Get Smart about living abroad

by DGO Web Administrator

Whether you’re Democrat or Republican, it may be time to look into getting out of the States. Let graduate student Katherine Walker tell you about her time teaching English and living in France in the latter part of last year.

Where were you living in France?Two hours north of Toulouse. Tiny little town, population 5,000. There wasn’t a bus system or a single fast food restaurant. The street I lived on was cobblestone and maybe five feet wide – just enough for a car to get up it if it absolutely had to. Very quaint, with a huge clock tower in the center of town.

How much did you bring with you?I had a backpacking backpack, a rolling suitcase – a small one – and my purse. Not a ton.

Traveling light, eh? Just the essentials?[laughs] No, I brought a lot of sweaters – because to me, those are the essentials. I brought my computer, a Kindle and a lot of sweaters.

What about your apartment?It was so cute. One bedroom, with a little kitchenette. A little bathroom off to the side, and these two huge French windows [sighs deeply]. It was so good. Probably the cutest place I’ll ever live.

When did homesickness set in?It wasn’t until the last six weeks. It was after the last vacation period. The way the school year is set up over there, you teach for six weeks and then take a two-week vacation. It was right before the last vacation period where I was like, “Oh man, I am all by myself in this tiny little town.”

Did existential dread ever set in?Oh yeah. “What am I doing in France?” “What am I going to do when I get back?” There were two guys I had met – one from the school, and one from the local bar – and it was like, “Do I want to hang out with them and not be alone all the time?” They were very nice, but every time we hung out, guaranteed they would hit on me at least once and it was like, “You know, I’d rather be alone. I’d rather read another book.”

You didn’t want a French love affair?Have you met French men?

I have not.They’re just [shakes head] no, no.

But French women are so—!They are! And they’re so out of the mens’ league! I wanted to shake them and tell them that they could do so much better, but they’ll never know.

What was difficult to get used to?There’s poop everywhere. There were so many old people in town who would walk their dogs and not pick up after them! My theme song for France became, “Poop, There It Is!” The language. Not French, but how comfortable everyone is with cursing. They say dirty words all the time. I had to tell my students that it wasn’t OK to call me a bitch. Lots of trash. I heard that in Paris, they finally started fining people for throwing cigarette butts on the street. People just throw them anywhere – the middle of the sidewalk, the street, whatever.

How did you feel foreign?They can spot you from a mile away. Usually, they didn’t think I was American, which was awesome, but they knew I wasn’t French. It’s how you carry yourself. Toward the end, I went to several other countries and they did think I was French. You don’t smile at anybody on the street or make eye contact. You basically look like a bitch all the time. You have to! If a girl smiles at a guy, that basically means, “Hey, do you want to come to my bed?” So you don’t do that. If you make eye contact, they’re like, “Oh man, I’m a smile away!” Other than that, probably the food I bought at the grocery store. I would go to the foreign section to get cans of beans and tortilla chips and they would look at me like, “Whaddya gonna do with that?!” Luckily, I love cheese.

What was hardest about being an American?Whenever I’d be talking to someone who’d give me shit for being an American, I’d say, “You don’t know me. I’m not my country. I get that this country has done some terrible things, but that’s not me.” Any time people would bring up Trump, I would just laugh with them. “This is not real life. I don’t know what this is, but it’s not real. We’re all as confused as you are.”

If you were to live there longer, what would change?I wouldn’t take much at all. You should be able to get whatever you need wherever you are. I might not take anything, honestly. My passport and my wallet … and my dog, if I can.

What was most entertaining about living there?I loved getting a little bit tipsy and going and talking with everybody outside who was smoking. You can learn so much. For me, it’s been the best way to practice speaking another language. Everybody’s comfortable, nobody cares if you have an accent or if you’re grammar is correct – their grammar usually isn’t correct either!

How did living abroad change you?A lot of people say that they only feel alive in another country. I call bullshit. Coming back gave me a new perspective of everything. I’ve never appreciated my family so much as I have this summer, or loved the mountains more. I’m determined to find the high you get as a foreigner anywhere. I think blaming the way you feel on your surroundings isn’t fair. You can find that feeling anywhere. You get to choose the people you surround yourself with, the attitude you’re going to have and the contributions you’re going to make to those around you. This sounds cheesy, but you never know if you’re going to get to go back to a country, of if you’re going to wake up in the morning. If you think of that, then you can make the most of any day.

Cyle Talley will just say it now: Johnson/Weld 2016! If there’s anything you’d like to Get Smart about, email him at: [email protected]


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