Searching for Signs from the Universe

As my non-renewable lectrice contract approaches its final six months, the inevitable question regarding my next move has started to slowly but surely become the bane of my existence. The voices in my head haven’t stopped spinning, buzzing, or asking, “What’s next, what are you going to do next; where are you off to next!?” Do I apply for this, pursue that, settle here, go there, spend this, save that, try this, start over, give up, go home, keep going?

Lately, I’ve become completely overwhelmed with worries and possibilities and opportunities; obsessed with creating pro-con lists and Googling visa requirements and researching different options and punching numbers into a calculator, and feeling completely overwhelmed with various obligations.

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Six years ago after study abroad, there was no place better than France. France was the answer to everything– to my everything, at least. But after spending almost three (wonderful!) years working and integrating myself into the country and  French society, I’ve become a bit disillusioned. Now don’t get me wrong– I love France. She’s a great country–a beautiful, fascinating, amazing country, and my home. I’ve built a great life and have made life-long friends here. She’s given me experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything, and has taught me more than she could ever know. But France is no longer the magical socialist fairytale utopia I once believed it (and saw it!) to be. It’s a country (just like all others) with flaws and problems and copious amounts of red tape for non-EU/EEA citizens who wish to stay and work and build a life here long term.

I told myself that if I decided to leave France, I wanted to leave on my own terms. Leaving France would be my decision and my decision alone– with no influence from my parents or grandparents or friends. I’ve been trying to search for answers and figure out what I want for myself (heck, I’m not even sure I want to leave France.) Many expats (though certainly not all) who have managed to stay in France (after completing the assistant and lectrice gigs) enroll in graduate school and then find a job (looking at you, lovely Laura), already have two passports, or have French partners. I’m not saying that dual nationality or vie privée status automatically equals employment or makes things any easier in regards to finding stable employment, but in regards to figuring out if and when and how to stay, it can, sometimes, take some of the pressure off.) However, in my situation, none of those options are viable to me; I don’t have European nationality, I don’t have a French partner, and I don’t currently have the desire or funds to get my Master’s Degree in France. More specifically, I don’t want to spend two years pursuing a Master’s degree or studying for a competitive concours exam if they will only be recognized or valid in France (many times the case for aspiring teachers.) I also no longer want to coast along from job to job just for the simple reason of being able to stay in France. I’ve done the assistant thing, I’ve done the lectrice thing; I want to keep pursuing new opportunities and embarking on new sets of challenges. It can sometimes be hard to do that in France. And although it’s definitely not impossible to find sponsored employment in France, it’s certainly not easy, either.

Additionally, as a foreigner in France, it’s disheartening to realize that you will (almost) never be “as good” as a French person when it comes to career opportunities. Living in France includes enduring endless stacks of paperwork and constantly trying to jump through hoops and always having to be two steps ahead of everyone else in order to get your visa and never really being able to nest or feel “settled.” It’s exhausting. I’m not sure if I want to do it anymore. Curiously enough, a few years ago I was the young twenty-something who was absolutely okay with living paycheck to paycheck and not having a permanent home, as long as I had enough money to travel. But now, just a few years later, I’m realizing that I would indeed like to feel a bit settled; I would like to buy a nice piece of furniture, invest in a 401K, make a dent in my student loans, and build a bit of savings, if only to be able to comfortably pay my taxes, occasionally buy nice things, and rely solely on myself in the case of an emergency. Perhaps that’s just apart of growing up. As my roommate and I say, having an American-sized debt and living on a French-sized salary is really tough (it’s doable, and it’s easier if you’re single, but it is tough!)

But despite all of that, I still love France, and I love living in France. I love the European lifestyle I’ve adopted. I love the person I’ve become. I begrudgingly want to have my cake and eat it too.

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It’s curious really, how some things simply fall into place and quickly change the course of your life. That’s how my love story with France started, to be honest. Sure, French was always my favorite class in high school and college, but it was never my intention to study abroad or live in France. Few people know or remember this about me, but as cliché as it is, before France, it was London.

Perhaps more connected to my love affair with Harry Potter than I’d care to admit, I’ve always, always had a thing for the British capital. Even before I had ever visited, I was in love and slightly obsessed with the idea of living there. In fact, I used to research international American schools in the UK (and still do), with the dream of eventually working there.

As an undergraduate student, I took it upon myself to research, apply for and get accepted to a study abroad program in London through Wisconsin’s university system back in 2009. I was all geared up and prepared to go, until I had to face the very real reality of the program being too expensive (like, outrageously, ridiculously expensive). I was heartbroken, but still determined to study abroad. And after pursuing programs in French-speaking Canada, I found myself at the last minute accepting a placement on a semester-long language exchange to Caen, France, at an affordable price, and with the verified guarantee of all 14 credits transferring directly back and counting towards my (then) French minor. Everything in regards to Caen fell easily and very gracefully into place, and it was the semester that changed the course of my life. I fell absolutely head over heels in love with France, while also rekindling my love for traveling and for languages (I was originally studying elementary and special education). Upon returning home, I changed my major to French and ESL education, taught English in Japan, and applied to be an assistante (with the secret, internal hope of eventually becoming a lectrice, and eventually getting hired at an international American school in France or the UK. And to date, that’s exactly what has happened.

Since falling in love with France, London was sort of put on the back burner. I visited once in 2010, and decided that although I really liked it, I liked France more. But since moving to Nord-Pas-de-Calais two years ago, befriending handfuls of Brits, and being literally a 1.5 hour train ride away from London, I have found myself going back again and again and again and again, and falling more and more in love with the city each time I go back. So, now the idea of moving to London has been planted in my head; it’s stuck, it’s growing, and it’s not going anywhere. And despite all the foreseen complications, it feels right.

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Unfortunately for me, and all other non-EU/EEA nationals alike, David Cameron and his #Brexit posse are raising up the drawbridges to keep out foreigners, immigrants, and refugees faster than you can say God Save the Queen. If you’re not European, or even apart of the Commonwealth, it’s damn near impossible to get a visa and find a job (Britain has even discontinued the post-study work visa for international students.) But because I don’t give up easily, I’ve been doing tons of research (where there’s a will, there’s a way, right?) I am not ready to throw in the towel quite yet. Over the past couple of months, I’ve submitted applications to international American schools, applied for QTS- Qualified Teacher Status (which allows qualified teachers from the United States as well as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada, to exchange their country’s teaching certificates for a UK teaching certificate, and therefore apply for teaching jobs in the UK), and researched graduate schools. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced some setbacks and hit some brick walls (I didn’t hear anything back from any of the international schools I applied to, and I was denied QTS until I complete a Professional Development Plan (PDP)) I’ve since been absent, devastated, and have sort of fallen off the horse– though I’m ready to get back up.

So as of now, that’s where I am. I’d like to go to the UK, and graduate school looks like the best way to do that. Having a Master’s Degree will help me get a foot in the door in some of these international American schools (at least, that’s how I’m going to rationalize it). I’m hoping it will help me if I do decide I’d like to come back to teach again at the university level in France (it’s becoming almost necessary to have a Master’s Degree to do anything in this country). In regards to obtaining QTS, I’m currently in communication, trying to figure out if there’s a way for me to take these years of teaching abroad into account, instead of having to take an additional three years to complete a PDP (I’d welcome advice from any US or WI-based teachers on this one!) Hopefully I can reapply and be awarded QTS within the next year.

I really don’t know what I want to do in the meantime, or if my UK aspirations don’t work out (or heck, if they change). I feel like I’m in limbo. I’m applying for opportunities in France, in New York City, in South Korea, in Prague, in Minneapolis, back in Milwaukee. I’d love to stay in France because I have a life here; I know how to be an adult and do adult things here, like buy health insurance and pay taxes; but as I stated before, I don’t want to just coast. I’d also like to save some money next year, but it’s very hard to do that on a French salary, especially if you’re foreign. Prague sounds great because PRAGUE! but I’m not sure how connected I feel to Eastern European cultures. I’ve always dreamed of living in New York City, and I admit it would be so nice to live in a place that doesn’t require a car (or a visa!). Additionally, after losing both grandfathers, I’ve since felt a strange pull towards relocating to the Midwest, closer to my family and best girlfriends, but I fear I don’t really fit in there anymore. Plus, am I ready to move back to America? (And OMG DONALD TRUMP, ARE YOU SERIOUS, USA?! I can’t even.) In regards to wanting to save a lot of money in so little time, South Korea seems like a no-brainer. Plus, I’ve recently really gotten a particular itch to travel Southeast Asia. Yet the thought of moving somewhere new, where I know no one and don’t speak the language, just sounds exhausting. I’m not sure I’m up for it.

I’ve also been dealing with other personal things; things that have taken steep emotional tolls, and have preoccupied me more than I care to admit. Sometimes, I find it hard to focus and get anything done.

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Alas, perhaps my aspirations will change in a year; in six months; next week; within instants of publishing this post. I know I’m young, I’m single, and have only myself to worry about. I have so much life ahead of me. I’ll look back on this in a few years, and give completely different advice to someone who’s in the exact same boat as I am. As scary as it is, I know I can always change my mind and start over or come back. It’s just hard to remember that sometimes. In the meantime, I’ll be searching for signs from the universe, and try to listen to my gut. Usually, if it’s the right thing at the right time, things just magically fall into place.

Bisous,

Dana

 

21 thoughts on “Searching for Signs from the Universe

  1. I know that the right next step will fall into place for you and that you will make it awesome, but I also know it’s horrible to not know, to not be sure, to wait, to be in limbo… I feel like I’ve been living the last six years just getting by year to year, sometimes month to month… and it’s incredibly draining. But it sounds like you have some great options on the table for now.

    I feel like I’ve become more and more disillusioned with France every passing year. I could stay here if I wanted to (finally, a year without a visa crisis) and you’re right, it does take a lot of the pressure off, and it’s nice to at least have the option… but at the same time, I have no idea what I would do here if I stayed, and I think I would become really frustrated. I’m tired of breathing secondhand smoke all the time and having people tell me that cigarettes actually aren’t bad for you, and of certain people treating me like I’m inferieur because I’m *gasp* not French, and *even worse* American. But there are still things I like about the country, and there are so many wonderful French people I do love!

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to see what you ultimately decide, and I know whatever it is, that it will bring great, new, and interesting things! Courage for the figuring-out period in the meantime… xx

    1. Thanks C-Rose 🙂

      I hate the fact that I’ve become a bit disillusioned with France, because I do still love living here and I would keep my current job if I could. I feel like I’m being pulled in a thousand different directions and I’m not sure which one I want to take! But I guess I’m lucky:)
      I feel so lucky we’ve all been going thru this together! Xo

  2. Go with your gut otherwise you may over think it. You may want to wait until after the elections, if Trump wins my entire family may come live with you where ever you are. Switzerland is beautiful. I was only in Lucerne for 3 days but LOVED it. My aunt & uncle travelled there. My uncle ended up having a heart attack & being hospitalized for a long time(and then died there) so my aunt was there for sometime. She loved “living” there even with a critically ill husband. The friends she made she went back & visited years to come. And this was from a person in her early 70’s that only spoke english. I wish you the best in where ever life takes you.

    1. You’re totally right! Our gut always knows. We just need to listen to it more.
      Switzerland sounds amazing.

      Thanks for your comment 🙂

  3. As someone who returned to the US after a year of TAPIF, I will say that I don’t feel like I’ve stopped growing professionally/personally, I’m just growing in a very different way. In some ways, it’s nice that so many things are just easier in the states, from going to the doctor to doing my taxes to finding jobs that I can actually apply to without a visa. I also consider myself to be lucky to have found a job that really challenges me and has opportunities for growth. I do miss some things–the French lifestyle for one, including all the vacation time I had (and the food!!!)!

    Good luck making your decision! (I will put in a plug for DC since there are a lot of great French restaurants/events/people around here!)

    1. Oh, I mean that I think I have reached my limit of professional growth in France; I think there is still so much more to learn back teaching in the US (which is why I feel a pull to perhaps return!) As you said, just to finally be free of the visa hassles and struggles, to live in a culture you understand, to have things just be 26942 times easier… it makes me nostaglic! Yet, I love the challenges of living here too!

      My lectrice position has led to so much growth in exploration in regards to teaching TOEIC, engineering students, etc.. but it is a two year position and so after awhile it is kind of time to move on..

      DC is awesome too! i’d love to move somewhere where I wouldn’t need a car. Glad to hear you’re happy and doing so well! xo

  4. Wow good for you for putting your resume in so many hands already despite being unsure! When indecision knocks on my door, it usually manifests with extreeeeme procrastination. As in, “well this sounds fun….i’ll keep the tab open for a few weeks and see if I still like the idea then” “oh…..the application deadline was a month ago….damn”

    Right now, I think I might be on to something, but because of timing, I wouldn’t be able to start for another year. So what to do in the meantime?? And after the meantime passes will I still be interested? I’ve actually applied for TAPIF again, but have some doubts about whether that would be an advance for me, or another year of stalling. Lots of people have told me to look into the more rigorous lectrice jobs, which do intrigue me…but I kinda feel like I’m meant to stay with the elementary set (it’s literally my entire resume), so university students are NOT in my wheelhouse….

    Lots to think about. But like you said, things that are meant to be usually fall into place when you least expect them to. And you certainly seem to be approaching these questions with optimism and positive action, so I have faith that you’ll find the right path! xxx

    1. Thanks anne! Yeah, I’m not at all sure what I want, but hopefully I’ll find something that fits. Lately I’ve been leaning towards the USA but also have a strong desire to go to the UK. That’s great you’ve applied for TAPIF again! I think it just depends what you want to get out of it 🙂 YES! try for lectrice positions; I find those a lot more fulfilling; if you need help on your CV or cover letter shoot me a message on fb!

  5. If you come to NYC you can hang out with me! 🙂

    Best of luck figuring out that next step. It is confusing and scary, I was at my wits end in 2012 when I returned from Spain. There is no timeline on figuring things out. Just remember that.

    1. Oh I will definitely let you know if I’m in NYC! And thank you! Yes, it’s good to remember that; sometimes it’s hard feeling the pressure, though! x

  6. As someone finishing up Tapif for their first year, I feel the exact same nauseating mix of conflict, indecision, fear, and anxiety about literally every tiny insignificant decision. I’m heading back home to the US over the summer, and I reapplied for the program a second year, but I have to say, this first year has been tough. As an older English Assistant (I’ll be 30 this year), I can tell you that the impulse to settle and get your life in order only gets stronger. There’s so much pressure to make the “right” decisions with your future, and throw in student loans, taxes, financial issues, and visa red tape, it’s just so friggin’ overwhelming. On the one hand, I feel like it’d just be so much EASIER to go back to the States; on the other, I feel like I have done SO much personal growth here and I’m not sure I’m done yet! Plus, I felt so lost and stuck back home, and here I feel like I have a purpose, direction, and career opportunities. So a part of me dreads going back to the US and that this could be the end of my time here in France, but the realist in me just keeps nagging away.

    You are still so so young. Take the opportunities as the come and enjoy the hell out of them. I can tell you the pressure to “grow up” won’t be going anywhere, but you have opportunities some people can only dream on. Keep going!! You have many people rooting for you.

    1. It’s definitely a different experience doing TAPIF in your late twenties versus your early twenties (you definitely notice the age difference and maturity between the assistants– heck I was 23/24 when I did my first year and I noticed a difference).

      I understand the pressure from the US (salary cut, instability, uncertainty, etc.) We’re just not used to that as a culture, but we all need to do what is best for us. It’s funny how that “nesting” feeling takes over though; sometimes it’s hard to distinguish if it’s cultural, internal, a bit of both? I for one give you mad props for doing TAPIF a bit later in your twenties. It’s not easy for many to do!

      Also, I’m glad you are renewing for a second year; you are totally right that one year isn’t really enough– I certainly wasn’t ready to leave! After three, I’m beginning to rethink; I’d love to stay if I can, but France isn’t the be all end all for me anymore. It’s not the socialist fairytale land I once thought it to be, but man, I do love my life and the direction it’s taken here. I wasn’t happy in the USA at all and now I don’t know if I could imagine anything different. So I get that in that respect. Have you thought about lecteur positions? student status? Don’t worry, you’re not out of France yet. Make the most of it (easier said than done, of course!)

      Thank so much for your words of encouragement; it means so much! xo

      1. Thanks Dana, for this good conversation which is mirroring many of my recent thoughts.

        I’m in the nearing 30 tapif American boat as well, with all of the interesting internal/social pressures that entails. I would love to stay in Europe after this Tapif contract (and hopefully next year’s) as I’ve family and friends here but as you’ve pointed out, a need for stability creeps up at a point. My normal work is in the sciences and I’m strongly considering going back to school in Canada and eventually trying to move there or to New Zealand as I have relatives in both places.

        In deciding what to do next, I’ve found it useful to start thinking about why I really enjoy living in Europe (France and Ireland) vs the U.S. A lot was due to the scenery, history, ease of travel etc, but more so due to the fact that healthcare specifically is more sane here (or at least I figure in France, not having gone to the doctor yet, though dental appt is in the works). So given that, I decided that I should at least do a more thorough search of job possibilities in countries with decent healthcare and social safety nets that have a greater need for employees than the EU appears to (UK for example has been changing many if not all of its 5 year, tier 2 visas from allowing permanent residency to not, which might be a consideration). So that might be another way of thinking about what you want to do/ where to go.

        As a side note, a variant of the tapif program (albeit and more geared to EU citizens) exists in Switzerland. I never got around to applying to it, as was more set on tapif, but I do have the contact info people involved, if needed.
        Thanks for the thought provoking article and good luck! (Also hi to Joseph, from a fellow assistant in your académie. Didn’t we have a variant of this conversation in January?)

      2. Thanks so much for your comment! I think what you said about making a list of the things you love about living in France is a great idea– in fact I’ve started doing it myself, too, so thanks for that! My reasons are a lot like yours– access to Europe, travel, vacation, work/life balance, learning another language, healthcare, no needing to have a car, and also having a network of friends who are a bit more like-minded like myself. I love my friends in the US but most do not share the same passions for travel or France, etc. (and that’s totally fine!) But it’s fun to have a lot of different friends from different backgrounds who have lived different experiences.

        Interesting about Switzerland– do you have any information on that program? I’m pretty set on graduate school for the year in the UK for the after next; just need to figure out what to do in the meantime. I’ve just always wanted to live in London and graduate school may be a way to do that (even if it isn’t for longterm.)

        I think your plan also sounds great! please keep me up to date with your plans!

        Also, I’m glad to have readers/friends/fellow TAPIFers in their mid-to-late twenties (I turn 26 next week so my perspective is much different than it was at 22, 23 when I was coming for TAPIF the first time) 🙂

        Good luck with everything 🙂

  7. I have two thoughts, Dana, for what they are worth. 1) Always trust your gut, regardless of what your head says. If it feels wrong (or right) on some visceral level, it probably is. 2) Have you considered Switzerland? The French speaking part (Geneva, Neuchatel, Lausanne) is much more welcoming to expats, pays better salaries, appreciates English skills and, perhaps best of all, is close enough to France to let you continue using your acquired language and culture skills. Just a thought! 🙂

    1. Thank you Mel for your kind words of wisdom, as always! You’re definitely right– the gut feeling is definitely not something to ever ignore. We need to trust ourselves better!

      Funnily enough I did apply for an international school in Switzerland but didn’t ever hear back; I had a friend recently relocate there, so I should look into it! thanks for the advice!

  8. I’m so familiar with so many of these feelings! It can be hard to have lots of opportunities in front you and at the same not all the ones you want.
    Minneapolis is a great city though (so is Saint Paul!).

    1. Thanks Eileen for your kind words and understanding! You know I’ll let you know how things turn out (and yes, the Twin Cities are fab– just cold!)

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