First she made a decision. Then she wondered what on earth she was thinking when she made it. Now Maggie is living the life — and learning to love the unpredictability of it all. In today’s guest post, a newly minted college grad — who teaches English to French teenagers, fights off the advances of train conductors, and like the rest of us, is petrified of growing up — muses about how the reality of the adult life has suddenly crept up behind her and taken her by surprise. Baguette in hand, she stands ready to battle it back into oblivion.
La Vie Est Belle
by Maggie Beidelman
What the hell am I doing here? I keep asking myself this question. Sure, I filled out an application, booked a plane flight, and here I am: Lyon, France. Seven months of teaching English to unappreciative French high school students. But how did I get here?
Somehow I cannot reconcile the actions it took to get here and the actual existence of living, independently in another country. It’s like a dream that never should have come true, simply because these dreams always end with waking up to reality.
But this is reality. I don’t see why I have such a problem recognizing my own place as an American in France, because everybody else seems to notice. Just the other day, a train conductor asked me to explain the meaning of the word “ain’t” from the 60s classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Clearly, my status as an American entitles me to explain the existence of incorrect English grammar in popular culture.
Two months ago, I packed my bags, got on a plane and moved to France to teach English, write, and figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Why did I choose this simultaneously terrifying and thrilling adventure? You might say it’s because there aren’t any jobs in America, anyway. And you’re right. But that’s not the sole reason behind my choice to throw everything I own into two suitcases, leave behind my boyfriend of a year and a half and my family, and spend all my savings on a flight to a place where I get a miniature monthly stipend to be handed keys and a classroom, with no training to speak of.
The thing is, I’m 22, and I’m petrified of growing up. This is the first autumn season in 17 years when I have not been sitting in a classroom, studying and preparing for a life that is no longer predictable, and therefore impossible to study and prepare for. I thought that moving to France would allow me to postpone the inevitable—adulthood—and give me something good to put on my resume. While the latter might be true, I have found myself mercilessly thrown into the writhing, gorgonic realm of adulthood with little more than a worn American passport and a strong sense of survival.
So far, that strong sense of survival has saved me from going completely insane in this absurd realm of expatriatism, where train conductors harrass young Americans about songs before their time and parfait does not mean an ice-cream at McDonald’s. I’ve had to learn the hard way how to dress in layers, buy bread from the boulangerie instead of the grocery store and say, “No, thank you, I’m not interested in your advances,” or rather, “Get lost.”
It’s mid-November now, and here I am. Thirteen-hour teaching week. Daily fresh bread. Cute little French apartment. If I had stayed in the States, I probably would’ve joined the 80 percent of my class who moved back in with their parents after graduation. But, I didn’t. Somehow I gathered up enough nerve to leave everything behind in hopes of finding some exciting new adventure, if not terrifying and completely maniacal.
And I found it. It’s crazy and fun and I’m homesick and happy and somewhere, at some point, adulthood has snuck up on me. But, with baguette in hand, I stand ready to battle it back into oblivion and embrace the uncertainty of a life suspended between the predictable past and a foreign future. Because not knowing what’s going to happen next weekend, next month or next year is what makes my life exciting. La vie est belle.