others thought it was absolutely hilarious. And one student told me it sounded like I was singing a Christmas carol. I still don’t know if that’s a compliment or an insult. Needless to say, I will not be singing in class again. Ever.

My students also make fun of my handwriting. All elementary students write in cursive, and I write normally, not in cursive. It is so normal for me that I don’t even know what that is called. Manuscript? Print? Non-cursive? In any case, I am practically writing in a different language.

After I write things on the board, we have to spend 20 minutes translating the letters into cursive. And the professors says, every time, “Don’t write like Emily. We write in cursive when we’re in elementary school.” My students ask me why I “decide” to write that way. Or some of them try to correct me. They’ll say, “That isn’t how you write an R” or “Why did you write the L that way?” Then they laugh. Again.

Aside from mocking me, I really like most of my students. I have already pinpointed the tattletale, the suck-up, the know-it-all, the slacker and the whiner (there is at least one of each in every class).  My students even feed me: they give me crackers and cakes during recess. And they also rush over (and push each other) to say “hello” whenever I’m around.

French students can be sweet and charming, but they have no concept of silence. I literally say, “When I talk, you don’t talk” 20 times a day. They want to discuss every little thing, all the time. Sometimes they whisper, but other times they’ll talk across the classroom. And this doesn’t happen just in elementary school. When I was studying in a French university last year, even the college students did it! They talked to each other during the whole lecture, and the professor didn’t say anything. At home, in every class I have ever been, it was just common knowledge that we didn’t talk when the teacher was talking.

Don’t get me wrong: I really do enjoy teaching. I love seeing the students improve and they are all excited to learn English (which makes my job much easier). I love having the freedom to teach whatever I want and I usually include a lot of games; which is fun for everyone. One of my favorite parts about teaching is connecting with the students. And receiving drawings:

Yes, she wrote my name as “Emili.” And yes, she spelled red “wintche.” But I don’t care. She liked me enough to draw me a picture with weird shapes and squiggles.

Have questions? Connect with me on Twitter or Google

Pas Trop Caliente

One of my favorite parts of traveling and living in a different country is the uneasiness. You never quite know how to act or what to say. In English, I wouldn’t have to think twice about how to sign a formal letter. But in French, there are 20 different possibilities, each with a slightly different nuance. At home, I would know instinctively which one to choose, but here, you just pick one and hope for the best. Although this may sound horrible to you, I find the challenge invigorating. It forces you out of your comfort zone and makes you look at yourself, and the others around you, in a completely different way.

But, sometimes, it is a real pain. If I feel a little uncomfortable in France (where I have already lived), then I don’t know what I’m doing visiting other countries, like Spain. I went to Barcelona for four days last week during our Toussaint vacation and oh man, I need some Spanish lessons. Luckily, my two friends spoke Spanish so they could translate for me.

When I asked a waiter for directions, the first thing he said to me (in Spanish) was “Do you want a boyfriend?” Of course, since I don’t understand, I just smile. That probably doesn’t help my cause.

Or, when I tried to order a coffee. I asked the barista to make my latte “not too hot,” which I translated to “pas trop caliente” (a mixture of French and the only word I know in Spanish). In the end, I got a latte with cold milk.

Despite these awkward encounters, Barcelona is truly an amazing city. It is not the prettiest city in Europe, but it is the most lively. It is an incredibly young city and the energy is great. There are endless amounts of things to do; you can shopping, go to museums, go to parks, see great architecture, eat great food, go out (it has a great nightlife) and even go to the beach. I had already been to Barcelona last summer, but I still saw and did new things. I had so much fun and the sangria was delicious.

My diet in Barcelona? Paella and sangria

Ham hangs everywhere; I still can't decide if that is gross or just delicious

One of the main things to see in Barcelona is Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Gaudi died before he could finish it, so it is still under construction until 2036, when it will be completely finished.

I didn’t go into the church the last time I was in Barcelona, but this time I did. If you go, you MUST go inside, no matter how long the line is. It is well worth the wait. There are huge white pillars that get thinner as they reach the ceiling (Gaudi wanted to imitate the feeling of being in a forest). The stained glasses are the most colorful I have ever seen and they reflect off the stark white interior. There is also a Gaudi museum, where you can see his crypt (he is buried in the Sagrada Familia).

As of now, Barcelona is in my top three or four favorite cities in Europe. I encourage everyone to go, you will not be disappointed. My only piece of advice: if you don’t know Spanish, you will run into many awkward, but hilarious, situations. Be prepared to laugh at yourself. But, it definitely makes the trip more entertaining.