Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Actually Having Information Is Awesome

My arrêté de nomination (the paperwork I need to get my visa, which includes all the info I didn't have before about things like WHERE I'M GOING) finally arrived earlier this week. I say finally because it's been a frustrating and suspenseful wait for me, but that's actually a bit unfair considering I am somewhat lucky to have it this early. I know, you're saying "You're leaving the country in three months; how is this early?!", but the French bureaucracy is notoriously slow, on top of which it's the individual académies (school districts, more or less) that are responsible for these contracts, rather than some central administration, so they come in clusters (all of the assistants posted to Brittany seem to have gotten theirs this week, for example), but those clusters happen at totally different times. Some really lucky folks got theirs in late May, but many won't know anything for another month or so, and some truly unfortunate individuals still won't have their arrêtés until August, pretty much right at the time they should be applying for visas, which is cutting it pretty close.

Anyway, I still don't actually have mine in hand, because I am in Williamsburg for the summer doing an internship, but when I filled out the pre-arrêté forms six or eight weeks ago I gave my parents' address because I didn't know yet where I'd be living now. (It's just generally been a stressful, not-knowing-anything, making-it-up-as-I-go couple of months.) But I was informed of the arrêté's arrival and it is on it's way to me via registered mail as we speak.

Also, my parents opened it and told me where I'm going, so the suspense is more or less over even before I actually receive the package.

So, the answer to the question everyone has been asking me for weeks is: Brest. I got very excited to be assigned to someplace I had already heard of before, especially after having heard many assistants saying things like, "I've been posted to [insert small town here]. I have no idea where that is, haha." I also got excited about some other stuff, enumerated below—some of which I already knew and some of which I learned after talking to my parents and immediately heading for Wikipedia.

1. It's an actual city. By which I mean not only is it technically considered a city, but it has what I would consider a substantial population. It's not a huge metropolis, but it's relatively comparable to what I grew up with and what I experienced in Cork. I'm satisfied with that. I didn't particularly want to live someplace like Paris or Lyon or Marseilles, but I also desperately didn't want to wind up in some little village with only a few thousand people. I'd love to visit places like that, but living there, more or less alone, for a minimum of seven months, would make me miserable at least some of the time. A medium-sized city will hopefully be perfect.
2. It's a harbor city on the western coast. I won't just be near the ocean, I'll be at it. Even if it's in a region that will be fairly cold for most of the year, that makes me incredibly happy.
3. Allegedly, it's an important university town, which hopefully means there will be fun things to do, it will be easy* to meet young people other than other teaching assistants, and it won't be too hard to find affordable housing (see below).
4. Brest, and Brittany in general, really, is super close to the U.K. and Ireland, which is hopefully going to facilitate travel. (My other travel priorities are admittedly much farther afield, but at least I'm close to something.)

1. Being on the western coast, essentially at the westernmost point in all of continental Europe, in fact, unfortunately means that I will be as far as possible from everything in France that's not in western Brittany—including my friend who's going to be teaching in a suburb of Paris. On the plus side, the size of the city should make finding transportation to other places relatively easy... but still.
2. This is a biggie. One of the things that appeals to me the most about living and/or traveling in Europe is the pervasiveness of the past. I may be going to France to teach, but I'm an archaeologist and a historian, and being able to wander medieval streets and gaze up at buildings that have stood for centuries—buildings that predate my entire home country—is fascinating to me no matter how much I do it. So naturally, I'm going to live in a city that was pretty much razed during World War II and has been almost entirely rebuilt in the last sixty years.
3. According to Wikipedia (yeah, I know), Brest was a French-speaking city even when everywhere else in western Brittany wasn't. That makes me far less optimistic about being exposed to a lot of Breton language and culture without having to go look for it.
4. The one major downside to living in a city rather than a more rural area is that the school I'm working at will be significantly less likely to be able to offer free or cheap housing to its assistants. I won't know for sure until I actually contact someone at my school personally, but I'm not particularly optimistic. I was rather hoping I wouldn't have to deal with that particular hassle.

The other news I now have is that I am going to be teaching lycée (high school), which is exactly what I wanted because A) they will probably already have some background in English, and B) their primary teacher will therefore probably also speak English, both of which are hopefully going to make my job a lot less stressful. Also, C) I was marginally terrified of getting little children, both because of the unlikelihood of either of the above circumstances and because although I like children, I often cannot seem to figure out how to relate to them, which makes me awkward and ineffective as any kind of authority figure.**

Next steps: Get all my important documents together and procure a visa appointment at the French Embassy in D.C., ideally for sometime in early August when I'm still living here in VA but mostly done with my internships, so I can take a day or two to go to Washington without it being a huge pain. Start looking at flight options and researching potential places to live. And start thinking about things to do with teenage students... and I'll admit I'm just a little disappointed that the little-kid stuff—cute stickers and maps and activity books—I was looking at in the education section of Barnes & Noble the other day won't be necessary after all.

* in general, not necessarily for me...
** It is one of the crueler ironies in my life that I would love to be good with kids but don't seem to be, while my sister is generally indifferent to kids but they flock to her.

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