29 September 2010

It's Only a Matter of Time

My appologies for the length of time since my last post.  But life has been pretty quiet and uneventful since I started classes again.  In fact, starting over this semester was significantly easier than when I started last September.  Maybe it's that I already knew what to expect, was already settled in, and already knew some language . . . but regardless, starting school this fall was a breeze.

I decided to stick around an extra few months to improve my speaking/listening skills and to learn some Occupational Therapy specific vocabulary.  Since starting back up in Massy, I've been emailing a contact I made last spring, along with an OT department at a University in Paris in order to spend some hours each week learning terminology.

Turns out, in French culture, email correspondence is not considered legit and I was going to have to head down there in person.

The only thing I hate more than phoning, is showing up, uninvited, unannounced in person.  But sometimes that's just what you have to do.  After picking up my carte du sejour at the prefecture, I made the hour+ journey (by metro . . . 20ish minutes by car) to the east side of Paris.  The only information I could find online about the location of the OT department at the University was the street address and it's general proximity to the metro stop.  Merci, google maps.

As I got off the metro the signage hailed indications for every major landmark in the vicinity, except Universite de Paris-Est XII.  I took a left.

It brought me to the street level of a corner I'd been to several times when taking that course on neuroreeducation in June.  Hmmmm.  I thought to myself.  Don't remember a university being around here.  Thankfully there was one of those Vous Etes Ici maps that never point me in the right direction, so I found where I needed to go, thought it should be behind me, and therefore deduced that it was, infact, ahead of me.  I retraced my steps, and sure enough, found the campus.

I went to undergrad at a small school that is located in the middle of cornfields in Ohio.  No getting lost there.  Grad school was in a city, but my campus was the hospital plus the five buildings surrounding it, yet even a few blocks south, at main campus, there are maps posted and buildings labeled.  Guess that's an American thing.

I began to follow mobs of the French equivolents of freshmen hoping to end up in the right direction.  That turned out to be a bad idea.

Excusez-moi, ou se trouve la rue du general de gaulle?  I asked two scarf-donned girls who looked a little less lost than me.  One told me to go right, the other left.  I politely thanked them and made my own way.  Coming upon a stop light, I saw a sign: Rue du General de Gaulle!  Perfect.  I crossed the street and saw a big placard: 61 Rue du General de Gaulle.  That's what I needed.  I found the door.  Infermerie.

Confused as to why it wasn't labeled "Department of Occupational Therapy" I went inside in search of someone who could help me out.  Reception desk was vacant . . . figures.  Office doors were closed . . . bien sur!  But around the corner there was one door slightly ajar.  I gently knocked, as the woman on the other side of the desk peered from behind her half-sized glasses.

She was much warmer than I had anticipated once she realized I was lost.  She took me to the window, showed me the sidewalk I needed and assured me that once I rounded the corner I would be en face with the building I was looking for.

As you can probably guess by now, around that corner did not put me in front of the building I needed.  I began wandering again, and 20 minutes later I had found the tribunal de grand instance, the ministaire de la justice and two dorms.  No OT department.  Circling back around, I went up a level to a terrace that joins several buildings on the second floor.  They were having a party up there.

There were tents and booths from different on-campus organizations.  I was tempted to stop and pick up a few free pens and a travel mug . . . when all of a sudden I saw a homemade sign shouting INSCRIPTION!  I followed the arrows hoping someone who was registering new students might be able to help me.

As I entered the building, I saw the most beautiful words I had seen all day: Ergotherapie this way.  I followed these signs down two more flights of stairs and a long dark hallway.  The last sign pointed to the closed doors.  I went through expecting the Wonderful World of OT to be there waiting, much like Narnia.

And, like Lucy's first steps in that mystical land, I was back again, outside . . . staring at that very same just-around-the-corner-and-you'll-be-facing-it spot.  Discouraged at my new deadend, I saw an open door ahead of me.  I decided to see where it lead.  A second door, this time closed.  I tried the handle.

I have come to realize something about life in another culture and language.  No matter how comfortable one starts to feel after the culture shock is over, one is never really safe from making a fool of one's self.

The second door eased open, and I froze just as I stepped through.  In front of me was an enormous ampitheatre full of 150-200 eager learning minds, who simultaneously turned and stared at me.  As did the prof who was lecturing . . . at least until I interrupted.  Pardonne!  I whispered as I quickly tried to duck back out!

Feeling intensly mortified, I was ready to pack it up and go home.  Problem was, I had gone in so many circles to get to this point, I had no idea which way would take me back to the yellow brick road.  I turned to retrace my steps once again . . . and there it was.  A tiny, one-story building with the biggest sign I have seen in France: Institute de la formation du ergotherapie.  Young students energetically poured out of the door.

I went in and introduced myself to the secretary, explaining who I was, why I was in France, and what I wanted.  He went and got the directrice of the program, who I think is quite possible the friendliest Francaise I've met in Paris.  She was lovely!  She welcomed me to come to any class I want to whenever I am free.  She also encouraged me to come on the days when the students work in groups in order to have the opportunity to practice using the vocabulary I would be learning.  She took me around and introduced me to the second year students and several professors.

One of the profs even showed me four books that French/English medical and OT terminology related.  One was a list of approved accronyms and French medical shorthand.

They invited me to go to lunch with them . . . but I chickened out.  My morning had been intimidating enough, and I just wasn't feeling ready.  I thanked her and suggested maybe another time.

Tomorrow afternoon they have English class . . . pretty sure that's terminology I've got a handle on . . . so I think I'm going to head back on Friday.  Stay tuned.  Something about this adventure has 'story' written all over it.


Bobby and Maridith said...

Only you, Deb. And of course, me too if only I were there!

Bethany said...

hilarious! i could picture it as i read it =)

ps-- i was looking at my calendar for December and saw "pick up Deb at the airport" written there. i am happy.

M.S. said...

Dang, Deb. My most embarrassing moments happen with my XL stroller. I'll take those moments over yours any day. ;) I sure like you.

M.S. said...

Dang, Deb. My most embarrassing moments happen with my XL stroller. I'll take those moments over yours any day. ;) I sure like you.