Blog Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Post

What is this? An actual blog post? Why, yes it is! Brought back by (surprisingly) popular demand! Hopefully from this point on I continue on my original course! Quite!

In any case, I shall begin with Sunday. I know there of some (if not many) of you who think it…imperative to argue that it is actually Monday that begins the week since Sat.-Sun. comprise what we call the weekend. However, since I am a staunch believer in American English, all I have to say to you is this is my blog and neener-neener. 😜

As crazy as it may sound, I spent about eight hours straight conversing completely in Japanese on Sunday. While Lutheran church services offered in Japanese certainly only entices a niche group of people, those that attend mass at the パリ・プロテスタント日本語キリスト教会 (Eng. Paris-Protestant Japanese Language Church of Christ) are quite the tight-knit bunch! The youth, as I may have said before, are about my age and mostly study at music conservatories in Paris, while others study international economics. They are really funny and open; something I presumed was due to their young age. We met at the service at 2:00, went to the 青年会 (Eng. youth gathering) where we had tea and talked about our journeys of faith, and then ended by eating dinner together at a Chinese restaurant by 10:00. It tested my skills, but all-in-all I did fine and they were very surprised to see I spoke well and even had some Japanese mannerisms down. That was only the second time I’ve gone, and I hope to continue going and integrate even further in the community there!

Monday presented me my first encounter with the French educational system, particularly that of English education. I am to work from 9-12:00 au collège Jean Moulin, a middle school made up of 10-14 year-olds, where I take part in three classes as an English assistant. My first class consists of 13-14 year-olds in the 4th level, my second has 11-12 year olds in the 5th level, and my last is 10-11 year-olds in the 6th level. The way language education works in France is not necessarily straight-forward for Americans: the English levels are from six to one, where the higher number indicates the lower the level.
So I start out with children who understand a lot more than my later ones, both which are beginner level courses. In all three, it’s a mix; that is to say, the actual performance level of the students varies based on previous experience. Some students come in with little to no experience, others advanced or even fluent! Such a variety in one class, especially the beginner courses, has led to challenges among the class. At the core, the French education system advocates equal opportunity, but does not always allow all students to receive the correct level of teaching they may require. But, that is only an observation- I have yet to see how my time there continues! The children are (for the most part) very sweet and receptive to my presence, so I can only hope it goes on like that!

By the middle of the week, I am in classes and getting into readings and homework. Not the most spectacular thing, but there is one thing I’m starting to look forward to: the cinema. For some inexplicable reason, Wednesday is the day for movies to come out in France, and there always seems to be new ones being released! It’s true what they say, the French love to go au cinoche (a little bit of French slang from the 80’s that always gets me funny looks when I use it, but I love it anyway)! Paris houses not only immense movie theaters showing the latest hits, but also smaller, local theaters that choose to show cult classics, foreign films, historic cinema, you name it! And with a student discount for those under 28 (it remains unbeknownst to me why that is the age limit), there really is no reason to enjoy a good film. As such, I decided to finally watch Deux Moi, a movie I had been wanting to watch for about two weeks since it was being advertised everywhere; like, everywhere. After watching it, I found I liked it and made me laugh (for ’twas a rom-com), but it made me realize European sensibilities prefer a slow simmer of a payoff rather than quick-to-boil, like most American comedies. Nevertheless, I still quite fancied it!

All in all, for the beginning of my time in France it has been full of new experiences, in a world of French, but also the diversity that hides itself within the capital: people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and anywhere else you can think of live and have made their own in this very city! As a result, I not only get to hear one language but a myriad of linguistic input that makes my brain tingle with curiosity (more so when I actually understand the language). We’ll see how my time goes from here! Best of luck to me, I suppose!

Warm regards,

Gabriel Alejandro González Alemán
Ambassador of the League of Linguists to France
Ambassadeur de la Ligue des linguistes en France


[For the week of Sept. 8-14]            

The French, especially Parisians, are well known for having a knack of letting themselves go wherever they please, with no special destination in mind. Such a lifestyle of course brings about a neologism; in this case, that word is flâner. Whether you are a flâneur or flâneuse (or neither, since unlike in the French language there does indeed exist more than the gender binary of masculine-feminine), Paris allows for the aimless to become the aimful, the lost to become the found! What a glory it is to have such a malleable word!

Now, you might have perceived a typo in my title. I would tell you that this is no error. For it is during the now two weeks I have been here that I have both “wandered” and become “lost.” The roads of this metropolis are as countless as they are without order (one could say chaotic). And Parisians seem to take pedestrian stoplights as loosely interpreted suggestions rather than the “law of the land” that I once thought it to be!

I needn’t even mention the trains. Let me take the time to divulge the curious: in Paris, there are several main modes of transportation: 1.) walking, 2.) on the road, or 3) the Metro or RER. All three are unique, and all three lead you to certain demise. Walking sounds pleasant but do it for a day and you now mother seven blisters on each foot. Go on the road (e.g. bike, car, bus, or even scooter!) and danger abounds at every (literal) turn when you must watch for pedestrians who fear no motorist nor know any rules. But now we’ve come to the Metro/RER, both subway systems that are very similar; to the point where I honestly still don’t know how to differentiate between either. However: it takes no person of lengthy experience to quickly realize the immensity of one’s error in deciding to hop aboard.

At one point, you are as cramped as sardines where one man’s… um, nether regions are nestled in one’s body where no one should have them be. Or perhaps you have to get off after fifteen stops and all the seats are taken in a car that doubles as a free sauna. Not to mention how the tiniest misunderstanding of a train map has all of a sudden led you into one hour in the opposite direction (more on that later)! From the way I have described trains here in Paris you have probably decided to take your chances and not take part in the madness… Sadly, it is (as the late Princess Leia put it) your only hope.

But as I have always sad, with the bad comes the good! I do think myself lucky enough to have gotten ahold of the wild beast. With its help I have gotten to all my classes on time and finally arrived to the correct middle school where I will be acting as an English assistant for three classes! To put it briefly, I accidently took the train all the way outside of Paris to another school that shares the same name (since apparently the names of war heroes are quite common for buildings)… But all the same, I feel myself slowly understanding the meaning of flâner. To truly get where you want to go, you must give yourself up to the city and just go. You know eventually you will get there!

Aside from my trials and tribulations with a mechanical monster, my French studies are going quite well! I enjoy my classes (some more than others) and have taken deeply to the subject matter: the history of Paris, Art and Poetry, and even French Islam! It also helps that I’ve begun watching French films in the theatre, the first one being Les Hirondelles de Kaboul, which I highly recommend as it brought me to literal tears by the end.

Needless to say, life here begins and ends with French, but it remains to be said that Paris is an international city. Its people come from all kinds of backgrounds and means which has provided me with not only European experiences. Just this Saturday I celebrated the Mexican day of independence à la mexicaine. I’ve even begun to attend church services in Japanese! Yes, I do find it quite funny that I am an American-born child of Mexican parents who is in France studying French while attending Protestant church services (in a mostly Catholic country) in Japanese. None of that previous sentence should make any sense. But now what other cities can say they boast such amenities?

I suppose that’s why I’ve become quite fond of this city, at least for now. I’m happy with the friends I’ve made (all the French, Japanese, and American ones) and I hope that our relationships continue to grow! Harriet (Etta or Henriette) is also very pleased to see me becoming accustomed to life in Paris, just as she has by fully assuming Parisian sensibilities… Oh my, Etta, you really are something…

Warm regards,

Gabriel Alejandro González Alemán
Ambassador of the League of Linguists to France
Ambassadeur de la Ligue des linguistes en France

An American in Paris

     After a long period of technical difficulties (which I must admit is most likely due to my lack of any sincere agility within the sphere of electronics), I am back to recounting my time here in Paris! The first week was one of new beginnings, or de nouveaux départs as the French people like to say. Er, I guess I mean that IS what they say. There’s really no other way to say it in French, so it doesn’t matter if they like it or not, I suppose… Anywho, where is better to begin if not at the very beginning of it all!

     The morning of September 1st was not worthy of any special remark to most people: fair weather, sunny, and people rushing from and to Chi-town. But if you looked closely into one of the cars, you could see a wee Latino lad (okay, who am I kidding, I’m quite large-in-the-barge) traveling with his family to say his last goodbyes before his plane. My family, especially my mother, was both happy and sad to see me go. It was going to be a long time apart, but she knew as well as me that in the end this was something I had to do. So with some tears and one last hug I walked through the terminal.  What was to await me ahead?

Le Panthéon, one of the many sites of honor for the Greats of French history- right next to where I lived!
The famous Jardin du Luxembourg, beautiful in every way possible- also near where I lived!

     The plane itself was… how shall I put this… oh yes, MY OWN PERSONAL HELL. I was for the most part content to stay seated for eight hours had it not been for a baby that found it quite difficult to not cry every five minutes for intervals of half an hour (and yes, I calculated the frequency because I was in there for EIGHT HOURS). Otherwise, I sat next to a nice, quiet old man whom I believed to be a follower of Islam as a result of my sly perception of his choice to eat halal. He spoke little French or English, but was rather polite nonetheless! I braced myself with 吉本ばなな’s キッチン (if you can read that, you know who you are) and did a combination of read and sleep. I thought we were never going to make it until the pilot, as French as French can be, said those magical words: Mesdames et messieurs, vous y êtes arrivés, bienvenue en France

Of course, the Eiffel Tower is a classic as of the first things visible in Paris!

     Now, you may ask me what my thoughts about France were before arriving, or what my first impressions were once I stepped on land. I would tell you I knew France isn’t perfect, and it’s true that the outskirts (as well as downtown) is covered in graffiti and some trash, but there’s a reason people come here. The allure of the architecture, the history, and knowing so many of the Greats walked and lived where I reside now came full force and I was not prepared. That’s when I realized: I am here, in Paris. Throughout the first week, which was solely orientation and I saw and did what many would consider touristy.

The Seine certainly has its own verdant beauty…
The many bridges that connect the two islands within Paris to the rest of us!
A very upscale marketplace which literally was like walking into a French textbook’s “Food and Cuisine” chapter.

     And I will not lie; it was all splendid. There really is something about travelling and just enjoying the sights, but soon after, we all were set aside by the directors of our program and shown the reality of our situation. 

     My directors, a man and a woman named Michel Bondurand and Laetitia Boisdron respectively, are well experienced in how students such as us react to study abroad. That said, they made it clear that Paris, like France and like any other country, will change as our perceptions change. We may think the new cultural experiences we go through are perfectly normal, but sooner or later comes the imperfect: cultural tension, aggressions, maybe even xenophobia, racism, or homophobia. 

     At first, I thought I was impervious. Nothing and no one could make me feel culture shock! I was smart, conscientious, and what I thought was my best tool: cynicism. If only I could go back in time and smack myself in the head (well, I technically could now, but I like myself too much to inflict pain on such a poor me!). In the first week, I’ve already had my share of blunders: misunderstanding the Metro, seeing gang activity at the Eiffel Tower, even one case of sexist remarks towards me where I politely turned down a man who kept pressing me and a small group of girls to eat at his restaurant. Upon my further declinations, he decided to spit out: “You act so womanly, man up why don’t you.” Where was my cynicism and my intelligence to help me now? Those moments hurt, they really do. They remind you you’re just another American in Paris. Another tourist… But even I know that’s a lie. I am not a tourist. I am me, and who I am is someone no one in the entirety of France has ever seen. I know it’s how you choose to react at these bad situations that inform the good. 

Howsabout a sunset in Paris for a change of mood?

     And there truly has been so much good. I’ve made friends (both French and American), seen so many things I’ve only dreamed to see, and done things that I thought I could never do. I stood tall, I stayed strong. As a result, I have also found myself getting used to life here little by little. I’ve begun to show my true self, my beautifully weird self, and people are receptive! Though it’s only been the first week, I feel like I’ve been here for much longer. I am ordering food (delicious, lemme tell ya) in French, exploring the environs and taking it all in. Whether it’s the beautiful gardens, the waters of the Seine, or the small patches of vibrant Parisian life I find throughout the city, my time here has given me perspective from both ends of the spectrum. 

The plaza of Le Marais, the historic Jewish and Gay quarter of Paris!
Le Marais, literally “the Swamp,” featuring interesting gay street art of la Joconde
The Parisian Cultural Center, also located in le Marais during my little gay adventures

     In the end, I am neither tourist nor citizen. I am a student. Students learn, students grow, from both messy mistakes and huge successes. I expect to continue having both while in France, but at least now I have the tools to take the time to step back. And Etta- er, I mean Henriette- is quite happy to hear that. As am I, Miss Glasgow, as am I!

Warm regards,

Gabriel Alejandro González Alemán
Ambassador of the League of Linguists to France
Ambassadeur de la Ligue des linguistes en France

One Day More

     Here I present to you the beginning of my travel diary where I shall inscribe the happenings of my time in Paris. I believe writing weekly will do best, and leave me enough time to recount my experiences at a desirable length. In any case, I am quite nervous, I must say, but I am also excited for what splendid adventures await me upon arrival. Etta, my recently made companion, is also looking forward to our stay in the City of Lights. She is an orange tabby cat whose full name is Harriet Ulysses Glasgow; though admittedly, she is not a fan of her middle name as it was placed upon her due to the fact that her father desired a son and wished most dreadfully to give him the name “Ulysses.” Besides that, she is still tickled pink that her initials when put together make H.U.G. 

Photo of Etta
Yes, I know this all sounds silly, but I find it beneficial for the mind if one entertains himself by making believe once in a while! To quote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.” And I do my best to remember!

     However, seeing that we are going to France, Etta much prefers to be referred to by what she calls her true “French” name: Henriette Ulysse Glasgow. As you can probably tell, she is a cat of a certain breed… 

     Introductions aside, our emotions have been jumbled higgledy-piggledy by all of this new change! I’ve been studying French for six years, now going into my seventh while in France. Truthfully, it has always been somewhat embarrassing that I have never gone to the very place where the language I study is spoken, more so when most everyone else in my classes has gone once, if not several times! As a result, I’ve always questioned my skills, wondering whether or not I could actually do well in France… And so of course I took the most well thought-out route to answer this query: spend an entire year there all alone. Now, obviously I am joking about being on my own as I will have support through the school and with my fellow classmates. But it can still feel very isolating when I think about how independent I will have to be from now on. I suppose that’s why I am very glad to have Etta (erm, I mean “Henriette”) by my side. Any friendship- even that of a small stuffed animal- is thoroughly welcome at a time like this. 

     Speaking of friends and family, I think back to all of my own, from home and university alike. They all mean so much to me, and have helped in some way in my growth both personally and academically. I hope not to fail them, just as I hope not to fail my colleagues in the UIUC undergraduate linguistics organization as ambassador of the League of Linguists to France! It is truly an honor to represent our American branch to our French brothers and sisters. 

     How funny it is, that I call them brothers and sisters ere I even know them! I know not yet of their spirit, of their lives, nor of their hopes and dreams. But maybe it could even be the case that one day I find a gentleman of such sweet character that I find myself enamored by his entire being… (A boy can dream, no?) Although I may daydream, I must remember that France is a country much like the United States. It holds within its borders people of all walks of life, even those who may not wish the best for me. I would do best to remain cautious at all times, yet never forget the lessons I have learned from my Lord: if I wish to be treated one way, I must do so with others; as it was, is, and forever shall be. Everyone deserves respect, no matter who they are or what they believe. It is a truth I have learned time and time again through my lived experiences as a man of multiple intersecting identities and interests. Much like how I hope to learn more from the French, so too do I hope to teach something novel and unique. But just what that will be, I still do not know! It seems as though I will learn something about myself in the process, too!

     Alas, it has not been an easy path so far! There were bumps in the road, that’s for sure: the study abroad application and acceptance, processing of necessary information and financial aid, legal paperwork… the list goes on. Even the visa application was a mountain and a half- particularly considering the reviews for the establishment itself were an average of 1.5/5.0 stars from 75 reviews. Nevertheless, that is all behind me, and tomorrow is when everything truly begins. I shiver with excitement… Perhaps terror… Or maybe another emotion entirely, inexplicable in its awe-inspiring stature… Just the same, Etta says to stop fretting and that everything will turn out splendidly. I suppose all we can do is wait and see…

Warm regards,

Gabriel Alejandro González Alemán
Ambassador of the League of Linguists to France
Ambassadeur de la Ligue des linguistes en France

An Introduction

Bonjour! I believe this is where the introduction is meant to go, or at least someone told me that, so here we go! Gabriel Alejandro González Alemán‘s the name and acting as the ambassador of the League of Linguists to France for the academic year of 2019-2020 is my game! I am double-majoring in French Studies and Linguistics as a junior now, and I hope to fulfill my role as foreign diplomat dutifully!