Everyone and everything is interconnected in this universe.
Stay pure of heart and you will see the signs.
Follow the signs, and you will uncover your destiny.
Jeff, Jeff, Who Lives at Home
It is Sunday, my first Sunday in Evreux, France. I have five days of travel and the resulting jet lag behind me and finally feel good enough to start writing in my third travel journal.
Before me is the setting sun, pulling back from centuries-old rooftops. The cathedral spires are the tallest things in this valley besides the green rolling hills.
Just a week ago, I had cried after seeing off my friends for the last time. I had held back until I was at the airport gate leaving for Philadelphia before shedding tears over my parents.
But as that plane flew over the Chesapeake Bay, and then another over the Atlantic Ocean, I couldn’t suppress the very tangible sense within me that I was moving on to something momentous.
The first time I visited France, I was 16 and on vacation with my parents. I had every fantasy one creates about what the country should be: the beauty of the people, the closeness of its history. Our more than two weeks in Paris and Tours and Reims more than lived up to everything I had envisioned.
I told myself: I am going to live here one day.
At the time, I had no idea how or when I would end up back in the Hexagone. I was taking French in school but had no clue as to how I would use it in college, if at all.
When the time came, I decided, like many others, to at least try to keep the language in my memory, and minored in French. It was only after I went to study abroad in Nice that I added it as a major. It would look good on my resume after all.
Towards the end of my semester in Nice, I remember getting an email advertising the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF). But at the time, I had set a path in journalism and thought I knew where I was going. It was not back to France.
Then graduation hit, which for most people of my generation means an early-life crisis marked by unemployment and the lingering feeling that everything you’ve ever done never mattered at all. That, plus loans.
After about a month and a half of joblessness, sometime before noon on a bright Maryland summer day, it hit me, what I wanted to do. The decision would mean rebuilding, turning away from what I had in journalism and on to a new landscape of language. I had never imagined earning a living from my French degree. But just as I had done in journalism, I would make my own way.
I started looking into education policy. What was being done at the highest levels to make the notoriously underdeveloped American second language education system better?
As I have found in the months since I started the search, there is a soring lack of answers. A better question might’ve been: what could be done? What could I be doing?
Finding the U.S. model lacking, I wondered how other countries handled teaching languages. Why are the Swedes so good at English? What about the famous Finnish education system? I wanted not only to find out, but to live it and weigh the costs and benefits myself.
I remembered the email I had seen in Nice.
Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport is much too small for the number of people going in and out of it. Like almost everything else in France, it was built with more efficiency in mind than comfort; forcing those waiting to get into lines into those already waiting in line, making little room for those who just got out of a line.
This makes dragging a combined 100 pounds of luggage around rather difficult.
Add to this formula having to buy train tickets in an office that has run out of paper for queue numbers and you will have one very distressed American.
While I have no problem speaking French when need-be, about 13 hours of travel will drain a lot of brain energy. I tried to navigate the crowded office (now full of other impatient travelers with luggage) in French, but was eventually given away by exhaustion. Through broken Frenglish, I was led to a (justifyingly annoyed) cashier who gave me my ticket.
But still, to get on to Evreux, I had to take on Paris.
Fact: The only trains that go directly from Paris to Evreux leave from one station—Saint Lazare. The RER B train, which goes from the CDG airport into Paris, does not stop there.
So I barreled my way through the maze that is the metro stop Châtelet des Halles (where the RER B does stop), found out that I did not need the metro pass I bought to get on the metro and found myself sooner and easier than expected at Saint Lazare.
From there it was a scenic ride through the countryside before I had to drag my luggage around again.
I will spare the details of how I lost at least five pounds and a few months off my life getting from the train station to the Evreux city center so I could buy a SIM card to call my AirBnB. But I’m sure you can imagine.
One-hundred pounds. No elevators. Very frightened sales people.
After that and almost 10 years after my first visit, I am back in France. Living in France. Evreux and Gravigny will be home for the next seven to eight months, no small measure of time.
Now that I am here, I no longer feel anxious. There is no more tightness. I am completely open to how this time will change me.
As I jot the first words of my journey into the paper, I feel excitement at how I will fill the pages. My heart hints at a rich story to tell.