The art of slowing down

The most difficult part of my transition to life in France was the complete absence of online delivery. I practically lived off seamless in New York. When I moved to France I had to learn to cook for myself (!) and plan ahead to buy groceries (!!) since supermarkets are closed on Sundays (or only open until noon and, let's face it, I was most likely still in bed) and there aren't 24 hour bodegas on every corner.

In the US, there's such a focus on progress and innovation. Everything is meant to be efficient and fast. People are in a hurry and always busy. In France, it's kind of the opposite. The mentality here is more, "if it's not broken, don't fix it." This is changing a bit now but France is still a country very set in its ways, more likely to look back to its traditions and history than forward to its future.

Life is slower in France. Mealtime is very important and it would be considered rude for a server to drop a check on a table before being asked (it implies they are rushing you and trying to get you to leave). Coffee to go, while now a thing in Paris, is still a relatively new concept. Thanks to expats, we now have excellent coffee shops in Paris but in general coffee in France is an espresso at a café comptoir or on a terrasse, sipped leisurely while reading the newspaper or people watching.

Now I do everything more slowly than I used to. I stroll instead of speed walk. I spend at least two hours at a restaurant for dinner and usually closer to three (or four!). I sit on benches, look into windows, gaze at the sky. Living abroad has been an exercise in patience.

TAPIF : the lead-up

Going into my senior year at NYU, I started thinking about what I would want to do after graduating. I didn't have any clear career path in mind and was considering the possibility of a graduate program. A serendipitous meeting at an information session for a graduate program ended up directing my life in a way I didn't expect. In that pre-Uber era six years ago, one of the other ladies present at the meeting offered to give me a ride to the train station so I wouldn't have to wait for a taxi in the rain. During the ride we got to talking and she told me about a friend of hers who, after graduating from college, moved to Spain to teach English to school children.

I could do that! But in French! I found the French version and read everything I could find about the program - the Teaching Assistant Program in France, or TAPIF. I had just over a month to get my application in before the end of the year deadline. I filled out the forms, asked for a recommendation from my French Phonetics professor, and wrote my essay.

In the application, there was a section for regional preferences and age preferences - from my research I knew that Ile de France (where Paris is located) was the most requested region but that it had fewer postings and the postings it did have were mostly NOT in Paris. Since I had studied abroad in Paris I decided to branch out and request a region I didn't know - I had a romantic idea of living in a country house in French wine country! My first choice region was Dijon, in Burgundy, and I requested to work with elementary school students over middle school or high school students.

I submitted my application in December and after months of waiting and hoping and optimistically planning I got my acceptance letter in April! I'd be going back to France in the fall! TAPIF sends acceptance letters months before sending placement information so that summer when I went back to California for vacation, I anxiously waited for the mail everyday, so curious about where I would end up. When my cousin got married and we went to Lake Tahoe for two weeks, I enlisted a friend in our neighborhood to collect my family's mail and tell me immediately if anything from TAPIF came!

Sure enough, days into the trip, I got the call and arranged for the package to be shipped to our rental house on Tahoe! I was assigned to elementary schools (yay!) in Mâcon (where?). My mom and I immediately got on the computer and read up on Mâcon, a small city in the very south of Burgundy, in the Dijon region that I had requested.

I couldn't wait to leave! I had a couple months to plan lessons, pack for a year, get my visa in order, and enjoy California living before moving to Mâcon and starting this new adventure.

I devoured anything I could find about TAPIF and it really wasn't much. I had so many questions and very few answers. I eventually found out that Mâcon was one of the towns that provides housing for the assistants so I wouldn't need to worry about arranging lodgings. I did not know where that housing would be, just as I didn't know the names of the schools I would be working at, the names of the teachers I would be assisting, my schedule, what I was expected to teach, how much I was expected to teach, etc. I had a contact person in Mâcon but she didn't have much to tell me either and seemed confident I would get all the information I needed once I got to France.

Because TAPIF works in conjunction with the French government, they provide the assistants with all the necessary paperwork to secure a visa so that process was relatively painless.

I read about lesson planning and outlined some general ideas. I bought some simple children's books that I could read to young students and stocked upon STICKERS! Which turned out to be a great idea - I think that was one tidbit of advice I'd read about it a blog post or something about teaching in elementary schools and it was spot on, the stickers worked wonders.

My mom was going to move me over there so we made a vacation out of it, staying in Paris then driving around France for about a week before getting me settled in Mâcon.