6 Months in Mulhouse

Welcome back to another anniversary post! Blink and you might have missed the past six months, or at least that’s what it feels like to me. Due to the fact that I’ve had a hectic couple of weeks, this post is actually a little overdue. However, it’s that time again when I look back on the past few months of living and working in Mulhouse and take the chance to reflect on some aspects of that experience. First of all, it feels a little special to even be writing this post. I started doing this type of blog when I was in China. I wrote one for my one month and three month anniversaries but I never got to write a six month anniversary one. Unfortunately I had to leave about a month before reaching that milestone so being able to write one about being in France is a good feeling.

So starting off with my achievements over the last three months, I’m feeling happier and more settled than ever in the life that I’ve been building here. That’s a general feeling that accompanies some of the more specific achievements of late, one of contentment with how things are going. It’s been less big, stand out events and more just a slow and steady ticking along in the right direction.

I’m really pleased with where I’ve landed with my social life. I have a lovely circle of friends, a few different groups who sometimes cross over. This is something that has always been important to me, especially during uni. I’m a pretty social person so I like building a network of people that I enjoy spending time with, that can support me and that I in turn can support. I also think there’s nothing better than introducing one group of friends to another and having them immediately hit it off!

I’ve also been feeling very inspired in several areas recently. I’m just coming off a run of lessons that I have really enjoyed and that I feel went very well. You can read about a lesson plan on movies from earlier in the semester here and there is a brief insight into a recent class on minority languages in English speaking countries in my day in the life of a lectrice blog. This semester has also included classes on social media, fast fashion, gender identity and immigration and refugees. I can’t speak for my students but I’ve really enjoyed hearing their thoughts on all these subjects and I hope they’ve enjoyed sharing them as well!

My creative exploits have been bringing me a lot of joy recently as well. One of these is obviously this blog. Personally I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a roll. I’m very proud of my recent posts and am pleased with how they turned out. They just seemed to flow out very easily. I have also recently started bullet journaling, inspired by my friend Àine. It appeals to me in a lot of ways, the most obvious being the organisation aspect. I always have a running to do list in a note in my phone or a notebook where I write down things I have to remember. My bullet journal has combined all of these while also giving me somewhere to be a bit creative, in a different way than through my writing on my blog. In picking a theme for everyone month, there is a bit of drawing involved, designing, using different fonts. If you want to read a little more about bullet journalling, check out Àine’s post on what she’s learnt a year in. It’s probably safe to expect a post from me about bullet journaling at some point but I’ll wait until I’ve got a few more months under my belt.

In terms of adjustments, there have been a few things to get used to. One thing that I found difficult, maybe surprisingly, was grading. At the start of this year, I had to spend some time putting together the grades for all of my students from last semester. Some of it was fairly easy, like their participation grade. Every week when I take the register, I also note down how much each student has participated by giving them a mark out of three. When calculating their overall grade, I was able to use these marks to work out an average participation grade for the semester. This accounted for 50% of the overall semester grade. However, the other grades were much more subjective. 40% came from a presentation that they had given, either individually or in groups depending on the year group, and 10% from some homework tasks. These parts were all down to my own judgement and so I really had to trust my instincts. I found that having this pressure on me to decide how well someone had done over the semester, especially the students that were a borderline pass or fail, really kicked my imposter syndrome into gear. I have no official training when it comes to teaching English. My qualifications come from the fact that I am a native English speaker and that I have some experience in teaching English from when I was in Honduras. When it comes down to deciding something as official as a grade, I really started to question myself. Àine actually wrote a really interesting blog recently where she interviewed me and a few fellow English teachers about imposter syndrome. Despite all this, I’ve been trying to remind myself that I do know what I’m doing. I’m confident in my abilities and I’ve gotten to know my students really well. I know their abilities, their interests and their effort. That in itself qualifies me to give them a grade for a class where the sole aim is to get them talking.

Thankfully there have been a lot of highlights over the last three months. Rouen was obviously great and I’ve just enjoyed all the things I’ve been doing with friends, like going on hikes, celebrating Burn’s Night and Chinese New Year, day trips to Basel, going for drinks and eating good food. Hopefully there’s lots more of that to come.

Burn’s Night celebrations

Another massive highlight was going home! And by home I of course mean Scotland. My original plan was to go back for Christmas but that was foiled by getting covid. Instead the trip was pushed back to mid-February to coincide with a week off work, provided I was able to test negative on lateral flow tests. As the time approached, covid related travel regulations started to loosen after tightening a lot around Christmas. You no longer needed a test before leaving France to go to Scotland and the day after I was due to arrive, the rules changed so that you no longer had to take a Day 2 arrival test. While I was home, things changed again so that I didn’t need any tests before or after going back to France either. (Don’t assume these are still the regulations at whatever time you are reading this, make sure to check!). And so mission accomplished, I made it there and back in one piece!

I won’t go into too much detail about my time at home (for now…!) but it was 10 days spent among family and friends, enjoying my time off, lots of cuddles (from people and pets), trips to London, Edinburgh and Glasgow as well being at home in Dunblane, a delayed Christmas dinner (almost a tradition now) and celebrating turning 24! You’ll just have to wait to find out more. Once was clearly not enough and I actually ended up going back to Scotland ten days after the first trip! To be fair, this long weekend had been planned for a while in order to attend the Edinburgh University Swimming and Water Polo Club alumni weekend. If things had gone to plan it would have been a couple of months since I was last back instead of less than two weeks but that’s just the way things worked out. It was a hectic but very enjoyable weekend that I’m still trying to recover from!

Beautiful views in Edinburgh

The past three months have been a bit of a doozy for low points to be honest. Along with the amazing times I’ve had, the last three months have also contained the most difficult moments since I arrived in France. First of all, getting covid was obviously a bit of a kick in the teeth. Fortunately my symptoms weren’t all that bad (thank you vaccines!) – I had a few days of aches and pains, a bit of a cough and just generally feeling rough and then a whole week of the worst boredom OF MY LIFE! The worst bit was really the timing. I had already started to limit my social interactions, anything non-essential, before heading home for the holidays, only to be hit with a positive test result. There were a lot of tears at first and some difficult decisions but in the end it was decided that even though my isolation ended on the 24th December, it would be best for me to stay in France, lest I somehow get stuck in the UK and not be able to get back to my job.

To be honest though, getting covid was not my lowest point. That award goes to the week I got home from Scotland the first time, just a few weeks ago. I got back on Sunday evening and went to work on Monday. Monday is my busiest day of the week and I was exhausted by the end of it. I thought it was just from having travelled the day before and general tiredness that I have after six hours of classes almost entirely back to back. However, by the evening I was running between shivering and sweating, aching all over and just generally feeling awful. I went to bed and pretty much didn’t get out for three days. I missed two days of work and genuinely felt worse than when I had covid. At least I didn’t feel homesick as I usually do when I’m ill. It’s really the only time I can guarantee that I will miss home because when you’re ill, all you want is a hug from your mum! Thankfully, having just been home for 10 days, I was feeling pretty stocked up on hugs! As if being ill wasn’t enough, the day I started feeling better I got hit with crippling period pains so I was still curled up in bed. Sod’s law, eh?

Now on to some much cheerier things! There’s a lot to look forward to over the next few months. I have about two months left before I’m finished with teaching at the end of April. My current plans for the summer are to try and spend a few months in Spain, to give a little TLC to my Spanish, and then a bit of time at home before heading back to Mulhouse. I’m really feeling very lucky to have a European passport at the moment (thank you Irish heritage!). Living in continental Europe has really opened my eyes to all the opportunities that are available to European citizens, ones that it feels like most Brits weren’t taking full advantage of before Brexit and definitely aren’t able to now.

Hopefully more fun in Spain to come!

I also have a few visits lined up in the coming weeks as well. I’m meeting my friend Nina in Paris at the end of the month where we are going to spend a jam-packed 36 hours trying to fit in all the sights in honour of her first time visiting the city of lights. The week after, my dad and sister will arrive in Mulhouse. The plan is to spend a few days here, with me as tour guide over the weekend after which I’ll send them out to fend for themselves in Alsace while I’m working. Once I’m finished with classes for the week we are going into Switzerland for some skiing! It’s been 8 years since I last threw myself down a ski slope and I can’t wait to probably be horrible at it! After that, towards the end of April the other sister is coming to see me for a few days. It will be nice to show some people around Mulhouse. I wouldn’t say there’s masses to do here as a tourist but that’s not really what my family is coming to see. They want to see all my favourite spots, my local bakery, the coffee shop where I like to work sometimes, the bar where I’ve spent many a Saturday night and all my regular haunts. They want to be able to picture how I spend my days.

Being six months into living in Mulhouse, I’m feeling very settled. Looking back, I feel like I’ve made good use of my time so far. After having my time in China cut short, It was really important to me to take advantage of all the time and opportunities I had here and not take anything for granted. I’m happy with where I’m at with work, in my social life and personally. I only have a few months left here before the summer but I’m excited about what’s still to come!

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