Packing for TAPIF

One of the bigger stressors when it comes to doing TAPIF (or moving abroad for any period of time, like study abroad), is packing. There’s always a mild panic of have I brought too much? or have I brought too little? or what if I forget some oddly specific thing that can’t be bought where I’m going?? This is now my third time packing for a lengthy stay abroad, so I’d like to think myself an expert (or at least, someone with some experience… maybe expert is giving myself too much credit). For that reason, I thought I’d write about the tips I have for packing in preparation for TAPIF, and how to make the most of your (potentially) limited luggage. This post is a bit long so feel free to scroll down to the bottom this of the post to go to my packing list!

Every time I’ve had to put together my suitcases for my journeys abroad, my packing list has gotten shorter and shorter. I’ve learned what I actually need, what’s nice to have, and what absolutely isn’t a necessity (I brought Wellies with me when I studied abroad and wore them ONCE. They’ve never come with me since, even though I love them). The last time I did TAPIF, I travelled with a large checked suitcase, a carry-on, and a backpack. Even having done the packing debacle before I did TAPIF last time, I still ended up bringing things I didn’t wear, AND managing to forget things that might’ve been important. I’ll be traveling with the same luggage restrictions this time around (with a 20kg limit on my checked bag). Fingers crossed I get it slightly more right this time! You can bring more or less luggage, but remember that you’ll have to schlep everything you bring with you through the airport (possibly more than one if you have layovers), and carry it through all the transit you’ll need to get to wherever you’re placed. Only bring what you can comfortably carry/get by moving around with on your own.

Important packing tip: Make sure you put any prescription medication, along with emergency toiletries, and anything else you can’t live without or that is hard to replace (like your retainers) in your carry on! If the airline makes you check your carry on because of limited room, be sure to move those items into your personal backpack/purse!

What to pack

My general rule of thumb when it comes to figuring out how much to pack, is to first figure out your laundry cycle for clothes. Do you do laundry every week? Biweekly? Once a month? Then determine how many clothes you need for that amount of time and pack that, plus some extras (in case you travel for longer than your laundry cycle, or something happens). That’s a good estimate of what to bring, but of course, you can bring more or less, depending on how often you want to rewear clothes, and how fashionable you want to be.

The thing that always gets me, and takes up a ton of room, is shoes. I always bring too many pairs, and I have such an awful time deciding which ones to bring with me! Shoes definitely add a lot of weight, so you don’t want to weigh your suitcase down too much (most airlines have weight limits for checked bags, be sure to check them carefully before you set off to the airport, or you might have to pay for overweight bags), but it’s obviously personal preference how many pairs you want to bring. Think about comfortable shoes that you could walk in for a while if you travel, or if your bus stop is closed and you have to walk to the next one (true story, this did happen to me once). Flip flops are also good shoes to have as shower shoes for travel. I also recommend trying to stuff some socks/tights/small items into your shoes if possible to maximize space!

Another area of packing where you can reduce items is toiletries. Almost everything you use in your daily life toiletry wise can be found in France. This means you can save a lot of space by not packing a full carton (is it a carton?) of shampoo or a full tube of toothpaste to last you your whole contract. I usually bring a travel sized shampoo and toothpaste in my carry on in case I have my bags delayed, or in the case of France, can’t move into my permanent housing situation immediately. You’ll want just enough to tide you over until you can go to the shops/get settled, but you can buy most big name brands in France. The one toiletry I do bring with me is my face washes because I’ve gotten quite particular with my routine, and my skin always acts up when I switch it up – but that’s personal preference!

Random things to bring that might not have crossed your mind: laundry and lingerie bags. Makes washing easier and easy to transport (although a big grocery bag could also work if your closest laverie requires walking). Lingerie bags are great for keeping your socks together, and a potential necessity this year due to needing masks. Another thing: I also know assistants who brought spices/food items that aren’t available in France as a way to stave off the home sickness, but I personally rank this low on my packing priority list (to each their own, though)!

Clothes for different weathers

The first thing you should do once you have your placement (and you can even start this a bit after finding out your academie), is to look up the climate. Will you be in a mountainous region where it snows and gets quite cold during the winter? Are you in a temperate part of France where it might rain a lot? What will the average temperature be? Depending on what the average weather in your area looks like, you’ll want to pack the most clothes for that weather – keeping in mind the professional looking clothes you’ll need for teaching. Professional being jeans that aren’t ripped and clothes you’d wear as a “teacher”, but not so professional as to need a blazer or suit/tie combination. My rule of thumb is one step up from what the students would wear, but some schools are more lax/strict than others. Then, pack a couple of clothes for opposite weather. For instance, I’m bringing two pairs of shorts in case I visit somewhere warmer (assuming travel becomes possible), but no more than that since I won’t need them in Dijon! As a side note regarding shorts, women in France don’t seem to wear them – I’m not sure why, but it’s not something you see often, just as something to consider while packing!

Autumn/winter in France is not the warmest, so if you don’t have one, you’ll definitely want a warmer coat, preferably a waterproof one as well (or two separate coats, if you like). You can plan on investing in one once you get to France to reduce your packing load, but as I’ve already got one (that I bought in France ironically), I’ll be stuffing it into my suitcase. Bring scarves (or at least A scarf – scarves are very French so it’s a perfect way to blend in easily, but can also be bought in France), a hat, and a lightweight pair of gloves for potential early morning bus waits. My biggest packing tip for France is LAYERS. Bring clothes that you can layer, like lightweight shirts (t-shirts and long sleeved shirts), sweaters, cardigans etc… That way, you can mix and match depending on the weather, and don’t need entirely different outfits! Last time I did the program, my schools did not have great heating, so I was super thankful for my sweaters and layers (since wearing a coat in class is not comme il faut).

How to pack

The biggest packing hurdle is actually setting down to doing it. My first step is always to create a packing checklist (which I’ll post below), and to break it up into sections. I have four: toiletries, clothing, electronics, and miscellaneous (which is segmented into paperwork and personal effects). You can also then further divide into carry on and checked bag, but I’m more of a “wherever it fits” kind of gal when it comes to packing. You can obviously make your own categories for what works best for you and your packing style, this is just the way that makes the most sense on paper for me!

I kind of vaguely start the packing process pretty early, but don’t really dive into the real packing until like a week before I leave. I have a box set aside in my room where anything that isn’t clothing (mostly toiletries) that I’m definitely taking goes, and it’s grown slowly bigger over the past few weeks. That way, when it’s time to pack, I don’t have to do as much searching for various items. This is especially helpful if you’re buying toiletries/non clothing items for France so you don’t risk using them before you leave!

Another important packing tip: Use space bags! They’re a great way to reduce the amount of space your clothes take up. If you’re planning on staying in an AirBnb or temporary housing for a bit in France before moving somewhere permanently, I’d recommend dedicating a space bag for those clothes so you don’t need to undo and redo a bunch of space bags before you unpack for good. I also usually use Ziplock bags for underwear, bras, and socks as another way to reduce the space things take up in my suitcase. I do the Ziplock method for small trips as well, so definitely keep them in your suitcase after you unpack! Packing cubes can also come in handy for organizing and taking up less room, but they don’t reduce the space taken up in your suitcase as much as space bags.

I’ve always been told to look at everything you want to bring, and then reduce the amount by 50%, and that is how much you should take. I’ve never ascribed to that rule, necessarily, but I think it does showcase that you undoubtedly need less than you think you do. It’s a good idea while you make your checklist to think about what you’d wear if you weren’t abroad. I find that I tend to think I wear things more often than I do, and when I really think about it, I realize that a lot of the clothes in my closet don’t need to come with me because I don’t wear them that often here – why would I wear them often in France? Some questions to ask yourself might be: Do you really wear that sweater you’ve put on your list that often? Are you planning on going out enough to warrant multiple outfits for it? How easily can you wash that outfit? (this one is important if you’ve got a lot of dry clean only clothes… do you want to be searching for a dry cleaner if something happens to your favorite dress?)

I do want to stress that you should bring clothes that make you feel happy and clothes that you think you’ll wear. If it’s something that you might wear once or twice if a special event happens, it might be worth rethinking that, especially if it takes up a lot of space. However, if it makes you happy, and confident, and you want to wear it, go for it! I bought a new pair of dungarees over the summer and I’m bringing them because I can’t WAIT to show them off, and have an excuse to wear them. I think packing for TAPIF is finding a balance, because (in normal years, who knows with the current health situation) you won’t be in the classroom 7/7/24 and you might want to switch some things up while you’re there. Sometimes it’s worth having a pile of “if there’s room” clothes off to the side while you pack. If you put everything you definitely need/want to bring in your suitcase and have some extra room/pounds to spare, start pulling from that pile. This is also a good way to determine what clothes you could potentially live without in France.

My Packing List

As promised, here are my packing lists divided into categories for reference. Obviously you can add or remove based on what fits your needs, but if you’re trying to figure out where to start, hopefully this can be a somewhat helpful guide! Since I haven’t actually packed yet, this is all subject to change, but this is at least what’s on paper for me right now. I’ll start with my generic list of clothes:

Clothing I plan on packing

  • Shirts (long sleeve, and short sleeve. Since Dijon isn’t the warmest climate, I prioritize long sleeve, and only bring 3-4 short sleeve shirts)
  • Sweaters (three sweater tops that I wear as shirts, a crew neck sweater as an outer layer, a North Face sweater as another outer layer, and a sweatshirt)
  • Zip up vest
  • Cardigans (2-3)
  • Jeans (I usually bring 3-4 pair, but I live in them so that’s why)
  • Dress (I pack one in case I ever feel the need or desire to dress up)
  • Bras (sports and normal)
  • Socks (at least two weeks’ worth of pairs because one always gets lost in the dryer at some point)
  • Tights (1-2 pair)
  • Underwear (again, my estimate is two weeks’ worth)
  • Pajamas (I usually pack at least two pair: one pajama shorts and one pajama pants. Especially a pair I feel comfortable wearing in a hostel type travel situation)
  • Bath robe (because I am a little bougie at times)
  • Thermal underwear
  • Scarves (I have two: a heavy winter one, and a lightweight spring one) + hat + pair of gloves
  • Coats (rain coat and peacoat – can be bought in France to save room)
  • Work out shirts (I bring 2-3 tank tops, and 2-3 t-shirts. Enough for a week of working out every week day and some to spare).
  • Work out shorts/leggings (I only bring one pair of Nike shorts, and one pair of Primark leggings since I’m not the hardest work out person)
  • Shoes (number of pairs to be determined)
  • Dungarees (I have one pair)
  • Duvet (highly recommend NOT packing this if you don’t already have one. I bought one in France last time and since I already have several at home, it makes sense to try and bring it. No guarantees it’ll fit, though!)
  • Masks (a necessity for this year)
  • Lingerie + laundry bag
  • Single top sheet (France tends not to use top sheets and since I don’t fancy having to remove my duvet cover every week to wash it, I bring a top sheet so that’s all I have to wash)
  • Prescription medication that doesn’t fit in my toiletry bag (but still put in carry on suitcase)

Next, we have my packing list for toiletries. I’ve broken this up into what’s going into the checked bag and the carry on bag. Some things might have to be switched around depending on the size of things you want to take because of TSA restrictions, but again, it’s a rough guide. I have a large toiletry bag (soft shelled) where I store all of the checked toiletries, and a smaller bag that fits in my carry on so that they can easily be stored in my suitcase (and used for shorter trips). For any toiletries that have a screw on lid that aren’t sealed, I usually put some clingfilm/saran wrap over the top before replacing the lid – that way it won’t spill all over your bag!

Toiletries (checked bag)Toiletries (carry on)
• Electric toothbrush + charger• Toothbrush
• Flossers• Retainers
• Deodorant• Travel toothpaste
• Lotion/Aquaphor• Razor(s)
• Hairbrush + hairties + bobby pins• Chapstick
• Face wash (2)• Travel shampoo
• Ibuprofen/Acetaminophen/Motion Sickness Pills• Travel soap
• Nail clippers + nail file• Prescription medication
• Thermometer• Travel sized lotion
• Hand sanitizer• Travel hand sanitizer
• Retainer cleaner
• Hairspray (I have an anti lice spray I like to use when working in schools – by no means necessary)
• Neosporin
• Starter pack of bandaids
• Airborne (because I’m paranoid)
• Perfume (not a priority, but if I have room, it reminds me of home)
• Extra chapsticks

Toiletry packing tip: Bring painkillers from the US. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be harder to get in France (just because they aren’t over the counter), tend not to be as strong in my experience, and come in smaller packets. If you’re someone who uses these OTC medications, or just likes to have them in your purse, bring a decent supply with you, since the availability in France may not suit your needs!

After those necessities are packed, I have a list for electronics. Most of these go in my personal backpack that comes with me on the plane, but since there are so many cords these days, it’s helpful to write them all out, so here they are!

  • Chargers
    • Phone/iPod
    • Laptop
    • Headphones
    • Fitbit
  • Headphones
    • Apple headphones (2 – one pair for iPod, one for iPhone since the docks have CHANGED)
    • Wireless noise cancelling headphones for the flight
  • iPod
  • Laptop + case
  • Adapters (This one is my favorite because it has USB ports, multiple outlets, and even has a nightlight, but any will do. I usually bring at least two – the big one and then a smaller one that’s more suited for travel)
  • Extension cords (this can also be purchased in France, but I highly recommend investing in an extension cord with a French plug. It will make it so much easier to plug multiple adapters into one source of electricity, especially if where you live doesn’t have a ton of outlets. It will also let you have more freedom regarding where you move your plugs! Again, I’ve bought one already hence my packing it, but you can – and should – purchase it in France. This will undoubtedly go in my checked bag)

Finally, I have my list for miscellaneous things. This is my list for anything that doesn’t fit in my above categories, but that I feel I’m likely to potentially forget (or that I just want to check off to have a sense of accomplishment with it).

  • Journal
  • Paperwork for France (I have a folder dedicated for France paperwork)
    • Arrêté de Nomination
    • Birth certificate
  • Photos (both personal for decorating my living space and ID photos)
  • Glasses
  • Covid-19 Test (hopefully unique to 2020)
  • Passport(s)
  • Wipes for the plane
  • Face shield
  • Masks for the plane (separate from the ones going into my suitcase)

That’s what I use as my base line for packing! If you made it this far, thank you for reading! I hope it was somewhat helpful and offers some guidance when it comes to packing for TAPIF. Remember, you can always buy items of clothing/most things you might need in France if you forget them/find you need something you didn’t bring! Let me know if I forgot anything, or if you have any questions about packing for an extended period of time abroad!

Official arrêté and August updates

I’m not sure I understand how it’s almost the end of August, but here we are. After what feels like ages, I can say with a fair degree of confidence that I still am not confident in what I will be doing with my life going forward. I don’t say this in a “the world is bleak and I have no future” kind of way (although it does feel that way somedays), but just in a “things aren’t as certain as I’d like them to be, and that’s stressful” kind of way. That being said, things are still moving along, albeit at a glacial pace, so I figured I’d write a little update.

As promised in July, I received my official Arrêté de Nomination on 21 August with the beautiful stamp from the DIRECCTE office. I was actually quite impressed with the fact that it came in when they said it would. If circumstances were “normal” this year, assistants in the Dijon academie would now be able to apply for their visa, but as we all know, “normal” is the last word anyone would ever use to describe 2020. Everyone is still stuck in this weird limbo of not knowing what’s truly going on, but being told that the program is happening (insert rising panic levels here).

Official Arrêté de Nomination for TAPIF with stamp from DIRECCTE office
What the DIRECCTE stamp looked like for those placed in Dijon. Located in the lower right corner of the Arrêté de Nomination

Since I don’t need a visa to do the program because of my EU citizenship, I have clearance to do the program regardless of how any travel bans impact Americans, which I’ll be honest, is a mixed blessing. In other years where this would make things much easier, it’s unfortunately complicated them this time around. Where I usually would have unimpeded entrance to France, I now have to first enter the EU through the country of my second citizenship, and then go onto France, which lengthens the journey by several hours. That within itself isn’t a massive deal, although a tad inconvenient, but actually making myself buy the plane ticket(s – have to book multiple legs to get to Paris) feels like such a daunting task. Every time I entertain that idea (which is more often than I’d like to admit), I think about the possibility of France cancelling in person teaching and withdrawing the program, or France closing its borders before I’d be set to fly, and sending me back to square one all over again. I’m very grateful that I don’t have to deal with the stress of getting a visa, or wondering if they’ll start being issued soon (as of 23 August, work visas for Americans are not being issued), but while not getting the visa alleviates one stressor, it doesn’t get rid of them all. I also have to have a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before boarding my flight to Europe, which is an additional stressor in this whole thing, but that’s a different issue to be tackled after the tickets are bought.

On top of all the stress about booking my flight, I also feel like my brain is constantly vacillating on whether this is something I should be doing, given that I’d be working in schools, and in another country, far away from all my family. You know that song “should I stay or should I go”? That’s what I feel like every time I actually dedicate energy to thinking about the situation. I find that I overwhelm my brain and it’s very easy to shut down if I get too in my head about all the variables. I do really want to go to France, and I get excited every time I get an email from France or my prof ref, but I’m also nervous about the global situation, and what that means for me. I ALSO am concerned that if I stay at home and don’t go, that I’ll be unemployed for potentially a decent amount of time (not for lack for trying), or that I won’t make any progress on what were my personal goals, and that’s not an exciting outlook to have, either. I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel absolute confidence in whatever I choose to do, but I’m hoping I’ll have a moment of clarity at some point (and hopefully soon).

ANYWAY. That was some decent word spillage onto the page, but the good news is that most school personnel should be back in the office in France starting Monday, 24 August, so fingers crossed everyone will start getting more contact, and information at that point. It’s hard to know whether to book a flight when things might not happen, but I don’t know if we’ll really know until October 1 comes around. Obviously, everything is still touch and go, and frustratingly day to day, but I know that I, and everyone else doing TAPIF, aren’t the only ones in the world experiencing the effects of the global situation on this level. That doesn’t necessarily make the waiting and the decision making less stressful, but at least we aren’t alone. I’ve found a great support network in the other assistants for this year’s cohort, and I’m immensely glad for it (shoutout to the ever popping Discord chat – if you know, you know).

As August rolls to a close, it’s remarkable to me how quickly the process has gone by since I was accepted, considering that I haven’t been doing that much in my daily life (or at least, not as much as before everything shutdown). It’s hard to believe that if everything aligns, I’ll be in France this time next month, which is a weird statement under the best of circumstances, but especially right now. I’m not expecting any decision making to become easier in the coming weeks, or for there to be a sudden burst of clarity that wasn’t there before. I hope that one day I will read these pre-France posts back and laugh at how silly I was to be stressed, or at least have a “remember when” moment. Until then, we persist with the potential of new adventure in France! A (hopefully) bientôt!

Musicals to help cure your wanderlust

I’ve always loved traveling, but after being stuck at home (for good reason), the idea of going somewhere new and exciting is even more alluring than it was before – provided it is safe to do so. I’m well aware that even if I am able to get to France (I’m cautiously optimistic, but trying to keep my heart calm), while travel may be possible, it will most likely look different, and might not be a recommended activity. With all that in mind, I’ve been using music as a much needed distraction and escape for myself lately. Being the theatre person that I am, this has called for a lot of musical listening, and I thought I’d share the musicals that have been curbing my wanderlust (at least for the time being)!

Mamma Mia!

Here I go again… not only does this classic musical take place in Greece, but the music just makes you feel like you’re on holiday! Whether you’re singing “I can still recall, our last summer” to yourself as you wallow in the fact that who knows when your next adventure will be, or jamming out to “Waterloo” (how could you not), this musical is filled with bops and songs that will have you smiling in no time. Not to mention, dreaming of a vacation to Greece to recreate all the scenes (I’m looking at you, snorkel boys). If I had a little more “Money, Money, Money,” I’d be drinking down by the beach, being a “Dancing Queen” from dawn ’til dusk (okay, maybe not, but I do love being a dancing queen at all times of the day). Greece is definitely on my travel bucket list, and this musical bumped it up a few pegs for me, solely so I can live out some Mamma Mia dreams.

Amelie

I’m (hopefully) headed to France in a couple of months, so this one just makes sense! You can envision yourself wandering the streets of Paris with this soundtrack, and while “times are hard for dreamers,” picturing yourself drinking un café au lait on the cobblestones near the Seine, is a perfect little day dream (and a way to get through some days). Another, slightly less fun musical set in France? Les Miserables. While it may not have you smiling and envisioning an idyllic French life, you can see where the French get their (heart full of) love for their country, and it’ll make you want to do the same!

Annie

Leaping Lizards! Not only does this musical have an entire song dedicated to the city of NYC and its grandeur, but the iconic belting number “tomorrow” is the perfect one for looking on the bright side of any situation. Not to mention, the overflowing optimism of Annie herself is something to want to emulate and it’s always worth remembering that “you’re never fully dressed without a smile.” While we may not be able to literally visit “Easy Street,” this musical certainly makes me want to walk around Times Square and be part of the “whole world (that) keeps coming” to NYC.

Mary Poppins

This soundtrack is “practically perfect,” in every way. From the British accents that make you want to move to Cherry Tree Lane immediately, to the jovial classic of “Chim Chim Cher-Ee,” the songs are sure to bring a smile to your face. “Feed The Birds” will have you longing to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and Mary’s disposition will have you firmly believing that “anything can happen if you let it.” Whether you listen to the classic Julie Andrews soundtrack, or the original London cast recording, you’ll be transported and wanting to “step in time” down the streets of London within a few songs.

Oklahoma!

Wanderlust doesn’t have to mean traveling across the globe – you can still visit some great places in your own backyard (I speak as someone from the US). For that reason, a great musical for curing your American wanderlust is Oklahoma! The clue is in the title alone with this musical, but the pride with which the characters sing about their home state might just have you wanting to hitch a “Surrey with the fringe on the top” all the way down South. Anytime “The Farmer and The Cowman,” comes on, it’s hard to not just dance, and not want to attend a barnyard function. Even if you have no knowledge of the state itself, this soundtrack might just make you want to swing by and visit!

42nd Street

Another musical that’ll make you want to visit New York, and specifically Broadway. While Broadway is closed for now, I can’t help envisioning what it’ll be like to go sit in a theatre again, and to watch beautifully choreographed numbers sung by phenomenal singers. The second the overture starts, I’m picturing myself watching the show, or even performing it myself! The “lullaby of Broadway” is enough to make you want to buy tickets to your nearest live performance immediately, but 42nd Street, on the whole, will also make you want to buy a pair of tap shoes and “shuffle off to Buffalo” (or your nearest fun place to visit).

Sound of Music

Every song in this musical will have you wanting to head to the Alps, and say “so long, farewell” to wherever you’re living now. The Oktoberfest vibes from “Lonely Goatherd,” and the serene encouragement of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” might lead you to wanting to pack up your bags much like Maria did. Just the opening swell from “The Hills are Alive” is enough to make you want to run through any field of grass, and to have the joy that comes with exploring a new place. Austria is also on my list of places to visit so I can attempt to recreate the high note scene in “Do-Re-Mi” (even if I can’t actually hit that note).

There are definitely more musicals out there to cure your wanderlust (or at least, to appease the desire to travel for the time being), but these are ones that stood out for me. Let me know if you have any other recommendations or if I missed any! I’m off to jam out to some good tunes and daydream about when we can travel again.

Arrêté de Nomination

Hello again from your favorite “stressed out about moving to France” blogger! Okay, maybe not favorite, but a girl can dream, right? This process is still very much day by day, but things are moving along, so take that information and do with it what you will. As I promised to document my journey, here is the continuation of my progess, and what’s going on, in my journey of getting to France.

More communication! I got an email on 23 July from the rectorat de Dijon with some logistical explanations of the process, along with paperwork that I needed to fill out/have. This included an accusé de reception (a document I signed to accept my position), OFII paperwork (needed for the visa application), and my unofficial arrêté de nomination. I do want to clarify that not every assistant who heard from their rectorat got all of these documents – some got more, some got less so this isn’t in any way an indication of what all communication looks like, just what I happened to get! Anyway. It was very exciting to get another email from France, and to “know” of another person there who will be helping run the show once we arrive. I’ll admit that my heartbeat speeds up a little every time I see an email in French, but in a good way!

What’s an Arrêté de Nomination?

One of the most valuable pieces of paper that you will get when doing TAPIF is the arrêté de nomination. This is essentially your work contract. It’s needed for opening a bank account, (potentially) finding housing, and most importantly, for getting your visa. As I mentioned above, I received an “unofficial” arrêté (non-tampponnée). This means that it doesn’t have the official stamp from the DIRECCTE office that is needed to make this document valid for visa applications, or anywhere else where you need an official documentation of your work. If you are participating in TAPIF as an EU citizen, you don’t need the official arrêté to do the job since you don’t need a visa, but it’s always smart to have stamped documents while in France (the bureaucracy, my friends). Just because I’m still waiting for my official documentation, doesn’t mean that the unofficial arrêté is not valuable. Unofficial or official, it provides you with your schools, and which is considered your “principal” school. This is technically the school where you’ll have most of your contact, and where you should go first when you have a question. While you may have more hours at this school, I’ve got a 50/50 divide of my time (so far), so I should be divided with my time evenly at both the schools where I’m assigned.

What does an Arrêté look like?

In case you’re wondering if you’ve been sent your arrêté, scan the document for the words “arrêté de nomination.” This will be on the paperwork regardless of whether it’s the stamped version or not. It lays out the contract dates, the title of your position, and your school(s) where you’ll be teaching. I had received this information already, but the last time I did the program, the arrêté was the first time I saw my schools’ names! I think that’s typically how you find out your schools, but since this year is a little topsy-turvy, some of us got contact in other forms before the arrêté. The arrêté also provides email addresses, and telephone numbers so you can introduce yourself to your school (usually the principal will see it), but since they’re all on holiday now through end of August, the rush to email seems to not be there (for me, at least). I have edited out the names of my schools since I’m not there yet, but I thought there may be some curiosity about what an arrêté looks like!

Arrête de Nomination for TAPIF

As an update of where things are in the process, there’s still no word on travel to France for Americans or anything in relation to visas. The rectrice in her email said that she would send the official arrêté de nomination as soon as she had it, but due to previous communication, I’m not anticipating that before the end of August at the earliest. We did, however, get a date for when teachers will be back at work for when we could reach out to them, which is at least a milestone to put on the calendar. I would recommend, regardless of whether you get an official or a non-official arrêté first, that you print the arrêté and put in a folder of “documents to bring to France.” I’ll write a post about all the paperwork I’m bringing with me once I get closer to my actual departure (fingers crossed), but it’s always a good idea to have multiple copies of things, so starting early will reduce stress on that end.

That’s my update for now, but as always, I hope I’ll be back with more as I continue on in this journey! À bientôt! Xx

First contact!

It happened! I received an email on Saturday 18 July at 12:15 am (yes, I was awake when I received it) from the person in charge of language assistants in the académie de Dijon. I was surprised to be receiving any kind of communication over the weekend, but especially so since I had resigned myself to not hearing anything from France until September. It was definitely a pleasant surprise, and I’m not complaining!

The email was fairly lengthy, with information about the region, and what the next steps would be. The best part, though? I got my school placements! I’ll be teaching in a high school (lycée), and a middle school (collège) in Dijon proper! I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to have the experience of working with both levels in secondary, but even more so to know that I’ll be in Dijon itself. There’s no guarantee for city placement when you participate in TAPIF, and even though I had requested specifically a big city, I was a little worried considering there aren’t any *big* cities in the académie de Dijon, and I had read somewhere that many assistants end up in medium sized cities. I’m truly over the moon to be somewhere that’s well connected via trains and public transport, and I would be lying if I said I haven’t already started doing research into all things Dijon and fun day trips I could potentially take. Ironically, based on some preliminary research, Dijon seems very similar to Angers, just on the other side of the country! I’m excited to see how my experience with TAPIF this time around compares to last time (pandemic notwithstanding).

In addition to my school placements, I was given contact information for my prof référent at each school. Your prof référent is a teacher at your school who is assigned to help you (the assistant) navigate the process of being an assistant, and to help you get settled into the position. I immediately (or rather, next morning), reached out to both of them, introducing myself. I’ve already heard back from one, but not the other – not surprising though, considering it was the weekend when I reached out to them.

Unfortunately, this email did not include an arrete, so I still don’t have any official paperwork for the position. I was told that due to delays (virus related and not), that I should not expect to have my arrete before the 20th of August. That means I still have at least a month before that comes through, so the waiting game is still not over. I don’t need the paperwork to apply for a visa luckily (you do if you need one, though), but I still can’t officially move to France, find housing, or open a bank account without that official piece of paper. Not that my moving is 100% happening either, but I’m trying not to focus on that.

Now that I have my schools, I can officially (oof, I’ve said that word a lot in this) start scoping out housing. It’s possible that my school will provide housing, or have resources for me, but I also want to do research on my own in case they don’t (again, there are no guarantees with this program). Usually, the recommendation is to wait until you arrive in France to start looking for housing, and to just book yourself an AirBnB for a minimum of a week while you go out and search. That’s not something I feel particularly comfortable doing this year, given that I want to quarantine myself as best as possible after I arrive in France to do my part in keeping the curve flat. Last time I participated, I had secured a room in a foyer before my flight even left American soil, so I’m looking down that route again as a possible option. The flexibility with a foyer would allow me the option to find alternate housing if I wanted once I was settled and felt safe doing so. Obviously, I’m not going to be making any decisions now regarding housing, but it’s definitely something at the front of my brain.

There’s still a lot up in the air, but I’m so pleased to have received that email over the weekend. Even though this latest update may seem benign, it means that things are certainly moving. I’m still very much having mixed thoughts about the whole thing, but I will admit that when I got the email, I was very excited and buzzing about my placement – so much so that I couldn’t go to bed for another hour! I’ll finish this post with an outline of what to do once you receive contact information for your prof référent/conseillier(e) so if you’re in this boat, you can stress less than I did when sending my introductory email:

Emailing your contact(s) in France

Once you get contact information for your prof référent/conseillier(e), you should reach out to them as soon as possible. I wrote a decent sized email, but you can write as much as you’re comfortable with in your email. I sent an identical one to each prof référent, only specifying the school where I would be teaching in the body of the email depending on who would be receiving that particular email. I wrote my email in French, but received a reply in English from one of my two contacts. If you’re teaching at the secondary level, there’s a higher likelihood English will be used in communication, but if you’re comfortable, I’d recommend writing the first email in French. Here’s what I included:

Subject: Bonjour de votre nouvelle(/nouveau) assistant(e)!

  • Brief introduction of myself: name, age, where I live, whether I’d lived in France/visited Dijon before
  • Asking for any information that would be relevant to my preparation for the year as an assistant (anything in particular I should bring from home for teaching?)
  • Asking for recommendations for housing in the area/what previous assistants have done for housing
  • Previous relevant experience if you want to add it (for me, this was my past participation in TAPIF)
  • Signed off asking them to let me know if they needed any further information from me, and reiterating how excited I was to work at (insert school) in the upcoming school year!
  • If you’re writing in French, be sure to sign off with “cordialement” rather than a simple “merci”

There you have it! You don’t have to write a super long email, especially since you’ll probably have more questions based on their reply (I know I did). Ask whatever is most “urgent” for you to know now (such as whether housing will be provided, or if there are any recommendations), as opposed to something you can wait to discover (which bank branch you should use, or your hours). Considering that my first contact from them was in July, there’s still a lot that they probably don’t know, and things that will develop between now and my (hopeful) departure.

Once you’ve formulated your email, click SEND and you’re good to go 🙂 Hope that was semi helpful – I know I fretted over the content for a while, but I know that they expect these kinds of questions, especially in a first email. Just be yourself (corny, I know) and send that puppy off to France (electronically, of course).

Let the planning for French adventures continue! À bientôt!

The wait continues…

If you’re a theatre person, you’ll understand when I say that I feel like that bit in “I know it’s today” where Sutton Foster just belts out “the waiting, the waiting, the WAIIIIIIITING” at the moment. For everyone else, it’s a song from Shrek the musical and Fiona is singing about being stuck in her tower her whole life. My waiting is not that extreme, but it certainly does feel long. I made a decision to document my experience with TAPIF this time around more, and this is my attempt at doing so. I feel like it may be boring to read, but not only am I trying to get my writing skills up to snuff for whenever I can get to doing more (which hopefully won’t be too long from now), but also because this year’s program is taking place during such extenuating circumstances. We’re truly navigating uncharted territory, and while that’s always an element of that within the program, this is on another level.

This program is a lot of hurry up and wait, especially in the stages before actually getting to France, and this element has certainly been exacerbated by the current situation and travel restrictions. After clicking accept on my initial acceptance email at the end of June, there was radio silence* from the program until 14 July (Bastille Day, ironically). An update! Okay, more like a check in, but at least it was some kind of communication? It was basically an email letting us know that they’re monitoring the travel situation (nothing concrete there), and that our dossiers were being sent to France, and to expect communication from our schools either within the next two weeks, or in September. Yup, you read that right… SEPTEMBER. This is because the French will be on holiday from late July until the end of August, so if your arrete doesn’t come in before they leave, you’ll be on hold until September, which is an added stressor. Honestly, classic French behavior, but it does elevate the heart rate a bit. I do want to mention that this time frame is not abnormal during normal years – there are many assistants who don’t get their arretes until September, but usually the process starts earlier than mid-July. Now I’m just crossing my fingers and toes that my school will send me my arrete before they go on break to at least alleviate one element of this very lengthy waiting process.

Image of Promenade du Bout Du Monde at sunset in Angers, France
Notice the nervous excitement (and jet lag) on my face from my first time living in France

Usually, there’s all kinds of buzz on the Facebook group about when to book flights, when the ball will get rolling in terms of assignments, and people already planning for their many travels during the eight weeks of paid holiday (yes, eight weeks, pretty lush). This time, the group is filled with posts asking about the visa situation, quarantine regulations, and whether the program will actually run. Currently, work visas are not being issued, and are not under the exemption list of Americans allowed into France. As such, American assistants are not guaranteed entry in France to even begin the program at this point, which is definitely a cause for stress. I completely understand France’s perspective with not wanting to let citizens from the US in what with how the situation is being handled here, but at the same time, it was the French government that hired the assistants in the first place. Wishful thinking I know, but I’ve already had the rug pulled out from under me once with an international job this year, I don’t know that I could handle the disappointment of it happening again. As such, we’re all in limbo waiting for news from France, or any updates that will give clarity about our status as workers in France. I’m lucky that I don’t need a visa because of EU dual citizenship, but ironically, that doesn’t immediately allow me entry into France, either with the current travel restrictions and parameters. If things don’t change, I will have to fly via the country of my dual citizenship first to gain entry into the EU, then onto France, which is an added layer of fun in the journey of finding flights. Lastly, there’s a big question about quarantining – will it be required? Should I quarantine at the airport? Do I need to arrive in France two weeks earlier than planned to accommodate for that? I’m mentally preparing myself to quarantine currently because I don’t want to be the American that causes France to shut down entirely, but those kind of questions are evidence of how different this year of TAPIF is going to be, and the kind of questions participants are having to ask. It’s daunting enough to move to another country under the best of circumstances, now I also have to think about how I could provide food for myself during a two week quarantine without interacting with anyone (amongst other things). It’s enough to make you second guess your participation, and whether it’s a *smart* thing to do in light of everything going on in the US and the rest of the world.

I’m hopeful that my next update will contain information about my actual school placement, and hopefully better news on the situation of getting over to France. I’m already doing my research on acquiring masks (loads and loads of masks) for life in France, and for the 15+ hour journey over to Europe. If anyone has any advice on how to reduce my anxiety about the flight itself, I would gladly welcome it. I know that I’m approaching the situation with some ambivalence, and much as I want to be over the moon excited about going to France, I worry that I might not be doing the right thing by going over there. I may be escaping the way the US is handling the pandemic, but is that fair of me to escape to France and put the onus on them? That being said, I worry that if I stay at home in the US, I will still be unemployed, isolated, and with no change in my situation from where I am now. Going to France is directly in line with my goal of ending up in Europe, and working there, and I’d be lying if I said that I’m not thinking about the benefits of being there for that goal. It’s definitely a conundrum in some ways, and what I wouldn’t give for it to be more straightforward not only for me, but for everyone else taking part in the program. It’s very much a day by day situation, and that goes for my mindset towards it all as well.

So here we are, back to more waiting and waking up every morning hoping for an email from France. I’m not sure if this update is really beneficial for anyone or more just a brain dump of my own, but it’s occupied some time and deviated my brain away from all the (many, MANY) thoughts I’m having about France. I’m trying to remain cautiously optimistic amidst it all, and while I’m not getting my hopes all the way up, I’m not letting them fall either.

*Side note: I would just like to clarify that communication with TAPIF is fairly absent always. The lack of updates is not inherently due to the pandemic, and it’s important to know that this is the same situation I had when I participated in 18-19. Between my acceptance in April, and leaving for France in September, I probably got three or four emails, so this in no way is something new, but is definitely something that can be frustrating about the program… especially during a pandemic.

Longing to have those quintessentially French roofs as a view once more

TAPIF: Round Deux

Back in January, I decided to apply again to TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France). The decision, if I’m honest, was prompted mainly by the fact that at my position at the time, I had very little PTO, and I was missing the vast amount of time off I had while being a teaching assistant. I filled out the application, advocated for myself for a placement in middle/high school (not sure I could handle primary again), and sent it in thinking it would be as a last resort for me. As we all know by now, 2020 had different plans in store.

I had my year all mapped out, and when a wrench was thrown into it, France began inching closer and closer as the viable option for me. I was laid off of work in March, and immediately began searching for jobs both locally, and internationally that would help further the plans I had laid out for the year. I was lucky enough to get an interview with a school in England for a student coordinator position (which I had applied for before sh*t hit the fan), which led to another interview, and ultimately a job offer. I was through the roof! This was going to be a chance for me to get my foot in the door working in England, and starting on my journey in international education. Unfortunately, not even a week after being offered the position, it was cancelled due to the pandemic, and the fact that there wouldn’t be a fall term at the school in England. I was absolutely devastated. I no longer had a job to look forward to, and there was no guarantee that the position would be open at a later date. How am I meant to begin a career in a field that may no longer exist? This was early May, and I was still waiting to hear back from TAPIF.

When I did the program during the 2018-2019 school year, I found out in early April that I had been accepted. By the beginning of June, there was still radio silence from DC, and it was looking like not only did I not have a future lined up, but that the program was up in the air as well. They assured us we’d hear by the end of the month, but with the entire world changing so rapidly, I wasn’t staking much claim in it, if I’m honest. Then, against all odds, on 23 June, I got my acceptance email! I’ve been accepted into the academie of Dijon at the secondary level. While Dijon wasn’t my first choice, it was my second, so we’re already off to a better start than the last time I did TAPIF. Not to mention, I got secondary, which is what I’ve always wanted, but I’m certainly excited about getting to try the program at a different level. PLUS, I’ll get to spend a lot of time coming up with mustard jokes and puns, which is a win in my book.

The joy inducing acceptance email!

I was honestly surprised at how excited I got seeing the email, and how much energy it gave me to know that I have something to look forward to, even if it isn’t entirely set in stone (who knows what could change between now and then). I’m definitely nervous about the travel aspect (it’s a LONG flight to France for me), but I’m trying not to focus too much energy on that at the moment, since it’s not like I’m getting on a plane tomorrow. Plus, I think that ultimately, I would feel safer in France if a second wave were to hit than I would in the US. I still very much want that position in England, and I do think that’s where I ultimately want to end up, but this may just be a stepping stone for me to get there. After all, being in Europe would make me closer to the UK and allow me to apply for positions and network over there more easily. I have accepted my place, and now I wait for my city assignment, which I hope will bring me as much excitement as the initial acceptance email gave me! Stay tuned for updates on that front.

There’s been a lot of mental reframing for me over the past few months about how things have been playing out, and what my life might look like going forward. Obviously, there are no guarantees, and I’m still immensely worried about a future in study abroad advising, but as of this instant, I can’t do anything about that so I’m choosing to focus on the fact that I do have a next step coming towards me at the end of the summer. That, in and of itself, is a massive positive for me, and gives me a little bit of relief (even if there’s some fear attached to it). Either way, I’m a little bit more excited about what’s coming for me, and looking at tomorrow (both literally and figuratively) with a bit of a wider smile… at least for now. France, it looks like I’m coming for you soon! Allons-y!

Being an extra on American Vandal: Season 2

Back in 2018, I had the opportunity to be an extra for Netflix’s American Vandal: Season 2. I had never been an extra before, but thought it could be fun, and it was a way to earn some money as well. They filmed not far from where I live, so it seemed like a no brainer to at least try for it. I had auditioned to be one of the speaking characters a few months prior, but obviously, nothing came of that. In February, I received an email stating that they were looking to cast extras, so without hesitation, I submitted all of my information. I didn’t hear anything else until a month later, when I received an email with a week of dates, asking for our availabilities. I promptly responded, and here begins the extra adventure.

I got an email a couple of days before I was set to be an extra confirming my booking for day one (I did two days on set). I was only given a date, and some vague information about what clothing to bring to set. The next day, they sent me another email with my call time of 5:30am, telling me where to go, and what to bring. As an extra, they ask you to bring clothing that fits the aesthetic of what they’re shooting. Sometimes it’s just colors, sometimes it’s a decade they’re trying to replicate, or sometimes it’s generic “wear something you’d wear if you were in high school.” This particular email asked us to bring clothes that were befitting of a uniform like a white collared shirt, khaki pants/skirt, dress shoes in brown or black, etc… Other than that, I was given no information about what my day would entail or what I would be doing.

My first day, I arrived at 5:30am, and walked to set in the dark (this was March so no early sun rise) after having driven almost an hour to the shooting location (it was a VERY early morning for me that day). As a side note, in all the times I’ve been an extra, I’ve never been given a location until after I’ve confirmed that I will do it, so sometimes you end up schlepping a little. I arrived and was ushered into “holding,” which is the area where all the extras wait during the day to be called and/or used. You sign in by presenting ID and are given a form that you hold onto for the whole day that will be used to clock your hours. I presented what I had brought to the costume people, and was then given a Saint Bernadine uniform to wear for the day. It consisted of a khaki skirt, button up shirt (the only thing I wore that I had brought myself besides my shoes), pullover vest, a clasped plaid tie, and knee high socks. Peep the photo below for the top half of my look. Sometimes when you’re an extra, you provide your entire wardrobe, but in this case, since we all had to play students who wore uniforms at school, they provided most of the attire (I truly had a very lucky first extra experience).

This is the only photo I have in costume. Since no photos are allowed on set, I was so nervous to even take one in my costume, so I snuck this one on my last day right before I left!

After getting dressed, we were allowed to eat a catered breakfast. I can’t really remember what we were fed, but I remember being pleasantly surprised, and I certainly couldn’t complain about it! Around 7:00am, more extras arrived who had had a later call time, and they filed in for at least another hour. Ironically, those of us who had been called early hadn’t done anything at that point other than eat. A lot of extra work is just sitting around and waiting.

At around 9:00am, we were ushered into the gymnasium (set was at a community college), where we sat in another holding room for probably around 90 minutes (again, a lot of hurry up and wait). Luckily, there were snacks! I spent my entire first day of shooting sitting in basketball bleachers, and the first scene we shot was one where all the students were present at an assembly, and then while cheerleaders fired T-shirt cannons, we were rained on by cat litter (which in reality was film dust, fear not). If you haven’t seen the show, I promise it makes sense in context. We rehearsed the scene several times without anything, and then filmed it probably three or four times while getting dusted. After each shot, makeup artists had to run in to clean us up so we didn’t look like we were already dusty when the scene started. I was lucky to be placed in the front row, so I could find myself pretty easily when the episodes aired on Netflix!

I’ve circled myself for easy viewing (pardon the expletive)!

I can’t really remember what came next exactly, but I do know that we took lunch after they filmed this scene. It took a while to get everything filmed because there were so many extras to place, and the clean up between takes wasn’t quick. We went back to our initial holding area and ate the catered meal there. They dock you one hour for lunch, but in this case, it was a good lunch, and we were indoors so I couldn’t really complain (I’ve done extra work where I’ve been outside ALL day). I do remember sitting in holding after lunch for a while, and trying to study for the GRE (something I don’t recommend trying to do while being an extra). We were then instructed to change our clothes into our “day time” apparel, as we would be filming a basketball game next. Ironically, I hadn’t been informed that we needed to bring a change of clothes, but luckily I had come in my jeans and a sweater so I was able to make it work. Always smart to bring more than what you think you need, just in case.

After changing, we went right back to our seats in the basketball bleachers. I honestly couldn’t feel my lower half after that day, I spent SO many hours sitting in hard bleachers, yikes. Since we were playing students, we didn’t have to do too much, but we did watch the game (when they were filming), and were told when to cheer/react. I remember doing multiple takes of us having to cheer after the star player scored a free throw, because if he missed, we had to redo it. We were all assigned sections of the bleachers, and then periodically would be moved to try and make it look like we were attending multiple games. Since we were playing high schoolers, we were allowed our phones during this shooting, which isn’t common, but was very lucky as it passed the time a little more quickly (don’t worry, I talked to the people around me as well)! We were given props and occasionally crew would come up to us and ask us to pose for photos/videos that could potentially be incorporated into the show since they use Instagram posts as evidence in their investigation. None of the ones I was in ended up in the show, but some that were taken in my section, did! I was, however, by the basket so again, I ended up in the final shot! While filming this, I received the email confirming that I would be coming back the next day for a second day of filming. That was the last thing I filmed for that day, and I finally went home around 8:00pm, making for a 15 hour day. You do get paid overtime for anything over 8 hours, though.

No, I didn’t bring the head to set with me

Checking out involved giving our costume pieces back, and then lining up to be signed out so they can check your hours. The costume people also took a photo of every person in their costume before we had changed out of it earlier.

Luckily, I had a 7:00am call for day two, so I didn’t have to get up nearly as early as I had for day one. I was outfitted in the same uniform I had worn the day before, and waited in holding again for some time. They called several of us up to the cafeteria upstairs where we started our morning. I didn’t spend a ton of time up there as I exited the scene fairly quickly, but I know that they were up there for a while after I had gone back down to holding. A lot of whether you’re used for extra work can just be luck of whether you’re sitting in the right place, or placed just right.

After lunch, they had us do some more scenes in the cafeteria, and more Instagram photos upstairs as well. I know none of those made it into the final cut, but the story line did. Oh well! We had a fun time doing those little bits anyway since only a handful of us were doing it. I do remember being told when we were filming “snapchat” videos not to say anything, as if you’re given lines as an extra, they have to pay you more!

Surprise, surprise, we ended up back in the gymnasium for the rest of the day. I really don’t remember what was being filmed, apart from the fact that they sent a large number of minors home (they have limits on working hours), and then a small chunk of us were asked to do another shot of being sprayed with the cat litter. We were positioned, and were told we had one shot at this one, as the cannons would be firing at us from quite a close distance. I, unfortunately, ended up holding a sign so my face can’t be seen in this shot, but you can see my arm and watch! Regardless, after they fired the dust at us, we all had white hair and were completely covered. They didn’t even try to clean us up, but luckily, that was the end of the night so we were free to go. One perk of being that dusted up, was we all got a slight pay bump for the “inconvenience,” of it, which was a nice little bonus.

The cloud of dust at the top right does not accurately portray the amount of dust hurled at us

Much like the first day, my second day was a long one, albeit only 13 hours. Being an extra can be such a grab bag for what hours you get, what the set/holding areas are like, and how good the experience can be. I had a great time being an extra on American Vandal: Season 2, and I’ve gone on to be an extra for other productions as well, although I’ve never returned for a second day, again (not usually a personal choice, by the way). It definitely set the bar high for extra experience. Plus, it’s always a fun thing to be able to say you’re on Netflix, even if your name doesn’t appear anywhere!

Anyway, that’s my tale! I know it’s old, but I’m revisiting old memories at the moment, and this made for a good one. Hope you enjoyed my retelling of being an extra, and honestly, if you haven’t watched either season of American Vandal, I highly recommend it (and not just because I’m in it)!

Waiting for the curtains to rise

All the world’s a stage, and that much has become more and more evident lately. Whether it is through the creative means of broadcasting theatre, or local theatres promoting fun activities for those stuck at home, it is now more clear than ever that theatre is not only important, but necessary.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was in rehearsals leading up to my state’s Stay-At-Home order. I won’t lie, I miss it dearly. Not only was it something more in my routine to keep me busy, but it was a phenomenal distraction from life, and the most welcoming environment. Almost every rehearsal in which I’ve been has been full of smiles, giggles, and ridiculousness in a way that can’t be replicated in an office. The theatre is a space that lets you pretend to be someone else, enter a world that isn’t your own, and take part in fantastical stories. Not only that, but the theatre community itself is one that almost can’t be described. It’s warm, and loving, and eccentric in all the best ways. Whether theatre is something from which you make your living, or a hobby you do in your spare time, there is no denying the love and acceptance that comes from those with whom you share the stage (on and off). You form bonds with cast mates that sometimes can’t be explained to those who weren’t there, and everyone is truly there for one another (you need a quick change buddy, I’ve got you). It’s hard to go through weeks of rehearsals, tech week, and performances without forging a certain kind of relationship with everyone, and I miss that kind of experience. I had just gotten back into theatre after some time off, and the void that those few weeks had filled, was one I didn’t even know was empty.

I realize that hundreds of people will have written about why theatre is important to them, and I’m just adding to that, but this idea has been mulling in the back of my head for a couple of weeks now so please, bear with me. Plus, it’s certainly something that means a lot to me and I want to get back to writing so here we are. I started theatre after seeing a production of Macbeth at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in seventh grade and I was absolutely hooked. It quickly became a big part of my life and I’m so grateful for it. Every theatre in which I’ve ever stepped foot has become a sort of second home, with a community that has made me feel safe and happy. It’s a place where I’ve found confidence and my voice (literally and figuratively), and a place where I have been free to express myself through characters that can, at times, be the absolute opposite of myself (or if you’re playing an Oompa Loompa, at all times). Theatre has made me push myself physically – ten hour tech days are something different, let me tell you – and it has pushed me to allow myself to fail. It’s never easy to make a mistake, or to put yourself out there in a way that so many people can see, but theatre has made that risk feel a little bit easier to take. I look back on every show I’ve done with fond memories (yes, even the disasters backstage, the forgotten choreography, and the many, many wigs), and I know that I want to make more.

Theatre is the perfect magic

The theatre is a place where I feel endlessly happy. Whether it’s creating ridiculous backstories for characters without names, or being drawn into a performance from the audience, there are infinite ways for me to fall more in love with theatre. There’s no way really to describe the feeling you get when the house lights dim and that hush falls over the audience. The nerves that settle after you’ve delivered your first line. The thrill of being so immersed in a story that you forget where you are. The excitement of putting on your makeup and truly becoming a character for the first time. I find these feelings just aren’t the same when reproduced in a not live fashion (don’t get me wrong, I still love a good Netflix binge). It’s been a couple of years since I stepped foot on stage, and I’m hoping to be able to get back to it soon. I can’t wait for theatres to reopen and for people (including myself) to get to enjoy them again.

Even though I cannot be in the rehearsal room, I am grateful for theatres across the world keeping the community alive, and spreading the joy that theatre brings in a time where joy is so very much needed. No matter whether you’re onstage or in the audience for any given show, each production offers something for everyone that we might not even know we needed until it is presented to us. With technology, the world is still getting to experience the magic of theatre, albeit through a screen. The National Theatre has started presenting weekly showings of National Theatre Live productions on YouTube, which have so far not disappointed. The Globe is also showcasing some of its classic Shakespeare plays online. The theatre where I got my start is presenting weekly “how to” videos for crafts on Facebook to engage children in the world of creation and make believe. I even recently took part in creating a scene from The Importance of Being Earnest with stuffed animals that will be edited into the entire play with others doing their own take on the same. These are just some of the examples of ways that theatre is still touching our lives, and making this unprecedented situation a little bit easier to bear. Some ways in which we are making all the world a stage.

At the start of the year, I made a resolution to get back into theatre, and to do more of it. I was on track to achieve that, but now, it’s unclear if that resolution will be kept, and grappling with those feelings is still something with which I’m struggling. With all the unknown, it’s hard not to keep thinking about the fact that a return to the stage may be later rather than sooner, or that personally, it could be some times before I find myself back in a theatre. I know (or at least hope) that as things start to open back up, theatres will return, but it has crossed my mind that I may not be back on stage anytime soon, and that things will be very different when theaters open up to audiences again. I know that any first rehearsal back will be filled with hugs and first shows will be met with standing ovations. I will relish every “thank you, five,” and that feeling you get when the orchestra plays those first notes. I can’t wait to take stereotypical photos of my tickets with the stage in the background, and to take as many nerdy cast photos as possible at every opportunity. Gathering in any space will be something that will take some getting used to, and it might take time for people to once again congregate in full force in the theatre, but I have hope that the curtains will be up one day, and I can fulfill my resolution.

Image of theatre ticket for Half a Sixpence in front of the stage
I look forward to the day when I can take more photos like this

Thoughts while staying at home

I had hoped my return to blogging would have been documenting my getting back into theatre, but as that journey has been temporarily postponed (and my fingers are still itching to write something), I thought I’d go another direction. I have hopes that I will still be able to write about theatre (watch this space), but obviously going to rehearsals is not an activity that should be taking place at the moment. Don’t worry though, I’m still keeping that part of me very, very active, but more on that later.

It feels like 2020 has been a rather large mess and as Malcolm Tucker would say, omnishambolic (if you’ve never heard this word before, please watch The Thick Of It ASAP). It doesn’t feel like March, nor does it feel like a month ago I was living a busy life of going to work during the day, rehearsals at night, attending NBA basketball games, and looking forward to various things that seem trivial now. I saw someone tweet that they were tired of living through a historical event, and I’ll be honest, this historical event doesn’t even really feel real some days. Something about dissonance and distance (both mental and social) has coated everything with a slight haze that makes me feel like we’ll wake up and everything will be fine, right? I’m well aware that isn’t the case, and I’d be lying if I said that I’m not frightened about the future at the moment, but I’m trying to stay positive, and take things one day at a time, which is easier some days than others. I know that personally, I’m scared (of many things in this situation), and that does not help getting through the day when I get too in my head, which is more often than I would like.

Due to a combination of stay at home orders, and being temporarily laid off from work, I have found myself at home for much longer than I have really ever been at home before. I will admit, when faced with the idea of endless Netflix binges, and little work responsibility, I was initially excited. A couple of days in though, I’ve started to realize how much I miss leaving the house, and how repetitive the days can become. There’s a constant nagging in the back of my head that I’ve been on my computer too long, not been outside enough, or that I’m not doing enough to consider myself productive. I know that in order to conquer the next (at least) two weeks, I need to put less pressure on myself, and re-evaluate what a productive day actually looks like. I’m trying to stay away from social media because overconsumption doesn’t help the low grade anxiety that is always there, and it can be really easy to go down a rabbit hole of disheartening news headlines and articles, but avoiding opening those apps is a little easier said than done.

I’m no expert on handling this, but my first line of defense has definitely been music. If you’re looking for some calming tunes, I can recommend Lewis Capaldi and Ben Platt. Both of these artists have been on repeat for the last month for me and they’re very good at lowering my heart rate. That being said, being a bonafide theatre person, I’ve taken this time to truly take center stage in one woman productions of the classics. If James Corden called me up to do Carpool Karaoke when all of this is done, I would be excellently prepared for that. My lip-sync game is also going to reach new heights, I guarantee it. Mamma Mia is the current favorite, but by the end of this, that might change, who knows, but it’s a definite mood booster (I mean honestly, try singing Waterloo in a mood, it’s harder than you think).

As if lip syncing weren’t enough, I’ve decided to get back into dancing as a way to not only get all the nervous energy out, but also as a way to stay in shape since gyms aren’t open at the moment (and also to not let down my Fitbit, obviously). Some of it is me trying to (once again) put on my own shows by learning choreography off of YouTube, but I’ve found some good cardio workouts as well that have reminded me that dance is a full workout and something I should be doing way more often. I’m partial to 567Broadway which offers the perfect combination between dance, working out, and BROADWAY (this should be said with a side of jazz hands). Important reminder though: ALWAYS STRETCH. Staying at home has a way of making me feel way more stiff than usual so I’m trying to stretch daily to not feel so tight and feel like I’m still in show mode (yikes my thoughts seem to be all about theatre, oof). It’s also just relaxing to do some stretching, in my opinion.

I would be lying if I said that I spend my whole day working out, or getting fresh air, or doing things that would otherwise have me feeling productive and healthy. I freely admit that I have spent a decent amount of time binge watching. I’m currently running my trial on Disney+ and I have already watched Frozen Two, The Mandalorian, High School Musical: The Musical: The series, and some of Encore (no, I’m not divulging how long I’ve got left on the trial). Please send me any further recommendations that I can add to my list so I can emerge from this well versed in film and television. Well, at least the Disney content.

Sitting on my computer for hours on end can sometimes feel saddening, but I have found an upside to it: FaceTime! With more people staying at home, and me having more free time, I’ve been able to catch up with friends in all time zones and that is something that always manages to brighten my day! I always crave conversations, virtual or in person, and in a time where we’re actively told not to go out and meet others, I don’t want to limit myself to only texting (although that can be a meaningful form of interaction, don’t get me wrong). I mean, we even had a rehearsal on ZOOM before everything really ramped up, so it’s good to know that things can still happen, even if not in the way we always expected them to happen.

I fear that I’m rambling, but it is a definite time of unknown, and even a minimal exercise like writing all this down has provided a small amount of distraction for the world outside my house. I know I’m young, and that should be encouraging in terms of my future, but it’s daunting to think that I could be permanently without a job in the next two weeks, and trying to find employment in an industry that was severely impacted by the pandemic is a little disheartening. I’m constantly vacillating between overwhelming myself by searching for jobs, and remaining optimistic about my current position. I’ll admit that I try not to spend too much brain time on it, but it is always a small thought living in there. In between the cleaning and the constant hand washing, I’m trying to focus on accomplishing something every day. Maybe that sounds mundane, or juvenile, but I want to be able to say when I go to bed that I did something with my day. Yes, some days that will probably just be “I watched 15 Netflix episodes and put two puzzles pieces together,” but other days will have longer lists. I just need to come to grips with the fact that the next x number of weeks won’t have a normal feeling, and as such, they shouldn’t be treated with normal expectations. Yes, our lives have been upended, but we can still find small ways to put things right side up.

I don’t necessarily have a conclusion to this piece, and I know that my thoughts far outnumber what can possibly be put down on paper (or typed out on screen, as it were). With the extra free time on my hand, I do want to find a way to get back into blogging, and other things that have long been on my list of “one days.” I may not be successful at it all, but who knows? I feel like there’s an unspoken pressure to be prolific in some way during this period, but this is uncharted territory, and there’s no guidebook for how we as individuals should handle it (which is probably another factor in the stress of it all). Here’s hoping we can see the other side of things soon.

Spring views while getting some fresh air