Being Back in Mulhouse 

As I mentioned in my last blog, I’ve now been back in Mulhouse for more than a month. In that blog I was looking back, reflecting on an incredible summer but also looking to the future, but today I’m back to the present. It felt like the summer flew by, despite how much I managed to pack into it, but coming back to Mulhouse made me realise actually how long I had been away. In the end, I hadn’t been in Mulhouse for four months! That’s half as long as I was here last year! I had missed it and I was definitely looking forward to getting back into a routine and back into my own space. All the time away also gave me a fresh perspective on Mulhouse. It’s been a long time since I gathered my initial first impressions of Mulhouse, not knowing much about it at all. It’s been interesting coming back and noticing some new things this time or seeing things differently.

With my new flatmates!

First of all, and this one will sound obvious but I appreciated it a lot when I arrived back, everything is so much easier when you know how it works! There are obviously a lot of admin things I didn’t have to do on arriving back to Mulhouse – I already had an apartment, a bank account and a French phone number – but just going about day to day life here still requires some background knowledge. This is the case when you move to any new country, you just don’t have the built in knowledge that comes with having grown up somewhere. Even something like knowing where to buy a mouse trap (don’t ask!) becomes a mission. Another example I encountered was that I when had to go and sign the physical copy of my contract this year, I knew not to go to the office between 12pm and 2pm because everybody would be away for lunch. Just knowing stuff like that makes life a lot easier.

There are some other little things that I’ve noticed since coming back to France after some time away. Everytime you walk into a shop, pass someone on a walk by the canal, enter the gym, you say hello. It really is just a little thing but it’s something that makes me smile. Obviously there’s no way for someone just looking at me to know that I’m not French, but being included in this ritual makes me feel like I’m incognito and that I’ve assimilated well. I have also noticed (or been reminded because this is something I noticed way back when I first arrived) that the Alsatian people are very kind and welcoming. I can probably count on one hand the amount of bad experiences I’ve had with someone being rude to me, impatient with my French or just generally being unkind. Looking back, I think this is one of the main reasons I have become so comfortable here. Knowing that, more likely than not, I’m going to be met with kindness and warmth has made setting myself up and building my life here that much easier. It has no doubt contributed to the progression of my French as well. Confidence can be a massive benefit or a massive barrier when it comes to learning and improving a foreign language. Feeling that people are on your side and will support you, with patience, with understanding but most of all by giving you the space and time to try, fail and learn from it is crucial.

Temple Saint-Étienne

Sticking with language for a bit, I have been feeling really at ease in my French since I came back. I don’t quite know how or why that is the case seeing as I spent the summer 1. attempting to speak German (not succeeding), 2. immersing myself in as much Spanish as possible while working in a very multicultural hostel and 3. back at home able to understand everything going on around me for the first time in many months. I did get a little bit of French practice with some of the guests and other volunteers in La Tortuga but not that much. I think that either without realising it, or at least without giving myself credit for it, my French has gotten to the level that I want it to be at. I’m not and have never really been interested in speaking my languages like a native speaker. That is a close to impossible task and requires dedicating an inordinate amount of time and effort to it, and is even more difficult to do with more than one. Because there are multiple languages that I’m already passionate about and even more that I still want to learn, it’s not particularly realistic or feasible for me to do this. My goal has always been communication and ease. I don’t want to feel like I have to translate everything someone says to me into English to understand it and then do the reverse with my response. I want to be able to dedicate time to one language, leave it for a while to focus on another, and be at a good enough level that when I come back to it, it’s there waiting for me. This is what I feel like I achieved with my Spanish after spending a year in Honduras. I didn’t quite get there with my five months in China (I think a bit more than a year would be necessary as well) but I felt like I made some inroads. French has always been the more neglected and that’s what this time in France was supposed to fix.

The change this year compared to last is that I really have more confidence in myself. I don’t have to think about what I’m listening to or trying to say anywhere near as much as I had to last year. Everything just feels easier. However, one of my main struggles with speaking French, or any language for that matter, is getting my personality through. For so long after you start learning a foreign language, the focus is solely on communication. It’s difficult enough to make yourself understood that how you say it doesn’t really matter. I feel like I’ve gotten to the point now where I can express not just my meaning but my humour in French. Another aspect that shows my progress, to me anyway, is that I can swear more comfortably in French! In my professional opinion as a language teacher, swearing is actually an important sign of fluency. I’m not saying it’s something that I teach in class but it does make me smile when I hear my students dropping in a few curse words and it sounds natural!

A mural on campus

Speaking of being back in the classroom, coming back not just to Mulhouse but to my job as a lectrice with a year of experience already under my belt has been refreshing. I won’t pretend that I understand all the intricacies of the French higher education system (there are far too many acronyms for that) but I at least feel more comfortable in what I’m doing. The fact that I already know (and like) two-thirds of my students is also a comfort. Despite having this reassurance behind me though, since arriving back I have felt like I’m cycling through confidence in my abilities and that dreaded imposter syndrome. I don’t want to be an English teacher but I still think I’m pretty good at it. Sometimes though, my lack of formal training gets to me. For example when a student asks me a question and I can’t answer it or has an issue that I don’t know how to fix. There’s not too much I can do to fix it but I do what I can, whether it’s extra research in my free time, sharing resources with other lecteurs or asking my more qualified friends for advice and help.

Saying all that, I don’t feel like I have as much to prove this year, whether it be personally or professionally. In terms of work, last year I wanted to make a good enough impression that I would get asked or accepted to stay for a second year. I also wanted to get off on the right foot with my students as I knew that would help my confidence in the class. Personally, it wasn’t about anyone but myself. Last year I had this feeling of wanting to make the most out of my time here. When I arrived I wasn’t entirely set on staying for two years but even once I had decided that I was going to stay, there was still a feeling of pressure to do and see everything possible. This year I feel more like I’m just living my life. Of course there are still places I want to go and things I want to do, but I think the intention has changed. I’m just doing them because I want to, I want to take that trip or do that thing with my friends or try this restaurant. There are also days where I want to go to bed early or spend all of Sunday in my pyjamas without leaving the house. That’s ok too!

A blurry picture of Canadian Thanksgiving!

I do still have an idea of what I want to achieve in the next wee while though. I’ve got a few goals for this upcoming year and as a way of holding myself accountable for them, I’m going to share some with you.

  • Write a blog post in French – I have always wanted to write a blog post entirely in another language. I almost did it in Spanish right after getting back from Honduras, when my Spanish would have been at its best, but I never got round to it. I never quite got to the level with my Chinese where I felt like I could do it, at least not an entire blog and not to my usual standard. With French, I definitely think I’m at the level where I could, I’m just waiting for the right blog.
  • Integrate different kinds of blog posts – I have a lot of different things that I want to write about in the coming months. There’s still so much that I want to talk about when it comes to Mulhouse, Alsace and living in France but there’s also lots from the summer that I haven’t written about yet. There are other ideas that have been in the back of my mind for a while as well that I would love to finally get out. Have a look below to see some of my upcoming ideas!
  • 3-4 posts a month – This has been a goal of mine since the start of the year. Preferably I wanted to be writing a blog a week but some months that’s not quite possible. I haven’t always hit 4 posts a month, sometimes not even 3 but I still like having that aim in the back of my mind. I’m going to keep it going forward, at least until the end of the year.
  • Keep my classes fresh and interesting – When it comes to work, my only real goal is to keep my classes varied and exciting. I might be feeling a little less enthusiastic about teaching English this year but that’s my problem, not my students’, so I don’t want them to feel any of it. So far this semester we’ve had some really interesting discussions about the monarchy, reality TV and cancel culture to name a few. If I can keep them engaged and improving for the rest of the year, I’ll be happy.

As well as goals for this year, I also have a little bucket list of destinations that I would like to make it to before I finish my time in France. I already have some of these scheduled into the holidays that I know I will have and some are achievable in a day trip or for the weekend. There’s definitely too much here to fit everything in before April or May, my likely endpoint in Mulhouse, but I’d rather aim high and see how much I can fit in.

  • Morocco – All booked and happening in under three weeks!
  • Liechtenstein – After visiting Andorra last year, I want to visit more of these microstates, including Liechtenstein on the eastern border of Switzerland.
  • Madrid – I have the start of my February break earmarked to tick this one off. I’ve been wanting to go for a while and I have some friends there that I want to visit. I think I’ll also visit another city or two, maybe somewhere new, maybe back to Barcelona which is somewhere that I really like.
  • Dijon and Lyon – Two cities not far from Mulhouse so definitely doable over the course of a weekend.
  • Villages in Alsace – I still haven’t seen that many of the smaller villages in Alsace. They are supposed to be beautiful and have held onto a lot more of the traditional Alsatian culture than Mulhouse. They’re a little more challenging to get to without a car but not impossible with some planning.
  • South of France road trip – I think this will be something to keep for springtime, to avoid both the height of the heat and tourist season. I’ve never been down to the south of France so there’s lots of places I want to see!
  • More of Germany – I’ve ventured to Freiburg and Munich so far but while I’m right next door I would love to see more of Germany. This is a little bonus though, not top priority but if I have enough time and the stars align then we’ll see.
  • Skiing in Andorra – This would be another little Brucey bonus. Ever since I was in Andorra last year and I saw how much the country is clearly set up for skiing, I’ve wanted to go back. I’ve since talked to people that have been skiing there and they said it was great!

And finally a little sneak peek at some of the blogs that I would like to write soon (in no particular order)!

  • An intro to Mulhouse
  • My favourite cafes
  • The museums of Mulhouse
  • Alsatian food
  • The Alsatian language
  • Why I’m learning Gaelic
  • A week on the isle of Lewis
  • More Tenerife blogs
  • Travel tips
  • Useful French phrases
  • Lesson plans 

If there’s anything else you want to see me write about, let me know! As for this more reflective kind of blog, I used to write them to mark an anniversary, like one month, three months or six months. I feel like I’m a little beyond tracking these monthly milestones now but I will still be writing these, just based more on when I feel the want or need to get something off my chest and onto the page.

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