Grade A American, Passed Inspection

Shortly after arriving in France, I had to go to Lille, the regional capital, for my governmental medical exam. I was a little freaked about it. I was worried that a) They'd deport me because I had the lingering remnants of a cold, b) They'd do freaky medical things to me in French that I wouldn't understand, and c) I would be immigrant cattle with a bunch of other immigrants.

Of course, as usual, the reality was much less glamorous than my colorful imaginings, except perhaps for the cattle part. I got to the place early, so I went to the cafe on the corner for a cheap sandwich and a comforting cup of tea. I went back, still early, and checked in. When I entered the waiting room I discovered a jolly group of assistants. We all started discussing our posts and where we're from, and were slowly called in by twos. We exchanged rumors about what the exam would entail, and the consensus was that we'd get upper-body naked for a chest x-ray (hopefully not all together), and beyond that we didn't know. When I was called, along with another girl, we were put into little individual vestibules that led into one x-ray room. The doctor was really nice and somewhat cute, but he spoke really quickly, so if I didn't already know what was going on I would have had no idea. When he left I undressed from the waist up, but they didn't even have one of those little half-size paper cardigan things that my mom always makes fun of. Since I didn't understand him, I was still unsure if I should take off my bra or not, but I quickly realized that this doubt was a combination of wishful thinking and paranoia of extreme humiliation due to undressing *too* much and being unnecessarily naked when he opened the door again, which by the way he did very quickly and without knocking. I felt weird standing there half naked waiting for him to open the door, so I decided to be tricky and put my cardigan back on for decency. It worked out well, because this way I didn't have to walk the six steps or so to the x-ray machine feeling completely undignified.

They clearly were used to shuffling people through these things at an accelerated pace, because the 8 or so assistants that were with me in the waiting room seemed to move through the stages as a group and I was out of there very quickly, even before several people who had been called in for the x-ray before me. After the x-ray I got dressed in the vestibule and then went into a sort of holding pen in the hall with the others. Then it was into a second room, where they checked my height and weight and eyesight with one of those big E charts. Since I've had an eye test every six months for the past ten years, and since I'm a big dork, I thought it was vaguely fun to do it in French. After that it was back to the holding pen, then into the last room, which was more of an office. A third doctor checked my blood pressure and pulse, and listened to me with a stethoscope. All of this was done very perfunctory manner. The last doctor asked if I'd ever been hospitalized, had surgery, etc, then looked at my x-ray briefly and signed the forms. That's it. Not that I wish it would have been more involved, but really, if all you're going to do is take a chest x-ray and a pulse, what's the point of going to the trouble? They basically check to see if you're alive or not, which I think would be obvious from the fact that you traveled to France in the first place. I would have thought there would be a blood test for AIDS and other dangerous diseases, but I guess that's all too expensive and possibly dangerous. I suppose the main idea is just for a doctor to see you face to face so they can check for any obvious problems. If you drag in looking like you're at death's door, they probably look at you a bit more closely. I hope.

I think the part I like most is their preoccupation with lungs. Before I came, I had to send in a medical form filled out by a doctor, and the most detailed part of the form was concerning the health of my lungs. They wanted a "complete description." I thought that was weird anyway, and now this exam was all about the lungs too. It seems rather charmingly Victorian of them, as if their main concern is tuberculosis, that glamorous Victorian disease that gave one that ever-trendy emaciated, pale, and delicate look. Well, no romantic TB here, I should think. I'm actually not sure that I've had a chest x-ray since I almost died from scrubbing bubbles when I was five, so it's kind of interesting to have one. They gave it to me afterward, so now I have a nice picture of the inside of my body cavity, which is cool.

After all that, I definitely felt well-imported. Little did I know, that was only the beginning of the paperwork inferno...


The Immigrant Experience

On my way to France, I decided to stop over in New York City for a few days. My friend Courtney came with me, and we had a great time seeing the city together. When we were at Ellis Island, we made all kinds of immigrant jokes. They were mostly about the fact that as tourists we felt like immigrants when we were on the Ferry to get to the Island, being herded like cattle, being inspected thoroughly, etc. When I made my way to France a few days later, however, I really did get the full-on immigrant experience. There was a lot of paperwork, and I even had to go for a medical exam (more on that later). First, I had to actually get to France, carrying what would be for the next eight months all my worldly possessions.

I left New York on a Tuesday night around 10:30 pm New York time, and I arrived at Heathrow on Wednesday at about 10:30 am London time. Ever since the unfortunately incident with an epic wind storm when my plane was landing in London for my first study abroad experience, flying has made me really nervous and I am entirely unable to sleep on a plane. I was already pretty exhausted when I got off the plane, but I wasn't even close to being where I needed to be. After immigration and baggage collection (hooray-- 100 pounds to drag behind me) I had to take a bus to London, switch buses, and then take a bus to Dover.

When I arrived at the ferry terminal to book a boat to Calais, I found out there wouldn't be another one for a couple of hours. I was completely alone with my giant bags in what was basically a huge waiting room, and felt very acutely like an itinerant. After getting on and off a bus a few times between the waiting area, security check, and actual terminal (with my bags of course), I got on a ferry from Dover to Calais. I watched the channel slosh by for an hour or so, just happy to sit down. When we arrived I shared a cab with a nice English gentleman to the train station, only to find that no more trains to my destination that night. At that point I had been awake for about 30 hours and had been dragging 100 pounds of luggage through Europe for ten of those hours. I called my contact from the Lycée (high school) where I'd be working, and she advised me to just stay in Calais for the night. I really didn't want to do that, but as I didn't seem to have much choice I told her I would.

After I hung up with her, I panicked for a moment. The English gentleman was gone, and I really was all alone in France, and would have to take care of myself. I didn't think I could have dragged my bags any farther, and I had no notion of how to call a taxi or where I would tell it to take me. Fortunately for me, there was a hotel right across the road from the train station. I tested my French for the first time on the hotel receptionist, who answered me in English. After depositing my bags in the room, I went down the road in search of something to eat. As tired as I was, food would have to come first. I went in the first bar/brasserie I saw and ordered a croque monsieur (french ham and cheese sandwich) and fries. I was so tired and hungry that I fell in love with that meal, and now order it every time I return to France after a long journey.

The next day I took a train from Calais to Rang du Fliers, which is a town a couple of miles from Berck, where I'm living. My contact from the Lycée picked me up and took me to my apartment, where, after two flights of narrow spiral stairs, my bags finally came to rest. At Ellis Island, the main processing room was on the second floor, so everyone had to carry all of their things up a flight of stairs in order to go through the immigration procedures. I read a sign next to the top of the staircase that said doctors would watch everyone at the top of the stairs to see how they looked after dragging their heavy bags up stairs. They would observe how strained or short of breath they were, and that was the first medical check. I can now say from experience that it is probably as good a test as any. If you have the strength and endurance just to make it to a foreign country, you're probably in pretty good shape.

I had a bad case of "Why the Hell!"s while I was traveling and for a day or so after. Sample: "Why the HELL did I do this?!?!?" "Why the HELL did I think this would be a good idea?!?!" "Why the HELL did I want to move to the other effing side of the effing world?!?!" "Why the HELL did I pack so much!" (while traveling) and then "Why the HELL didn't I pack ___?" (after unpacking). Anyway, the "Why the Hell"s subsided after a couple of days, and I remembered that I felt the same way when I first arrived at Regent's in London. I think it always feels like that when you do something new and difficult and scary, but it gets better really quickly. I knew it was going to be hard when I set out, especially with my heavy bags, but I just had to remember my mantra: If I can move an inch, I can move two inches, and if I can move two inches, I can move 500 miles... it just might take me a really long time, but I can do it." And so I could.

By the time I arrived at my apartment in Berck, it was Thursday afternoon. I settled in, unpacked, and promptly came down with a sore throat, right on schedule. I was completely expecting to be sick as soon as I got here, of course, because that's just how it works. If you move to a new country, particularly if you drag all your worldly possessions behind you, you will get sick. I was better after a few days of peppermint tea and my favorite DVDs.

I'm sure the immigrant experience is a little different for everyone, but there are some things you can count on. Expect to be tired and hungry for long periods of time. Expect to be confused, disoriented, lost, and in most cases, unable to effectively communicate. Expect to immediately regret your decision to leave your home soil. Expect that feeling to go away within a day or two. Most of all, when you look back on the whole experience, expect that all the pains you took to get to your new home will have been worth it.



Hello everyone! My name is Natalie and I am a Drury alumnus from the class of 2008. In September of 2008, I moved to France to teach English abroad for a year. In the posts that follow, I'll tell you about living in a foreign country, teaching English as a second language, and traveling throughout Europe. First, though, I thought I'd tell you a little bit about myself.

I graduated from Kickapoo High School in Springfield, MO in 2004 and entered Drury as a freshman that same year. I'd known for a long time that I wanted to go to Drury. For six years as a middle and high-school student, I had participated in Summerscape and Drury Leadership Academy, which were summer programs on Drury campus. I loved the look and feel of the campus and had always felt very comfortable there. I knew when I started at Drury that I wanted to be an English major, but I didn't know that I would find many more interests during my time there.

While at Drury I took classes in many different subject areas, and while I continued to pursue my English major I also added a French major and Women's Studies minor, in addition to the Global Studies minor every student receives from the GP21 program. I very nearly got a Religion/Philosophy bridge minor as well, but just didn't have time to finish it! I worked on The Mirror, Drury's official student-staffed newspaper my freshman year, and in The Writing Center my sophomore through senior years. I also wrote for and helped publish "Currents," a student-produced literary magazine, from my sophomore to senior year; my senior year I became editor.

I spent the spring semester of my junior year studying abroad in London at Regent's College. I absolutely loved living in London, and it is still my favorite city in the world (of those I've visited so far, of course)! I also really enjoyed studying at Regent's. My professors and classmates there were really interesting and came from several different countries. In some of my classes, there were students from 10 different countries, in a class of only 20 people. My experience at Regent's added a whole new dimension to my education and I highly recommend studying abroad to everyone. Studying abroad also gave me my first experience with traveling internationally; before I left I'd had plenty of doubts and wasn't sure if I'd like being away from home, but by the time I got back I had real thirst to see the world.

That thirst for travel and experience helped me make my decision to move to France and teach English. I've always loved to teach, so the Language Assistant program sponsored by the French government was a perfect fit. I was excited to live abroad again, this time completely on my own. Still, there was plenty to be nervous about. When I lived in London, I'd been on Regent's campus, so all of my living expenses had been taken care of in one payment when I'd paid for room and board. Also, I was around other American students (many of them from Drury) all the time, and had my professors or Regent's staff to turn to in case of a problem. Plus, (almost) everyone in London spoke English. This time it was going to be different. I'd studied French throughout high school and college, but anyone who's studied a foreign language in the classroom knows that it never really prepares you for daily conversation with native speakers. Living in France was going to be an adventure, and maybe more adventure than I bargained for. No dorms, no free cafeteria food, no anglophones, no safety net. Still, I had no idea what to expect.

I'll tell you what was waiting for me... in my next post. ;)