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Secret Life of a Nerd Girl: It’s Time

ng24I always felt that “Back-to-School” excitement when Labor Day approached. I used to think it was from spending so many years in school, but now I realize the feeling is universal. In France they call it la rentrée, which I translate as “the re-entry,” a term I associate with NASA’s space-craft burning through the Earth’s atmosphere to come back home. As most French people and businesses take a month off from work in the summer, la rentrée is fitting not just for the kids with their new notebooks and sneakers, but for everyone. Floating down from summer vacation, going back to the organized regimes of school and work, it is definitely a return to solid ground.

For me it’s been a shift from 4 hours of fun, safe French classes every day to figuring out how to make my way in a foreign country. I’ve been studying French almost consistently since I got here in May, and now I’m no longer a student. Not because I’ve mastered the language, but because I want to master it. If I had come here as a low-income immigrant and spoke no French at all, I believe the government would have provided me with free, basic French classes that would enable me to buy bread and métro tickets, maybe work in a factory. But when you are at a more advanced level with the goal of fluency (the level I achieved this summer is called “threshhold” which means I can get by on my own, but I’m far from fluent), you have to go to the private language schools, and the classes cost a fortune. A fortune in both money and time, and I don’t have much of either to spare.

I need the time to find a job. This endeavor used to worry me because I feared I would make a fool of myself. I wouldn’t understand anything they asked me at the interview. I would speak too slowly and make mistakes. I would end up with some horrible job that was beneath me because I couldn’t follow directions. Worst of all, in doing these things I would burn all my bridges, because, while there is a strong animation industry in Paris, it’s not huge, and you only have one chance to make a first impression, right? I just needed one more month of French classes. Just one more month and then I’d be ready. I said that all summer.

But ready for what? I haven’t had to ‘go after’ many jobs in my life. Most of them came to me, through friends, classmates, or old teachers. Though I let it guide my young career a bit, I was lucky to have that network, and here I have a small foundation on which to build a new one. Starting with a clean slate in a new city, I have the chance to better direct my future, and that’s pretty cool. The trick is to find the perfect next job that will lead to a satisfying career. If the economy improves, my French flows like champagne, and the stars align jussssst right, maybe I can do it.

M told me that, the other day he saw a cover letter and resume written in French by an Englishman. It was full of grammatical errors, errors I wouldn’t have made, he said, and his office might hire the guy. M believes I have the language skills to work, I just have to use them.

So, as my introduction to France took place during the lazy days of summer, my rentrée has become more of an entrée. It’s time to translate my résumé and cold call studios, spruce up my portfolio and research online. Finding work is a big step toward carving out my Parisian niche (and of course, eating and paying the electric bill), so it’s time to get out of the classroom, and the house, and really start to live.