Each day Cognac feels more and more like a second home for us. Dustin and I have both spent our entire lives in the beautiful state of Oregon, so relocating to the French countryside has been a rewarding challenge. Each day, the society around us is teaching us to slow down and appreciate life’s simple pleasures and victories. My patience increases every day as I navigate bureaucracy and face the reality of other people having more control over my schedule than I do.
Some things that I’ve always taken for granted in the US, like being able to go to the grocery store or to a restaurant whenever it’s convenient, are incredibly difficult here. Businesses and stores close incredibly early by American standards, they are all closed on Sundays, many close in the middle of the day for lunch, and in Cognac lots of businesses also close for an additional, random day during the week — my favorite neighborhood bakery is closed on Wednesdays, for example. These things take some adjusting to when you’re accustomed to 24/7 convenience.
I’m also facing the challenge of an inconsistent and inconvenient work schedule. I’m only contracted to work 12 hours a week for my French schools. In theory, this should give me plenty of time to teach online and work on my freelance projects. In reality, it means that my schedule is at the whim of no less than fourteen teachers, who ask me to come for an hour at a time throughout the week as they see fit. So today, for example, I worked at the high school from 10 AM-11 AM and have to go back from 1 PM-2 PM and then go over to the middle school from 3-4:30 PM. So even though I’m not really working that many hours, the job still takes up a lot of my time.
Which isn’t to say that I don’t have way more free time than I did at home in the US. I definitely do. At home, I would work at least 30 hours a week and attend university full time, so this is certainly less intensive than that. I just don’t have quite the freedom of schedule that I imagined when making plans to come here.
A few weeks in, Cognac is starting to feel more like home, like I said. This is somewhat comforting, because we are starting to settle in and find our way around more easily. We have a grocery store that we go to regularly. We have a favorite neighborhood bakery and pizza joint. But the more that I settle here, the more I feel like I’m living reality instead of vacation. I think people tend to think that making a move to a new and exciting place will change the reality of their life (I’m definitely guilty of this, personally).
The truth is that wherever you go, there you are. You can move to the country that you’ve always dreamed of living in, but that won’t make you the person you wish that you were. I have dreamed of visiting France since I fell in love with the language at 17 years old, and I think I always imagined that being here would make me somebody other than who I am. And for all the ways that France is changing me and growing me as a person, I am still Amanda. I’m still myself. I still have the same faults, shortcomings, strengths, and weaknesses that I always have. And for all the ways that I’ve idealized France and French people…it’s like my parents have always told me: people are people, for better or for worse. I might be on a different continent, but I’m still living my life in a way that’s not all too different from before.
That said, I think moving to a new place is a great way to improve yourself. You are forced to see which parts of your life situation and your character faults exist as a result of your environment and which exist because of you. You must come to terms with your own participation in creating and fostering the less desirable things about you as a person. The only path to self improvement starts with recognition of the problem. I am happy to have this time and space to improve my patience, my temperament, and my numerous other flaws.
There are no perfect people, and there are no perfect places. But I believe that right now is the perfect time for each of us to consider our personal responsibility in creating ourselves and the lives we are living. You only get to do this once. Il faut cultiver notre jardin, wherever it might be.