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S O N J A . L A R S O N . P A N A C E K

108 Days in France

Here I am, still a student, in the year 2014. How did I come up with that? I always swore I was finished after undergrad. Well, I’m back to twelve class hours a week — and this time in French only. Twelve hours of lecture in another language including subjects of business and professionalism, general language, and cultural history and geography. Who am I? Further, I know what they’re talking about. 

All of a sudden I realize things like this — moments of my life all of a sudden coming into focus and in showing me a clear picture of reality, I am shocked. At said point, I blink a few times and repeat sentences in my head, for example “Wait, really? This is my life?”

Yes, Sonja, this is your life. You take care of three children in France in exchange for both a formal and cultural education. Maybe the change of schools (towny one-room schoolhouse to an actual accredited university) all of a sudden has whipped me into shape and given me some perspective, though none the less I am found asking myself rhetorical questions in moments of intense reflection. But hey, the reality of it all is that it’s incredibly positive and I can celebrate my courageousness daily, seeing as where I have come from since arriving here.

Don’t get me wrong though, I have finished a fraction of the language marathon I’m running. I’m no pro, but I am surviving and I’m proud to say that.

Anyway, back to being a student… On Wednesdays I am at class all day (three hour class in the morning, then lunch break, then three hour class for the afternoon) and so I hiked over to a little grocery store in the sketchy area near my school and shopped for lunch. It was one of those deals where they save a lot of money never taking things out of the boxes they come in (ex: wine, oranges, bread, pre-made salads that have been slimy for the better part of the week, etc.) and rarely do things have prices because assuming everything is between 1 and 4 euros is usually correct. Anyway I dodged the moldy bread and got out with some strange food to eat in the park across the street.

My teacher is the same for both classes on Wednesday. She resembles a Simpsons character I once saw (never was a die-hard fan so I tried to find a picture but could not) — tall, thin, a bit slouchy, boring glasses and a thinning, flat, straight black bob. Butt-chin, French nose, raspy smoker’s voice, and seems like she would really like cats and historical (French) fiction. Anyway, she’s a seriously intellectual and cultured lady, and she makes me feel like Matilda when I wake up in the morning — itching for books and learning after I put a cute little ribbon in my hair (but I don’t do the ribbon part).

My wallet is taking a hit. These classes cost about 70% of my au pair salary. Don’t get me wrong — this school is cheap, has an unfinished interior (no trim on windows, one out of six working bathroom sinks, etc.), and is quite small, but in terms of my income and where it is allocated, all of a sudden I’m giving most of it away in return for an education. This is a new feeling to me, and I honestly all of a sudden want to tear up and kiss the floor when entering class (early!) in the morning due to appreciation of my ability of being educated and that it is mine to take hold of and use in my life. 

All joking and crying aside, I’m happy to be there and enthusiastic to learn — like I said, Matilda. Maybe when Matilda grew up she turned into Mary Poppins and that’s why I feel like both at the same time — I am the 20-something Matilda Poppins.

Am I going off on a tangent?

The other night Brigitte asked me to make dinner and she went into the living room to play a game with the kids.

My immediate reaction was a feeling of rejection and hierarchal defeat. Why did I have to go to the work and she got to play? Well, let’s think about this logically and with a wider lens, Self. I didn’t really want to play that game because I didn’t know it, and playing games while speaking a language you hardly know with three children rarely stays relaxing or fun, especially after watching them all day. Of course she wanted to take the opportunity to be with her kids. Also, not only did I realize that I didn’t really want to go play the game, I would much rather be cooking dinner (peacefully, quietly, alone) in the kitchen. Both of us were happier where she had placed us, respectively. I smiled and peeled the rest of the carrots.

This reaction has been logically reversed more and more often by me lately. In my discomfort I am forced to objectively describe the situation to myself and in doing so I discover that it’s not my idea or perspective that is best, but there are in fact other options that are more plausible. How refreshing to think about.

It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself. Makes you wonder what else you can do that you’ve forgotten about.”

98 Days in France

I made a small diagram of time spent here as of January 2014. Mostly consisted of waiting for the bus and translating even my thoughts, with sprinkles of speaking French and traveling by foot (except for the dreadful 8 weeks of sub-acceptable mobility due to my foot injury).

Looking forward, that’s changing. I’m switching schools so I have more class time, running like a champ (FAST) since I am healed of my wounds, and switching my default language. WHOA, THAT’S A TALL ORDER. Sue me, I’m gonna do it. I’m here, aren’t I?

Also brainstorming my life post-September 2014.. It has been decided that I’ll be on the island once again for the summer. Can’t take a Jersey girl away from the shore.

Want something funny to watch in French? Of course you do. Check out the French/male equivalent of Jenna Marbles — Cyprien. BONUS — he’s attractive and is actually funny in more than one video. Avez-vous une copine??

Recently took a day trip to a place called Perouges — a small town built on top of a hill outside of Lyon. Construction started circa the 13th century, so as we dipped and crouched through doorways while passing les boulangers, l’eglise, etc., I peered through windows to see original interiors. Plan on going back and sitting at the restaurants when they start serving beer outside in the spring.

Where am I traveling next? I’m thinking Britain…