Here's a little background about me, as this is my first blog post. I spent the 2010-2011 school year teaching English in Grenoble, France. Before that, I spent a year working in the heart of Chicago in the Jewish non-profit community. When I was abroad, my eyes were opened to the everyday experience of the Jewish community in my town and in the country at large. I experienced what it meant to me to be not only Jewish in France, but a Jewish, young, female, American in France. It was a ridiculously fun, thought-provoking and thrilling seven months and I'm excited to share these stories. By the way, all thoughts and opinions are purely my own…I take full responsibility for any sweeping generalizations. With that out of the way, let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).
I remember this time two years ago like it was yesterday. I was wrapping up my job at a Jewish non-profit office and getting ready to embark on my biggest adventure yet: a seven-month stint in France teaching English. I'd gone abroad to France before for a semester. I spent my junior spring in Aix-en-Provence, an idyllic town in the South of France.
However, my tenure as an English teacher in France was shaping up to be a completely different beast. This time around, there would be no host family, no pre-arranged dates of arrival, and no designated points of contact. As July wore on, the logistics of what I was about to embark upon became clear. I came across the first few of many truly "oy" moments.
Between booking flights, the search for accommodation and everything in between, I looked to my experience as a jack-of-all-trades administrative assistant for guidance. In the short months since graduating college, my little exposure to the "real world" molded me into a master multi-tasker. So, naturally, I built a Google doc of all the potential obstacles to clear on my way to La Belle France. That quickly got ditched for afternoons spent daydreaming, waiting and wishing for more news. A word about France for those who haven't been: nothing moves quickly.
As July blurred into August, I still had no word of what city, what town, what village I would be living in. I tried desperately to keep my cool as the days inched forward. I often returned to my favorite French expression in order to stay calm: tout est bien qui finit bien. All's well that ends well. And sure enough, on a sweltering August day, I received a letter in the mail postmarked from Grenoble, France.
The Teaching Assistant Program in France (aka my means of making all of this happen) allows applicants to pick their top three areas of choice to live and teach. Grenoble was my first choice. I knew it was in the middle of the French Alps and I was ecstatic to find I was placed in the city center, after much careful deciphering of the confusing placement letter. I swiftly booked a flight and resumed daydreaming. The gaping hole in my abandoned Google doc? A place to live. Nothing to fret about, right? "Plenty of kids go on this program," I thought to myself. Fifteen hundred from America each year, in fact. But, it never hurts to explore the options. Again, I turned to work for advice.
I breathlessly explained my situation at the next staff meeting. "Contact the Chabad over there," my boss declared without skipping a beat. I took her advice.
It was surprisingly easy to locate. A simple search of "Chabad Grenoble" brought me to the Beit Chabad web page and the Rabbi's email address. I wrote him right away, sprinkling in my efforts with the Jewish non-profit community, mentioning that while not very religious myself, I'm well acquainted with plenty of people who are and of course, would respect the rules of any household.
As quickly as I sent the email, hoping on hope it would garner some sort of response, a reply from Arie R. popped into my inbox. Written in English no less, letting me know that he already sent word that a nice Jewish girl from Chicago was looking for a place to stay and he would follow up as soon as possible.
I was truly, deeply touched. The fact that someone who had never met me and knew absolutely nothing about my life stepped up to bat for me in a way that really, really mattered, it left me with such an incredible feeling. And this instance of the connectedness of the global Jewish community was just the beginning.
The plot thickens. Join me next time for the wild and crazy adventures of living with the family I found through the Grenoble Chabad.