Thursday, April 26, 2012

I was really frazzled about my meetings at ENS-Lyon today. I was meeting with the administrator of the research group and then meeting with the colleague in charge of the research division that I'm joining while I'm here.  I was nervous about communicating my research interests without sounding like a fool as well as comporting myself in a professional fashion.  It went surprisingly well!
My conversation with the administrator was great (entirely in French on both sides) and we started everything rolling for the forms that need to be filled out for me to get a visa for the summer. It was good that I was here in Lyon to start things, far easier this way and with very quick/easy communication possible (I could ask questions and not wait for an email response etc). He figured out what I needed and then we worked through it with the person in charge of foreign researchers. It's just waiting on a signature and then it will go to the prefecture, so it's farther along in the process than it would be if I hadn't come to Lyon.
My conversation with my colleague was excellent, too. We made small talk in French about families and research leave and the like, then we talked about our individual projects. For that, I spoke in English and she spoke in French. (Professionally, that was perfect; I could be sure that my ideas were conveyed clearly and she could respond fluidly.) There's a lot of engagement between our work and I'm really looking forward to working with her. I think she feels the same way; she seemed excited about our conversation. And since she spoke *to* me in French, I'm pretty sure she doesn't think I'm an idiot. (I know it's pride, but I still hate that.)

I also took care of professional affiliation things; I have an email address now and a badge. Very official :)

I am exhausted from just a few hours of work -- I find that's true almost every day -- but it was a very productive few hours!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mass at St. Denis

I went to Mass this morning at St. Denis, which is right around the corner from this apartment.  It was the Scout/Guide Mass, so I got to see what Boy Scouts and Girl Guides wear in France (their shirts are pretty different and the neckerchief/scarf was worn differently too).  One thing that was the same was the attempt to provide kid-friendly music (not so much to my taste).

Mass was full -- there is only one Mass at this parish, so maybe that makes good sense.  I was sitting in the back, but people around me were saying the responses and singing, which surprised me a bit.  What surprised me the most was the number of men at Mass.  Lots of times, in Paris, I'd go to a French Mass and there would just be a few men -- a couple of older men with their wives and maybe a young couple or two, but rarely men alone.  At church today, there were families with both parents, single men by themselves, older couples, and even a group of old men sitting together.

The priest was great -- not least because his sermon was interesting, reverent, and spoken slowly, with good enunciation ;)  The consecration took a very long time; you could tell he was emphasizing every word.  (Though I will admit that when I left the church and looked at my watch and saw 11:20 --mass started at 10:00-- I did think, "My kids are not going to appreciate this....)

And now, the response "Et avec votre esprit" doesn't seem so unusual to me!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lessons in Humility

When I applied for the Fulbright, I thought that it was a win-win situation.  If I didn't get it, I'd get to stay at home, with my husband and kids, and go back to teaching (including one of my favorite classes, 19th Century Europe).  If I did get it, obviously it's a big win -- feather in my cap, more time off, more research, and the opportunity to make more professional connections.

Mostly unspoken was the fact that it would also be a huge challenge.  Because I was a Chemistry major initially, I've only taken three semesters of college French -- the bare minimum to graduate.  There was a time, when I was single and in France and dating Frenchmen (or Tunisians or Italians, but in any case, men who spoke French with me), that my contemporary spoken French was pretty passable.  But that's not the case now.  I did most of my research in small chunks, split between Los Angeles, Green Bay, or St. Louis, and Paris.  My passive comprehension of 18th and 19th century written French is excellent.  But I live with Americans.  I almost never speak French.   So my spoken French is rusty *and* weaker than I would like.  Given how important language is to me, this is a particular embarrassment.  I hate sounding like a fool.  (And don't even get me started on my very American accent...)

So when I received notification of the award, there was a fair bit of "Oh my goodness" along with the "Woot!"

This current trip has certainly helped play that out.  I imagine (it may be true, but perhaps not) the librarians and archivists thinking, "This woman got a Ph.D.?  But her French!  Can she really work in this language?"

This is one reason I applied for the Fulbright.  I knew it would take me out of my comfort zone, which is really the only way to improve.

But being out of my comfort zone is, of course, uncomfortable.