3 Months in Mulhouse

It feels like a long time since I wrote the predecessor to this blog post, about having been in Mulhouse for one month, but at the same time the three month milestone has really crept up on me (watch me say this every time I write an anniversary blog). Nevertheless I’m back with some reflections on the last two months and some thoughts for the next few. It’s been a while since I did a general update about what I’ve been getting up to so that will follow soon with more information on any fun things I mention here.

Starting off, as ever, with my achievements. I feel like I’ve got a lot to be proud of recently. First of all, my French has continued to improve. I do still speak a lot of English, what with refusing to speak to my students in any other language and the fact that many of my friends speak English, but I have still noticed a marked improvement in my French level. I feel that I am able to go beyond the pure basics of being able to communicate, where the aim is to get your meaning across as simply as possible with no added frills, and can now actually express myself properly, with as many frills as I want. There is obviously more improvement to come but everything feels a little more natural. In my one month post I spoke about how it usually takes a month of immersion for me to feel comfortable and up to three to feel fully at ease. At that point I was definitely comfortable enough doing everything in French and I’m happy to say that I’ve now graduated to ‘at ease’. What I think of as my language reflexes – the ability to pull out what I need in a certain situation without really having to think about it – are at a point that I’m very happy with. There’s barely any conscious translation from English to French going on in my mind before I open my mouth to speak. These are all signs I have seen before that I’m improving in the way I want to and that is very encouraging.

With one and a half weeks to go, I’m also almost done with my first semester of teaching at UHA! Getting through a whole semester is something that I’m congratulating myself on, especially because so far I’ve not had any issues (touch wood that this continues). I’ve enjoyed this semester a lot, getting to know my students and getting into the rhythm of teaching again. My students have had some great discussions on topics ranging from the Olympic Games and gender norms to COP26 and most recently Scottish history in honour of St Andrews Day. I’ve also had to do some assessments this semester that have included presentations which we just finished last week. Now starts the mega job of grading everything from this semester!

In other exciting work-related news, I also got an (unofficial) offer to extend my contract! I will now be based in Mulhouse and working as a lectrice through the 2022-23 academic year! Most lecteur or lectrice contracts are for a year with the option of renewing it for an additional year. I very quickly decided after arriving in Mulhouse that I wanted to stay on for a second year, if they would have me. I like the city and the wider area, I enjoy the work and I get on well with my students and colleagues. Also, since I left school over five years ago(!!!), the only time I have stayed anywhere longer than a year was during my first two years of university in Edinburgh. Seeing as I’m not sure what will come after this, it seemed like a good time to stay somewhere for a little longer.

A major adjustment in recent months has definitely been the arrival of winter! It’s much colder here than when I arrived. I obviously knew this was coming and prepared by arranging for my sister to send me the essentials that didn’t fit in my suitcase the first time round – hats, gloves, scarves and most importantly, my dressing gown!

Now that I’ve gotten a bit of time under my belt, I’ve had a few adjustments when it comes to finances. Obviously when you move somewhere there’s a lot of initial set up costs that I was dealing with in my first month. Now I’m in more of a routine and figuring out how far I can stretch my salary which is the equivalent of earning the French minimum wage for the hours I work. Thankfully my rent is much cheaper here than it was in Edinburgh but I’m finding that things like groceries are very expensive. This means that my salary isn’t going quite as far as I’d like. It’s plenty to live on but I’m a natural saver and that has been a little more difficult since I’ve been here. Saying that, I’ve also been pretty lenient about spending money on things like eating out. I’ve also been on a lot of day trips and obviously had my big trip to Spain and Andorra as well. The run up to Christmas is a difficult time to be frugal but there’s hope for the new year. I also should be starting an extra job soon, running some conversation workshops for a private technology school. I was supposed to start a few weeks ago but was held up by the wait for my social security number (merci French bureaucracy!). I finally got that this week so I’m ready to go any time now, though it will most likely be after the holidays.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that my high point of the last few months was my trip to Spain and Andorra. I’ve already written about them both at length so all I’ll say here is that it felt so good to be travelling again. It felt like a little piece of normality which is very much appreciated now that COVID cases are surging in Europe and things are starting to feel a little more unpredictable again.

Another thing I’ve been really enjoying is the start of the festive season. Usually I struggle to feel in the Christmas mood until the last minute. The past few years there’s always been university exams that have to be dealt with before I can even think about Christmas. That, or I was in China where Christmas is just another day. This year however, I’m taking full advantage of the fact that I’m the one giving the exams. My Christmas tree has been up for a week and I’ve been listening to Christmas songs for at least two. With the opening of the Christmas market here last week, I’m in full Christmas spirit, as is everyone else.

Usually I’m lucky enough not to have to many low points to write about in these posts. Unfortunately I can’t say the same this time around. For starters, I had a few days where I felt absolutely horrible. It came on really suddenly, I started to get the sniffles one evening and the next day I barely got out of bed because my sinuses were so blocked and sore. Miraculously, I woke up the day after with an almost completely clear head! Thankfully the day that I was laid up in bed coincided with a day off for Armistice Day so I didn’t even have to miss any work. One of the only times I get homesick is when I’m ill but in this case it was over too quickly for me to really think about it.

I’ve also been dealing with some other more personal things that I’m not going to go into much detail about but that has made being away from home and my friends and family very difficult. I’m so thankful for the people who have been supporting me through it. They know who they are. I’ve said it before and I’ll reiterate it – this isn’t just a highlight reel and and I want to acknowledge when things get difficult.

Anyway, moving forward to more positive thoughts, there are still a few things I’m looking forward to. One of course is going home for Christmas. I’m looking forward to spending time with family, eating lots of good food, taking my dog for walks and not getting out of my pyjamas until it’s time to put on fresh ones. I’m also taking one of my flatmates home with me so that he’s not abandoned in Mulhouse by himself. He’s from Montreal so it’s a bit far to go back for what is a relatively short holiday.

I also have my friend Lucy, who I visited in Valencia, coming to visit me in a week or so. She’s just coming for a weekend so I’m looking forward to giving her the whistlestop tour of Mulhouse. And once those 30 minutes are up, I’m looking forward to escaping to Strasbourg or elsewhere with her! Just kidding, I’m actually very much looking forward to showing off my favourite parts of Mulhouse to my first visitor.

And now on to some goals for the coming three months. In a practical sense I want to spend a little bit of time over the holidays preparing some lessons for the start of next semester. I already have so many ideas that I didn’t get to this semester and now I know what works well with my classes so I can really get the best out of them. To be honest, I haven’t really thought much beyond the Christmas holidays so that’s the only goal I have for right now other than to take some time to rest over the break and look after myself. With the new year coming though that’s a great opportunity to think about some more long term goals so maybe you’ll hear something else from me soon.

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