holiday cheer, dinner dates, and Mariah Carey supremacy
Welcome back again, family and friends! Yes, again, I know that it has been a looong while since my last blog post, but for good reason: I have been living my life to the fullest possible! Hopefully, I will be able to post more in the future, but sometimes it can be difficult to put certain experiences, memories, or moments into words. Nonetheless, it gives me great pleasure and joy to share these moments with you, so I will continue to do so in my favorite way - right here on my blog.
During the month of December, I’ve slipped into that inevitable mindset of, “Wow, I’ve only been here three months?!” and, at the same time, “Wow, I’ve already been here three months?!”. Both of these instances hit at different points throughout the week, but I’ve been working on looking not at the past, not towards the future, but living fully in the present moment. It makes memories settle deeper in my mind and heart, knowing that once they pass, I won’t ever have those exact same moments again. And how special that knowledge is, that I am receiving some of the best opportunities of my life at such a young age!
In this post, I’d love to just share some little anecdotes, moments that have passed, successes, and other things that come along as I think of them that I have experienced since my last post. I have a plan for a few new posts coming up, and maybe even a series starting... keep your eyes out! I hope that you enjoy reading!
So, we’ll start with the end of November into December, as the inevitable Christmas and general holiday season finally becomes socially acceptable to talk about. Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in France, and Halloween is celebrated seldom, but mainly among young children and non-religious families, so there isn’t that stretch of the last three months where there is a different holiday to celebrate per month like there is in the States. At first, that kind of bothered me, and while I was invited to some Halloween parties, at that point I wasn’t really in the celebrating mood, especially after remembering how exciting all these holidays are in the States, but let me tell you: I am in full celebration mode now. I’m basically the Rudolph of my generation - my Christmas spirit is literally what keeps Santa coming to town year after year. I think I’m secretly half-elf, or my chemical makeup is 90% hot cocoa and candy canes, and I truly can’t explain it, but every single year, it is inevitable that around the end of November, I just become endlessly overcome with the holiday spirit. In France, Christmas is also celebrated, but not as largely as in the States. Many neighborhoods and families put up decorations, and all the boutiques and magasins (stores, in French) start displaying their Christmas decor and merchandise, and cafés start serving peppermint-flavored coffee and gingerbread cakes. I have also found that Advent is very big here, being a more religious centered part of the holiday, and many of the younger students at my work will come into class and tell me what little gift or chocolate was in their Advent calendar that morning, which always makes me smile. This year in Bordeaux, the mayor who drives a more ecologically-focused campaign, limited the Christmas lights that are hung around town and replaced the usual gigantic tree with one made of green glass. While the "tree" is disappointing, the city has done a good job of working around this year's shortcomings of lights by projecting beautiful works of art onto the Grand Théâtre. Even on the last day of school at my work, all of the staff members were dressed in wildly festive Christmas outfits; think ugly sweaters, antler headbands, light-up glasses. I think the best part of all has been the change of the school bell - for the past two weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays, the bell did not ring its usual melodic birdsong. Every single hour, no matter where you were in the school, could you hear the masterpiece that is Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" blasting throughout the hallways and courtyard. Every single time class ended, the students and I would burst into giggles. Little things like that have made the holiday homesickness a lot easier to deal with.
In terms of my work life, it has been tugging along steadily and successfully! I ended up having a lot of responsibility this last week in preparing lectures and activities for certain classes to talk about Christmas in the States and differences between the countries and cultures. I have now assumed the position of sole English teacher for my class of nine and ten-year-olds; it's only a 45-minute class once per week, but I have the best time with them, as we can joke about my mistakes in French, and at the same time, they become more motivated day by day as they watch my growth in a second language and they realize that they would like to be the same way. I love that sometimes, the best way to teach is to do something yourself because it's hard for younger students to understand a "reason why to learn a certain subject" (I was one of those students when it came to chemistry and calculus). I know I say it all the time, but my love for teaching and learning grows stronger with each day I am here. I feel as though I will always be indebted to Andégo Internships, as they have provided me with an unmatched abroad experience, in which I feel the closest to the culture and the people I meet around me, and even further, a potential job path for me in the future.
Other new additions to my life as of late:
I got my first French haircut! Don't worry, it wasn't anything too crazy... For me, it's a bit shorter now, but only because the "before" was very, very long. I did a bit of research on some salons around Bordeaux before settling on Lucie Saint-Clair, due to their skilled hairdressers and use of natural products with a focus on hair health versus just how it looks. The whole experience was so much fun - the salon itself was the height of luxury while still being very affordable, and I was able to explain everything I wanted to my hairdresser, Natalie, and she did an incredible job with my precious locks. I think cutting my hair, even just the eight or so inches really signified a big mindset change for me. It felt freeing to change up something I had depended on for so long, and after asking Natalie for advice on some French brands I could invest in for my hair, I am happy to say that my hair is healthy and gorgeous, and I feel so much lighter in spirit now, too.
I received a large package from my family about two weeks ago, which I was expecting, but it came with so many incredible surprises. My grandma had included some of her famous Christmas cookies, a holiday tradition that is extremely dear to our family - no one ever misses cookie baking day, literally, a day from 8am to 9pm of just baking and decorating. My host family was also delighted for this treat and declared these cookies the best they've had (Thank you, Grandmama V! You're helping me score major points with the French!).
My mother, the magnificently crafty and determined woman that she is, decided to continue the special holiday tradition that she has done every year since I can remember for my brother and me - an advent calendar of petite gifts and little things, one for each day. Opening that big box and seeing all of the 1-12 labels made me squeal with joy. It was just another reminder that my parents have set extraordinary standards for parenthood and savoring special moments and traditions. Even my host family has started asking, "What was today's gift?" once I open them up in the morning, helping me keep my usual holiday traditions alive, even across the world.
My friend Patricia, who I met here through a large group of au pairs I connected with, finished her au pair job and headed back to the Netherlands to celebrate Christmas with her family. Meeting Patricia felt like fate, and the more our relationship grew, I realized that she will be a girl to stick in my life for many, many years to come. While it was really hard to say goodbye, it's only a goodbye for now, and we've already started to make a plan for my potential adventure to the Netherlands! Patricia, I miss you already! Thank you for all of our adventures chasing after buses and dinner dates spent trying not to snort Coca-Cola out of our noses from dying of laughter.
Thank you again to tout le monde (everyone) for being a part of this new update, and for being patient with me when there are large breaks between the posts. I hope that the wait is worth it!
Feel free to share this blog with all of your friends and family this holiday season, and let me know if you have any questions about how different cultures celebrate the holiday season - it's always a fun conversation starter for me and my host family and French friends. I love to read your comments, so please feel free to leave some down below and let me know about your holiday seasons and anything else you'd like to share. And don't forget - I do have an Instagram account dedicated to this blog as well, so feel free to follow me there for some more frequent updates on life.
Gros bisous a vous (big kisses to you) et Joyeux Noël,