A New Start ;)

cow pic

We bid Toulouse adieu after two years and are now living in a small city (pop 45,000) called Tarbes (tarb). The picture was taken up in the mountains a dozen or so kilometers from where we live.

Today, I’m really thankful for our students. For the past month, we’ve been doing English conversation workshops two evenings a week, and we’ve got a healthy, consistent attendance. I feel connected to the people who come, and I feel good that I can provide a place for them to come and improve their relationship with English and get to know others with similar interests.

Our students are really kind and fun, generally positive and some are very outgoing.

It took a leap of faith for us to come to France at all, much less move from the 4th largest city in France to a town 1/10th its size that some people describe as “closed.” To that I say, “I made inroads in Moulins-sur-Allier, Auvergne, so I can get along anywhere!”

This week, people have been asking me if it isn’t really hard being here as a foreigner. If I didn’t have my husband Ivan, it would be very, very difficult. But he keeps me grounded and focused on the big picture, looking at the “bigger fish” that need frying 😉 But I love France.

For all its challenges (and there are plenty), it is such a beautiful place, both in its natural settings and in urban areas; aesthetics have been key to the French for centuries. If I wasn’t here, I’d spend all my time wishing I were here. And though I get pangs of homesickness from time to time, especially when I can’t go to my cousin’s wedding or be there for Thanksgiving, I know that living in the States wouldn’t give me the same satisfaction. It would just be easier.

I’ve known since I was 12 that I wanted to study abroad and since I was 20 that French people needed help with English, and that I could do it. Whenever I leave, she pulls me back in. And I feel proud to be a part of this country, with all her flaws, she’s my favorite. I feel proud of the people who rose up and reclaimed this country from the aristocracy and tore down centuries of disfunction. If the system doesn’t work, they remake it. The French people have a voice, and they like to use it.

Surprisingly, it is here that I feel the most American. In the States, I feel European or French, and when I travel in Europe, I feel very French. This was especially apparent in Italy because they “did the meal all wrong” in restaurants. Ivan and I were laughing at each other for being so critical of something we normally would have marveled at, but France spoils you that way. They have perfected the dining experience as well as cuisine. The Japanese are close contenders and have a wonderful sense of aesthetics.

I feel national pride here and look forward to the day that I become a French citizen. And it is here that I can see the best things about being American. I think I see both sides most clearly here. In the States, I feel really turned off and haughty toward my fellow Americans, and I idealize France to a crazy extent. Here, I see France’s warts along with her beauty marks.

Ivan and I were looking at cars today. It’s a humbling experience starting over and getting around on the bus and by foot. In Toulouse, it didn’t matter: there was the metro system, trams, buses, and city bikes. You could go anywhere easily. Here, there’s lots to do, but it’s spread out in neighboring towns and cities, and things are farther apart, so you really need a car. It’s so weird coming here and basically starting from zero, a reverse pioneer coming from the New World back to the Old.

As we were at the bus stop looking at times, a car stopped next to us. I was alarmed at first and wanted whoever it was to mind their own business, but then I glanced in, and saw one of our students from the night before. He offered us a ride home and listened attentively to what we were looking for in a new car, saying he’d keep an eye out (he has a friend who owns a garage).

Earlier in the week, I went out to join a meetup.com-type group, but the pictures didn’t resemble the people. Ugh, I hate it when people basically photoshop themselves (putting up pictures from 5 years ago or ones with a great haircut or where they look tall). And everyone already know each other, so they didn’t really stick to the designated meeting place, AND the person who arranged it moved the meet time up about 15 minutes not long before the event started… Luckily, I saw one of our students there, and she was with the group. She took me under her wing, and I had a seat mate and good conversation, not to mention a ride home.

I am thankful for the blessing of having these kind, real people in our lives, and I am humbled because I know they have as much or more to offer me as I have to give them.

It’s so good to finally feel like I’m supposed to be here. It’s not the last step (that would be a house and offices in one of the cities nearby), but I can see our lives here. Exploring different areas, going to different events and activities, taking our kids around. We’re really close to the mountains and not very far from the beach and a big city (Pau and Toulouse). It’s perfect. Well, perfect for me and I think for Ivan, too.

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