5 & 5 Friday: Sarah!

When I arrived in Lille, I fully planned to live alone. I wanted to find a reasonably priced studio apartment in a nice part of the city. However, when the opportunity presented itself about a week later to have a roommate, my mindset had changed. I knew I wanted someone to talk to at the end of a long day, to explore with, and it wouldn't hurt to pay less rent as well.

I ended up asking another American assistant, Sarah, to be my roommate.This week's 5 & 5 is about her. When I said I wanted someone to talk to and explore with, I actually should've said "someone to commiserate not having electricity and hot water with" but we're making the most of it...or trying to.

This was a fun post to write, because I'm still learning a lot of these things myself. Enjoy!

Her daily baguette from the boulangerie on our block, Le Petit Fournil.

Her daily baguette from the boulangerie on our block, Le Petit Fournil.

Sarah: five fun facts

1) She's a bit of a foodie. Where many travelers are excited to make friends and explore, she is more concerned with how types of cheese she can try. (I think we'll get along.)

2) She is fascinated with the Duggar family from 19 Kids and Counting.

3) She is a former gymnast. Plans are in place for a handstand contest down the courée.

4) She took Arabic in college (instead of French), so she hasn't taken any French since her freshman year at U of F. And then she moved to France. So impressive.

5) We are both from the Washington, D.C. ish area. She grew up in the Pax River Naval Air Base near Waldorf, MD.

Sarah: 5 things that make you say "wtf France"

1) "What do homeless people do? Please tell me." Translation: it's very difficult to sign up for anything without an "attestation de logement," or proof of residence. It has to be handwritten and you need one for the gym, getting a bus pass, getting a train pass, getting a bank account...etc.

2) "I literally have stacks and stacks of paperwork. How many trees have I killed?" French bureaucracy is getting to her.

3) "Why is no one at work? Why is 2 pm an acceptable time of day to get drunk?"

4) Everything is through the mail and the turnaround to get paperwork is about a month. Nothing is online!!

5) Nothing is open on Sunday. Chick fil a did not prepare us for this! Every Sunday feels like we are going back to the 80s.

Edit: 6) Eggs are very expensive (Erinn doesn't not agree with this, but at her Aldi they are 69 cents for a dozen.)

Annoying edit: 7) Why does everyone use squeegies in the shower.

5 & 5 Friday: The easiest and most difficult transitions from American to French life

Because this is my first trip to France, I did not have too many preconceived notions about what life would be like here. I hadn't spend a lot of time imagining my life in Lille, because I'd barely seen any photos before arriving.

My blank French slate coupled with my being an American has already led to many interesting discussions about differences between the United States and France. So, for my first 5 & 5 Friday post, I'm breaking down the five easiest and five most difficult transitions I've experienced since my arrival 2.5 weeks ago.

We'll start with the easiest. It was surprisingly easy to find five!

Five easiest transitions

1) Walking everywhere. Walkability is one of the most important factors I take into consideration when I think about where I want to live. It's one of the reasons I love Blacksburg so much. Lille is so incredibly walkable--each day I walk 15 minutes to the main train station, 5 min to get my groceries, and I can easily jog to the nearby Citadelle with awesome running trails. 

2) And with that in mind, never having to drive! I'll happily spend in train tickets what I spend on gas at home. More reading time!

3) Surprisingly, speaking so much French. I thought it would be really hard to do things like open a bank account and work in a French school. People are either pretending to understand me, or it's going alright.

4) Joining my new gym. I was super worried that I would have a hard time following along because I've never learned any "exercise" vocab in French, but apparently neither has anyone else. Our warmup and reps are explained in French, but the actual exercises/lifts are in English. So, I'm actually able to focus on my workout and then use my French brain to try and make friends.

5) The leafies! I was initially disappointed to see that most of the trees in Lille turn yellow in fall, with not much red/orange variety. But, I was pleasantly surprised on my first trip to Saint Amand (the town where I work), when there were the typical orange-red-yellow beauties that I love! The cleaner air and bigger variety of trees outside the city gives me like 1/5 the happy tree feelings I have in Blacksubrg. I think that's a pretty good amount of happy.

Five difficult transitions

1) From what I've seen, the French aren't super concerned about hydration. At my school today, I was only able to drink two bottles of water the entire eight hours I spent there, which I was really bummed about. And still, people were commenting on the amount of water I was drinking. This is going to be a really tough adjustment because I, like many people (or so I thought?!?!?) like to not be dehydrated. And I would say that I'll just continue drinking water as I do at home, but there seems to be a parallel with the lack of water consumption to the ease of finding a restroom. Sigh.

2) Paperwork. Immigration, school dossier, social security, opening a bank account, CAF housing reimbursement, monthly train pass, young people discount card, teacher's discount card for museums, transportation reimbursement, lease contract........it's not even that it's "difficult." There are just so many different things to keep track of that it's a little stressful to make sure I'm doing all the right stuff.

3) Teaching English as a second language. Because I learned French, and then taught French at VT, I feel very much accustomed to helping students learn a language in the same way that I did. However, my instincts are all wrong to teach English. When the kids practice spelling in English, my brain defaults to French because that is the the "foreign" part of the language. I'm looking forward to the challenge of re-programming it.

4) Not working as a photographer in the same capacity. I'm excited to work on my business while I'm gone and I'm excited to get some great photos in France, but my business had a really great summer and it was a bummer to have it come to a pause. However, I do love going out for a walk and grabbing my camera. There are so many pretty details to be found in my neighborhood. (A few more from this week below)

5) Missing my puppers. I spent all day everyday of the summer with them, and my days off of work just feel quiet now. What does one do when you're not spending all of your free time taking dogs out or to the park???

Thanks for reading the first 5 & 5 Friday :) Enjoy some unrelated but fun photos of architecture around Lille--and a few kids skating at the cathedral which really gave me the giggles.

Surthriving my first week in Lille

I sort of thought I made up this perfect word to describe my first ever week in France. As usual, Urban Dictionary has beat me to the punch and describes 'surthriving' as someone who thrives off of acting like a victim. So, no, that's not what I meant when I typed the word.

I began typing the title "surviving my first week" and didn't even get to the end of the word surviving before I began typing a new word--thriving. I really feel like it's been a mixture of both. When I arrived on Tuesday, September 19, I was truly just surviving. I mustered up the courage to walk two blocks to the grocery store, and purchased bread, cheese, and apples. I actually felt accomplished for doing so.

As the week went on, and I tackled things on my to-do list such as getting a new sim card for my phone, buying a new charger for my Mac, going for a run, and searching for permanent lodging (I booked an Airbnb for the first week), I still felt proud of these basic survival milestones. I would go out during the day and knock a few things off of my to-do list, and then come back to the Airbnb and watch Modern Family. It was a little bit lonely, but I knew I'd adjust.

However, I had a few moments of truly living and thriving sprinkled into my week. On my first full day in Lille, I spent a few hours walking and talking with two other American assistants, Sarah and John. After saying goodbye to them and planning to follow the same home-Modern Family routine, I ran into my neighbors outside in the courée (our little alleyway) and they asked if I'd like a glass of wine. I ended up spending the entire evening with them having drinks, ordering dinner, talking, and playing darts. A few of them speak English, but we spoke mostly French and they were super encouraging and non-judgey of my rusty conversation skills. I went to bed feeling so happy to have made native French acquaintances so quickly (I really thought it would be tough to make French friends!)

I had a similar evening with them on Friday, and I've now met most of the courée. Everyone is so kind and friendly. There's even one pupper, a Greyhound mix rescue named Rocky that is right across from me. Working on becoming best friends. There are a bunch of cats too. They're alright.

After such a fun and welcoming week at my Airbnb, I knew I would have trouble saying goodbye. So...I'm not going to! My Airbnb stay has ended, and I'm transitioning into a real lease in the same house. Another American language assistant, Sarah, moved in today. I plan to do a separate post on my house/la courée so that everyone can see the environment.

Other notable moments of the trip so far: eating my first authentic crepe, a savory Welsh. Going to the Sunday market at Wazemmes, a gigantic market that takes over the entire neighborhood where you can find literally anything--I opted for a 'Vietnamese crepe.' It was a cool experience, but I would only go back to it on a weekday...it was absurdly crowded and a little bit miserable to just meander around. I also toured one of the big Catholic churches and got a lot of info about the various museum passes you can purchase. I'm planning to save most of those for when it gets colder/rainy. It has been sunny and beautiful everyday since I've arrived, which everyone keeps saying is out of the ordinary and I should soak it in before it's gone for good. Cool! Finally, I've really enjoyed all of the alone time I've had so far. Although I've watched too much Modern Family already, I've also started a handwritten travel journal that I'm trying to keep up with daily. I'm in the process of setting some objectives for myself for the year, so that I spend this time improving and learning about myself.

Oh yeah, and I joined Crossfit Cestio! It's a 45 minute walk from my house, so I'm looking forward to some long walks or possibly a bike if I'm feeling brave enough for that. It is so great to get back to a normal workout schedule, I really need it in order to have a good daily routine.

If you made it all the way to the end--congrats, thanks, and enjoy a few more photos that I've taken while walking around! Please let me know if you enjoyed reading, if I should continue, or if there's anything specific I should post about.

Lille Grande Place
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Colleen + Paul

i spy: favorite moments

Look through the galleries to find my absolute favorite moments.

The first: Paul and Colleen's son, William, was the ring bearer and their wedding mass. However, when it came time for Willie to go inside the Church and walk down the aisle...he had a bit of a meltdown. Without missing a beat, Colleen's maid of honor Meg came inside the church to help him walk down. When that clearly wasn't going to calm him down...Paul walked calmly to the back, scooped Willie up in his arms, and carried him down the aisle to where all of William's grandparents opened their arms to hold and comfort him. So darn sweet.

The second: The speech made by Colleen's brother, Ian. I was laugh-crying the entire time.

The third: Unrelated to Paul and Colleen...but while we were taking their portraits with William outside of Harbour View, a really cute duck starting walking in front of them on the dock. I wasn't able to get a good photo--but my assistant/second shooter Liz took one that is incredible. Find it hidden in the galleries!

hair, makeup, and 'cytoplasm' champagne

the dress, family first looks, and portraits at colleen's childhood home

waiting at the church and getting married (!!!)

portraits at the church

portraits of colleen + paul at harbour view

pretty details and yummy treats

reception and dance party

photographer: erinn schaal

second shooter: elizabeth higginbotham

ceremony location: st. mary's historic church in fairfax, va

reception: harbour view in woodbridge, va