France Blog #1: Sept 25, 2017

As I write this, a church bell clangs four times. Phoenix is playing softly as I am sitting in a café that is really and truly called French Coffee Shop. Down the road and to the right is an old building with a sign reading “Sainte Catherine.” All along the gray-and sometimes stone-pavement are little round, metal markers. They indicate the path Joan of Arc took as she rode through this city. If you follow them, you’ll come across a giant, towering cathedral from the 17th and 18th century. Flags line the avenue, indicating the local festival celebrating the area. And if you swing a right, you can grab a pulled pork sandwich at Subway (Joan of Arc’s favorite sandwich shop perhaps?).

 Welcome to Orléans.

 

 

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Now, how did I get here? I ask myself this when I wake up and remember I am not in Kansas Missouri anymore.

Thanks to my language teachers and the department of awards and fellowships at my alma mater, High Point University, I applied to (and was accepted to) the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF from here on out). In short, the French government gives a monthly stipend to young foreigners to teach their native tongue to French elementary, middle, and high school students.

I was placed at two French colleges (middle and high schools) just outside of the city of Orléans, in an area called St-Jean-de-la-Ruelle. I’ll start teaching English (helping build confidence in conversation and pronunciation) on October 3rd.

To prepare, I arrived in Paris on Sept 22.

My generous, sweet, funny friend Stéphany and her brother picked me up from the airport. I spent the night at her place, hanging out with her friends and laughing wildly about everything from Louis XIV to the latest French memes. A highlight was the French meal she prepared with her friends, including sausage, all sorts of cheese, red and white wine, and of course, baguettes. It was such an awesome start to my adventure.

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I could sometimes feel fear and doubt clawing through my foggy, jetlagged brain. Usually, the fear that my French is sorely lacking. And I mean, it is. And I’m having an amazing time, to be clear—but things can be difficult. I don’t think you ever feel “good enough” at a language. When I attempted to ask for help from a man at the train station in Paris, my heart sank as he asked out of exasperation that I just speak English.

And I’m still making mistakes. Typos. Taking the wrong train. Forgetting my passport for an appointment.

I’m absolutely going to make more mistakes. As I rode from Paris to Orléans, my heart in my throat, I feared someone would come to verify my ticket, accuse me of doing something wrong, and yell at me about something. Sitting in that green and gray chair, I knew something: there will probably be a “worst” moment while I’m here in France. I doubted that my time on the train would be the worst. And I dreaded what this worst moment would be.

Here comes the big however for everyone beginning to suppose I’m not actually happy here (Hi, Mom. Don’t worry).

HOWEVER:

I keep thinking about a tiny phrase my pastor said: “Trust God and do the next thing.”

While I sat on my flight with my bag full of valuables in the belly of the plane—maybe—those words came to mind. As much of a natural mechanism it was to worry, it did me no good to do so. I couldn’t crawl into the plane and find my bags, so all I could do was wait. In my own words, I turned off my brain. Well, except for one thing. I have been mumbling, groaning whispering, and screaming the name of Jesus on a loop in my head. Trust him and do the next thing.

“I made the world. I ordained the perfect timing of every moment in history. I hold the stars in place. I can help you with this luggage thing. Whether it’s safe on your plane or back in Miami.”

Trust him and do the next thing.

My next thing was to sit in my chair and get to baggage claim. I could do that much. And I did. I got my bags just fine.

As I see and cling to God in my moments of worry or linguistic doubt, His generosity and love is so present in my life here.

The friends I’ve known for years, those I’ve known a couple of months, those I’ve known two days, and people I’ll probably only see once in my life—they’ve all showered me in such kindness. Repeating words for me, even a fourth time. Leading me through a crowd and glancing back to see I was still there. Good night hugs. Sharing time, sharing food, sharing board games, sharing a home with me.

If I chose to dwell in fear or worry, I would be so inwardly focused that I wouldn’t dare to experience all this love, laughter, and generosity. These interactions in a new language are scary. I probably sound like a drunk toddler when I talk. That’s not a dig; I have to use very small words and my pronunciation is lacking. But dang it, I’m gonna be the most determined drunk toddler they’ve ever heard! I am going to fail hilariously, and better still, I’m going to grow.

I’m going to see amazing things (I know this is true because just look at what I’ve seen three days in).

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I’m going to eat AMAZING food (I already have).

I’m going to find a little writing nook of my own (I now have a punch card for French Coffee Shop, which I take as a harbinger of coffee to come).

I’m going to be (better than) fine.

To close:

Thank you for reading, for your concern over me, and for cheering me on.

French word of the week: Tricher (v.) [tree-shay] : to cheat

Je laisse tricher Théo quand nous jouons aux échecs.

Please pray for:

Courage, wisdom, energy, and kindness.

Please participate!

If you have any questions for me, any requests, want a postcard, or want to keep in touch, I’m available at all these places:

Instagram: @catbake

Twitter: @catbakewell

Email: catherinebakewell@gmail.com

Facebook: /catherine.bakewell.5

If you would, please also let me know which place I should visit when I have my upcoming week long vacation…

A.    Ireland

B.    Vienna, Austria

C.    Nice, France

D.    Other?

Love,

Catherine

PS I’m including some photos of the Parisian cat, Mertille, who I just met and now love.

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