Monday, June 08, 2009

Bonjour Dijon

Two and a half weeks ago, I was at home putting the final touches on a semester-long group project, proofreading our 60+ page proposal, getting ready for our final presentation, and not really thinking too specifically about my upcoming internship in France. In quick succession the unresolved elements of my life came together: we succeeded in subletting out our apartment for the whole time we’d be away, I’d finished off my final assignments one-by-one. Nate and I had worked out our travel plans: he, on tour until mid-July, will come to France afterwards for two weeks and we’ll return together. On the very last day of classes, after a successful presentation, I was offered and accepted the job I had been hoping to get for next year. Whew! The end-of-semester fog of stress cleared and it was time to pack.

Two weeks ago, I was sitting in my little room here at the Tremouille Young Ladies’ Residence in Dijon, France, exhausted after 24 full hours of car-train-plane-bus-plane-bus-train-bus-train-taxi transit. The residence, mostly for students, is female-only (as you may have guessed from the name) and run by Catholics; the room décor and furniture are spartan and what I imagine to be nunnery-like. It’s clean, though, has common kitchens and lovely gardens and terraces, and best of all is very very cheap, which is important on my measly intern stipend. It felt great to unpack after carrying luggage all around all day in the 90 degree heat. Bedtime was early because of jetlag and to prepare for an early start to my first work day: 5 AM meeting time with a colleague to ride together to Paris to pick up two groups at the airport. Both groups are U.S. college students, participating in summer programs abroad at Burgundy School of Business, my employer for the next two months.

Last week, I was settling in. My supervisor, absent at a conference the previous week, had returned and given me lots of tasks. I was getting to know my colleagues and finally had a proper tour of the building where everyone was very nice and welcoming. My French is doing great and I’m having no trouble communicating. I had realized with a shock that I’ve been speaking this language for twenty years, and decided it’s time to stop worrying about the words I don’t know or don’t pronounce right. I was finally beginning to know the answers to some of the questions asked of me by the group: Where is the student restaurant? How do I access the wireless network? Why did it take so long for the waiter to bring my coffee? Where do I go to get medicine for this sore throat? What does that sign say?

This week, I’m taking on more responsibilities. A new group arrived yesterday, and I gave them an introduction to Dijon and a tour of the school, and tomorrow lead two groups on a visit to the Regional Counsel. I’m enjoying the little perks of the job, like the opportunity to participate in field trips and the occasional wine tasting. I like the way my involvement in these programs neatly connects my past and future careers: tourism and education abroad. Of course, my clothing and shoes are all wrong and with no budget for shopping I will have to resign myself to always looking like a foreigner…but I don’t mind so much.

For photos of my first couple of weeks, click here.