“The only difference
between flight and falling
—“8 Frames of a Boy Falling From a Ferris Wheel” by Nate Maxson
I have known I wanted to teach abroad since high school, a combination of productivity and travel that little else encompasses so well. A few months ago, while thinking about what I might do after graduation, I looked into the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF), a program for native English speakers to live in France for a year and teach English and (for me) American culture for a year in a French school. Sounded good. With my summer camp and tutoring experience, I felt qualified, so I applied, only to later discover that TAPIF is, actually, an extremely competitive program.
I was put on the wait-list at the beginning of April. Although initially devastated–since I hadn’t really put any effort into planning anything else–I started making other arrangements to move to Albuquerque where one of my friends already lived. I had possibly convinced another best friend (currently residing in Scotland) to move with me and, possibly, a significant other. I was growing comfortable in my post-graduation decisions to take a break from academia and not go straight into graduate school, like many of my peers, even without the romance of Europe ahead. I was trading the extraordinary for a year of friendship and love. Since moving to college, I have not been able to hang onto the same group of people for longer than a year due to constant moving (studied abroad my sophmore year, had two of my best friends graduate my junior year), each year acting as a painful reintroduction to starting over. I was getting excited to be with (possibly) three of my favorite people from the get-go, and settle into the comfort of happiness.
However, last week, TAPIF offered me a position in the Montpellier region of France (one of my top choices) with secondary education, and, being the sort of opportunity you don’t turn down, I took it.
Since the acceptance, I’ve been having trouble paying attention to school. I can’t stop dreaming about what life in southern France will look like next year. Weekends spent on the Mediterranean. Free time endlessly spent reading and writing in little French cafés (TAPIF only requires 12 HOURS OF WORK A WEEK! Right now, between class, work, and church, I have 37 hours a week of obligations, not including homework) while picking up smoking from long, chic cigarette holders. Seducing mustachio’d French men with my berets and red lipstick. I am infatuated with the possibility of the best year of my life lying just a few months ahead of me.
However, I also find myself unable to stop thinking about this dichotomy between comfort and adventure in which my future has now planted itself. The choice I made between Montpellier and Albuquerque is one between solitude and company. I know nobody in southern France, and my French isn’t even at a native fluency level yet. I am, inevitably, facing a year of isolation I have never yet experienced. I do not mean this in any way to say that comfort and company are worth any more (or less) than adventure and solitude, but why, exactly, have I picked the latter when I, often, yearn for the former?
Perhaps I am simply in love with the romance of the youthful narrative where I, as an independent woman who don’t need no man, travel alone to enrich my worldly perspective and give the finger to settling down. Perhaps I am in love with the 1920s vision of the ex-pat writer settling into French life to paint in the contours of their artistry. Perhaps it is just my practical side saying, “Look. You want to study comparative literature and maybe go into a bit of translation. Your French needs to be better for that shit, Lizzy.” Really, it is a culmination of all these things. TAPIF is not the kind of offer you turn down. Yet, with all of this, I still mourn the loss of the life I had been planning in Albuquerque.
I am excited for my year ahead in France, but I am also excited for a time where I can find two years stapled together by a measure of happy stationariness, even (hopefully) during my youth.