I am an extremely logical person. I don’t make hasty decisions and I often doubt if I am making the right choice. Analyzing, diagramming, list-making, color coding–these are all the strategies I employ when faced with making a decision. Last April when I was faced with the decision of accepting a position in France or remaining a teacher in Michigan I did all of the above to help me decide. The thing is, I always know what I want to do deep down, but have to accept that choice, which is much more diffcult for me. Living and working in France has been a lifelong dream (the earliest memory I have of this dream is when I was 5 years old). I’ve learned that I am very good at having lofty drams, but the follow through tends to be a terrifying process. When my dream was presented to me 5 years ago (to be an assistant in France) I knew the timing wasn’t right. I had just graduated from university, found my dream job, and at the time, I was in a relationship. After giving it much thought (see above for the process) I decided that I could not accept this opportunity. To this day, I do not regret this decision. I feel that I had a lot of growing to do that could only be done in Michigan, and I made several amazing connections as a result of this choice. However, I also knew that if the opportunity presented itself, I would not turn it down again. I was ready.
I reapplid to the same program, not entirely sure if I really wanted to do it, but also knowing that public schools in Michigan are not doing so well. The year before I had been laid-off from my teaching position, the specific position/program had been eliminated, and I had no idea what I was going to do. That summer I did some serious reflecting to decide what I really wanted to do with my life. I love teaching, but every two years my position/program was being eliminated or downsized. This happened in two different school districts. This helped me to realize that this might be the perfect opportunity to follow my dream of living and working in France. I had saved my previous application and essays and decided to reapply. Everything was in order and submitted before I knew that I was going to be offered another position in my school district. The position I was offered was a second grade teacher (one of my least favorite grades to teach). Because I needed the income, I accepted the position. Luckily, about halfway through the year a fifth grade position opened up at the school where I had taught world languages.
I changed positions in January, still not sure of what the following year was going to hold for me. In the meantime I had found another opportunity teaching English abroad, for which I also applied. I was very late in submitting my application and was missing many documents. However, the organization must have been impressed with my application, as they contacted me multiple times asking me to update or submit the missing documents. In the end, my application was late and took multiple corrections to complete, but I was placed on the waiting list for this program. Around the same time, I found out that I had been accepted to the program in France, which was my first choice. So, that’s how I ended up where I am today.
Fast forward to the present…
It’s hard to believe that my time as an English language assistant will be over at the end of this week. I arrived in France on August 17th and cannot believe that it is already the end of April. I have no idea where the time has gone and I am very sad that this experience is already over. While my contract as an assistant terminates at the end of this month, I will be remaining in France for the rest of spring and summer. I am glad that even though my time as an assistant is almost through, my time living in France is not.
I am hopeful that I will be able to return next year for the same position, but in different schools. This year has been full of ups and downs, good experiences and bad, but given the choice, I would do it all over again. Having worked/volunteered in American schools for the past 10years (6 years as an actual teacher) I was excited to experience another type of schooling first hand. The teaching part of this experience was the least intimidating part of the past 8 months. I know how to connect with students, I know how to teach and manage a classroom–in general, I am a very confident, capable, and motivated educator. Professionally, this year did not challenge me any more than my years working as a teacher in the states. Having worked in all types of schools–public, Montessori, urban, rural, suburban–I felt confident about my ability to now teach in an international school.
My two schools in France were quite different from each other. The best I can describe it is that one was very suburban, while the other was more-or-less like an inner city school in the states. In general, my experience working with the students was enjoyable and beneficial. My interactions with the staff were not always as easy and helpful. In the beginning, I had a quite negative experience in one of my schools, but as time passed, it slowly improved. Had I not had 10+ years of teaching experience I think that I would have very seriously considered resigning from the position. I stuck it out and survived, but did not feel as though I was being utilized to my full potential. I was never allowed to design my own lessons, but rather had lessons handed to me. As an experienced teacher this was frustrating because I did not always understand the lesson before I was expected to teach it, which resulted in a disasterous lesson. My other school trusted me and my judgement from the beginning , and as a result I had a much more beneficial experience. I was able to design my own lessons, play games, and really teach about my culture.
While this year was not especially challenging, personally, it was one of the most challenging years of my life. I decided to take a leave of absence from a school district where I worked for three years. I decided to leave my family and most of my friends and relocate to another continent half-way around the world, and move to a country where my second language is basically the only language used. While I have always viewed myself as a strong and independent woman, this year helped me to gain some perspective and a better understanding about myself. Some things I’ve done/realized/learned about myself:
- I’ve pushed myself further outside of my comfort zone than I ever imagined I would be able to.
- I can, in fact, speak French relatively well and be understood (except for when I panic and begin overthinking everything, then it’s a disaster).
- Making friend is just as difficult as I remember it being (probably even more so)
- I can do more than I used to think.
- Traveling around France terrifies me, but put me on a plane/train to any other country and I am fine.
Once my contract is finished on Friday I will be remaining in France and preparing for several people to come and visit. I will continue teaching online classes, as that will become my only source of income. It terrifies me to think that my income is going to be cut in half at the end of this month, but I am truly looking forward to the adventures and memories I will be making. I’ve adopted a new mantra that I hope will make this easier for me: It’s only money. This is one thing I’ve learned since arriving in France–Americans are much more focused on making a living, rather than enjoying life. I oftentimes get caught up in trying to make money that I forget to enjoy and appreciate the opportunities that I have been given. While teaching online is going to be my full-time job starting next week, I am going to do my best not to let it consume all of my time. I am planning to dedicate the mornings and early afternoons to teaching, but then keeping my evenings and weekends free so that I can still have some fun.
Being an immigrant in France has taught me so much about myself and my culture. This year I’ve worked harder than I’ve ever worked before, but was also the financially poorest I’ve ever been. Accepting that there is more to life than money has helped me to become a happier and more grateful person. Here’s to hoping I know what my next adventure is going to be and that I find out sooner rather than later.