Settling into France:
Seven weeks ago, I got on a plane and left my home in Portland, Oregon and moved to Angers, France for a teaching internship. This was one of the biggest changes in my life so far - if not the biggest - and every moment since has been a new learning opportunity and adventure.
Traveling to a new country was a combination of excitement, nerves and so many questions about what my life would look like once I arrived. Part of my nervousness came from knowing I would be thousands of miles away from my parents, family and friends, as this was not a flight for a two week vacation, this was a flight to my home for the next eleven months.
Traveling alone was an empowering experience.Throughout my life I’ve been fortunate to travel with my parents, both nationally and internationally, so it felt good to put into practice by myself what I have done so many times with them. When I landed at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and made it through passport control, I said to myself “I did it!”
The first few days in Angers, France were spent with fourteen other interns for orientation. This time included learning more about the French school system, training on how to lesson plan for each grade level, meeting the teachers and directors of our schools, and getting acquainted with the city of Angers. I left orientation feeling more prepared for my year of teaching and my year abroad. The last morning of orientation, my host family came to pick me up, and I was officially off to begin my new adventure!
Prior to arriving in Angers, I had only met my host family once on a virtual call, so I was quite nervous and excited to meet them in person. My parents and I have hosted exchange students a couple of times, so I had a general idea of what to expect living with a host family. I did have trepidation however in regards to being the “student” in the exchange, and concern that my French may not be at an adequate level as I knew gaps in my vocabulary and comprehension skills existed. In addition, I had never truly put the language into use, so the prospects of spending the year living in a different language was scary.
My worries about adapting to a new living environment were short lived, as I fell in love with my host family almost as quickly as I fell in love with the city: immediately. Within a week of living in Angers I felt at home, and I continue to feel at home here today. I am very grateful to my host family and the network of acquaintances I have made at my school. It has all made the initial transition easier than I imagined it would be.
Living with my host family is considerably different from life with my family in Oregon. I went from being an only child with just my parents and my dogs, to being the sixth person in a house of five. Living with my host family, I now have three little “sisters” and a lovely geriatric cat. Living with a family with three girls under the age of thirteen has made my childhood dream of having sisters, a reality.
Although I quickly became comfortable and at home
here in Angers, my uncertainty regarding being able to communicate adequately in French remained. When I arrived, I felt a sense of shyness around speaking French as I was more preoccupied with the accuracy of my words than actual communication. This did not last long however, as living in a new city where I am immersed in French quickly pulled the shyness out of me. While speaking French daily has not always been comfortable nor easy, I have learned to find humor in making language mistakes and to embrace them rather than fear them, as they are inevitable. Everyone here has been extremely kind in helping my French, whether that is through helping me find a word, or correcting my mistakes. I feel incredibly proud of myself being able to communicate my thoughts, interests, to talk about my life and family in Portland, and more importantly to be understood, all in French. The improvement with my language skills has been rewarding as my skills grow whether by faster comprehension or fluidity of my speech.
Now, seven weeks in, I continue to work on settling into my new role as an English assistant at an elementary school. I am beginning to find my own routine, and balance the time I am giving to others and to my work versus to myself. Every day is a new adventure here whether that’s with French, teaching, living with a host family, or just trying to find my way while being so far from the comforts of my childhood home. Every single day I learn something new and am incredibly grateful for this opportunity.
Please check in for my next posts on my experiences teaching English, managing homesickness and discovering the food, culture and local gems.