Whirlwind

Well, hello world. It’s been a good… almost three four?? months now since I’ve blogged?

Lots of things have happened. Lots of things.

I went home for Christmas. Started dating a French guy who also happened to be my best friend in this small town. Celebrated my birthday in Tours. Stopped dating the French guy. (Lesson: don’t date French guys) I had a virus/the flu/who knows what and took full advantage of being covered by French healthcare. Went to Romania where there was the worst winter storm ever (in March mind you), went home to the United States for some emergency R&R, and then went back to France just in time to start work again.

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Peles Castle, Romania. At least the 10 degree (F) temperatures meant the pictures were pretty?

It was certainly a whirlwind.

I’m sorry I haven’t blogged. I’ve honestly been in such a creative slump with all of the drama going on.

Because let’s be real: small towns wherever they are have 100x more drama than any city.

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Maybe it’s all just extra dramatic because it’s French?

So I have right about 48 days left in this country. Is there anything you’d like me to blog about during that time? Throw some ideas at me.

 

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Goal Crushing on TAPIF: Novel Edition

Steps to writing a novel:

  1. Come up with an idea
  2. Vomit all over your computer (or your notebook if you prefer to write by hand) until you have a first draft, because that’s exactly what a first draft is, WORD VOMIT

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Now you might be saying: “Wait, Emily, what did you do this month?”

WELL, let me tell you.

There is this thing called National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo that occurs every year in November. It’s a “contest” to write 50,000 words in one month.

So I did it. I wrote more than 50,000 words in a month.

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Here are my stats for the month: as you can see for most of the month I was either slightly behind or right on track. I hit 50,000 on the 27th of November 🙂 

I also “won” NaNoWriMo three years ago when I was studying abroad in Paris. I’ve also done a “camp NaNo,” which is essentially the same thing, making this the 3rd time I’ve completed a “Novel Writing Month.”

What I’ve learned from completing my 3rd NaNoWriMo* (if you’re a stickler this was technically only my 2nd November, but I completed Camp NaNo with the exact same 50,000 word count goal this past July)

  1. The key to attaining any goal is consistency and practice.

I have to admit. This month I didn’t know what half the plot of my novel was. I knew who the characters were (kind of–I only had half of their names picked out) and I knew there were going to be some sort of demons… and that was about it.

AND what kept me going, what kept me from getting “stuck” was to JUST WRITE. Sit down in front of my computer and click keys. Even if that meant I was just musing about my plot and characters or actually moving my characters through the story as long as I was putting words to the page I was making progress.

And that’s it.

Consistency.

You can’t finish a novel if you’re not willing to put in consistent daily work to finish it. –I would know, I have a silly little unfinished novel from middle school sitting in my bedroom at my parent’s house.

You: “So what’d you write about?”

Me: “Um, well, it’s Urban Fantasy, with a female protagonist, demons, and a blood splatter of romance… uh, here have a picture:”

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This is what we’d call a Novel Aesthetic. Basically a collection of photos I found that I feel describe my characters and my novel. 

You: “Wow that looks so cool!

Me: “Why thank you!

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You: “When can I read it??

Me: “Uh…

As I said at the beginning. First drafts are WORD VOMIT. The hardest thing in my opinion is writing the first draft. Getting the skeleton of the novel down. Then my writing process is to go back and add layers, add in some more three dimensionality to my characters, give people chemistry, intensify feelings, up the stakes, MAKE SURE THINGS ARE COHERENT. (Because I promise you when I reread this first draft something in it is going to make me, the author, go WTF)

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Same Rumple. I don’t know what I did to my main characters either, I blame it on the wine I drank while writing. 

So EDITING will come in the next several months. (So ask again in a couple of months if you still want to read it)

But moving on.

My work week during TAPIF (Teaching English in France) is 12 hours. So before I said yes to this program I knew I had to have plans for my alllll my other free hours so I wouldn’t waste a year watching Netflix. (So if you’re reading this blog and considering TAPIF, I highly suggest making a solid plan to fill up your free time productively!!)

So my goal has been to fill that with writing.

I’ve written/almost finished two whole novels in my first two months.

I’d say I’m crushing that goal pretty hard. 🙂

(Now back to the grindstone. I’m going to Berlin… tomorrow, so I’ve got some work to do!) Just wanted to give a tiny update to remind everyone I’m alive!

That Isn’t Too Heavy For You?*

*(And other things I hear while lifting weights at a gym in France)

Since I’ve arrived my teacher contact has been taking me with her to her gym in Dreux. It’s a tiny two room gym with a weightlifting section, two treadmills, two bikes, one rowing machine, and one or two ellipticals. In the second room is a wide open space where they hold classes.

To give you guys a little bit of a background I lift weights *at least* once a week and have been doing so for over a year. And when I say lift weights I don’t mean the little 2-5 pound weights. I’m talking about thirty to a couple hundred pounds depending on the exercise/machine. That plus I’m a yoga instructor so I’m no stranger to fitness. (I promise I’m not trying to brag haha I just feel a little defensive as a girl in a gym where there aren’t really other girls who lift)

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The first day my teacher brought me to a Body Pump class (which exists in English too, you can check it out here) It’s basically a high rep class that uses a bar with weights and you hit every part of the body with squats, lunges, deadlifts, bench presses, tricep dips, abs, etc etc.

My first day was a little confusing just because it took me a little while to get used to the vocabulary. (Add more weight, take weight off, release, etc)

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But at the end of the class we did “stretching” and well… I stretched like a proper yogi.

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I swear this is absolutely normal for me/isn’t something I consider to be extreme or strenuous at all. I don’t get much of a stretch if I don’t go down this far haha

But then it was great because while everyone was freaking out about my extreme stretching thinking I was about to hurt myself… I got to speak to them in French and tell them I was a yoga instructor.

Then the next time I went there a couple days later for a crossfit class. I’d never done crossfit in my life before, but I walked into the class and the coach loaded up my bar for me. And the great thing is he didn’t go easy, he put easily twice as much weight on my bar as any other girl in the room.

And that’s pretty much when I knew I’d be sticking with this gym.

It was honestly the best thing ever because as a girl who lifts weights, sometimes guys just tend to underestimate you/look down on you and think you can’t actually lift. And considering that culturally in France girls are even LESS likely to lift weights/do sports I was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming the people in the gym were!

That doesn’t mean I haven’t had my fair share of strange incidents. I think everyone knows that there’s a redhead American at the gym now so they all come to talk to me while I’m working out. (As in like in the middle of my leg press reps…) And maybe it’s just the culture at this particular gym, but when someone new walks in they shake hands with every single person they pass (without introducing themselves sometimes awkwardly enough) I think I prefer the head nod culture in the states.

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Voila. All the interaction you get at a gym in the US. 

Whereas in France you do “La Bise”

This is what it’s supposed to look like:

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Oh and don’t forget to make a kiss noise for each cheek

Except you go down the line and do this with EVERY SINGLE PERSON. And when I’m at the gym sometimes I feel like this:

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I’m sweaty! You don’t want my cheek sweat, I don’t want your cheek sweat!

But regardless of odd introductions:

Just last week a guy told me:

“Oh you’re flexible, but you’re not that strong.”

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Pretty much my exact reaction right here

I straight up told him: “That’s an insult. You insulted me.”

Him: “No! I said you’re flexible! You know the word flexible! Like elastic!”

Me: “Yes. I understand your French. But it was the stuff you said after that.”

Him: “Oh yeah, you’re not strong. That’s not an insult!”

Me: (fuming) “Uh, yes it is.”

But the bright side is I told the coach about what he said and he told everyone in the gym and they all thought it was an insult too. So at least its not a cultural thing! There are jerks everywhere I suppose.

The main reason I’m writing a blog post on my gym though is because I’ve started teaching yoga there! In FRENCH!

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First time I’ve ever taught a class with more guys than girls… but it IS after Crossfit!

It’s been a little crazy, but it’s been going super well. I’m grateful for everyone at the gym for dealing with my eternal American accent when speaking French!

But yeah. So the gym has turned into my social life haha I go every day I can. Everyone there knows me and tries to talk to me (insults or not haha) and at the very least the Coach who teaches all the classes respects me haha.

Meet the American

I finally started work last week!!

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So to revise: I’m an English Language Assistant with the TAPIF program. What that means: I’m never supposed to be in a classroom alone with all 20 plus students and I’m not allowed to grade students. Really I’m here to be useful with my native American accent and my cultural perspectives.

 

My first week in the classroom was technically supposed to be observation, but I had an introduction powerpoint saved to my Google Drive that included my hobbies, where I was from, my family, favorite tv shows, movies, and food so several of the teachers had me present that to the class.

I definitely got a lot of reactions on the tv show/movie/food slides because then I was able to ask students what their favorites were.

Some things tend to be universal:

–People in France don’t believe yoga is a real sport either. (Because I’d always reply with “yoga” when they asked me what my favorite sport was. Sorry kids it is quite real!)

–Game of Thrones. Because well, come on, dragons:

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–And even French kids apparently find Steak Tartare (my favorite French food) disgusting, but tacos are universally appreciated.

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While there were several cultural differences in the classroom, what was most notable is how students can’t sit down in their seats before the teacher gives them permission. From what little I’ve seen so far I would say the French tend to be a little more authoritarian in their teaching, but then again maybe the teachers I work with are just strict?

BUT they do grade out loud, which is interesting to me. No hidden grades. When a student was giving an oral presentation the teacher took the time at the end to critique him and tell him what he did wrong rather than making notes and moving onto the next student.

The students all seemed to ask me or the teacher one question in particular though:

Student: “Madame, does Emily understand French?”

Teacher: “No, she doesn’t.”

Same Student looks at me: “Miss! Do you understand French?” (half the time this question was also in French)

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I am the guy on the left. 

Me: … Let me ignore that question and turn back to my PowerPoint so I don’t have to lie to you.

(Okay eventually during the week I just gave up and told them I did speak French. It was too difficult to pretend anyways! But I am there to speak English and it is technically English class so they need to be speaking English too)

Soon at the middle school I’ll start to get small groups of hardworking students to work with on anything I want/varying subjects from detective stories to job interviews.

Next week however… is vacation. Yes, you read that right. I will technically have worked for two full weeks and now I have two full weeks of vacation for La Toussaint. (All Saints Day/November 1st)

So on Saturday I’m headed off to Scotland (again) to visit my dear friend Hannah. ❤ I haven’t been to Glasgow yet, but I’m looking forward to all the curry chips (fries) and scones I’ll get to eat all week long. Then I have no idea what I’ll be doing the second week of the break, maybe I’ll just hop around France? If you have any ideas let me know!!

Mama I made it!

Welcome to Dreux:

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View over the center of town on a very cloudy day
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The belfry at the center of town–the cafe with the red tents has the cutest little terrace in the back and they have cheap wine!

I’ve tried to condense the last week into a series of bullet points to make it as easy to read as possible. SO much has happened!

  1. I moved in

When I got off the plane I had the most massive customs line ever waiting for me (like seriously it took 45 minutes), but once all of that was over my teacher contact from my high school was waiting for me just on the other side! I’m really lucky that I didn’t have to navigate Paris with two suitcases to get to the train station because then she tucked me into her car and we drove to Dreux.

Then she gave me the low-down on all the gossip of the school the hour drive we had and when we arrived at the school she dragged me inside to meet the Principal (Le Proviseur) and half of the administrative team. Who were all quite nice and tbh I didn’t remember half of their names because I was so jet lagged. And then she brought me to my room.

Basically I’m living in the student dorms. They’ve reserved a couple rooms for teachers. It’s a tiny bit bigger than a dorm room, but not by much, but I have my own bathroom and a communal kitchen I’ll share with another language assistant and the nighttime workers who stay awake to make sure all the kids are in bed and asleep at curfew. All this is fine because it’s free. 

Yes you read that right. I won the jackpot in this town.

2. Welcome dinner

On Thursday my contact from the high school organized a welcome dinner at the Italian restaurant in town & I was able to meet many of the people who work there. (And not just the English teachers) I sat next to the science teacher who also participates in National Novel Writing Month each November so we ended up talking about books quite a lot, the teacher across from me had fun trying to make me say as many French cuss words as possible, and I drank soo much wine.

I was so happy I was able to speak with people, outside of the work context and just have normal conversations *IN FRENCH.* I find there’s always a little “trial” period when new people try to figure out if I actually do speak French before they try to speak to me, but at least I got a lot of that out of the way at dinner!

3. I’ve adopted a cafĂ©

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Dreux doesn’t have a Starbucks. It’s that tiny, but it does have a cute little coffee shop that I’ve been to… 5 out of the 7 days I’ve been here already. The second day I came in they gave me a rewards card… and I’m over halfway already… oops?

The employees all know me… probably as the American, but well that’s fine.  Plus the food/coffee/wifi is great there.

Oh did I mention that I don’t have wifi where I live?

Yeah, they don’t want the students staying up all night on the internet. I’ve got a little bit of data with my international phone plan, but for now if I need to do any heavy internet use I have to come to this cafĂ©.

Besides internet surfing I have gotten quite a bit of writing done there too!

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How could I not get writing done in a place like this?

 

4. I still haven’t started work yet.

We had our teacher’s meeting in OrlĂ©ans yesterday, which was really really boring.

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It might have been useful… If I hadn’t already lived in France before, so I felt a little like Hermione. #beentheredonethat

They didn’t give us any new information or give us any instruction on how to work with students. To me it seemed like a meet and greet more than anything, but at least there was free coffee?

But yeah, I’m not sure when I’ll actually go into the classroom for the first time, so we shall see. Tomorrow maybe?

5.  Phone companies suck.

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I’ll just leave that one as is.

Compared to living in Paris I already love this city more. I don’t feel quite so anonymous here & I’ll be able to get to know people better I think because I see the same people every single day–even walking on the street!

There’s so much more that’s happened that just couldn’t fit into one blog post! If you’re interested in keeping up with me this year, click subscribe!

A blog about a girl with a serious case of wanderlust and her quest to travel