Twelve wishes for the New Year

Last August, I moved from New York’s Hudson Valley to the region of Franche-Comté in eastern France. I’m spending the year working at a university and figuring out what I want to do moving forward. It feels like a post-university gap year, except I’m still working and gaining useful experience. The proximity of Europe, facilitating travel, allowed me to meet up with a friend over the winter holidays. Thus, we did Christmas in Amsterdam and New Years in Berlin.

The later is slightly blurry, but we spent it amongst a wealth of nationalities and cultures in a hostel. There we met a few people from Venezuela, who shared that it’s tradition to come up with 12 wishes for the New Year. So, getting to the point, here are my 12.

1. Make more art

During freshman year of university, I was constantly drawing, painting, cutting, and photographing. The creative itch to work with my hands has been looming. Scooped up one of the $.99 Skillshare deals to get involved in the creative communities there.

2. Improve cooking and baking skills

A few months ago I picked up a Marabout cookbook (100 plats végétariens en 5 ingrédients) for a few euros. That coupled with the infinite culinary expanses of the internet? Shouldn’t be a problem! Ideally, I’ll become more technically skilled + creative in the kitchen.

3. Draw out a financial plan

Putting together a budget, mapping out my student loan payments, figuring out investments and retirement details. Money education was a missing part of my secondary and university schooling, but I don’t want it to be a looming mystery.

4. Donate time and money to organizations 

Especially in light of this past election. Perhaps this could mean recurring monetary donations, time, or design!

5. Visit more museums

There are tons in Europe, and in New York, and all over. Most have reasonable admissions, and there’s a lot to be learned from permanent collections and temporary exhibitions. Before this month ends, I want to visit the current exhibitions at le Musée du temps and la Maison de l’architecture.

6. Travel

In Europe and in the US. My teaching schedule this semester provides ample room for weekend and day trips. The SNCF carte avantages jeunes lightens the cost of train travel, and buses also tend to be relatively inexpensive.

7. Take up a sport / physical activity

There are many ways to go with this. Essentially seeking a better physical and mental state of health.

8. Find a mentor

Both Alphabettes and AIGA Upstate NY have mentorship programs. I have an idea of where I want to be, but in the past have been afraid of asking for help on how to get there. Also, the aforementioned idea of where I want to be was a lot less clear a year ago.

9. Go further in language learning

I just attained the DALF C1 in French! This means I’m officially “fluent” in the language — the only higher testing level is C2, which is the equivalent of native speaker level. So, keep working on French. And since visiting Germany and the Netherlands, I’d also like to reach B1 in German and get a good start on Dutch.

10. Refine

Get rid of clutter, unused objects; develop some sort of personal style.

11. Work on self-confidence

This one has been a problem! I’ll skirt around talking about myself, minimize compliments, avoid/hesitate/skip doing things because I don’t believe I can. However, not exactly sure how to tackle this one.

12. Move back to New York(!) and find a design position that challenges me

I do miss the US. The election cycle that just passed is terrifying AF, but I do miss the US. Living in a city here, and traveling to various cities around Europe, I’d like to give a large city a try upon returning to the United States. As for the later, I feel incredibly motivated to surround myself with designers and thinkers who are miles better than me. The drive to create, learn, and grow is too real. Keeping my eyes peeled for small/medium sized studios!

C’est le novembre qu’arrive le mal du pays

Lors de mon arrivée en France, je n’ai pas éprouvé des sentiments de mal du pays. Souvent quand on voyage, on prévient le décalage horaire et le mal du pays. Celui-là est plutôt physique tandis que celui-ci émotionnel, mais quand même. C’était la fin d’août quand je suis partie des États-Unis pour la France et là, je n’ai aucun problème. J’ai déjà connu la ville et quelques gens qui y habitent. S’installer était bien difficile au début, mais rien d’impossible. Je m’habituais à donner des cours aux étudiants en licence à la fac, quelque chose de tout à fait nouveau pour moi. C’est plutôt comme jouer un rôle — je n’enseigne pas, je divertisse.

Mais c’est ludique, travailler en tant que lectrice. J’apprenais à improviser, diriger des conversations, devenir davantage curieuse. Mais en même temps, il faut parfois faire semblant d’être quelqu’un d’extraverti, ouvert et sociable, tandis qu’en vrai je préfère passer un moment paisible parmi des amis ou rester chez moi, emmitouflé dans les couvertures de mon lit avec une boisson chaude et soit un livre, soit du wifi rapide. J’essaie à atteindre un équilibre entre les deux.

En gros, les premiers quelques mois n’étaient pas du tout mal passés. Puis, il y avait la présidentielle américaine. On était tous un peu bouleversés par le résultat. Quand on est ensemble — c’est-à-dire, quand on est parmi d’autres américains — c’est plus facile de se rendre compte de ce qui vient de s’achever. Isolée des états-unis et mes amis là-bas, j’ai mal réalisé la réalité tout en étant inondé par des questions là-dessus. C’était le premier vrai mal du pays qui m’était évoqué.

Faire avancer jusqu’à cette semaine avec la fête américaine de Thanksgiving. C’est la première fois de ma vie que je ne l’ai pas passé avec ma famille. J’étais déçue d’apprendre que mes parents l’ont passé seuls, sans visiter le reste de la famille chez mes grands-parents ou chez mon oncle et ma tante. À plus de six mille km de distance, j’aurais aimé trop être parmi famille, même si ça veut dire supporter le bavardage parfois ennuyeux d’autres relatives. Mais là, je ne peux pas trop me plaindre. J’ai passé le Thanksgiving avec une amie où on a cuisiné un repas vachement sain (sans de la viande) ainsi qu’un désert, tout accompagné par du vin et le troisième film d’Harry Potter.

Et maintenant, Noël commence à approcher. Fin, elle y a déjà commencé il y a un mois pour la plupart de français (puisqu’on n’a pas de Thanksgiving en France). Et les habitudes qui concernent cette fête me manquent. Bien sûr, bien sûr, je peux faire des cookies et regarder les films cultes de Noël très facilement ici. Mais ce n’est pas forcément la possibilité d’être capable de faire ces choses qui compte, mais la possibilité de faire ces choses avec des gens spécifiques. Je peux faire les bonshommes en pain d’épice ici, mais je ne peux pas les faire cette fois-ci avec ma soeur. Je peux regarder tous les films d’Harry Potter comme si on regardait les 25 jours de Noël de la chaîne américaine, ABC Family, mais je ne peux pas le faire avec l’un de mes chats sur les genoux. Je peux passer une soirée calme, mais pas à côté de la cheminée avec le parfum de pain aux bananes de ma mère foisonnant l’air, avec les luminaires du sapin de noël clignotant doucement en arrière-plan. On peut recréer des rituels, mais recréer l’esprit éphémère s’accomplit plus difficilement.

C’est possible de briguer ces sentiments jusqu’au bout de souffle, mais ils vont arriver n’importe qu’au leur plein gré.

New York ➳ Besançon

Last December I decided I wanted to apply for a lectrice teaching position at the Université de Franche-Comté in Besançon, France. I didn’t want to let my soon-to-be newly acquired French BA gather dust after graduation, and I also wanted to further my language skills. During the following months, I assembled rounds of CVs, cover letters, and a statement of purpose. In late April I received notice that I got the position.

I went through the steps of applying for a VISA. This felt far too easy by comparison to the student VISA I applied for when studying abroad in 2015. The idea of going to France still felt abstract a few days before leaving (and tbh, after arriving). I didn’t pack until a few days before and finished in a few hours. Packing is stressful, and I’d rather not do it! The night before leaving, I went to one last HV Tech meetup (and cried). Afterward, I spent time with friends (and cried more).

Getting to the airport and checking in wasn’t much of a problem. TSA felt a bit dehumanizing (as it can), but went without any problems. My flight arrived at about 1pm in France at a fun, round terminal. Border control took an immense amount of time but was also fine. Then finding baggage, also fine. Getting to the bus from CDG to Gare de Lyon, also fine. Then getting the train from Gare de Lyon and transferring at Dijon, also fine.

Essentially, a lot happened in a short amount of time and nothing was out of the ordinary. Despite the hours of travel that left me mentally and physically exhausted, I went for a walk when I got to my city. When I left Besançon after studying abroad last year, I didn’t know if I would ever come back. With that in mind, it was refreshing to come back to a city feeling as familiar as when I left it. Though it also felt utterly, utterly bizarre. Jet lag and airplane back set in the following days, as is somewhat expected.

Rentrer à Besançon — tout ça a l’air cool, hein ?

All this sounds golden, but moving cities in close proximity is hard. As is moving states. And definitely moving between countries that speak the same language. And even though I’ve lived here before and know people here, moving to a city in another country where all interactions require using a second language is hard af. For a second it feels like everything is up against you. It can be immensely isolating. But the only thing to do is keep going past these blocks.

A year ago I looked into how study abroad is marketed. One feature that comes up often is growth as an individual and becoming stronger as a person. This is true, but they don’t mention that this comes by making it through some of the toughest obstacles you’ve faced.

I’ve been here for a hot three days (literally and figuratively?).  I’m still looking at apartments and trying to get things going (bank, phone, OFII/VISA papers, work contract, etc.). And for a second last night, I thought that this whole thing is probably the most ridiculous thing I could have done. In the US, I was doing fulfilling work in my field under a super rad designer / in general great human being, in a place that felt like home, where I got to see friends frequently and led a comfortable life. But this morning, I realized that would have been the easy thing to do.

So, I have decided to take the hard route it seems. And while staying in the US would be so much easier, I’m going to pass a year in another country, put a fast dissipating anxiety disorder to rest (ayyyyy), get comfortable with discomfort, and try to use this opportunity to experience as much growth as possible.