“Ah, les États-Unis—ils existent!” As possibly the only American living in this small industrial town of 6,000 people in eastern France, I have encountered several such reactions to my presence here, both joking and serious.
One of the things which has surprised me here so far is that people can’t necessarily tell that I am American. Of course, they know immediately that I am a foreigner when I speak French, and usually that I am a native English-speaker, but my American accent isn’t as easily recognized as I originally thought it would be.
It took me three days of continuous travel by plane, train, car, and foot to make it to this French town, where I will be teaching English for seven months. I have been living here for exactly one week now and it has been one of the busiest weeks of my life, second only to final exam week at William and Mary. I have been extremely fortunate to have had several people affiliated with the lycée here help me with the transition. Not only did one of the teachers from the lycée let me spend my first night here at her house, but she also reserved my apartment for me in advance, assisted me with setting up utilities, and helped me to open a French bank account.
My first few days here were a whirlwind of paperwork, moving into my apartment, meeting teachers and students at the lycée, and filling out more paperwork.
I am living in a valley surrounded on all sides by the Jura mountains. Apparently, I arrived during a rare period of sunshine. This town is known for gray weather, great ski slopes, and of course, la lunetterie (glasses-making and optics).
To give you a sense of this petite ville, here is a picture taken of the view from my apartment balcony:
I won’t begin teaching right away. I have un stage (an orientation) this coming week in Besançon, France. After that, I will observe classes at the lycée for several days before teaching on my own. There are at least five teachers with whom I will be working. I will teach primarily English conversation to high school students and to students in a two-year post-high school optician program. Each teacher with whom I will be working has different expectations for me as an assistant d’anglais, which will make my job all the more interesting.
The town doesn’t sell very many goods apart from food and glasses. I needed a cell phone. Thus, it was necessary that I venture out this week by train to a nearby town in order to buy one. Seizing this opportunity to buy other exotic goods, I not only bought a cheap prepaid phone, but also towels, a commodity which I honestly had not been able to locate in my new town.
Despite the difficulties of living in such a small town, I am glad that I’m teaching here. In the larger cities in France, not only is the cost of living higher, but so too are the chances that people will switch to speaking English with anyone they detect as having an American or British accent. Aside from teaching French students English, my objectives here are to learn to speak French more fluently, to determine the similarities and differences of the French and American education systems, and to challenge myself to create a new life in a place where I am several thousand miles away from anyone I know.