During the past week, I’ve shared my dreams of going abroad with a number of friends. Everyone is very supportive but interestingly, they are surprised to learn that I am actively pursuing this goal (i.e., drafting a personal statement for one application, meeting with people, learning French at home, etc). It is true that, in the past, I’ve talked about doing a lot of things that never panned out. But this time, I am not following some random, bright idea, but the voice of the “little girl” inside of me who always longed to live abroad and be immersed in the French and Spanish language and culture. It’s the voice that I tried to follow back when I applied to Peace Corps. And then, my life on the Hill and the allure of being settled in DC distracted me. Now, I’m back on track.
So here is my plan for achieving my goal. This will probably change as I learn about additional programs (gotta network, network, network!!) or realize that I actually don’t want to live abroad (I can’t imagine that would ever happen, but who knows…). I've included links for those of you who are interested in the same sort of thing.
1) Tell My Boss
This actually wasn’t supposed to happen for a few more weeks, but Monday I found myself in the curious position of having a heart-to-heart with my boss about my plans. She was very supportive, which is great—especially as I’ll be asking her for recommendations. But it is intimidating to put an official marker out there saying that you intend to do something. It makes it all real and increases the pressure not to fail.
2) Learn French
Today, I forked over a month’s worth of rent for two French classes at the Alliance Française in DC. Hopefully, my language acquisition via AF is much better than my Spanish review at ILI. Regardless, I am striving to reach a level of proficiency sufficient to successfully compete for the Teaching Assistant Program in France through the French Embassy. Based on the information I’ve read online, it seems like I have a chance to earn a spot as long as I turn my application in during the first deadline, am profuse about my interest in teaching in France, and hire a French tutor to help me advance quicker and to write a recommendation for the program.
Signing up for a year of group and private classes will be a major financial investment for a program that I very well may not get into, yet I want to learn French and AF is definitely much cheaper than classes at my beloved alma mater ($1,500+ per credit hour!). And, even if I don’t make it into the program, taking the classes will give me the rudimentary understanding of French that I want to have before I return to France to visit or to enroll in an immersion language course.
3) Learn German
I am really excited about the possibility of the Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Program. No, it isn’t France but the program would arrange for me to learn German before the program starts, and I would be able to spend several months in Germany gaining professional experience in my field. And that could be just the launching pad I need to find a job that will enable me to live and work abroad long-term.
4) Re-learn Spanish
If the programs in France and Germany don’t work out, and I’m still in D.C. (and antsy for international experience), I’ll apply to the North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain program through the Government of Spain. The requirements are similar to the France program but you can be a little older. I’ll get a Spanish tutor to improve my Spanish and apply for the 2012-2013 school year.
5) Deplete “Gotta Go to France” Savings Fund
If none of the above options pan out and I don’t find any other alternatives, I’ll follow this woman's advice and take classes next fall to acquire a TEFL certificate, get a 3-month visa, and book a flight to Paris for January 2012. I’ll spend one week applying to English teaching jobs at private language institutes in Paris while taking French classes (so that I can get the reality check of a miserably wet and cold Paris winter). And if no one hires me, I’ll just do the same thing in two or more other cities I want to visit in France (Lyon, Nice, Marseille, Strasbourg, Lyon, etc). And if after all of that I still don’t have any success, I’ll try out wwoofing, volunteering, paying to teach english (our intern recommended The Language House TEF), enroll in more more French language and cultural classes, or some other random experience (e.g., La Giraudiere) until I deplete my “Gotta Go to France” savings fund. Then, I'll return home and either get ready for the program in Spain or just return to my old political staffer life in DC.
So, yes, I do have a plan. A-M called me a dreamer. I guess I am. But I am also an avid planner. And once I am inspired to achieve something, I will devote all my energy into it. It is quite possible that I will drop this whole scheme in favor of a new job opportunity (if the Administration came-a-knocking, I would drop this in a heartbeat). Or maybe something else happens (love, family, etc) that leads me to make the conscious decision to settle-down in my career and in DC.
Life is all about dreaming, making plans, and then, readjusting those plans based on the curveballs that life sends your way. Regardless, I’m going to do my best to implement this plan of attack so that when I am 80 and I can look back and at least say that I tried.