Bienvenue! My name is Jessica Journey and I am a University of Missouri graduate, English teacher, and forever student of language. I created Croissants & Conjugations to tell the story of the year I exchanged central Missouri for central France.
In 2016, as graduation approached, I found myself struggling with the universal quandary of the English major: what now?
A passionate writer, I could picture myself making a living in marketing, publishing, or journalism. The only problem: I must have missed the part where they handed out jobs. Oh, I tried to look, but admittedly I was not thorough. My desperate online searches would halt when I’d feel the stress creeping up my shoulders, shortening my breath. I’d slam my laptop closed for my own mental well-being. Clicking around the job-search websites felt so fruitless.
So when I heard about TAPIF, the Teaching Assistant Program in France, I was flooded with relief. I could benefit from the French degree I was about to earn and have an answer to that pesky question, so what are you doing after college? Never mind that it involved the one thing I said I’d never do: teach.
I was accepted, I learned a month before graduation, to work at the primary school level in the Clermont-Ferrand académie in France. Three months later (they like to keep you in suspense), I learned I would work in a small town called Montluçon. Two months after that I was waving goodbye at the Kansas City airport, knowing very little about what was in store.
What was in store: I would teach myself to teach 45 minute classes, trying to maintain control and manage the classroom in French. I would ride a very rickety bike on a very steep hill in order to bring home food for the week. I would share a French country home with a girl who would become one of my most treasured friends. I would drink port and eat frog legs with my landlord, a man who would give me heads of lettuce from his garden (complete with live snails).
That year, my first of teaching (and so far from home), was supremely challenging for me. But I look back and am thrilled. I look back and see how much joy that year held. Truly, I’d never experienced anything like it. And it all happened so fast. I hugged my dear friend goodbye in the airport and flew home.
I had no more an idea “what to do with my life” than I had a year and a half before. Oops. So I repeated the program, and this time was assigned to the Nice education region. I was to work in a maternelle school in Cannes, cinema capital of France. My students were tiny (the youngest just two!) and this presented a whole new challenge. I lived across the street from the Mediterranean sea (what beauty!), yet the new territory came with another struggle: it was trop cher. I was flat broke. And I was lonely.
I wanted to quit. This year felt wrong somehow, like I had forced it from the beginning. What was I doing here? I was so unhappy, with a malaise that felt like slogging through mud. I planned to leave and go home as soon as I possibly could. Just when I felt utterly disenchanted with all of it, things started to look up.
The job didn’t feel so impossible. Sure, the two-year-olds still forgot everything, but they had fun; they were comfortable. The older kids had learned a lot, really. I started seeing progress and understanding how to measure it. I found a few friends in the area. I started teaching additional English courses. I joined a gym and got strong. I took hikes on my days off and fell for the stunning views, places I could reach by 5 euro train trip. I made plans with my last paycheck: I had just enough for a modest solo trip to Italy. I didn’t feel so much dread. I didn’t nap anymore just because I had nothing better to do.
This is around the time I started dating again. One day in April, in Antibes, next to the Picasso museum in an old chateau, I met a handsome guy in a motorcycle jacket. We talked over gin & tonics and he took me home on his bike. As I’m moving back to France this fall to be with him, you could use some very French understatement and say the date was pas mal.
I have a new teaching job lined up (long-term! full-time!) and a couple of suitcases. After two years keeping this blog, somehow I feel my story is just beginning. So I’m going to keep writing it.
As always, I seek to share stories that come from a place of curiosity and discovery and sincerity. I’m all about authenticity, and while moving away from home is exciting, it’s also tough. I seek to balance disillusionment with joy, disappointment with joie de vivre, honesty with discretion.
Here you’ll find stories and pictures of places and people; my thoughts about language learning–both as a teacher and a lifelong learner; the challenges of assimilating to a foreign community; thoughts about cross-cultural relationships; discussion of food and food culture; and maybe even some travel advice (learn from my mistakes).
Croissants & Conjugations, while personal, is not my diary. I hope to instead use my perspective to give readers a lens into a small part of France (and elsewhere).
Thanks for stopping by! I’d love to hear from you.